Alumna Bindu Cudjoe: “This is where my ambition has just been set free”

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo / Photography by Jason Gordon

From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Nexus.

Bindu Cudjoe, LLB 1999Each day, as she steps into her downtown Toronto office at BMO, Bindu Cudjoe, LLB 1999, has innovation on her mind: how can she lead her team to do better for their customers? Now that she’s in-house, after 11 years in private practice, the deputy general counsel, technology & operations legal and chief knowledge officer has moved from executing strategy to conceptualizing it.

“I totally loved private practice, but what I so love about being in-house is I get to dream up creative solutions to the problems we're having.

“I was a lending lawyer and worked for banks for many years, documenting transactions, and enjoying great work.” But the former partner at McMillan LLP wanted more from deal-making, and soon started thinking: “‘Can we do this differently? How was the decision made?’ That was beyond the purview of what I would do as outside counsel. And what I love about being inside counsel is that now it is part of my business.”

Cudjoe oversees a legal team and a knowledge management group, so in addition to leading talented lawyers, she’s managing and motivating a team of technologists, accountants, project managers and paralegals.

“When we all come together, we see the world though different lenses and it helps us be more than just the sum of our parts.”

How does one inspire creativity? “Nothing like a competition,” says Cudjoe with a laugh. “We know our species.”

That means team challenges to streamline day-to-day operations, an idea incubator with Dragon Den-style pitches, and a forum to grow these ideas—currently sitting at 11—into viable ready-for-market products. Why wait for the customer to come to them with contract tweaks?

This is the new ‘in-house.’

“It's totally changed. This is where my ambition has just been set free. Not everyone will be able to have all of the experiences that I've been lucky enough to have, but in the right in-house group, the sky's the limit on what you want to do.”

Her drive for change—in the legal profession, in banking, in the way things are done, in the diverse faces of leaders at the top and all around her—have not gone under the radar. She was selected one of Canada's 25 Most Influential Lawyers for 2016 by Canadian Lawyer magazine.

“It certainly puts me in an illustrious company… I was really blown away and what has really hit home for me is that I am an example to a number of people.”

An example with a message: promoting diversity is not just the right thing to do, it makes business sense.

“Innovation happens at the intersections created by diversity—lots of different people coming together, thinking about things differently—and that’s how we’re going to actually advance the needle. So I think [diversity] is part and parcel of our formula for success as we go forward.”

And as the universe continues to spin with technological changes impacting the world of work, Cudjoe says: bring it.

 “I don't know where the future's going—and I'm okay with that.”