“I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable” – Meet Isabel Lee
Isabel Lee may have a degree in theatre, but her success is anything but an act. She’s spent the past 20 years in the world of payments, first in a sales-related role and now as Interac’s Head of Enterprise Compliance, where she has responsibilities for compliance programming, the privacy office and the Ombudsman’s office
We asked her about her experiences – and she delivered! Here’s what she shared about making a major mid-career pivot, why she’s always learning something new and why redefining “X” means redefining the word “executive” itself.
WXN: Can you share a little about the world of compliance at Interac?
Isabel: Typically, people hear the word “compliance” and they think about audits and checklists. That's not the approach we take. At Interac, our team is viewed as a business partner to all business units rather than an enforcement arm. We partner to go beyond providing the parameters of regulations, rules and policies. We collaborate with internal teams to seek and identify solutions that help mitigate any corporate risks.
WXN: What has been your biggest challenge in your career so far?
Isabel: Two years ago, I decided to do a 180-degree pivot in my career by changing disciplines. Doing that, while I was midway through my career, I’d have to say, was probably the most challenging, humbling and rewarding experience I've ever had. When you spend close to two decades years honing a skillset, you get to be the resident expert. Then, to take on a completely different discipline – in a newly created role to the organization, no less – well, let’s just say the learning curve was steep!
I think you can't think about it too much. Just do it. I knew this is what I wanted, and I knew the outcome would be worth it. I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I had to ask a lot of questions and I had to be willing to be wrong sometimes. And that wasn’t easy. But my advice to anyone considering a similar change? Know that you will get to that point where everything is clicking and everything's making sense. Know that one day, suddenly, a picture will fall together – and that feeling is unbeatable. You just need to have the confidence to know you will get there.
WXN: You’ve worked directly with one of your mentors. Can you talk about your experience as a mentee?
Isabel: I actively promote mentorship and have seen first-hand the benefits of being a mentee. This isn’t just about propelling your career forward and it's not just about finding someone who is going to give you your next job. It's about creating a relationship with somebody who is looking out for your best interests with an objective opinion, someone who can see further down the road than you can because they've had life experience and business experience. Someone who can give you the hard truths. But as a mentee, you have to do the work as well. You have to bring the questions and be receptive to alternate options.
WXN: You’ve done a lot of learning over the years. What’s the value of continuing education in your career?
Isabel: I’ve always enjoyed being a student but as I get older, real fulfillment comes from learning more about the things I’m truly interested in. Everyone needs to continue learning. Advancements being made in technology continue to change and disrupt every facet of our economy and our businesses.
But completing executive education courses have an added benefit beyond the content that you’re learning; it’s the people you meet at these courses. You’re put into an environment with your peers, but your peers from different industries all over the country. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to gain perspective and insights from those you wouldn’t meet otherwise.
WXN: Why did you decide to pursue a degree in theatre?
Isabel: My thinking was after the first year of university was, if I'm going to pay to go to school, I want to pay for things that I enjoy – and I'll figure the rest out after. That probably wasn't the best career advice, but I really wanted to enjoy my learning experience. And I did!
Having said that, I do put my theatre degree to use all the time. I was taught skills like how to think quickly on your feet, how to speak in front of a crowd, how to have a presence and how to create the experience for your listeners. These are little skills that I wouldn't have learned anywhere else, but they've been very practical and I’m very grateful for the training I’ve received.
WXN: Looking back, what makes you feel the proudest?
Isabel: I’ve had a number of moments in my professional career that I can think of over the course of the last few years that have made me feel pretty good, but the first thing that comes to mind is my successful pivot from a client-facing relationship world to a corporate governance one. I made the decision to diversify my executive tool kit and I knew it would require learning and comprehending a lot of new information and enrolling in continuing education courses. The role was new to the organization, and as such, I had to create a lot of the foundational documentation, policy statements and training materials while putting in place new processes and protocols. This all culminated when I shepherded the organization through its first enterprise-wide assessment that was approved by the Interac Corp. Board of Directors.
On a personal front, I’m really proud of my 13-year-old son, Daniel. He’s a kind, thoughtful kid who may love video games a bit too much, but still remembers to call his grandma. I’m excited to see what’s in store for him.
WXN: At this stage in your career and in your life, what does the “X” in “WXN” represent?
Isabel: That X represents not “executive” in the traditional sense. To me, it’s a representation of many meanings. It means being a people leader, but it also means being a thought leader, being a champion for your peers and a champion for your network.
People can lead by being examples or laying down the groundwork so that innovation can happen. All of those things combine together and form this new world of women who really focus together, and I think that, at least in my experience, when you work together with a group of strong women, you only rise together.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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Isabel Lee – Head of Enterprise Compliance, Interac Corp.
Isabel Lee is the Head of Enterprise Compliance at Interac Corp., the Canadian debit network that connects over 29 million Canadians and nearly 300 financial institutions and payments processors. Before pivoting her career trajectory towards Corporate Governance, Isabel spent nearly two decades in client management and relationship-based sales roles where she used her skills to build meaningful and successful relationships with major retailers, acquirers, merchant associations and financial institutions across North America.
With her experience firmly rooted in the Canadian Payments Industry, Isabel has been a key contributor to the introduction of several new technologies within this space. Most notably, Isabel was a lead member of the team responsible for the successful nationwide launch of Interac Flash, Interac’s contactless debit product and she also played a critical role with Interac’s Mobile Debit Implementation of Apple Pay.
With a passion and commitment to learning and growing, Isabel brings a collaborative approach to Enterprise Compliance and Corporate Governance. By partnering with business leads, Isabel and her team are able to continually and successfully promote a culture of compliance and ethical behaviour that is built on a foundation of trust, knowledge and integrity. In addition, Isabel’s role also includes accountabilities for both the Privacy Office and the Ombudsman’s Office of Interac Corp. Finally, Isabel is also a senior leader on Interac’s Diversity and Inclusion Core Team, a corporate program responsible for organizational initiatives that recognize 8 dimensions of demographic and cognitive diversity.