SIX SIGMA & BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DEPLOYMENT LEADER
OF THE YEAR: RICHARD LAM, BMO FINANCIAL GROUP
BMO Financial Group (BMO), one of North America’s oldest chartered banks, is a
highly diversified financial services company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. BMO
employs more than 36,000 employees worldwide and has more than $376 billion in
managed assets for personal, commercial, and corporate customers.
In 2004, BMO’s Product Operations division recognized the need to achieve operational
excellence across its diverse organization in North America. The senior executive
leadership team brought Richard Lam—a seasoned Lean Six Sigma deployment leader—
onboard in May 2005 to develop a five-year deployment strategy and lead the
deployment with no existing infrastructure in place.
Richard has more than 17 years of business improvement experience with prior
experience at Bank of America and Ford Motor Company. He is a senior quality leader, a
certified Master Black Belt, an advanced practitioner in total quality management, and a
sought-after industry speaker in business improvement.
Despite many challenges, the deployment results have exceeded all expectations to date
—targets were reached 21 months ahead of the five-year plan, BMO won two 2007
WCBF Global Six Sigma Awards, and the deployment achieved extraordinary results
towards BMO’s Green Environment initiatives. The ongoing success can be attributed to
Richard’s leadership, his ability to engage people at all levels across the organization, and
the hard work of many people throughout Product Operations.
Richard was challenged to rapidly develop a Six Sigma team of 15 Black Belts who
reported to him. As the deployment mandate covered 19 operations centers in 10 cities
across Canada and the United States, this geographic separation posed significant
physical barriers for collaboration among the Six Sigma team members.
As the deployment team is limited (15 full-time Black Belts supporting an organization
with 3,500 operations employees), Richard has taken on dual roles. He fulfills all aspects
of a deployment leader’s responsibilities as well as the role of Master Black Belt by
providing coaching, mentoring and conducting tollgate reviews for all Black Belts and
part-time Green Belts.
Under Richard’s leadership, a robust deployment strategy has been put in place, the
supporting infrastructure has been developed and implemented, and economic value has
been generated through the completion of 252 projects to date. The deployment has
achieved 116 percent of its savings target, 21 months ahead of schedule. The current
cumulative hard savings total is $86 million based on a five-year benefit period and
excludes all other soft benefits such as cost avoidance and future revenue generation.
Taking the cumulative savings and applying the total deployment costs of $7.4 million
incurred to date results in a simple return-on-investment of 1,164 percent, or 11.6 times
investment, up from 699 percent, or seven times investment one year ago. This represents
an incredible internal rate of return (IRR) of 189 percent.
The Lean Six Sigma deployment is sponsored by Karen Metrakos, Executive Vice
President of Operations, and is fully endorsed by BMO’s Executive Management
Committee, chaired by Bill Downe, President and CEO. Karen personally introduced
Lean Six Sigma and holds her executive team accountable for the achievement of
BMO celebrated Earth Day on April 22, 2008 with the completion of a breakthrough
Lean Enterprise project that eliminated significant volumes of report prints stacking as
high as the CN Tower—one of the world’s tallest free-standing structures. This amounts
to nearly 5.5 million sheets of paper annually, representing $1.5 million saved. Another
in-flight project is targeting to reduce CO2 emissions by optimizing courier runs between
The leaders of Lean Six Sigma at BMO have frequently taken the opportunity to share
best practices with other organizations. The deployment co-hosted a two-day Lean Six
Sigma Summit with Six Sigma Canada that brought together 60 delegates from Fortune
500 companies across North America. The Canadian Banks Forum, established by
Richard in 2007, brings together over 40 delegates from across the major Canadian banks
semi-annually. This forum supports an environment of professional business cooperation
and informal networking that addresses issues, shares best practices and identifies
opportunities related to Lean Six Sigma. Richard shared BMO’s successful signature
practices with the global Six Sigma community at various WCBF summits over the past
two years. Finally, the deployment promoted the benefits of Lean Six Sigma at a BMO
internal knowledge-sharing conference—“The Professional Excellence Symposium”—in
2007 and 2008. More than 1,000 people attended this annual conference across BMO.
Richard Lam is a passionate advocate for Lean Six Sigma not only inside BMO but also
outside the company. With a relentless focus on overcoming the deployment challenges,
Richard and his team have achieved extraordinary results aligned with business goals and
objectives. This has led to two visibly celebrated achievements: first, reaching the
deployment’s financial targets 21 months ahead of its five-year deployment schedule, and
second, winning WCBF Global Six Sigma awards. These achievements have generated
credibility and significant interest for Lean Six Sigma business improvement in areas that
were outside the deployment mandate. External organizations, including those from
outside of the banking industry, have sought deployment advice from Richard Lam. This
is the result of the deployment’s continued successes and it indicates that the
deployment’s vision is becoming a reality.