TD Bank’s Kelvin Tran Talks Career, Education and Work/Life Balance

Using his own success to assist others, the Vietnamese-born executive is helping to train Asian leaders of tomorrow.

Kelvin Tran has made quite an impression in the TD Bank world. A former Vietnamese refugee who spent time in a camp in Indonesia before his family arrived in Montréal when he was a child, Tran has turned a 20-year association with TD Bank, one of Canada’s most prominent financial institutions – their total assets, according to the bank’s annual report, sit at (CAD) $1.3 trillion – into a prestigious career.

Formerly the senior vice-president and Chief Auditor of TD Bank Group, the married father of two teenagers recently relocated to New Jersey as Head of Accounting, Tax, Data Warehouse and Finance Shared Services for the bank’s American subsidiary.

Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran
Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran

“Because accounting is the language of business, that’s what I started with”

After just six months in the U.S., however, Tran has been impressively promoted to a new role – Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank (AMCB).

“I am very excited for the opportunity to be part of the Management Committee as Chief Financial Officer,” says Tran. “We have a strong leadership team with diverse perspectives. It’s exciting to be a part of such a forward-thinking organization.”

As for his new duties, Kelvin Tran says he will build upon the responsibilities he first took on when joining TD Bank’s U.S. division.

“I will lead a world-class team that is responsible for planning, managing and reporting TD Bank’s financial results as well as capital,” Tran explains. “Overall, I have five important accountabilities, including Strategy & Efficiency, Financial Reporting, Planning and Analysis, Tax Treasury and Capital Management, which will keep me actively engaged in setting strategies, driving performance and ensuring the bank executes on key business priorities.”

This constant flow of new responsibilities is an aspect of his profession that has kept Tran intrigued, challenged and energized over the years.

“My journey at TD has been really interesting,” he admits. “I change roles every two-to-three years – and all of those roles have come from people tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘Kelvin, I think you should do this. This is great for you and great for the bank.’”

Not bad for a person who initially declared to TD during his job interview that he’d only be there for a finite amount of time.

“I still remember that in my first job interview,” Tran chuckles. “I told them that if they hired me, I would leave TD within five years. After spending several years at a large accounting and consulting firm, I wanted to get some industry experience. And then maybe, move back to the firm or try something new.”

“Why did I say that? I don’t know. I was young and didn’t realize the opportunities that a large organization can provide. I’ve been at TD for 20 years and I love every minute of it.”

Born in Vietnam, Kelvin Tran admits that when he first decided he wanted to enter the business world, he was unsure of his career choice.

“Because accounting is the language of business, that’s what I started with,” he explains. “But I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do and that’s okay.”

He says he was lucky to have the unwavering support of his parents.

Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran
Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran

“My parents were pretty liberal in terms of careers,” Tran recalls. “I know that some Vietnamese or Chinese parents would encourage their kids to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. My parents said, ‘hey, just do what you like and make sure that you add value to society.’”

“I felt that I had the liberty to do whatever I liked and I chose the accounting/finance profession.”

A hockey and basketball fan who enjoys the occasional game of badminton, Tran studied accounting at Montréal’s Concordia University and later earned his CPA and CFA degrees, spending five years working in the city post University before his TD opportunity presented itself.

Although he feels that a solid education is paramount, Tran believes there’s no substitute for experience.

“While degrees are good, they’re not the end objective,” Tran advises. “They help open doors. And if you already have experience, then you don’t really need as many degrees. If you’re already working in that industry, instead of getting another degree, try to focus on getting the right experience.”

Volunteering, assignments and projects also help.

“That’s real life,” Tran says. “It builds connections and networks: really important things that you can’t necessarily get at school.”

Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran
Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran

“In order to help them succeed, you need to stay close – but not too close to the point that you’re micromanaging them.  Give them enough rope that they can grow and make mistakes, which is okay to do.”

Kelvin Tran

Tran says it’s also important to develop social skills.

“In a big company, you have peers and people that report to you – some who are senior leaders; some who are in different locations, different cultures and different languages,” he notes.

“As you move up the ranks, your job is to influence everybody to work towards the same direction. That’s much harder to do, and I would say it’s about good, strong, people skills. Having a great attitude is important, as is the ability to empathize – understand the other person’s perspective.”

Tran also says it’s crucial to maintain work/life balance, and that his management style helps him achieve that goal.

“Work/life balance is difficult to maintain, with the balance shifting according to the day’s priorities,” Tran admits. “For me, my priority is family. If I need to make a trade-off, family always comes first.  But when you build a strong team, they deal with many work issues and that frees up your time to deal with what is most critical. That enables me to have a work/life balance and be there for my family.

“Delegation is important but holding your staff accountable is also important. You can’t do one without the other.”

The one practice Kelvin Tran tries to avoid is to micromanage his teams.

“You should always coach them and help them develop,” he explains. “When I delegate, I’m giving them something that I could be working on – that’s a stretch opportunity for them. In order to help them succeed, you need to stay close – but not too close to the point that you’re micromanaging them.  Give them enough rope that they can grow and make mistakes, which is okay to do.”

When he’s not spending time at work or with friends or family, Tran has a number of obligations in the not-for-profit sector: he sits on the board of the Markham Stouffville Hospital; serves as the Treasurer and Audit Committee chair to the University of Toronto Board of Regents of Victoria University; acts as the Chair of both the TD Visible Minority Committee and the Diversity Leadership Council of the Office of the CFO and is the founding president of Ascend Canada, a not-for-profit organization established in 2012 that’s “focused on developing Asian leaders.”

“Our mission is to partner with Canadian organizations to advance Asian talent.”

Tran says Ascend Canada boasts two professional chapters across Canada, six student chapters and over 3000 members.

Opening up opportunities, sharing success stories and providing encouragement are prime concerns for Tran.

“Ascend Canada is focused on building an inclusive environment within TD and across industries by breaking down barriers and helping people to develop to their full potential.”

By Nick Krewen /Photo courtesy of Kelvin Tran

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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