Over the course of Janine Guenther’s career in financial services, she has held leadership roles at some of the big banks and worked as a financial analyst and investment advisor. Now, she’s taken the lead at Vancouver-based Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel Inc.
Guenther joined Dixon Mitchell in 2019 as vice-president of private client services. She was named president in January, succeeding Rob Mitchell, the firm’s co-founder who’s now the executive chair. But Guenther’s relationship with Mitchell began long before she joined his firm. She first met him some 20 years ago, when she attended a meeting she technically hadn’t been invited to.
“I went to the annual meeting of the CFA Society Vancouver and found out that they don’t actually have regular members come to that meeting,” she said. “I was the only non-board member who showed up and I was ‘voluntold’ to join the board on that day.”
Guenther clearly made a favourable impression back then, and Mitchell believes she’ll continue to do the same for Dixon Mitchell today.
“More people need to know about Dixon Mitchell and I think Janine has the ability — the charisma, if you will — to help project Dixon Mitchell to a wider audience,” Mitchell said.
Founded in 2000, Dixon Mitchell is a boutique investment counselling firm with offices in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. The firm has roughly $3 billion in assets under management (AUM), and one of Guenther’s goals as president is to double the firm’s AUM within six years.
Dixon Mitchell has a staff of 30 who serve clients that include family offices, foundations, endowments and Indigenous communities. Guenther said about 70% of Dixon Mitchell’s business comes from its private clients, with the rest coming from institutional investors.
Dixon Mitchell is a “steward of client wealth” that focuses on protecting capital and generating stable returns, Guenther said. The firm’s portfolio managers are disciplined and avoid market hype, she added, and the team spends a lot of time with clients to understand their goals and investment preferences.
Guenther, who is a member of the Responsible Investment Association, has long seen the value of investing through an environmental, social and governance (ESG) lens. Her belief in ESG came up in the many discussions she had with Mitchell before she joined Dixon Mitchell.
“We’re not just going to pay [ESG] lip service,” Guenther said. Previously, Dixon Mitchell had followed ESG principles informally, but Guenther decided to change that. In 2020, the firm became a signatory of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. Dixon Mitchell now has its own set of ESG guidelines.
Guenther said she sees plenty of room to innovate the firm’s operations. The pandemic, for example, has shown executives that employees can work from anywhere.
“We used to be so restrictive,” Guenther said, noting that the firm required employees to be based in Vancouver, Toronto or Calgary. “Now, we actually are rethinking that. Maybe there are people who might fit with our firm and we can bring them in three or four times a year to Vancouver or Calgary and that’s totally fine.”
Guenther has already introduced innovations in how her team interacts with clients. Since client events aren’t happening face to face, she decided to bring a bit of fun to the average Zoom meeting by hosting an online wine-tasting event for Dixon Mitchell clients. To do this, the firm partnered with a local winery, which sent bottles of wine to Dixon Mitchell clients, and hired a film crew for the event — which, in turn, led to Guenther learning some new skills.
“I’ve become an amateur movie producer,” she quipped. “But this is a part of our business. Being a leader today for a financial firm [means] that you have to help your staff, help your clients and figure it all out together.”
Serving clients during the pandemic has meant moving meetings from the boardroom to video calls. Talking with clients in their homes allows other family members to join the discussion, which has helped Dixon Mitchell expand its relationships, Guenther said. The virtual format helps some clients feel more comfortable discussing family finances, and makes digging into topics such as financial literacy easier.
Guenther said she joined Dixon Mitchell after having many “heart-to-heart talks” with Mitchell about the company, its history and what a succession plan would look like. Mitchell, 66, now spends more time talking with clients in his new role as executive chair, while Guenther, 54, is responsible for the operations side of the business.
Making sure the job would be the right fit was important to Guenther from the beginning, as she knows what it’s like to be in a role that doesn’t work out. In 2013, Guenther was vice-president and managing director at BMO Harris Private Banking when she decided to branch out and start her own advisory business under the CIBC Wood Gundy banner.
“There comes a time in your career when not everything is working out as you had hoped it was going to,” Guenther said. “I had a young family at the time and there were a lot of corporate things that were happening that didn’t fit with my career aspirations and didn’t fit with how I wanted to see things done.”
Although Guenther found leaving her executive role at BMO Harris was a difficult decision, working as an advisor with the freedom and entrepreneurial spirit to build her own business gave her the skills she uses today to help Dixon Mitchell navigate the pandemic.
Guenther’s work as an advisor and her time as an analyst gave her a solid foundation in the investment business. But she also earned valuable experience at her first job working at her family’s grocery store in Winnipeg. Serving customers every day taught Guenther how to read people — and reading Forbes magazine during quiet periods sparked her interest in business.
Outside of work, Guenther has a busy “volunteer career” with a financial literacy organization, a local community centre and the University Women’s Club of Vancouver. She and her husband are actively involved in the sports lives of their two teenage children.
“Something that has always been important to [my husband and me] is having a parallel volunteer career along with your professional career because you never know who you’re going to meet along the way,” Guenther said. “We’re very lucky, so it’s important for us to give back to our communities.”