By Hailey Eisen
Suzanne Morel’s career has taken her on a unique journey from her very first job as Chief of Staff to an MP on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, to her current role as Chief of Staff to the CEO of Mastercard in New York. Along the way she earned a Master’s degree and an MBA, negotiated everything from regulatory outcomes to free trade agreements in both the public and private sectors, and spent time living and studying in China.
Given the scope of her experience and her commitment to mentoring young professionals, she’s often asked what’s the one piece of advice she’d give women in pursuit of success. “Put your hand up!” she says. “As women, we tend to hesitate and question ourselves as to whether or not we’re capable. But all the experiences I’ve had have come from taking leaps of faith and not knowing what the outcome was going to be. And it’s been incredibly rewarding.”
The confidence to leap is a theme that’s surfaced throughout Suzanne’s career. One of her first significant leaps was working full-time for former Liberal MP Paddy Torsney while completing her graduate studies as a full-time student. During the final few months of that period, she was living out of a suitcase in the riding of Burlington while working on the MP’s re-election campaign, and spending nights writing the thesis that she was committed to completing within the standard two-year period. “That ended with satisfaction on both sides,” Suzanne recalls. “Paddy was re-elected and I finished my thesis.”
The next leap was to leave politics for public service, taking a role with the then Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as a Senior Trade Policy Analyst. After six tremendous years in this role, she was ready to leap again. “People don’t typically step away from public service jobs at the level I was at,” Suzanne says.
But despite the many naysayers who expressed their doubts about her decision, Suzanne felt the time was right to enrol in an MBA program. “One of my champions, the former Deputy Minister of Trade, really supported my decision. She said to me, ‘I wish more people would step away, as you’re going to do, and gain experience in the private sector’.”
“As women, we tend to hesitate and question ourselves as to whether or not we’re capable. But all the experiences I’ve had have come from taking leaps of faith and not knowing what the outcome was going to be. And it’s been incredibly rewarding.”
Choosing the right MBA required foresight. Suzanne knew she would benefit from a program that took a team-centred approach. “I already knew my own strengths and I had been developing these, but I wanted the benefit of working with people who had strengths that I didn’t have, who were coming [to the program] with different backgrounds and experiences,” she says. “I knew how powerful it could be for a team to come together and perform at such a high level.”
She also wanted an opportunity to do part of her year-long MBA abroad. “I had come from an international role and had been doing a lot of travel, and I wanted to spend a significant amount of time abroad. I loved the fact that the Smith MBA offered that.”
When she enrolled in the MBA program at Queen’s University and moved to Kingston she was ready to spend a year focusing one-hundred percent on school. Working closely with a diverse group of students, with whom she still keeps in close contact, was an invaluable experience. “The team approach enables you to learn not only how to led but how to be lead — you challenge one another, support one another, and learn to harness your individual strengths for success.”
For the last four months of her MBA, Suzanne completed her studies at Peking University in China. “I had the benefit of working with these incredible professors and gaining all these insights in a market that is one of the world’s largest economic forces, one that’s rich in culture and history,” she says. “I’ve been to China many times in my current role with Mastercard and I still draw on those experiences today.”
“The team approach enables you to learn not only how to led but how to be lead — you challenge one another, support one another, and learn to harness your individual strengths for success.”
Following her MBA, a number of opportunities opened up for Suzanne, first a role with the CPP Investment Board as Director, Government Relations — joining during the financial crisis in 2008 — and then Vice President, Public Policy with Mastercard. In her current role as Chief of Staff to the CEO she says she’s challenged daily. “I draw upon our resources throughout the company and collaborate with colleagues around the world in order to drive results. From this vantage point, I can see across the organization and use this privileged spot to make things happen.” Suzanne frequently travels with the CEO and uses the time between meetings to connect with colleagues and customers, gaining insights to better inform decisions from the centre.
“There’s no doubt that there are challenges for women to get ahead and get noticed — no matter what type of role you’re in — but it requires thinking creatively about how you differentiate yourself,” she says. “That’s why I challenged myself academically, pursing three degrees, and have always sought rich professional experiences — because it’s more difficult to dismiss someone who has the credentials and experience.”