If you asked a young Leo Salom what he would be when he grew up, it involved being among the stars in the sky or on the field, certainly not running a bank.
"I was sort of vacillating between being a baseball player or being an astronaut," Leo told TD in an extensive interview on his personal journey, his outlook on the bank and new role as President and CEO.
But going to college in Miami, Leo quickly realized that he wasn't going to beat out a future Major League All-Star on his university's team.
Despite this, Leo knew he had other dynamic skills to offer the world, including a natural ability to make genuine connections with people and communities all around the globe.
This was such an organic skill because Leo had a unique upbringing.
"I moved around a ton growing up, my dad was in the hotel industry, and he specialized in rehabbing and renovating old classic hotels. So, we lived in hotels like the Waldorf in New York and the Fontainebleau in Miami -- for most of my life, it's an unconventional existence," he said.
So very early on, he was able to see his father interact, respect and build bonds with people of all kinds in all places.
"It was a fascinating life, but it meant that every two, three years you were picking up roots and having to establish yourself all over again, which when you're young is a little on the challenging side. But I think it shaped me a great deal in terms of forcing me to be a little bit more social, connecting more, and trying to understand others."
It was this desire to understand and connect with others that led Leo to embark on his career in banking. Now 30 years later, he takes the reins of TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank, an organization built on the same values of putting more into the communities it serves than what it takes out.
It's Not About Transactions
Leo started working in bank branches right out of college and worked his way up. After years of experience in various parts of the industry, he went to graduate school with the intention of pursuing investment banking.
"I thought I wanted to be on Wall Street," he said. "I thought I wanted to be in New York. I did that for three years, worked as an investment banker, which meant I was working with some terrific clients, but it wasn't what I wanted to do."
Leo craved the relationship building he experienced in his transient youth.
"At my core, I'm not a transactional person," he said. "I like relationships. I like working with people, I like building careers and building businesses."
So, he began a different journey transitioning from a Chief of Staff supporting Alan Weber, Director of Retail Banking for Asia and Latin America for Citibank working his way up to the bank's Head of Retail Banking for Europe and Latin America. Along the way, Leo was able to build relationships and businesses, later becoming the CEO of Western European Retail and Commercial Banking group for Barclays.
In one experience, Leo helped to open 200 branches in Northern Italy. Without fully realizing it, Leo had almost stepped into his father's shoes, yet in a different profession. He was traveling the world and getting to the know the people at a very human level.
"I remember being on a bus, driving through Northern Italy, trying to find real estate spots, and we were trying to do it quickly," he said. "We wanted to make an impact. We wanted 50 branches up and running within the first year of operation and it was just a labor of love."
He continued, "We're all the same at our core, but understanding that those cultural differences and embracing them, learning from different cultures and taking that back and making yourself a little bit more adaptive is just a huge asset."
An Old-Fashioned Organization
Just over a decade ago, fate brought Leo to TD. He worked to augment and run the Wealth business and later leading the Insurance business as well.
Leo was sold on coming to TD because of the people more so than the job. After getting to meet some of the bank's leadership early on, he knew this would be his next home.
"This is one of the best aligned, most strategically clear organizations I've ever come across," he said. "And the humanity of this organization is just fantastic. This is a somewhat of an old-fashioned organization. We haven't forgotten that the colleague experience and colleague engagement is fundamental to success."
And now he steps into the top spot – President and CEO.
"Getting a chance to run the U.S., I'm truly honored to take this on," he said. "I think it is one of the most exciting portfolios in the bank. Getting a chance to contribute to building on the foundation we've got is a huge privilege."
He has concrete plans of expansion and lines of business growth, but Leo truly lights up when talking about the culture of TD and how he plans to contribute.
"Just building more bridges, having people appreciate each other and their differences. And just taking time to understand other people and being a little bit more empathetic is something at the risk of sounding like I'm running for political office, we need leaders to be professing that much more," he said.
And that also applies to Diversity and Inclusion, something that is incredibly important to Leo, the son of Cuban immigrants. Leo didn't speak English until the age of six.
Social services and equality mean a lot to Leo. "When you walk the streets of a city like Philadelphia and you see significant homelessness, the key is to just be mindful and take a pause for a moment. Instead of seeing that as sort of a casualty of reality, ask yourself why is that taking place?" he said. "What's driving that displacement inside a community? And then working with experts and social services that truly can give businesspeople clarity on how they might be able to participate in terms of making that disparity a bit better."
Most Important Above All Else - Family
He may be a CEO, an activist and humanitarian, but above all else, Leo is a proud father.
"I've got three daughters. They're grown women now and I'm especially proud of all three of them. I give their mother full credit for the women that they are," he said. "But they are much more idealistic than we are. And I have complete optimism in our future as a result of the way young people are thinking about important issues like climate change and inclusion."
He says he loves to ground his girls' idealism with pragmatism, so that he can help them accomplish their goals.
"That's my dinner table discussion with my girls, making sure they can think through the how on some of these things that they want to get accomplished," he said. "I think that we've got an entire generation that takes ownership on some of these massive social challenges. During COVID, which has been a tragic and horrific event, I've gotten a chance to have dinner with my daughters every day for a period of eight months for the first time in my entire career. To be able to have them around the table and discuss these topics and hear their perspective is a huge privilege. This next generation, I think in many ways, will teach the older generations a great deal. And I think they'll serve us all well."
Leo's especially proud of a special tradition he started with his daughters as they each leave for college.
"Whenever they've gone off to college, I've written them a letter that has three parts. One is the father role part saying how proud of them I am. The middle is a section around what I've noticed about them in terms of how they might be able to grow into incredible women … elements that I really admire, that I'd like them to continue to foster. And the last section is just some caution points, because each one of them stepped into different colleges and in different situations, and just some cautionary points based on their own personalities and unique qualities."
"It's four or five pages and I've given it to each one of them. They never want to open it in front of me, because they cry and all that, but it's been a tradition that I cherish."
And of course he credits his wife for a great deal of his success inside the home and at TD.
"I've had a life partner for 32 years," he said. "My wife, Sonia, is spectacular and she's just wonderful in so many ways. But you have to have a partner like that. My family is just incredibly important to me. I'm fortunate to have her by my side on this journey that has taken us around the world and I look forward to this next chapter with her by my side".