Canavan retires from Assante

By Staff | September 18, 2009 | Last updated on September 18, 2009
3 min read

CI Financial has announced the retirement of Joe Canavan from the role of CEO of Assante Wealth Management (Canada) Ltd., effective Nov. 11.

Canavan, a 25-year wealth management veteran, has been CEO of Assante since November 2003, when the firm was acquired by CI Financial. He was the founder of Synergy Asset Management, which was acquired by CI in December 1997.

Canavan is succeeded by Steven J. Donald as CEO. Previously, Donald held the posts of president and chief operating officer of Assante. He retains the role of president.

The transition of Donald to CEO is expected to go smoothly, according to Canavan.

“They’ve known Steve as long as they’ve known me, and they’ve seen him grow up in the organization and into the role,” he says. “It’s going to be almost seamless.”

This is, of course, all by design.

“One of the things that’s always been a hallmark of mine is that I hire really, really well,” Canavan says, listing Donald, Jamie Ross (senior vice-president, wealth and estate planning), Bob Dorrell (SVP distribution services) and Jan Sampson (vice-president, channel initiatives) as examples. “It occurred to me that all of the goals and objectives that we set [as a company], we’ve reached them all. It became clear to me that they could do all this in my absence.

“I think the time of me having a giant impact here is in the past.”

Bill Holland, CEO of CI Financial says there will be no change in direction at Assante, as Canavan, Donald and Jamie Ross have worked together for the past decade, at both Assante and Synergy.

“I think he’s just decided that he wants to build something else now,” says Holland about Canavan’s decision to step down. “I don’t think he’s going to turn around and compete with us. If he was going to do the same thing, he’d just stay here.”

Canavan is clearly proud of what he has accomplished in the past six years with Assante. When he first took over, he says the organization was “angry, hostile and a lot of people were leaving,” and that there was mistrust toward the management. That mistrust was refocused on the incoming CEO and management team.

Over time, he says, he earned the trust of advisors and staff.

“This place was in really rough shape, there was a lot of work to be done,” he says. “We had to clean house, we got rid of every SVP and higher because they just weren’t capable.

“As it stands right now, our advisors are as empowered as any wealth management professional in Canada,” Canavan says. “I would say we are many stages ahead of our competition. Our advisors have everything they need to play at the top of their game.”

Canavan says he could very well end up working with Holland again, if CI manages to secure an acquisition, as integrating firms and restructuring operations is Canavan’s passion.

“[Bill] was working very diligently to get a deal done that would have given us a lot more scale and given us a lot more to work with,” says Canavan, but when he returned from his three-month sabbatical, there was nothing new on this front.

“I told Bill that ‘this isn’t a line in the sand; if you get a deal done three or four months from now and you feel that I would be helpful in any way in leading that, call me.’ I love working with Bill,” he says. “He’s one of the most talented public company CEOs I know.”

Canavan says he has not been lured away to another firm and has no immediate career plans. The main reason for his departure from Assante appears to be that he was too successful in his role.

“I’m not counting anything out. I don’t have anything to build. I don’t have a big idea that I’m chomping at the bit to get out of there and do,” he says. “I can think of some holes in the industry that need to be filled; I can think of some companies that could use some restructuring talent, but I haven’t dwelled on any of that.”

(09/18/09) staff


The staff of have been covering news for financial advisors since 1998.