When Xihao Hu, Chief Financial Officer for TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank, interviewed with Kelvin Tran, the Chief Financial Officer for TD Bank Group based in Canada, he shared with Xihao his dream of building a new pan-Asian professional organization in Canada – a huge inspiration for a then-young executive who was looking to work for a company and a leader that were fully committed to Diversity and Inclusion.
Ascend Canada was launched successfully in 2012 thanks to the help of compassionate organizations and volunteers. Leadership matters – Xihao's insights from his continued involvement with Ascend's sister organization in the United States, especially in the Greater Philadelphia Area, have greatly benefited Ascend on both sides of the border.
The organization's mission both north and south of the border is simple and one that is close to Xihao's heart – "To drive workplace and societal impact by developing and elevating all Asian and Pacific Islander ("AAPI") business leaders and empowering them to become catalysts for change."
Having inherited his boss's resolve, commitment, and dedication to the AAPI cause, Xihao embodies this catalyst for change.
Now over a year into his role leading U.S. Finance in the Cherry Hill, NJ based Bank, Ascend honored Xihao with the A-List Award. When asked what this means to him, Xihao's response was to give credit to the "people around me that made this happen." Passing on praise is something Xihao does quite often, as he firmly stated "it takes a village" to advance Diversity and Inclusion, including issues concerning the pan-Asian community.
"Looking back on my career, so many people have helped me, a foreign student (born in China and came over to the U.S. when he was about 19 years-old) to get here," he said.
Why Representation and Speaking Up Matters
Twenty-five years ago, Xihao was a brand-new intern at a professional service firm. At the time, Xihao wanted to do his best and was open to any tasks his bosses asked of him.
One day, a senior executive at his client was upset with him because he brought the wrong type of donut for weekend overtime work.
What the man said to Xihao next is something that he'll never forget and something that should NEVER be tolerated in any settings, workplace or personal.
"He called me to his office and said, 'I just think yellow people are dumb.' Like you couldn't even get the order of my donut correctly," Xihao explained.
Now, Xihao did not know how to respond. How would he? As an intern being discriminated against, he did not want to jeopardize the chance of turning his internship into a permanent position.
"I came back to my seat quietly and my supervisor on the client engagement said, 'I heard that. I'm going to make a call to the engagement partner.' And she did," he said. "The partner called and said unequivocally to the executive, with me present in the executive's office, 'Your behavior is not going to be tolerated."
As the only Asian intern in that office at the time, being strongly supported by the firm's senior leadership and knowing this horrible, horrible event would not go unnoticed, meant a lot to Xihao personally, who shared the story for the first time at TD's Anti-Asian Racism Town Hall in April 2021. This incident has influenced him greatly and shaped the leader he is today. Xihao is proud of representing the AAPI community he is a part of and speaking up for his fellow Asian-Americans/Canadians on important issues affecting the community.
"To get this unwavering support from people who actually do believe in diversity, and in the equality amongst all different races, that is a positive spin and what I like to remember from that situation," he said.
Xihao says he never intended to stay for too long when he first joined the professional service firm.
"I remember they asked everyone in the room which one of us wanted to make partner down the road. I think 13 hands out of 15 were raised. I was not one of them," he said. "I always wanted to be five years and out once I made manager. Then, I'd go to the industry and do something different. I didn't think auditing and consulting for the rest of my life was my calling."
Xihao, however, stayed at the firm for 13 years and did in fact make partner in just 10 years, which was a sweet surprise to even him.
When he was presenting his case for partnership, one stat jumped out – the number of hours he put in.
Xihao had worked 3,700 total hours the year he made partner. That means he spent more than 42% of his year at work. On average, the normal person spends about 25% of their time at work.
"I was really proud of my work, but I also thought maybe I should cut back a little bit," he said. "This work life balance thing didn't quite work out, but that hard work did earn me a good reputation within the firm."
When he left to join TD Bank Group almost a dozen years ago to become the Chief Accountant, he was doing his research and realized how large TD was. It just hit him that he was the Chief Accountant for a publicly traded company of this size.
"You don't realize that until you sit in the chair," he said. "And my parents are funny. They have a tendency of Googling me. They were like, 'Oh my God, this, this is correspondence with the SEC, it has your name on there. I said, 'Mom and dad, that's my job.'"
The real accomplishment came three years ago when the Chief Accountant from the Office of Chief Accountant at the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission sent his parents a letter to thank them for raising such a good son.
"I couldn't have sent a better letter and he did it on my behalf," he said.
A Beacon of Inspiration and Support
Xihao is all about paying it forward. He leads the Enterprise Visible Minority pillar under the Inclusion and Diversity Leadership Council chaired by Leo Salom, the President and CEO of TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank.
In addition, he says he's always happy and willing to talk to anyone who wants advice and he really means it. In fact, he often spends his weekends speaking to and advising mentees, another trade craft he's learned from Kelvin.
"I do utilize Saturday and Sundays. And when things are a little bit quiet, I'm happy to schedule 30 minutes or so to talk to people and give them advice," he said. "My Sunday afternoons, probably normally on a biweekly basis, includes two or three mentoring sessions with folks."
These mentoring sessions sometimes spring up through work or even if someone reaches out on LinkedIn.
Where does this selflessness come from? Again, Xihao passes the praise to others.
As Xihao was transitioning to a senior U.S. Finance role in 2015, he reached out to Riaz Ahmed, the current President & CEO, TD Securities and Group Head, Wholesale Banking, seeking mentorship. Riaz agreed.
"He gave me an hour and a half time of his schedule for our session, which is unbelievable," Xihao gushed. "He read my self-assessments in the past few years and read my CDP, the Career Development Plan. So, he said, here's what I think you should do at TD to get to where you want to be. He did a chart on his office whiteboard and he also put timeline out there so I can get to what I want to be as being the CFO for TDBG at some point (in my career)."
Riaz went on to go through every single detail and tell Xihao why he believes this plan was appropriate for him. He called out his strengths, and in Riaz's style, was also very transparent about areas that he needed to improve upon.
"After that 90 minutes, he took a picture. He said, 'I'm sending this to HR, and then to your boss as well. So, they can put into your plan to make sure you get all those opportunities to develop.' I was like floored," Xihao continued. "It just goes to show when you help someone, it carries on and they want to help other people."