Sean St. John

Listen to others’ ideas. Be open-minded and be able to change your mind.


Sean St. John is the Executive Vice-President, Managing Director, Head of Fixed Income, and Head of Debt and Equity and Capital Markets at National Bank. With over 25 years of experience, Sean has spent the last 20 with National Bank. In addition to his professional work, Sean is a devoted philanthropist, dedicating his time and expertise to organizations such as Right to Play, the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and the United Way.

Where did the idea for National Bank come from?

What inspires me is working with our people, our clients and the culture. There are two sides, one is helping entrepreneurs raise capital to build their business and being trusted by them to be part of their success. That’s the external, client-facing part of my work. The internal part is mentoring and cheerleading individuals to execute that vision for us, giving them the tools so that their contribution to the team is why we are successful.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m up everyday at 5 am. I meditate for at least half an hour and I have a personal trainer that shows up at my door everyday at six. I train from 6 to 6:45 and then I’m at my desk by eight o’clock at the latest. I make that time for me so that I am productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By sharing them with my partners and brainstorming variations of the idea. Then, when we feel like we have the right idea, it’s commitment and excitement from everybody involved that believes in the strategy. All in the boat together.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think it’s the technology advances we’ve seen over the years. Some people talk about their IPhones and say we are spending too much time on the phone but I think It’s actually a wonderful way that people can now stay connected. We can do other things in our day. I’m a single dad and some days I leave work early to go see my son play hockey and I can still be in touch with everybody and answer questions from the office. Embracing technology can offer a great work-life balance.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think it’s the ability to juggle a lot of different tasks and ideas at the same time. There are different structures and whatnot going on all the time and I can just slip from one to the other. The ability to retain information and switch between tasks quickly and efficiently helps.

What advice would you give your younger self?

No future tripping! Enjoy the ride!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That the math required in the financial industry is not that hard. Most people talk about financial markets like there is a lot of math, but I really don’t think it’s the driver of success. Most people disagree with me on that. Of course, there are technological ways that we are using to execute business faster and smarter everyday that only a handful can develop. I am in awe of them. But at the end of the day, it’s a relationship business.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Listen. Listen to others’ ideas. Be open-minded and be able to change your mind. It’s true in all aspects of life.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The strategy that helps us grow the business is hiring the right people. It’s all about the people – the people that bring in relationships, energy and the growth mindset. No status quo.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My failures have been not having a proper balance between work and my personal life. By making family the priority, being involved in the community, and taking time for me, has improved my energy and focus. As I mentioned earlier, my morning routine is so important to me so with work obligations, I prefer breakfast and lunch meetings. If it is an evening event, I make sure its early so I can get home and respect my need for my morning routine.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I have a cottage up north and I would love to see someone create a device that I can control from an app on my phone that can build a hockey rink in 24 hours. The app can display the temperature information and enable me to program its settings from the city so that everything is finished and ready for the weekend.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best hundred dollars I spent recently is my membership to Spotify so that I can listen to music when I get home and so I can have music playing at dinner, during my workout, and the moments I have alone at home. Music is a big part of my life, and my son’s.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Bloomberg business news online. When I get up in the morning it’s the first thing I do. I wake up, read the business news, see what the headlines are and what is going on in the world. Bloomberg is the best.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover. It talks about the relentlessness, the passion, and the dedication to success of Michael Jordan. It’s unbelievable.

What is your favorite quote?

Me? We. It’s the same as quote by Muhammad Ali where he just said Me, We as poem. It’s not about me, it’s about we, it’s about us, about us together. It’s about community and connection. Success and well-being is about connection.

Key Learnings:

  • Embrace digital technology. Use it to simplify your life and keep you connected.
  • Listen to those around you and incorporate their feedback into the work you do. Don’t be afraid to stray from your original idea.
  • Prioritize a work – life balance. It may not be easy but it will be worth it.