This CFO shapes the city: An interview with Judy Leung

By Leah Giesbrecht
Oct 1, 2018
Photo credit: Business in Vancouver

Taking in Vancouver’s skyline, chances are your eyes will be drawn to a building developed by Westbank Corp. With over $25 billion of real estate projects constructed or currently under development, the company is behind a number of innovative developments shaping the face of Vancouver, such as TELUS Gardens, Woodwards, and looking ahead, Deloitte’s new downtown office.

Behind much of Westbank’s success is the company’s CFO Judy Leung, CPA, CA. Judy, who provides financial leadership and oversees organizational structure and human resources duties at Westbank, has helped the company grow from a local real estate developer to an international business with projects in Seattle,Tokyo, and Shanghai. In 2018, her financial acumen and professional accomplishments were acknowledged with a BC CFO Award

CPABC sat down with Judy to discuss how she not only contributes to a company that shapes cityscapes, but also plays a pivotal role in shaping the Westbank team, as well as her greater community. 

Part of Westbank’s mission is a commitment to artistry, sustainability, and city-building. How do these priorities differentiate Westbank’s developments? 

“TELUS Garden is a recent example – the artistry of the arching glass canopy is a prominent feature of the building, and that element carries through the architectural details of the building into the lobby, which houses a custom-designed Fazioli piano used for performances that enliven both the lobby and the public plaza outside. With most developments, the lobby is simply treated as a space to get from the front door to the elevators. Additionally, TELUS Garden’s office tower achieved the highest LEED Platinum certification under the 2009 Rating System with 91 points, the highest ever achieved, for its capacity to reduce energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.”

How has this project changed the city?

“TELUS Gardens definitely moved a lot of the vibrancy and animation of downtown towards that corner and spurred more development in the neighbouring areas. 

Another one of our projects that contributes to city building is the Woodwards redevelopment, which revitalized a lot of the Downtown Eastside area and businesses in Gastown, and incorporated a public atrium with public art and a place for people to enjoy all sorts of entertainment programming and recreation.”

Let’s move from shaping cities to shaping teams. You do all of the recruiting for Westbank – what tells you that a person will be a good fit for your team? 

“We live our values here at Westbank very transparently, so candidates who identify with the culture and positive vibes and are motivated to contribute to innovative solutions are drawn to the group.

I would describe someone who is a good fit as an adaptable, hardworking, reliable, dedicated, humble, and proactive team player, who is not looking for titles or glory or next steps. Someone who really enjoys doing more, and contributing to something bigger because it is part of their life values.”

Conversely, what tells you that someone might not be a good fit?

“Someone who treats their job as a job and wants a roadmap or the next step on the ladder is not a good fit. Someone driven by title, money, or a target and who has a very transactional approach to life.”

As a leader, how do you encourage your employees to be their best? 

“In terms of leadership style, I try not to micro-manage so that people can put some of their own spin on solutions and really think things through. I want to give them enough rope so that they can hone their skills or execution over time to learn, rather than instruct them to follow a certain series of steps with no wiggle room.” 

In addition to your duties as a CFO, you also contribute to the greater community through charitable work. Can you tell us a bit about this?

“While at Westbank I have spearheaded several charitable initiatives, and from 2015 to 2018 I have been a committee member for the Viva Pharmaceutical Time to Shine Gala, which supports the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. The gala has raised over $10 million for the Future of Surgery Campaign to transform the operating rooms at the hospital to incorporate state-of-the-art technologies. I served as the fundraising chair of the 2018 gala, and will also be chairing the 2019 gala.” 

Why is giving back important to you?

“It gives me a chance to make a greater impact in our community. I am not someone who picks out a dress ahead of time for a function and in fact I am usually just getting ready 10 minutes before an event, if that. So I was very uncomfortable when asked to chair such an important and high-profile event as the Time to Shine Gala. It was well beyond my comfort zone, but I am so glad I did it, and am continuing to do so. 

In conclusion, Judy notes, “I believe that in order to improve a community and leave it better than how you found it, you have to give back. I’m actually a very simple person and don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of purely materialistic things. I get way more enjoyment from effecting change and giving to others.”

Leah Giesbrecht is a communications coordinator with the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia.

To learn more about Judy and the other 2018 BC CFO Awards winner recipients, visit the Business in Vancouver (BIV) website. CPABC is pleased to be the presenting sponsor of this event. Visit the BIV site to nominate a CFO for next year’s awards.  

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