The Top 25 Women of Influence is designed to celebrate the most influential women in business, health, non-government organizations, professional services, and the public sector over the course of the year. These women have not only made a significant difference in their chosen fields, but they are important role models for future women leaders across Canada.
Karen Sheriff has proven over and over again that she’s got a unique combination of business capabilities and knows how to keep a strong, loyal team around her.
I started working with Karen in 2005 when she offered me a job running the operations in Bell’s small/medium business division—she was president at the time. She’s interesting as a businesswoman: she’s 50 per cent hardcore, know-your-numbers kind of executive. If you don’t know your numbers, don’t even walk through the door. You have to be very, very prepared when you talk numbers with Karen because she can skate you around the boards pretty fast. And then, just after you’ve had this really hard conversation with her about numbers, she’ll say “so your daughter’s doing this-and-this this weekend—how are you feeling about that?” She’s thoughtful about how her folks are feeling. She’s so tough on the one hand from a business perspective, but then absolutely caring from another.
She works hard at building the team around her; she makes sure she has a 360-degree perspective of people who work for her. When you’re a senior business leader, it’s so easy to just focus on the numbers and production, but it’s actually very short sighted to do so.
At the same time, she’s very confident in her strategy and courageous. She knew she had to build fibre-to-the-home (selling high-speed Internet service and Internet Protocol television) in Atlantic Canada and she pushed and pushed and pushed. While she knew this line of business was the only way to compete—because it enabled her to build better Internet and TV products—it was risky because nobody in Canada had done a large build-out like she was contemplating. But she created a sound business plan, took it to the board and, after their approval, she blew away her business plan with better-than-expected results.
That courage is key. She never doubted she had to build fibre; she took a stand and then executed on it—and that’s what makes her a phenomenal executive. Executives who aren’t phenomenal don’t have the courage of their convictions, so they waffle and their team does a whole bunch of extra work and doesn’t end up executing anything very well. But Karen’s focused on what she needs to do, and because she’s so good at numbers and knowing what numbers are needed, her team just lines up underneath her.
Shortly after meeting Kim 15 years ago, when I was RBC’s Executive Vice- President, Ontario, I made a mental note to keep my eyes on her. It was clear she was a natural leader and I could really see the tone she set in terms of service for clients and attention to detail, and that follow-up was a high priority for her and her team. I was right: in 2010 she was named Regional President of Atlantic Canada for RBC.
Early on I was getting to know her and trying to figure out where she got her spark from. And then she started discussing her family’s business. She grew up in an entrepreneurial family—they had a car dealership and you could just tell when they had dinner, they talked about business and they liked talking about it. Kim told me a story one time about how her father would recount to her and her siblings how many cars were sold that day, how many were leased, why customers were coming back to his dealership, how important it was to have their family name on the front of the business and how much joy it gave him when his customers provided repeat business and referrals. Kim seems to have absorbed his attention to detail, his sales focus, his passion for a quality customer experience and the personalized brand image that it built. Those values of hard work, customer satisfaction, care for others, and winning seem to be part of the family DNA.
Kim doesn’t mind doing her homework. While working full-time for RBC running our flagship branch in Toronto, she also entered the MBA program and this was like managing two full-time jobs. Not only does she have an honest interest in her own personal growth and she is always looking to learn, she brings it out in others. She just cares. She looks for people who actually have balance in their lives and ensures that the people she works with have that balance. She wants them to be successful in family and in their professional lives.
She’s got that willingness to talk to others and expose herself by sharing something personal, such as the struggle to balance work and family. She knows that you don’t have to be perfect and the younger women in the company learn from her that you can work hard and be a great role model to your family, your business and community.
Tracy was raised to believe that a woman could have a successful career and raise a family—as long as she was prepared to get an education, work hard, and remain very organized. Her paternal grandmother led the way, working three jobs in England in the 1930s and 1940s in order to send her son, Tracy’s dad, to a prestigious private school.
Committed to taking “the road less traveled” in life and business, Tracy continues to challenge the status quo. In 1979 she earned a degree from the University of Victoria with a double major in economics and Asian studies. She became fluent in Japanese and spent the early part of the 1980s living in Tokyo. She returned to Canada in 1984 amidst one of the country’s worst economic periods.
Unable to find employment in her field, Tracy found herself in the hospitality industry where she held a variety of positions, from housekeeper to concierge, before securing a managerial role. Upon leaving hospitality, she returned to university to earn her MSc in Business Administration in International Trade and Finance.
This led to a job with HSBC Canada where she became one of the first female commercial account managers in a highly male-dominated environment. The fact that she was female was an issue for some of the bank’s clients, one of whom actually refused to meet with her. Tracy insisted that they meet and was not only successful in keeping him as a client, but also transforming him into a close personal friend, one who has supported her throughout her career.
With three daughters and a son, Tracy has always made family a priority. Along with her husband George, Tracy has raised all of her children to be exceptional human beings—well rounded, talented, and worldly.
Tracy is an excellent strategist and big-picture thinker who, despite her seniority, can relate to any employee at any level. She never loses sight of the individual employee.
Take Lisa Skakun, for example. Tracy created a general counsel position on the executive team to help move the credit union ahead strategically. She hired Lisa and gave her full-reign in establishing her team—which has now grown to include six people. Tracy provided encouragement, training, and opportunity to expand Lisa’s career beyond the traditional legal role. Tracy is a strong advocate of people, she works diligently to foster a better environment for women—and all employees—to excel.
When Sue was nine, her parents sent her to England for a little over two years. She learned to stand on her own two feet early on, which gave her a degree of confidence. She’s very independent. In her teens, she was a wrangler on a hunting territory, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to find the horses for the hunting groups, and in her 20s, she was a cook in a mining camp in the Yukon.
For nearly a decade, Sue and I have belonged to the same group where we meet monthly to explore business and personal issues. She’d never been in a group like ours and she joined it to have a group of peers to bounce ideas off. She’s never the first person to talk, but when she does it’s always well thought through and adds a lot of value. We’ve noticed that Sue always asks three questions and they’re always insightful and get to the core. That ability to find the nub of the issue comes from her background as a lawyer. She knows how to sum things up and get you to focus on the important parts.
When Sue starts something, there’s always change. She led the expansion of the law firm Fasken from one office in Vancouver to nine offices internationally. It’s not easy leading a group of equal partners. You have to create alignment amongst offices and partners and give everyone inspiration, setting the values and making things come together.
It was a huge leap of faith for her to go from managing partner at Faskin to CEO at Pharmasave. Most lawyers don’t make good CEOs, but her background in labour law was good preparation. She understood how to talk to people and how to be fair. It’s what makes her a good business leader. She knows you can get the job done, but you need to make sure people also feel good about themselves.
If I had to describe Sue in one word it would be dedicated. When she was the director at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, we’d have social events and Sue wouldn’t have a drink at dinner with us. She said: “There’s no way I can have a drop of alcohol and get behind the wheel.” She knew that was the right thing to do. She’s not preachy—it’s just how she lives her life.
She loves to drive herself as hard as she can. She’s very athletic and does the Grouse Grind in Vancouver many times a year. It’s a hike from the base of Grouse Mountain straight up 2,800 feet so sometimes we call it Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. It’s a really important part of Sue’s life. I think she likes to do it on her own because it’s her thinking time. I’ve never done the Grind with Sue and I actually might be a little afraid to. She certainly wouldn’t wait for me.
In 1989 Amiee was a co-op student with MPR, the research arm of the British Columbia Telephone Company, where I worked as the manager of an engineering group. It wasn’t until three years later that I really noticed Amiee’s unique abilities. I was teaching at the University of British Columbia and she was a student in my class. In 1992, in her final year of a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Amiee was among a handful of female students studying in this stream. She was a pioneer—even back then—and in a large class, she ranked in the top five.
Upon graduating, Amiee joined my group at MPR where we worked on a number of projects in satellite communications. In 1996, MPR was dissolved by BC Tel and sold off in parts. Our group was first purchased by a company in Winnipeg, and then, two years later, sold to Norsat International Inc. It was at Norsat where Amiee remained and rose through the ranks.
In 2006, at 38 years old, Amiee was appointed CEO. She succeeded over a number of presidents, all men.
With an electrical engineering PhD in Satellite Communications and an Executive MBA with a focus on strategy and new ventures, Amiee possessed elite technical skills and superior business acumen. A little over a year after she took over as CEO, Norsat Operations were back in the profit column. Today it ranks among the top technology companies in Canada and has been named one of the fastest growing companies in BC.
Because Amiee is among the few women who have risen to leadership positions within this field, and because she looks young for her age, she’s often struggled to be taken seriously. Her ambition and optimism, though, have gone a long way toward helping her realize success. I can recall in 1997 when Amiee, still early in her career, offered to take on one of the projects that was really giving me trouble. At 29 years old, she looked quite young and had a vibrant, bubbly personality, so her colleagues were surprised when they realized she was the project manager. But appearance can be deceiving and Amiee proved very quickly to be a very effective leader. The initiative Amiee took in this case launched her career.
If all of this isn’t enough, Amiee also makes time to sit on a number of boards and work with numerous mentoring organizations including the Ms. Infinity program of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. And, every Wednesday for nearly 20 years, the mother of two has put on skates and taken to the ice, where she plays centre or right wing in a women’s hockey league in Burnaby, BC.
Oftentimes when we think of leaders, we think of huge personalities or huge egos—Janet’s not either of those. But she wows you in ways that you can’t imagine. I appointed Janet in 2004 as Chief of Research at Sick Kids after a large international search. I wanted to have someone on my team as a partner to lead the vision we had for research at the hospital and to help me build a child health research facility for the future. She came into our first meeting with eyes wide open. She had lots of questions. She interviewed me on my vision, and what I was trying to accomplish, to see if her values aligned with me, as a leader, and with the organization as a whole.
She’s a biologist in her own right. Her work and the achievements and discoveries she’s had, most recently in stem cell research, have really put her at the top of her game. [She is President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.] Janet discovered the stem cells that form the placenta and she has been able to generate lung cells from stem cells.
Twenty years ago, Sick Kids discovered the first cystic fibrosis gene. It’s not an area that Janet works in, but she reached out to the two scientists to bring her research on stem cells to the disease. She used her discoveries and worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Centre to generate lung cells from CF patient stem cells, which were used to test new drugs for treating CF. This has the potential to allow us to design personalized treatments for different CF patient populations.
Science is often seen as competitive, so this is a great story of creativity, vision and collaboration. She’s a tremendous role model for the kind of culture we want to build at Sick Kids.
There’s no question that she’s my partner expert in the field of science and research. When I talk about her brilliance, it’s not just brilliance in the way her brain works for science, but it’s in knowing who she is talking to.
She is probably one of the best spokespeople for laypeople to understand the world of science and discover the application to everyday living. When she’s talking to my board, she can galvanize them around a vision and help them understand where that vision is going to take us when it comes to the most complex research. Janet can translate all the things that have made her successful in the world of science into a boardroom, into a classroom, into a public policy forum and into a cocktail party. She’s incredibly sought after to sit on scientific advisory boards for prestigious research institutes worldwide and is so generous with her time. In a week she can be in the U.K. and Sweden, then back to Toronto and then off to China and all while maintaining her connectivity to the management details of what’s going on at the hospital.
For women who either aspire to great things in science or who look to find role models they can emulate, Janet is one of those people.
It’s never about Janet. When I’m talking with other people about something great she’s done, Janet finds a way to turn it to someone else. She’ll use examples of the great up-and-comer scientist to celebrate those people, introduce them and give them more opportunities.
One project that we’ve been working on—the creation of The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning—has been a huge undertaking. I challenged her to see the future of science and asked her how we make this a wonderful environment that’s going to inspire the people who work here. For someone to put their heart and soul into a facility, while leading their own major research lab, while being invited all over the world, while sitting on the senior management team as an executive member, while sitting on major scientific panels, while participating in major provincial scientific strategy—to have that all in one person is pretty profound.
I hired Christine as head nurse for the new eye department I was running back in the 1980s at the Halifax Infirmary [now Capital Health]. I could see even back then that she demonstrated great leadership and I always admired that she made it a point to know what every person in the unit did, sometimes by helping them do their job. She would replace the clerk at lunchtime, for example, so she knew what it was like to come up to the reception desk. Or she’d help the filing clerk with putting away patient charts at the end of the day.
Over the years, she’s worked in progressively more responsible leadership roles in Halifax and at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ont., and in 2006, she became president and CEO of Capital Health Nova Scotia in Halifax.
You should know the healthcare sector is not exactly the easiest sector to be an executive of at the moment: expectations, resources, micromanagement from government, lack of collaborative approaches from across the country… those are some of the issues to deal with. Part of senior management’s challenge is keeping the board involved, so that they know the general direction of the organization, but also keeping them at arm’s length from the day-to-day operations because that’s not their job. Board members get in the way if you allow them to get into the weeds, and Chris is quite adept at managing that.
It’s impressive the way she works with people—she’ll take lots of advice or listen to different perspectives to see what people have to say. She’s open to everyone’s point of view. At the same time, she’s got unique ways to emphasize teamwork. For instance, she started a “regifting” tradition with senior management.
Let’s say we have a new team member. On their first day, all the existing team members would put together a big basket full of items for the new member as a sort of “office warming.” But it was best to pick out the most awful thing in your office to put into the basket—for example, Chris passed on a pair of boxing gloves she had received when she became the CEO. It was a humour break and you laugh about it, but it’s a tradition that creates comradeship, and that’s not often found with physicians. That all started with her.
I first met Daniela in 1999, not long after she had started at Sick Kids. She had a stellar resume and was new to Canada. Oftentimes when people come to Canada they don’t come into the workforce at the same level as they left the workforce in the country from which they’ve come [Daniela is from Romania]. It’s always a huge challenge for immigrants. But it didn’t take very long to see the brilliance in this woman. She was incredibly talented, very smart and had taken on brilliant leadership initiatives in Romania.
When we first met, she was a little shy and she had a major challenge with English as a second language. I was asked by the then chief information officer to mentor her. He saw in her something no one else had seen and he was bang on. It took her a couple of years to acclimatize to the culture in Canada and to get her English where it needed to be, but it was pretty damn clear that her tech skills were phenomenal, as was her ability to execute projects. Those continue to be her strengths as her profile grows within the organization.
At the bedside of our critically ill patients, we had technology systems set up to capture and monitor all treatment data. As the hospital became more sophisticated in our technology, we needed to integrate all those individual systems. Daniela led the introduction of a bedside system [T3 or “Tracking, Trigger and Trajectory”] that connected all the patients and units in the hospital into one large system. The data is displayed on an interactive, web-based system. This will enrich clinician discussions, improve learning and enhance communication. It was a huge, complex job where Daniela had to please many, many people. She worked for two and a half years with a consulting team. I had the pleasure of being in the room when that system went live.
That was a moment I’ll always remember—it was one of the smoothest system uploads of an integrated system that the world-renowned consulting team had ever seen. She was confident before it went live. And there is something wonderful about a confident leader, especially when she has every right to be confident.
She’s a champion of women leaders in non-traditional roles. She gets invited to speak nationally and internationally on IT and information management technology and also gets invited to conferences in broader business because she has a reputation for having tremendous impact.
One of her greatest gifts is recognizing the contribution of others. I will thank her for a big accomplishment and she always replies to my emails and says something like “other people were also instrumental in making this happen” and copies them on the email. It’s all these little things that she does to make sure people know about their contribution to her success.
I first met Marla in 2001. At the time I was the executive producer of the CTV national news and anchor Sandie Rinaldo called me and said they were bringing in this doctor to do a segment on the show about flesh eating disease. I remember watching that first night and thinking ‘Wow, she’s good.’ She was an amazing communicator and really connected with viewers, taking those big medical terms and telling us how to understand them. Since then we’ve used her more and more—she’s the go-to doctor for Canadians across the country. We hear from our viewers all the time that they love her. She gets the message across.
Whenever a door closes for her she finds a way of opening a new one. Her very first appearance on Canada AM was because she lost a son at five and a half months to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She was telling people about the Back to Sleep Campaign because she wanted people to learn from her heartbreak. She takes these tragedies and turns them into learning experiences for others.
I always say she’s all the “b” adjectives—she’s beyond brilliant, balanced, brassy, beautiful and the best, because she really is. We sometimes also joke that she’s breastless because she had both breasts removed after having breast cancer. She wrote a book about her breast cancer struggle, entitled Life in the Balance, which became a best seller. She shared really intimate stories in her book. She gave personal details about how she felt about deciding to have surgery to remove both of her breasts and how she and her family coped. Not many people would do that. She also did a documentary on her breast cancer for W5 called Run Your Own Race, which won some big awards in the United States, such as the Columbus International Film and Video Award and an award at the New York Film Festival. She always talks about how she’s not a survivor, she’s a thriver. I love that she says that and it’s so true—she’s a thriver.
What you see is what you get, even on TV. People see her as warm and friendly and smart and she’s like that in person. She’s an amazing multi-tasker. She runs a practice, she writes for the ctvnews.ca blog, she appears on TV on Dr. Marla & Friends, she sits on multiple boards, including the Canadian Foundation for Women and Health. I don’t know how she does it. She can be writing the blog for ctvnews.ca while she’s between patients, while she’s writing a book.
What makes her different? She’s very driven and caring. A lot of the women I know are driven, but they are not as caring as her. When it comes to friends, family and colleagues in need or crisis, she drops anything and everything.
In 2008, Connie was in a program I run for entrepreneurs called Quantum Shift at the Richard Ivey School of Business. There was a group of 40 entrepreneurs and we were together from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for a week, so you get to know each other very well. Connie was different. Mostly because any time we discussed business cases, Connie’s first approach was a value approach, based on her personal values. It was an interesting perspective that stood out. In the beginning, I chalked it up to naiveté about how business works, but the more I’ve gotten to know her over the years, I’ve realized that’s not it. It’s her go-to place and then second is “how do we make business decisions?”
She started out as a registered nurse in the 1980s and got into business to fill that home-care gap in the system and take care of people. To really live and run your business where you put personal values first may sound trivial, but it’s a tougher proposition than people realize. You’re always being asked to compromise. When you’re considering what’s best for your employees, for example, it may not always be what’s best for the bottom line. T
hat’s what makes her a good CEO. Closing The Gap has done really well by doing good and building a stellar reputation. Connie has had a handful of business partners over the years and they haven’t always worked out. She would tell you that she’s made a lot of mistakes, getting into those partnerships and giving away a stake in the ownership too easily. This was costly in that she had to buy them out when things went off the rails, but in each failed partnership she learned a lot.
Connie gets annoyed when people talk to her about the glass ceiling. She’s pragmatic in her belief that there are people on your journey who want to help you and people who get in your way. If they try to get in Connie’s way, she does a good job of saying “it’s their problem. I’m going to work with people who will help me succeed.”
She’s always busy with tremendous demands on her time, but she’ll still be out there mowing her lawn or finding a way to leave the office at 4 p.m. to see her son’s hockey games. When I ask her how she manages it, she says she doesn’t think about it. Otherwise she probably wouldn’t be able to do it all.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Rosemary can get off a plane in Toronto from a community in Sierra Leone, give a speech to law students, come back to the office to hold a budget meeting, help draft a policy for the Canadian government and host a party at her home for 30 guests all in one day. Then she’ll do the same thing again the next morning at 7 a.m. What sets her apart is the variety of what she can accomplish and the seamless way she does it. People underestimate non-profit work, but you’re running a business and an advocacy and making everyone feel enthusiastic about it is a gift that Rosemary has.
I met her in 1999 when she hired me and my first impression stands. She was optimistic, enthusiastic, creative and passionate. Beginning in 2009, Rosemary, along with the Plan team and other NGOs, academics, and the government, created the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. During the 2010, Canada-hosted G8/G20 summit, her work continued when the issue of child and maternal health was brought forward by Plan, in partnership with others. This brought in pledges from participating countries of $7.3 billion dollars.
Rosemary is a lawyer and was trained to think critically and logically; it’s a part of everything she does. She loves spending time in the field and has worked in over 100 countries. She’s often on humanitarian missions focused on complex situations, including the West Africa food crisis in 2012, or more immediate emergencies, like the Horn of Africa drought crisis in 2011 and 2012. She also went to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake to support plan humanitarian efforts on the ground. She always comes back motivated to do more. It fuels her energy and her compassion.
She spearheaded the Because I Am A Girl project. Originally it was a research paper that Plan published about girls’ rights in the developing world. Rosemary felt it would bring global recognition to girls’ rights issues. She worked with the Canadian government and partners for 18 months and took the concept of the International Day of the Girl to the UN for resolution. The UN agreed to it as led by Canada and, really, as led by Rosemary. We celebrated the inaugural International Day of the Girl last year.
Rosemary has an infectious warmth. She hosted one meeting where she asked me to bring my three children. I said, ‘Really, you want me to bring my children to your meeting?’ And she said, ‘Yes we’re a child rights organization.’ She has a drum in her living room that she picked up on one of her country visits and at the end of the night she had 30 people dancing. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. As a leader she’s a great role model.”
Taking the easy road has never been an option for Annette. As one of the few women in her class at Queen’s University in the late 1980s, she earned an honours bachelor of science in material and metallurgical engineering. Undeterred by the seeming man’s world, she moved into a career in Hamilton’s tough, steel-making industry, working as a production engineer at Dofasco. Persistent determination got her to where she is today—the 94th president of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), the licensing and regulating body for engineering in the province. Annette leads the association’s 80,000 members as only the sixth woman to be elected president.
Not a person who strikes you as an A-type personality, Annette isn’t exuberant and doesn’t pound her fist on the table. She’s not a big personality. Her success doesn’t come from that. She is quiet and thoughtful and persistent and strategic.
After earning an MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business, she returned to Queen’s in 2000 to try teaching. Starting with a course in entrepreneurship in the chemical engineering department, she later became the director of the first-year engineering program.
Then, as the dean of engineering, I hired Annette as director, putting her in charge of more than 600 students, the majority of whom were away from home for the first time and often not well equipped to cope with university. Coming from a non-academic background, it was a challenging position for Annette. She had to not only gain the respect of her colleagues, but also deal with the trials and tribulations of the young students. As an academic and personal counsellor, she was compassionate and firm. She always struck the right balance.
Focused on professionalism, she had her leather engineering jacket hanging prominently over a chair in a corner of her office. It served as a reminder to students that they were at university to not just have a good time, but ultimately to become professional engineers. Her motto was: “work hard, play hard.” Good work habits were something she always stressed.
Not afraid of change, Annette was critical in abandoning long-held practices within the engineering department. Despite opposition, she remained focused on helping the department get rid of physics and chemistry labs in favour of more collaborative teamwork. She wanted students to understand that seldom would they solve problems on their own in the workplace. Recognizing that change is slow and not easy, she has patiently and persistently worked over the past 25 years to see the number of women entering her profession climb—little by little.
Annette values what people have to say and takes the approach: “Here is the goal. How are we all going to get there?”
Mitzie and I grew up together and in many ways were like sisters. We’ve worked on boards and community organizations together, like Black Business and Professional Association and United Way Toronto, and I’ve watched her entire career—starting with student council president in high school.
When Mitzie’s involved in anything, the landscape changes. As Vice-President at Goodwill, she pushed for access to work for people with special needs. As CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, she championed the need for public transportation across the GTA. Her ability to rally people together in a common cause makes her a game changer.
Last summer, she called me up on Canada Day to tell me she was running for office as the Liberal MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. I immediately joined her team as the fundraising chair during the campaign.
With her plan to build a new subway in Scarborough, Mitzie’s campaign slogan was Let’s Get Moving, which was fitting because she is absolutely tireless. When you campaign, you don’t go inside houses because there’s just not enough time; you run from door to door. But not Mitzie. She went into the homes of seniors and young people and sat and let them talk. After a two-hour debate at a local church she stood in the parking lot late into the night so she could hear from every last person.
That’s what makes her a great leader: she’s an amazing listener. When someone from her community asks for help, she doesn’t say, “See my staff.” When she was Chief Administrative Officer for Toronto Community Housing, she started Tea with Mitzie. Once a month people could meet with her one-on-one. She knew that a teen or single mom might be intimidated by a corporate environment, so they’d meet at Starbucks.
The week after Mitzie got elected, my mother and her grandmother, Eva Hunter, passed away. She was an inspiring woman, a community builder and superhero to her 14 kids and 43 grandchildren. One of the things she instilled in us was the importance of hospitality. Mitzie loves bringing people together. During the campaign, Mitzie served lunches to the constituents and volunteers. Even though she has a hundred things to do every day, she makes the time to have friends and family in her condo. Sometimes it’s about 20 of us, but when Mitzie’s cooking her caramelized salmon, people will line up for it.
After she won the election, we were driving through her riding and saw two huge campaign signs. They are supposed to be removed immediately after the election. There was Mitzie in white pants, getting splinters in her hands, wrestling with these big signs to shake them out of the ground. As usual, she got the job done.
Claudia has been one of my most important friends in the world over the past 20 years. She is a founder, and the driving force behind, Canada’s most important entrepreneurship program, The Next 36. She and her team are transforming young, energetic people into trained business leaders.
Claudia originally got me involved in the Fraser Institute as a donor and board member. It was Claudia who engaged me about the important analysis being done to increase understanding of how economic policy affects Canadians.
A few years ago, we were in New York meeting with politicians and senior banking and law enforcement officials for another venture we were working on. We were stranded with all the airports closed down because of a snowstorm, so I called my wife and told her I could probably rent a car and drive home. She was like, “You’re stuck with Claudia in New York at the Waldorf? Forget about me, enjoy yourself. I’m jealous!”
So we rented rooms, opened a bottle of wine, and had phenomenal discussions about so many issues. If something is going on in the world, Claudia knows about it and can talk intelligently about it. We talked about education, politics and children’s issues and she spoke a lot about wanting to change our country for the better.
Everything she has undertaken in the years I have known her has had a remarkable impact. She is a founding investor and board member of Canada’s most successful national daycare company, Kids & Co., which is growing by 30% per year.
She really stepped up to help with the restructuring of The Children’s Aid Foundation by supporting our “Bridging to Independence” program, which teaches life skills to kids coming out of the child welfare system, so they lead fulfilling, independent lives.
She is a phenomenal role model for young women and her three children learn so much by seeing her in action. She is strong and confident, whether she’s in a room full of politicians, powerful business leaders or philanthropists.
With Claudia behind it, The Next 36 will have a dramatic impact on this country in the next 10 years. These kids are going to be world leading CEOs and major gift donors, because she’s teaching them that they can be and do anything they dream of, that they are worthy, and that it’s important to use your success to give back.
My wife Carole and I met Janice several decades ago, when she was fresh on the scene in Toronto from England. Carole’s a major fundraiser for cancer—she started the Run for the Cure—and she’s always looking to draw in active, energetic people.
If you add up how many millions Janice has raised for different causes, she’s become one of the most dynamic volunteers in Toronto.
What I like about Janice is she doesn’t do anything without thinking about the bottom line. She was chair of the Brazilian Carnival Ball for Sick Kids in 2009 and it was a smashing success. When you have a fancy ball, usually 75 percent of the money raised goes to the cost and promotion of putting it on. If Janice gets involved, she wants to reduce costs so more goes to the charity and that’s a rare attribute.
She’s a great leader because she won’t ask you to do anything that she won’t do herself. You can call her up at any time of the day or night and she’s ready to help. She’ll ask: “what do you need,” “how much” and “when do you need it.”
After 9/11, I was complaining that other countries had a presence in New York City, but our Prime Minister hadn’t yet visited the city. My wife’s response was “don’t complain, go and do something about it.” So we called three or four couples together at our home, including Janice and her husband Earle. Together the eight of us created the Canada Loves New York weekend in 2001 and 30,000 people showed up, including the Mayor of New York and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
A lot of volunteer leaders won’t do anything without a PR team beside them. For a lot of them, it’s about the applause, but that’s not Janice. Janice was instrumental with the planning, but she also worked behind the scenes as an usher during the ceremony [to present the check to Mayor Giuliani]. The event raised money for a new fire engine for the fire department and $110,000 for the police department. It was tremendously successful because of the volunteers.
Janice gets satisfaction for doing something well and getting results. She gives at home, she gives at the office, and she gets genuine delight out of it. Janice is an Eveready battery, always ready to go. And she’s not even in her second act yet.
In the corporate world, many women hide their personal lives, wanting to appear strong and business-like. Cheryl’s never operated this way. In a highly male-dominated field—technology and life sciences—she speaks openly about her husband and her children, and shares whatever is on her mind, in a professional way.
I can still remember when Cheryl’s son was younger, I’d be in meetings with her (we work hand-in-hand on several client matters in the area of biopharma) and her phone would go off. She’d answer without hesitation, attending to whatever her son needed before returning to the meeting. In doing this, she made it acceptable to balance work and family. She demonstrated that a woman actually can make it work.
You always know where you stand with Cheryl. Clients, opposing counsel and colleagues appreciate the direct approach and as a result she garners their trust. This allows her to be an effective negotiator, trusted advisor, and valuable colleague. Cheryl is a mentor and role model to many young women, both within the law firm and through the various charitable causes she champions. She’s committed to supporting others on the path to success and her openness and self-awareness draw people to her.
In her field, Cheryl is extremely well respected and well connected. An American, she came to Toronto from New York where she was a partner with a large international law firm and chair of an 85-at¬torney life sciences group. She joined Torys as head of the Technology She built one of the most elite and well-respected life sciences practices worldwide. Since being at Torys, the Canadian side of her practice has expanded, but on any given day she is dealing with U.S., European and Israeli entities with no Canadian connection at all, leading some of the largest and most complicated transactions in the biopharma industry (including the largest cross-boarder IPO and the largest cross-border merger and acquisition transaction).
While many great female lawyers struggle to have a voice at the table, Cheryl has the frankness of a New Yorker and the confidence to speak up and make her views known, even at a table full of men.
Her commitment is made evident through her responsiveness. It’s not uncommon to email Cheryl at 11 p.m. and have a reply by 11:10. Yet, every Friday at sundown she disconnects completely, turning to religious practice and her devotion to the Sabbath. She uses this time to reconnect with the basics—to go to synagogue, spend time with her family, and reflect on what’s important.
I met Sharon 27 years ago, when she was starting out as an articling student at Torys and I had just joined the firm after practicing law somewhere else. What strikes me about Sharon is that in those 27 years— while she gained impressive experience and knowledge and became one of Canada’s leading M&A lawyers—she hasn’t really changed at all. At her core, she’s still the same highly principled, vastly inquisitive, and genuinely friendly person I met nearly three decades ago.
What sets Sharon apart is her well-engrained moral compass. Likely instilled by her parents, it guides all of her decisions and prompts her to do the right thing, even when it means forgoing something that would benefit her. For example, she has argued against more partnership compensation for herself in favour of other colleagues. Her motivation is consistently based upon her ingrained view of what’s “right.”
A number of departments within Torys competed over Sharon when she was an articling student. As the hiring processes unfolded, she was wooed by senior members of both the litigation department and the corporate department with offers for a career. It was unusual for a law student to be singled out so early on. And, while she would have been excellent in any practice area, corporate law was the obvious fit. From day one she was innately a business lawyer—she had a clear sense of the corporate landscape and a mind for numbers.
While she’s risen quickly through the ranks of partnership at Torys, she doesn’t concern herself with rank or standing. Her priority has always been practicing law, and doing it well.
One of her most impressive career accomplishments involved her representation of the TMX Group in its $3.6 billion sale to Maple Group Acquisition Corporation following its earlier proposed US$6.9 billion merger with London Stock Exchange Group.
Some corporate transactions unfold as marathons over extended periods of time, while others are sprints with intensive activity over a short life. It is rare for a transaction to make sprint-like demands with the duration of a marathon. And it is rare for Canadian transactions to become as complex and hostile as this one did.
Deals of this sort require huge teams of experts for each phase and there are no roadmaps to follow. These teams also require a leader who sets the direction for their efforts and draws upon the entire team to achieve the best. Sharon was that leader.
Sharon logged hundreds, if not thousands, of hours over the life of this deal, guiding her client from a sophisticated merger with a friendly party, to battling a hostile challenger in a shareholder contest, to, ultimately, a friendly merger. And even then, the transaction faced regulatory reviews.
After working with Sharon for many years, I left Torys to join National Bank Financial. Upon leaving I did two things. First, I left all of my clients with Sharon, knowing they’d be well taken care of. And, second, I became a client of Sharon’s myself, choosing her from a vast pool of business lawyers, all of whom I know very well. My reasoning: there is no better lawyer than Sharon. I trust her implicitly, and she is my first choice—every time.
Possibly the smartest person in any boardroom she enters, Beth keeps this little secret to herself. As KPMG’s Toronto managing partner, overseeing an office of about 2,500 employees, and the firm’s Canadian managing partner, community leadership, she not only has the intelligence to frame a debate, but the passion to pursue her goals and the charisma to get people to follow her.
When we first met about eight years ago, I was taking part in a two-year KPMG program called the Chairman’s 25. The program develops partners to take on senior leadership roles. As the firm’s then chief human resources officer, Beth had the top title in the room. But you wouldn’t have known it—except that she was probably the brightest person there. Actively engaged in discussions around the table during the day, at quitting time she was the first one at the bar ready to have fun. She is definitely not a shy person.
After I became CEO in 2009, we launched our Community Leadership Strategy and made it a top priority. With KPMG in dozens of cities across the country, we wanted to allow the firm’s 6,000 employees to follow their passions in the places where they live and have it be part of their job—not just something they did after work. This was Beth’s baby.
I put Beth in charge because I knew she could motivate the firm and was an excellent example of a business leader bringing about positive change in her own community. She was most proud when one of the firm’s reluctant partners or employees came to her with a story of how rewarding their volunteer experience had been, whether it was coaching their kids’ soccer team or sitting on a hospital board.
Beth’s current passion is making Toronto a great place to do business. As chair of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, she’s working hard to make the city more competitive. A fervent supporter of women’s leadership, she also mentors many women both inside and outside KPMG and helped lead a United Way initiative called Women Gaining Ground. There are a lot of people who follow Beth’s lead. Thanks in large part to her work, KPMG can now boast that it has many women progressing to the partnership level.
As dedicated as she is to her work, she’s also a proud mom. If you give her the chance, she’ll talk your ear off about her husband, their time at the cottage or on the ski hill, watching their two teenage boys race. She’s driven, but she has her priorities straight.
Jane and I once worked together on a big proposal for a large client, and they asked us for a meeting right after Canada Day. Jane had to mobilize the partners to work through the entire long weekend. It was up to the partners whether they were going to work or not….you don’t do that for many people. But Jane’s really good at pulling in people from a range of places, explaining why you should do it and what’s in it for you. She was there the whole weekend rolling up her sleeves to get stuff done. She’s not a distant, hands-off leader.
Jane spends about 50 percent of her time as Deloitte’s Chief Diversity Officer (she spends the other 50 percent consulting on strategy and business performance to energy clients). When we were filling the role six years ago, we wanted someone who lived and breathed the client service experience, with that credibility, rather than someone from human resources. And we were looking for a person who “walked the talk” in supporting diversity. There weren’t many people who struck that balance.
After Jane won the role, she had a position to fill in the diversity group. It was a small team and she wanted to make sure it wasn’t just women, that it represented the whole firm. She considered the importance of introducing diversity of thought and background into the all-female group. In the end, she made the decision to hire a man who was really passionate about diversity. That was her way of leading by example.
We’ll only really appreciate Jane’s impact on Deloitte three to five years down the road because diversity is slow, long-term change, but Jane’s not afraid to be the Jiminy Cricket conscience and ask hard questions.
As Chief Diversity Officer, she led a rigorous analysis to figure out why our balance was off in terms of gender. That analysis was the first time Deloitte shined a light on that. It showed us that our promotion levels were slightly lower for women than men and it was really about our senior hires: when a man or woman left a senior role, the replacement rate was 7- or 8-to-1 for men over women. It was a breakthrough, and without Jane’s analysis we wouldn’t have gotten there.
I was a business writer at the Toronto Sun in the late 1980s when I met Evelyn Jacks—she was Evelyn Jacks of “Jacks on Tax” and doing lots of educational inter-views and appearances to help Canadians understand how to make the most of their tax returns. She was very easy to understand for a young journalist starting out—she’d put tips for readers into plain language so they were relevant and understandable, which is key to financial literacy. And that’s what she’s all about: promoting financial literacy.
I think earlier in her career she was actually preparing taxes and probably saw how proper tax guidance can impact our lives, but that people were not getting the best advice. She’s a very caring and passionate person and she’s taken that into the financial services industry. She saw that people weren’t as informed and educated about their personal finances as they could be and wanted to do something about it.
Her success also comes from being an engaging personality: she connects with everyone. She consistently and constantly reaches out to the Canadian public through media and she uses multimedia to get the educational messages out there. It helps that she’s also so knowledgeable and articulate, which is how she’s become so well respected in her field.
You can see at her annual Distinguished Advisor Conference [a continuing education conference for financial advisors] when she’s up there and talking to advisors who have paid their own good money to hear from these speakers, you can hear the passion in her voice around doing the right thing.
It’s easy to see how hard she works. She went through a period about three years ago where she had numerous deaths in her family. I was very much in touch with her at that time and she stayed focused on her business and her family and it was astounding to see how strong she remained through all of that.
All of this has helped her become one of a number of women in this country in the financial services industry who have broken out from the rest of the personal finance professionals. And with Evelyn, it’s really about relationships and a personal passion for her end goal.
In the end, she is still a businesswoman—she has a bottom line to reach. But getting there is always within the context of “is this the right thing to do?” So her integrity and ethics are incredible. She cares that people get the best advice and do the best things for their individual circumstances.
It’s hard to say “no” to Wendy. When she wants something, she picks up the phone, explains what she’s after—whether it’s for you to join a research project, a lobby group or a board—pauses, then lets out her friendly, telltale chuckle before asking: “Don’t you want to be part of this?”
She doesn’t try to go it alone. She’s a team player with an incredible knack for finding her way to the vortex of society’s most pressing social change or technological innovation. And she’s fearless.
Today, she’s at the centre of university research. As Ryerson University’s vice-president of research and innovation, she has pushed the institution to become number one in Ontario and fourth in Canada for research growth. Last year, the university’s research funding was more than $30 million.
After starting her current job in 2011, she marched to Ottawa with the message that Ryerson deserved a bigger cut of the country’s university research dollars. To be effective, she knew she had to elicit the support of people like me, who, having spent my career as a senior executive in the telecom and information technology industries, could make some calls and gather key allies. She knows how to lead. She’s shown that throughout her career.
More than 20 years ago, as president and co-founder of the Coalition for Gun Control (CGC), an alliance of more than 300 major policing, public safety and violence prevention organizations, Wendy set out to reduce gun death, injury and crime in the country.
Wendy launched the CGC in the wake of the 1989 Montreal massacre, after 14 women were fatally shot at Ecole Polytechnique by Marc Lépine, who was armed with a semi-automatic weapon. There was no national gun control association at the time; Wendy saw a void and filled it. She knows how to get things done. She is engaging and inclusive and doesn’t have a big ego.
Wendy and the CGC were instrumental in pressuring the Liberals to introduce a bill, in 1995, requiring the licensing of all gun owners and registration of all firearms, and she has been an active proponent of its cause ever since.
As the associate dean at the Ted Rogers School of Management from 2004 to 2011, she implemented several new MBA programs and expanded Ryerson’s research activities.
A leading researcher, she heads several projects, including the $2.7-million initiative DiversityLeads, assessing the progress of diversity in leadership. Having written more than 200 papers on technology, innovation and management, she is also co-author of the 2002 bestseller Innovation Nation: Canadian Leadership from Java to Jurassic Park. You can’t say she hasn’t had influence.
I met Ann in 2000 when I was president of the Nova Scotia Community College and we were looking for a college vice-president of student services and to raise our profile—we wanted to build a national college. We were searching for a needle in a haystack, we were looking for a transformational leader to create a learning-centered environment for our students. Ann emerged out of that recruitment process and everything changed at that point.
We had high expectations, and she exceeded all of them. We presented her with a clean canvas and she drew up a masterpiece of her vision. She has great energy… have you met Ann?
She’s an extraordinary leader, but she’s also incredibly self-effacing and modest. The reality is she gets the transformational power of education in people’s lives. I’ve never met someone who understands that at such a deep level.
Maybe that understanding comes in part from being an immigrant. She came here—young—from Scotland, and she fundamentally has such deep respect for others going through that. And by providing education in the right way, she can help people change their lives.
She’s a great human being and that is felt by everyone who works with her. Was it Martin Luther King who said, ‘It’s always the right time to do the right thing?’ That’s the way Ann leads.
Now as President and CEO of Centennial College, she’s trying to do the right thing for students and the institution. One of the reasons I think she’s been so successful is that people recognize the integrity she has.
There’s always a human component to this work, whether it’s starting a new curriculum or outreach into the community, you can tell that she’s authentic and that’s golden in education.
I remember talking to their board when she was being considered for Centennial. I said, “Whenever she becomes president, she’s going to be the next big thing in college leadership in Canada,” and that’s exactly how it has played out.
We would have held onto Ann forever if we could, but it was clear she was going to need a bigger canvas. I’m not surprised by her success; the awards she’s won are richly deserved. She’s not doing this work out of ambition, but because of the opportunity to help others by showing them how great they can become. They just need to believe.
Great leaders make everyone around them better. No one exemplifies that more than Ann. I really hope you get to meet her.
In 1993, two years after entering politics in Saskatchewan, Janice was appointed Finance Minister in Roy Romanow’s government. The province was broke and about to have its credit rating downgraded, and the government’s task was to slash spending and get the deficit under control. This was particularly difficult for an NDP government that was more interested in strengthening social programs than cutting them and indeed her predecessor found he did not have the stomach for the job and resigned. Janice took up the reins and steered the province back to financial health with a combination of tough policy and skillful communications. She cut some social spending, but also raised taxes on top earners so that the less privileged members of society weren’t the only ones to feel the pain. She also increased spending in some social areas. The policies were seen as fair by most people, and they got the job done.
Janice has an amazing way of looking at problems, peeling them apart, dissecting them, and finding a solution—which not only makes her an excellent leader, but also a great confidante and friend. If you bring Janice a personal or career problem, she will listen with sympathy but, more important, ask the right questions to help you get enough distance from the issue to see your way through it. She’s helped me with many challenges and struggles over the years, including the decision to move from full-time employment to semi-retirement.
Janice and I met when I was the host of CBC’s As It Happens and we brought her on the show as a regular panelist on a weekly political affairs segment. It struck me then how truly intelligent this woman really was. She had a keen practical sense, an understanding of economics informed by her tenure as Finance Minister, and impressive research skills established during her academic training as an historian. All of this made her an extremely effective, fair, and persuasive panelist. We wanted her particularly, because she wasn’t an ideologue. She wasn’t going to tout the party line, on any issue, so you could trust that what she gave you was always her best judgment, and she was never afraid to speak the truth as she saw it, politely but firmly.
Janice and her husband Peter are both active and engaged in the academic world and public policy. She has, for many years, taught as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan where he was President. It’s not uncommon for government bodies and boards to reach out to this power couple, seeking their involvement and advice. Janice has served as Chair of the Institute for Research on Public Policy and has authored three books including Minding The Public Purse—a fascinating read if you’re interested in politics, economics, and the role of women.
As a grandmother, she’s wild about her new grandchildren and has thrown herself into this new role with as much enthusiasm as she’s done everything else. While Janice and her husband will remain in Saskatoon, they’ve bought a condo in Vancouver so they can spend more time with their granddaughters.
I met Beatrix through my work at the Rotman School of Management, but we really got to know each other on one of our first business development trips to India in 2007. I managed Rotman’s non-degree International Executive programs and was there for business development. Beatrix was there to set up the Indian module for our Global Executive MBA program. We had a lot of time to talk about our mutual passion for advancing women. She’s been a lifelong advocate for women and removing barriers around their advancement. I think in many ways the Rotman’s Initiative for Women in Business was hatched on that trip.
Beatrix was quite dismayed when she saw the number of women in the MBA program and she said to me in 2008: “This is not good.” She wanted to position Rotman’s as a place that women would consider for their business degree, and more importantly, encourage women to think of business education as one of their career options in the first place.
The initiative started with one program. We were given no funding whatsoever to launch it and built it from the ground up. Seven years later, the initiative has a broad spectrum of programs for women at every stage in their careers, from new immigrants to women aspiring to C-suite positions. We have best practices workshops, a speaker series and more broadly the initiative supports women by opening doors and giving them career guidance. Beatrix is really the founder of the initiative (of which she’s now the executive director) and has championed it at the school.
Her mother was a career woman and a chemist and Beatrix talks about how that was a huge influence in her life. Beatrix decided to take up the sciences and has a Master’s degree in information science and economics and a PhD in statistics and economics.
After she finished her PhD, she was a consultant for McKinsey & Company for quite a few years. When she had her daughter she was considering career options and one of the things McKinsey did was ask her to do an internal project on how they could retain some of their consultants who were balancing their family life with an intense work schedule. She was really interested and committed to finding ways to make sure that women didn’t leave the workforce, that they found ways to balance it or at least made conscious choices about it. She does believe that you can do both.
She has a number of firsts to her name. She’s the first female associate dean at Rotman’s, she was one of the first women on the board of a construction company [EllisDon], and she has a non-traditional academic background. She is a unique role model and mentor to a number of women and will go the extra mile to open doors for others. One of Beatrix’s former students told me that, as her mentor, Beatrix actively furthered her career and helped her carve out more fulfilling paths. She told me that Beatrix had a significant impact on her life by brainstorming with her, representing her and guiding her. She described Beatrix as a friend, philosopher and guide. Beatrix grooms people to become leaders.
One of Deb’s best traits is that she’s a good listener. When she canvasses door-to-door during elections, her handlers are always rolling their eyes because she takes so much time. She always puts them madly behind schedule because she’s right inside people’s homes asking about family and life.
I first met Deb over 30 years ago when she joined the Big Sisters of London as a board member. I am one of the founding board members of the organization and, at the time, I was on the board.
She’s worked in the backroom of political campaigns for a long time—former Ontario premier David Peterson is her brother-in-law. Then, in 2003, she finally decided to run herself and was successful—she’s been elected in the riding of London North Centre three times and appointed the Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and she’s now, along with being the Deputy Premier of Ontario, the Minister of Health and Long- Term Care working on transforming the Ontario healthcare system.
Deb works incredibly hard. A few of us took a trip just after the 2007 provincial election. She’d already been appointed Minister of Children and Youth Services and there she was on the plane, reading policy papers since she was also the chair of the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction. The rest of us were drinking our rum punches.
But that’s Deb, she does these things because she’s interested in them—and also because what bugs her most is getting caught without the right information. It drives her crazy.
Deb works hard to maintain her ties— we’ve been part of the same book club for 25 years and she still tries to make as many meetings as she can. We call ourselves the London Ladies Literary League and there are 10 of us including Deb. A few years ago the oldest member of our club, Elaine, died from ovarian cancer. The nine of us were her pallbearers and we wore sashes Deb’s daughter made for us. And now we all do the Run for Ovarian Cancer, even though we may not actually all run it.