Shaheena Khan, BMO Harris Bank | Next 2021

Head, retail markets, Minnesota and Western Wisconsin

Like many other businesses in Minneapolis, BMO Harris Bank had to board up windows last summer during protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

But Shaheena Khan, who oversees retail banking in Minnesota and western Wisconsin for BMO, wanted its damaged Lake Street branch to send a better message than the one projected by the plywood. Khan felt the branch should do its part to help foster hope and unity, something she considered particularly important given its proximity to the site of Floyd’s death.

“We really thought, how do we change this message, make a bold statement and share that with our community?” she said. “We wanted to not just be a business that boards up to protect our branch, but to say, ‘We’re with you.’”

Khan connected with local nonprofits and eventually partnered with Juxtaposition, an all-Black youth art program whose students created a mural for the branch using a combination of spray paint and acrylic paint on a canvas. Measuring 20 feet wide by 8 feet high, the mural is meant to represent the city of Minneapolis in vibrant reds, blues, pinks and greens.

The bank unveiled the public artwork — which covered an exterior wall of the Lake Street branch — at a small, socially distanced gathering of employees, customers and community leaders in October.

It has since been taken down so BMO can complete repairs to the branch, which reopened in August. But it will soon have a new home with a local organization nearby.

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The mural is just one way Khan’s empathetic leadership style has made a constructive difference at a difficult time, said Carolyn Booth, BMO’s head of distribution for U.S. personal and business banking and Khan’s boss.

When one of Khan’s team members was among the first at BMO to contract COVID-19, her response became the playbook for the rest of the organization.

Inspired to work in the industry by an older sister who had been a teller in college, Khan has spent her career in retail banking and has held every branch role from part-time teller to manager to personal banker. Having those years of branch experience helped inform how Khan led her team through a year of pandemic and widespread civil unrest.

Khan also is active in internal diversity and inclusion efforts, inviting bankers to share their stories and organizing fireside chats.

Companies cannot merely hire diverse employees and hope for the best, without taking steps to actually create a more inclusive culture, Khan said.

“What do you do when you hire the individuals? Do they have a mentor? Do they have a relationship with someone who can be a sponsor?” she said. “It’s having the individual be set up for success versus checking the box and filling this diversity quota.”

Nominating executive: Carolyn Booth, head of distribution, U.S. personal and business banking, BMO Harris

What she said: “Shaheena is an inspiring, strategic leader who builds high-performing teams by fostering an environment of learning and inclusivity,” Booth said. “She drives transformational change with tremendous integrity, resilience, agility and resolve.”

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