First Up

Jaimie Lickers

Alex Jacobs-Blum stands with her elbow resting on a balancing beam. She is looking off to the side.

Photography by Jaimie Lickers

For many years, I was a competitive gymnast, and when I was 12, I enrolled in a leadership training program to become a coach, so my first job where I received a paycheque was as a gymnastics coach. All the girls on the competitive gymnastics team went through this program and acted as assistant coaches for many years in our gymnastics club.  

Looking back, coaching gymnastics really foreshadowed what I am doing now by teaching me to push my limits and encouraging me to learn about leadership very early in life. But I think the most valuable lesson I took from coaching and doing gymnastics at a competitive level was that hard work can get you really far. Unless you’re also committed and diligent, being smart is just a personality trait – it won’t get you to your end goal if it’s not coupled with hard work and dedication. 

And it’s funny, because I really wasn’t very good at gymnastics. I was way too tall when gymnasts are usually very short and I also wasn’t super flexible or super powerful, but I was as good as you can be at anything when you have zero natural talent for it, but you love it and work hard anyway.  

The job was coaching younger kids for an hour a couple of times a week to introduce them to the sport. They looked up to me because I was a competitive gymnast – even if I wasn’t the greatest one – and that was a confidence booster. 

When you’re coaching, you also learn that there are so many different ways to motivate people and make sure they feel valued. You can’t be a good leader if you don’t understand different kinds of people. You can’t know someone instantly, so when I joined the team at The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), my priority was to get to know each member of the team – to get to know my team personally, what inspires and motivates each of them. I also try to lead them in the same way that I’m raising my daughter – by encouraging, inspiring, and supporting each person in a way that is meaningful and unique to them. I also feel there’s a parallel between sport and practising law because, like athletes, lawyers push boundaries. In doing so, they help shape the laws by which our entire society must live, and that is a pretty powerful responsibility.  

I’m very energized by my new role at CIBC and the bank’s commitment to challenge itself and continue to improve the way our Indigenous Markets team works with Indigenous clients. It starts with an intentional and continuous re-evaluation of the way we provide financial products and services to Indigenous clients, which will help us apply a broader lens, as we work to make their ambitions a reality and play a bigger role in economic Reconciliation.  

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