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Managing Partner and Chief Executive, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP

By: Himani Ediriweera

When one of Canada’s largest mining houses, Inco ltd., tried to acquire Falconbridge, proposed combining it with Phelps Dodge, and was then acquired by Brazil’s Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, Dale Ponder was in the centre of it all.

That deal, worth almost $19 billion and one of the most compelling and complex, secured (CVRD) Inco as the fifth largest nickel, copper, iron ore producer in the world.

Ponder is the managing partner and chief executive of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, and a senior member of its Mergers and Acquisitions practice. She was also a keynote speaker of the Deloitte Women of Influence Luncheon Series in 2007.

One of the world’s top deal makers, Ponder is recognized as a leading corporate mergers and acquisitions lawyer by several legal ranking services. She has been recognized by the Best Lawyers in Canada guide, the Lexpert/American Lawyer Guide to the Leading 500 Lawyers in Canada, and captured a dozen additional recognition prizes in recent years.

As a wife and mother of two, the business-savvy lawyer found the perfect balance between her professional and personal success. Ponder lends her hand to the 2011 United Way Toronto Major Individual Giving Cabinet and is a member of St. Michael’s Hospital Board. She has also served as past chair of the Firm’s Corporate Finance Practice Group, a member of the Securities Advisory Committee to the Ontario Securities Commission and a special lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

Ponder maintains a busy schedule and continues to practice under her role as managing partner with her Toronto firm. She is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and heads the firm’s Operations Committee, comprised of practice heads and local office managing partners.

With almost 500 lawyers across Canada and an office in New York, Osler is a leading firm practising national and international business law with a broad range of global clients. Despite Osler’s geographic spread, they use strong local managing partnerships in each local office to create a cohesive unit, developing one-firm model.

Ponder represents Canadian market leaders in various industry sectors with cross-border and international business interests, including financial services, mining, consumer and pension plan sectors. She has extensive transaction experience leading domestic and multiple jurisdiction transactions relating to public and private mergers and acquisition matters and public offerings.

Representative transactions include the acquisition of Oxford Properties Group by OMERS by take-over bid, Inco’s acquisition of Class VBN “tracking stock” in a going private transaction and UPM-Kymmene’s acquisition of Repap Enterprises in a combined recapitalization and amalgamation.

Ponder has always been interested in business and how businesses are run, and has participated in numerous panels relating to M&A, corporate finance and securities law topics.

Having taken on the role of managing partner, Dale Ponder is one of the rare women in the top ranks of law firm management in Canada, but not the first at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, which has progressive firm female leadership in its past and present. A number of women have held senior leadership roles, leading some of Osler’s largest departments, so women in leadership continues to be a rewarding attribute with the firm.

Ponder was interviewed in the March 2011 cover story of Lexpert Magazine, “Women at the Top” by Julius Melnitzer. Lexpert surveyed women managing partners across Canada for their views on how gender affects leadership styles, decision-making, and management techniques. One of six female managing partners interviewed, Ponder agreed that individual management styles transcend gender differences. She believes that management is about the “tone from the top” and the merit-based opportunities that individual law firms provide.

Osler has been a leader among law firms when it comes to increasing the ranks of women in senior management positions. Jean Fraser became the firm’s first female managing partner in 1993, until Ponder took the helm, later becoming partner of the firm, along with other women in notable positions.

Osler continues to help in the professional development of women in the legal profession with its longstanding participation in the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and The Judy Project, which helps senior women leaders.

The firm also supports a number of other initiatives, including Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) that helps women lawyers with their annual “Person’s Day Breakfast,” commemorating the 1929 case that permit women to the Senate and included them as “persons” under the law.

The National Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms (U.S., the Canadian branch was closed in 2006) annually tracks the progress of women lawyers at all levels of practice. Its latest study (2010) shows women continue to be markedly underrepresented in the leadership ranks of firms. Only about 15% of equity partners are women, a number little changed over the last five years.

The study also showed 46% are associates, 36% are counsel, 27% are non-equity partner. And, 85% of these women partners earned less of what their male counterparts.

A growing number of firms feature tiered partnerships, and women disproportionately show as 73% of fixed income equity partners with no share in profits, and as only 6% of all equity partners. Women fared better in one-tier partnerships, with 18% of equity positions compared to 14% at two-tier partnerships. About 10% of the nation’s largest firms had no women in their governing committees, and 40% has just one. More than 80% of firms have two women or fewer.

Throughout her career, Ponder has sat on a number of boards. In her current role, she is the chief executive of her Firm and manages 15 direct reports.

Clearly, Dale Ponder is setting the bar high for female law practitioners. She recommends law as a great career choice for women who are intellectually curious, but she cautions that finding life-work balance differs between women. She recommends women strategically plan for both their personal and professional lives, and actively seek out mentors to help forge the intersection between the two.