Gail Cook-Bennett, Chair of the Board of Manulife Financial, knows first-hand about the challenges facing corporate boards. As the only female Board Chair within the largest 30 North American financial institutions, she is a trailblazer who inspires women and men. A Member of the Order of Canada, Gail’s engagement spans the business world and beyond. At Manulife, where she has been chair since 2008, she has overseen the appointment of seven board members whose broad experience is tailored to the evolving needs of the company’s growing global business. Gail has served as chair of the CPP Investment Board; other corporate directorships have included TD Bank, Mackenzie Financial, Emera, Consumers Gas, Petro-Canada, Cadillac Fairview, and Transcontinental. Join her as she talks about lessons learned – and why the decisions facing directors are more complex than ever.

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  • It was in accepting opportunities that my path developed.
  • It’s not so much the job title, it’s about loving a job’s characteristics.
  • We’re looking for diversity on a board. Not a single opinion, not one single suit.
  • On starting during the recession: It’s about respectful interactions, backbone and values. The social environment on boards is very important and fragile.
  • My path only became a path with the benefit of hindsight. There was no map.


    Gail Cook-Bennett is Chair of the Board of Manulife Financial Corporation and The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company Ltd. She assumed her role as Chair in October 2008 after having served ten years as the founding Chair of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Over the last 33 years she has served as a director of a number of major corporations; chaired Audit, Pension, Investment and Corporate Governance Committees; and, been a member of Executive, Finance, Management Resources and Compensation, and Independent committees.She is a Member of the Order of Canada, holds Doctor of Laws degrees (honoris causa) from Carleton University and from York University and is a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors.

    In addition to her current role as Chair of Manulife Financial, she is a director of Emera. Her past corporate directorships include, among others, the TD Bank, Mackenzie Financial, Enbridge Consumers Gas, Petro Canada, Cadillac Fairview, and Transcontinental.

    Dr. Cook-Bennett has served on several Crown, professional and not-for-profit boards. While a member of the Board of the Bank of Canada, she chaired the Special Committee of the Board charged with appointing, with the approval of the Governor in Council, the Governor and Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada. She has chaired the General Services Sectoral Advisory Group to the Minister of International Trade and was a member of The Advisory Committee on Financing (providing advice to the Federal Minister of Finance) and served on the Canadian delegation to the Trilateral Commission. She is a member of the Chairman’s Forum (a group of non-executive Chairs of U.S. and Canadian corporate boards) and of the Board of Directors, Institute of Corporate Directors.

    She is a member of the Territorial Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, the Campaign Advisory Board of Bridgepoint Health Foundation, the President’s Advisory Council, Carleton University as well as the Leadership Council, School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University. Dr. Cook-Bennett has served as a mentor for Women on Board.

    Born in Ottawa, Dr. Cook-Bennett holds a B.A. (Hons.) in Economics from Carleton University (1962) and an M.A. (1965) and Ph.D. (1968) in Economics from the University of Michigan. She has held academic positions at the University of Toronto (1968-74) and served as Executive Vice President of the C.D. Howe Institute in Montreal (1974-78) and as Vice Chair of Bennecon Ltd., Management Consultants (1982-1998).


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