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Meet Canada's Most Powerful Women

Compiled by Karen Christensen

WXN’s ‘Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards’ celebrates the achievements of strong female leaders across the country in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. A total of 16 Rotman alumni—six MBAs, two Commerce grads and eight graduates of Rotman Executive Programs—were named to the list for 2017-18. We are pleased to introduce you to seven of them.




LESLIE E. WOO
Chief Planning Officer, METROLINX
Alumnae of The Judy Project


What is your greatest challenge in your current role
?

Developing a seamless and effective transit and transportation system is ultimately about enabling residents to live, work and play well. Meeting the needs of many people from all walks of life requires making complex choices in a constrained fiscal environment under conditions of high public expectations. This is a significant challenge that requires systemic, interconnected solutions. Navigating this complexity is what energizes and excites me about my work.

What unique combination of skills got you here?

My early professional work as a practising architect provided foundational skills that bridge between creative vision and practical delivery. My career has extended amongst public, not for profit and private sectors, and as well, between municipal and provincial roles. This diversity of perspectives enables me to work with deep empathy for others and an ability to find consensus on difficult issues.

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

There is power by title (e.g. CEO or President), but power that is gained through trust is more long lasting and impactful. Being powerful to me means being influential. Powerful leaders are a magnet for others to follow. They enable others to achieve things that they never imagined.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Over my career I have received three really important pieces of advice. First, relationships are more critical to success than intellect or technical aptitude. Second, it’s very important to know yourself and find a way to play to your strengths. This requires self-care, reflection and seeking out honest feedback. Third, failure is a gift from which we learn and grow.

How do you create value for business and society?

My work aligns with my values in that I strive every day to ensure that I am leaving this city and region in better shape that I found it. This means attention to creating benefits for society, not just buildings and hard structures. 

What are you most proud of?

I am so proud of the successes of the mentees, former staff and students, family and friends who I have coached or supported over the years. While only they can take credit for their successes, it is with great pride that I get to witness their growth and accomplishments. I am also proud of the recognition I have received for my leadership roles, internationally, professionally and in my volunteer capacities. When you are busy with your head down always ‘doing’ and moving things forward, it’s easy to forget what has been accomplished. These acknowledgements encourage me to go even further.

 

PATTI PERRAS SHUGART
(MBA '88)
Managing Director & Global Head, Corporate Banking and Global Credit, RBC Capital Markets


What is your greatest challenge in your current role?


Given the complexity of the global business that I run, being able to adapt to changing market conditions and pivot quickly is really important. Ensuring that I use my time wisely to balance the needs of the business, our clients and employees, and my community commitments is also a challenge each day. Visiting clients in many countries while managing the deal volume on the road requires a strong leadership team to share the responsibilities. Being organized and having great technology helps me balance my work and family commitments. My family has been incredibly supportive throughout my journey. Our son and daughter play NCAA hockey in the U.S., so travelling to watch them on weekends is a top priority and smart scheduling is critical.

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you to where you are today.

Confidence, strong communication skills, good analytics and judgment have all helped to define my leadership style and business acumen. Anticipating questions or issues that we might face is important, and preparation is key. Understanding our clients’ needs and being able to structure the best solutions for them has enabled me to build strong relationships over many years. My upbringing also helped to shape me as a leader. I was the youngest of six, with four brothers — great preparation for a career in the capital markets! My mother was an incredible role model who juggled a successful career and a large family, and my father was far ahead of his time in his support of women’s careers. 

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

Being powerful means having the ability to give people opportunities, influence decisions and change outcomes. To be a good leader you need to create a culture where people can drive their own careers, but also ensure they have the support and mentoring required to succeed. I use my position to help influence outcomes both at work and through the organizations I support.


“Being powerful means having the ability to give people opportunities, influence decisions and change outcomes."Tweet this


What is the best advice you have ever received?

There are a few pieces of advice that I have carried with me throughout my career:
1. Follow your heart and your passion when choosing a career and don’t focus on barriers along the way.
2. Be true to yourself; authentic leadership is so powerful.
3. Surround yourself with people who express their views, and those who are always willing to put the goals and objectives of the team first.
4. Connect with people. Your relationships will get you in the door and your knowledge and expertise will win the lead, so make both a priority!

How does your company create value for business and society?

Helping Clients Thrive and Communities Prosper is how we define our purpose at RBC. Diversity and inclusion is a core value of the organization and one that differentiates us from many other workplaces. I love to connect, coach and advocate for women in the capital markets, and encourage them to feel empowered to
take control of their careers. My role as Executive Sponsor for the Toronto RBC Race for the Kids and the United Way’s Women United help me to advance my support for children’s mental health initiatives and enable women to lift themselves out of poverty.

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my team and the corporate lending business we have built over the past decade. It has been a real privilege to provide the opportunity for so many people to develop and grow their careers. I have always been a big proponent of promoting from within, because it leads to a positive work environment and a strong team culture.

Promoting diversity within my business has also been an important priority. Today, women and visible minorities represent 40 per cent of my division. We have also made progress with 21 per cent of women and 16 per cent of visible minorities in Managing Director roles within my division. I would like to see these numbers continue to increase and am working to enhance both groups’ representation in the business. Personally, I am very proud of my family and how we have supported each other to achieve success.

 

JOANNA ROTENBERG
(JD/MBA ’01)
Group Head, Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group


What is your greatest challenge in your current role?

Managing the unexpected — which is a fact of life for everyone in business today. Things never go quite as planned, even when you’ve covered all your bases and anticipated problems. You have to build resilience and agility to tackle the unexpected — and be able to make strong decisions without all the facts. 

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you here.

I would say it’s as much about mindset as skillset, and for me, that means a few things. First, empathy. I try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes, whether it’s a colleague or a client. Second, being curious (which is both a blessing and a curse!) and courageous enough to take on big opportunities and challenges when they present themselves. One essential skill that I continue to work on every day is communication. As humans, we are hard-wired for interaction, and that means being able to articulate where we’re going and why. Being open to healthy debate on a regular basis is incredibly important to success.

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

It means being at your best while wearing many hats. I am a mother, a wife, a business leader and I’m also committed to giving back to my community. Each of these roles is powerful in its own right. When people come together for a common purpose — whether it’s family, a leadership team or a fundraising committee —  the results can be thrilling.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

A mentor of mine once said, ‘Act like the role you want to have’, which means stepping up and not waiting to be asked. In a busy world where everyone has so much on the go, sometimes you need to tap yourself on the shoulder. Don’t wait for someone else when you see that next opportunity or challenge. 

How do you create value for business and society?

Balancing commitments to all stakeholders as we pursue our business strategy and strive to fulfill our broader social responsibilities is something that is engrained at BMO. The strategic priorities that guide our decision-making and desire to define great customer experience sit side-by-side with our social, economic and environmental commitments to drive sustainable growth. We walk the talk: From our community-building activities across North America, to our BMO for Women initiatives focused on helping women leaders and entrepreneurs succeed, to our commitment to the environment, we embrace the philosophy that doing good work comes in many forms.

What are you most proud of?

We are only as good as the company we keep, and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who inspire me. My family, my husband and my kids are a great source of pride. I also get to work with so many talented colleagues at BMO, and together we accomplish great things for our clients and shareholders while also having some fun. I’ve also gotten involved in the community and learn so much from many great role models at Mount Sinai Hospital, Rotman and elsewhere.

ANDREA STAIRS
(JD/MBA ’00)
GM, eBay Canada & Latin America


What is your greatest challenge in your current role?

I’ve been at eBay for 12 years and, until recently, my work was focused on the Canadian market. I recently took on the added responsibility of eBay Latin America. In my new role, I’m responsible for engaging and growing eBay’s community of buyers and sellers across more than 40 countries, four languages and three sites. I’m also charged with leading the teams that are responsible for these regions. My immediate challenge is to quickly get up to speed on these new markets and get to know the people. Next, I’ll have to quickly start developing a big-picture, long-term strategy that will accelerate our business in this region’s rapidly developing market.

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you here.

With a BA in Medieval History, I don’t bring any STEM skills to my role. My ‘soft’ or transferable skills are what have enabled me to build my career. One under-appreciated quality that has served me very well is curiosity. My love of learning has helped me thrive in management roles where I lead different departments, receive a wide range of information, and need to understand a business from start to finish. Having work that feeds my curiosity has kept me motivated and has made the work fun and rewarding. However, perhaps the most important quality in a leader — and one I’m continuously learning about — is the ability to engage and motivate a team. A collaborative and highly effective team is critical to success, and that starts with learning all you can about engagement and motivation.

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

Being powerful means having a platform and a responsibility to lead and influence. This is something I take seriously and manage actively. As part of a small group of visible female tech leaders in Canada, I appreciate my ability to influence women’s consideration of careers in STEM. I make an effort to share authentic stories about the realities, rewards and challenges of a career in tech, and I focus on broadening the definition of what a tech career can be, so it’s more inclusive of diverse passions, interests and skill sets.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

As basic as it may sound, it’s that no one is in charge of your career but you. This means that if you’re looking to be promoted or to gain new opportunities, you need to create the conditions and line up the support. Don’t wait for it to come to you. 

How do you create value for business and society?

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Canadian economy and are vital to accelerating our growth. At its core, eBay is a platform that connects millions of buyers and sellers around the globe. As such, it creates incredible opportunities for Canadian SMEs looking to grow and scale beyond our country’s borders. Thanks to ecommerce platforms like eBay, a small business in a remote Canadian community can sell its goods to customers around the world. It’s amazing to witness — on a daily basis — the power of technology to enable business and level the playing field, in commerce and beyond. 

What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the life that my husband and I have built together. We have two amazing children and we both have careers that are challenging and meaningful. Despite the hectic nature of our life, we have a lot of fun together as a family. While I’m really proud of how far we have come, I’m super excited to see where this journey will take us.

 

CATHERINE WOOD
(MBA ’08)
Senior VP, Head of Online & Digital Wealth, Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer, Aviso Wealth


What is your greatest challenge in your current role?

In an industry that is continuously evolving and highly competitive, success depends on being innovative and competitive, so I would say the greatest challenge is to attract and retain great talent. We have to welcome the right people through the door, give them amazing opportunities, and empower them to contribute their expertise and ideas. It’s important for our leadership team to support people and create a learning-oriented culture that embraces change and can adapt to future challenges.

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you here.

A big part of it is being future-oriented, combined with an ability to get things done. I’ve always been one to look ahead and try to figure out how various technological, social, political and economic shifts will transform our lives. Part of my role as a leader is to help create a vision of where our business needs to go in order to be ready for what’s around the corner.

The second piece is tactical understanding — an appreciation for what it takes to execute on our vision. That includes laying out a path to an objective and picking the right moment to move and take calculated risks; studying how stakeholders will be impacted by decisions, and finding solutions that create value for everyone; and choosing the right team of people and mobilizing and energizing them. It also means knowing where to push and where to adjust, and being relentless in moving towards the goal. When setbacks occur, I need to help people problem-solve and stay focused on the things that will drive the greatest value.


“Part of my role as a leader is to be ready for what’s around the corner.” Tweet this


What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

Power means you’re in a position to open doors, to influence what people do and shape important decisions that impact people’s lives. It’s both a privilege and a humbling responsibility.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Manage to your strengths and don’t take yourself too seriously. Those are two pieces of advice that resonate for me. My dad encouraged me to always be positive and believe in myself, and to never feel defeated. He also taught me to build people up—to lead with kindness and humanity at the core. And my mom was a role model for discipline, hard work and setting high expectations for yourself.

How do you create value for business and society?

We do something incredibly meaningful and important: We help Canadians achieve financial well-being. Through the network of professional advisors that we support and our digital wealth services, we help people become more financially literate, and leverage their hard-earned money to become better off. We also strive to create a great place to work, with a diverse team of people that values doing the right thing for our partners and clients. I think good companies take responsibility for all the impacts of their activities and look to connect their solutions to challenges facing society — which is why I’m so proud that our company is a leader in providing responsible investing solutions.

What are you most proud of?

Our team. I’m proud of how we’ve grown and created value for our business and for society. In the beginning, we were a scrappy little online brokerage with an unbelievable team. Against all odds, through commitment, passion, ingenuity and hard work, we consistently outperformed much bigger competitors. We continually earned the right to build our digital capabilities, and add products and services to provide an increasingly comprehensive wealth offering. Today we are an industry leader that has influenced the agenda of wealth management — especially digital wealth — in Canada.

 

VENI IOZZO
Executive Vice-President, Communications & Public Affairs, CIBC
Graduate of Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program


What is your greatest challenge in your current role? 

CIBC announced last year that we’re moving 14,000 of our team members to a new global headquarters called CIBC Square. In addition to my current role, I was asked to take on accountability for the transition to CIBC Square as well as our Global Workplace Transformation. The opportunity is to make this less about the new building and more about further entrenching our client-focused culture. It’s an amazing opportunity.

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you here.

I’ve built my career by taking lateral roles that helped me learn about a variety of disciplines, tested my ability to adapt and helped me grow my skill set. As I’ve taken on more responsibility and larger teams, I’ve been keenly aware of the importance of hiring to flesh out my own gaps. As a leader, understanding what you lack isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a strength. From there, you can create high-performing teams. It’s also important to know when to jump in and go deep when problems come up. Being able to diagnose what truly needs to be done amidst all the noise and getting to the root of the issue has helped me and my team take calculated risks and come up with solutions.

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

No matter what I have accomplished in my career, I couldn’t have done it without my family and extended support system. My parents, like many new immigrants, came to Canada for a better life. They were never afraid of hard work and taught me the importance of humility and not taking anything for granted. For me, the word powerful is about creating positive change — using your influence to support the next generation and being part of an extended network that helps them succeed and leaves an organization in good hands long after you’re gone.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Knowing where you’re headed is important, but so is recognizing that the journey is rarely a straight line. When something changes or there is a shift, view it as a chance to pause and see if you need to adjust your approach or goals.

How do you create value for business and society?

CIBC supports economic growth and prosperity in many ways, but chief among them is by creating employment opportunities, supporting businesses big and small and enabling our clients to reach their financial goals. We are firmly intertwined with and committed to the financial success of more than 11 million clients. We also invest in social issues that matter. In 2017, CIBC invested more than $70 million in community organizations across Canada and the U.S., including our longstanding commitment to the CIBC Run for the Cure and supporting those living with cancer. Our value goes well beyond our corporate investments: Our bank is made up of 45,000 people who are the heart of the bank and the face of CIBC to our clients. Thousands of our team members volunteer in their communities, fundraise and focus on serving our clients every day.

What are you most proud of?

I had a lot of help along the way, so for me, it’s about paying it forward. I’m particularly proud when I see someone I’ve supported get an opportunity to tackle a new challenge, get promoted or generally do great things. Over my career, I’ve worked to ensure that people are empowered and supported. It’s very rewarding when everything comes full circle and you have played a small part in helping the next generation reach their potential.



CLAIRE KENNEDY
Partner, Corporate Tax & Transfer Pricing Lawyer, Bennet Jones
Graduate of the Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program


In your current role, what is your greatest challenge?

If there is one constant today, it is change. The legal marketplace is adapting as AI and other technologies change the way we deliver services and the expectations of our clients, whose businesses are also being affected by technology. A key challenge is to see the opportunities amidst the disruption and hone our business model to ensure we are delivering the highest value possible to our clients.

Describe the unique combination of skills that got you here.

Being an engineer has been a great help in my legal career. Engineers approach issues with an analytical mindset and aim to solve problems within a set of constraints, whether they are the laws of thermodynamics or a federal statute like the Income Tax Act. I use the skills I learned as an undergraduate Engineering student every day as a lawyer. My engineering and law skills also help me bring value to boards. Having both governance expertise and domain expertise makes me a good fit. Being on a variety of boards — regulatory, corporate, industry association and academia — helps me do everything I do better. It give me an even broader perspective on what my clients are facing.

What does being ‘powerful’ mean to you?

Being powerful means having influence to improve outcomes for people and organizations I believe in.


“Seize the opportunity when it arises—not when you think you’re ready for it.” Tweet this


How does your company create value for business and society?

We help clients solve some of their most complex business problems, which means synthesizing legal expertise and business acumen. We do this in a collegial environment where we understand our clients as well as the larger business environment in which they operate. Being a successful business gives us the platform to create value in society that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We are able to support worthy causes, help lead volunteer initiatives and advocate for change. Personally, I was able to far exceed my fundraising goal for the True Patriot Love (TPL) expedition to climb Vinson Massif in Antarctica thanks to the generosity of my colleagues. TPL is a national charity that supports military families and funds community-based programs, and my work with them is ongoing.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Seize the opportunity when it arises — not when you think you’re ready for it. If it’s an interesting and rewarding assignment, it’s probably a stretch assignment. Go for it. If you don’t get a queasy feeling from time to time, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.



OTHER ROTMAN GRADS ON THE MOST POWERFUL LIST

  • Karen Adams, President and CEO, Fundserv (Alumnae of The Judy Project)
  • Carol Banducci (BCom ’82), Executive Vice President and CFO, IAMGold Corporation
  • Valerie Mann, Partner, Lawson Lundell LLP (Alumnae of Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program)
  • Sandy McIntosh, Executive VP, People and Culture and CHRO, Telus (Alumnae of The Judy Project)
  • Kathleen O’Neill (BCom ’75), Corporate Director, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund, ARC Resources, Finning International, Invesco Canada (Alumnae of Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program)
  • Sherry Peister, Board Chair, Green Shield Canada and The Green Shield Canada Foundation (Alumnae of Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program)
  • Jennifer Reynolds, President and CEO, Toronto Financial Services Alliance (Alumnae of Rotman/ICD Directors Education Program)
  • Kim Shannon (MBA ’93), President and Co-CIO, Sionna Investment Managers
  • Kim Van Der Son (MBA ’86), Managing Partner, Global Board Practice, Egon Zehnder


WXN [Women’s Executive Network] creates and delivers innovative networking, mentoring, professional and personal development to inform, inspire, connect and recognize women and their organizations in the pursuit of excellence. The Network enables its Partners and Corporate Members to become employers of choice and leaders in the advancement of talented women. 



This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue. Published by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Rotman Management explores themes of interest to leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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