This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jodi Kovitz, Founder & CEO, #movethedial.
Few of us have ever met anyone quite like Toronto lawyer Jodi Kovitz, founder and CEO of #movethedial.
Yet, there are many women out in the working world with her infectious, enthusiastic spirit, and her sharp intelligence.
Many of us are just now adjusting to the rise of women who “move the dial” in all aspects of business.
#movethedial, a global movement and organization, was launched in 2017 with the purpose of advancing the participation and leadership of women in tech.
Essentially, #movethedial is about “moving the dial,” and rallying the global tech community to advance opportunities for women in the industry while putting the spotlight on women in the sector as role models, and sharing their career stories
#movethedial’s mission statement includes: Providing leadership around achieving gender diversity; advising partners and sponsors on how to attract, retain and advance women within their companies and organizations, particularly within their tech and innovation divisions; providing them with access to its network to help them build a talent pipeline; and to conduct substantive research to be shared with its partners and sponsors.
Also, #movethedial’s goal has been to host ongoing sessions, events, and annual summits to inspire, educate, and connect women. To date, this has included Canadian events in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver; as well as in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, London and Tel Aviv.
As well, Kovitz in 2019 published her informative instructional 130-page book “Go Out Of Your Way,” about why you should go out of your comfort zone to extend yourself to meet new people to broaden your work network; and how to take a “hello” and turn it into a meaningful relationship to further your career.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought #movethedial’s activities to standstill?
Yes, unfortunately. We had planned 75 events globally. We were on this rapid scale path, and because our revenue model has relied heavily on event sponsorship and partnerships and in constant large gatherings, we decided to pause operations. We have been building a piece of technology that has been focused on making more efficient the mentoring process, and really impactful but we are…
That’s the mentorship technology platform for which you had raised over $1 million funding from a private investor to build?
Yes, that’s the mentoring platform. We were a little too far away to be able to rely on that to fund our operations. So, for the time being, we have paused, and we are in the process of thinking through how #movethedial 2.0 looks like when it comes back to life after the pandemic. In the interim, I’m really enjoying spending time talking to tons of people who I have been fortunate to meet over the past few years; being of service, however I can, and being helpful; continuing to mentor lots of up-and-coming women in the tech sector; communicating with our former #movethedial business partners on a regular basis; and, really honestly, enjoying some time to pause, and reflect, which one of my mentors, Lisa Lisson, always says, “Pause and reflect.” And, it’s a really powerful time to do that, and think about what the future of #movethedial should look like, and how I can best be of service in the universe after three years of moving really fast, and growing at a very quick pace. The lemonade of this is enjoying the moment of quiet.
This time during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a very creative period that will be evident when we return to our daily lives.
I think that you are right. I do. Everybody is sort of forced to rest right now. Of course, people are still working, but the pace being slower, I think, will result in a lot of change. People will emerge different. With new priorities in a new world.
#movethedial’s activities include working with partnerships, and in consulting. Partnerships with leading Canadian and global companies in the financial services, technology, and consulting sectors, including TD Bank, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Wealthsimple, KPMG, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and others?
Yes. We started the company in 2017 officially and launched operations in December of that year. Then we built a program around being able to help companies attract, retain, engage, and advance their talent. As well, we created an Events Platform that included both of our global summits which are the large events you’ve seen. The one we had in 2018 with 600 people, and the one we had in 2019 with 3,000 people, as well as the smaller events that we did around the world with 100-200 people per event. The partnership program really enabled us to customize working with different organizations; from consulting organizations, advisor service organizations to banks, to technology companies, to start-ups, and to really help them address the diversity of their talent organization; as well as advancing their full talent pool with a particular focus on all women.
How many events has #movethedial done outside of Canada?
We have done a number of events in the U.S. Last year is when we began our foray internationally. So we did 5 events in the U.S. last year, and we did one in San Francisco in February of this year. We have been in New York I think 5 times in total. We have been in Chicago, and San Francisco several times, L.A., and as well as in the UK. We went to London with one of our #movethedial events last year as well as in Tel Aviv. We were planning to go to Bogota, Colombia this year, and we expected to be back in the UK this year. Unfortunately, those plans will have to wait.
How did it feel getting a text of support on your iPhone while in Los Angeles from American technology executive, author, and billionaire philanthropist Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook, and the founder of LeanIn.Org, and Option B which were founded to support women striving to reach their ambitions?
Oh my God, it was quite a moment, honestly, and then when she decided to endorse my book, it was really a moment for me that felt validating. That all of the work that myself, and my team—it’s not just me. I have worked with this incredible team of people and all of these partners that believed in—it was very validating.
Like so many startups, Facebook started in 2004 as a boys’ club headed by a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg. By 2007, the company had expanded to serve over 20 million users, but no one had quite figured out how to build a sustainable, profitable business around its services. Sheryl Sandberg’s arrival in 2008 added a much-needed “adult in the room” to the company, being that she is 15 years older than Zuckerberg. Perhaps more significant was that she arrived after years with the U.S., Treasury, and Google. The first female on Facebook’s board, she knew how to monetize its product. In 2013, her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”— a 228-page manifesto on what women need to do to triumph in the male-dominated workplace–transformed her into a best-selling author, and a global celebrity.
The groundbreaking book put language to some workplace issues women all know exist, but didn’t always know how to talk about.
Exactly, so she has lived this experience with her having built LeanIn, and Option B into movements from the ground up, and the incredible leadership that she has shown, honestly for me, it was a life changing moment, and a real blessing hearing from her.
What caused such a change for you that led you to launch #movethedial after traveling to Israel (Nov. 12-19th, 2016) as part of a 120 member delegation for an economic mission headed by Toronto mayor John Tory, and then Montreal mayor Denis Coderre? Obviously, an eye-opening trip for you.
It was massively transformational. First, I had an experience hearing from some incredibly successful venture capitalists that happened to be women. I was impressed with their tenacity, their drive, their vision, and their poise. Seeing them speak made me realize the power of shining a light on leaders in the tech industry that happened to be woman, and the power of that. That is what I would call was the first seed of #movethedial of today occurred to me in Israel when I had the idea to create an event. The second seed of this concept of #movethedial was born when we went to Ramallah.
The Palestinian city in the central West Bank.
As a Jewish woman, it was a very special experience for me. I couldn’t go there without diplomatic immunity traveling with the Mayor. So the fact that we as tech leaders were able to go to Ramallah, we had this incredible experience hearing from many women founders of technology companies, and businesses in Ramallah. I was furiously writing notes as I was listening. I remember that there were people around me. One person, in particular, said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I have this idea” because of the power in particular, I think the fact that we were in a region that typically you wouldn’t associate with strong business leaders or with strong business leaders in technology. There was a bias even in our own experiences that we were bringing. So they (these women) were shattering “the glass ceiling” by being there. In particular, this one woman was talking about her lingerie delivery service using a tech platform, and I was blown away by that. And that was really the inspiration for me for coming back to Canada, and leveraging those insights around the power of role modeling, and telling stories of awesome founders, and VCs, and tech leaders to create what then became #movethedial.
What began as an idea soon sprouted into a grassroots movement, You gave a speech to 3,000 people at a tech conference in Toronto to explore developing a strategy for change in order to tap into the creativity and drive of the local tech talent pool. You received significant community support for the event. Following your talk, Jeff Fettes, a tech entrepreneur, and investor who supports and invests in social purpose initiatives, offered to fund you for 6 months while you figured out how to launch #movethedial.
Jeff advanced you $50,000 to pay your salary, and your first hire and to put down a deposit on the venue for your inaugural summit. He suggested that you draw up a business plan. Once the business plan was completed, Jeff met with you and the advisor, who’d played a key role in helping to develop it, and you walked him through it. After a deal was formalized with Jeff, he advanced you the balance of half a million dollars in seed capital.
Yes. I had a wonderful adviser, a friend, who believed in what I was doing, and was inspired by the impact of the work. Jeff became my first backer and business partner, ultimately to enable me to believe enough in myself to quit my day job and go, and to work with #movethedial full-time
Where had you been working?
I was at Acetech Ontario (Academy of Technology renamed Peerscale in 2018). I was the CEO of that organization at that time. We changed the name during my tenure there. #movethedial started January 2017. We changed the name the following year. So #movethedial was a passion project of mine while I was working at Acetech/Peerscale.
(Peerscale provides ongoing opportunities to accelerate personal, professional, and organizational growth to its members. It currently has over 200 members in Ontario including companies like Wealthsimple, TribalScale, and HiMama. Each member has access to a dedicated advisory board called a peer group. Peerscale has 15 peer groups for CEOs, COOs, sales, marketing, finance, human resources, technology, product, and customer executives.)
Had Jeff been part of your business hub world you talk about in “Go Out Of Your Way?” Was he among those that you were interacting with?
My hub. A fantastic question. Actually, he hadn’t been in my hub. He lives in Winnipeg, and we had reconnected a few months earlier where I had seen him for the first time in many, many years. I had known him years earlier because a girlfriend from my undergrad business school had been married to his brother. I had been around him in the businesses that they had started 20 years earlier. So I had the opportunity to reconnect with him over the summer. Then we started talking and brainstorming because he was interested in what I was doing with #movethedial. Of course, he is now in my hub and will be for life. An amazing, incredible human being and a wonderful partner creatively to do this with. He just deeply believed in the movement, the mission, and my team and I feel super grateful for that.
For the first event, you had only expected a handful of people, but someone tweeted about the event, and the response was far beyond your hopes
We expected about 30 people, and we got 1,000. Isn’t that funny? I know. So lucky.
Quick, get some sandwiches.
That’s exactly how it was. I was hunting around, to “beg, borrow and steal” is how I call it. Can I have a few thousand from this friend and that friend? I had to, literally had to, go and hunt around to get access to some funding to pay for the food.
(On Nov. 7, 2017, #movethedial hosted its inaugural global summit in Toronto, drawing in 1,000 corporate leaders, emerging leaders, and youth to learn about how companies can become more effective in being more inclusive and diverse. That day’s keynote speakers included executives from Salesforce, Google, Facebook and Instagram, Uber, and Patreon, among others. While #movethedial had mini-events, there hadn’t been a full-fledged summit with a packed schedule of talks, and panels. A second Toronto summit in 2019 drew 3,000 attendees.)
You have said in several interviews that you are not a shy person. That you can be assertive. However, in reading your book, I picked up on your shyness. Despite being a family lawyer, and a CEO previously, it’s a big step to walk into a big room and say, “hello,” and fully engage a crowd.
You know it wasn’t easy. That’s the truth. You are right. It’s interesting that you are astute enough to pick that up. I would call myself an introverted extrovert.
Well, you waited until the last day of your 2016 Israel trip to introduce yourself to Toronto Mayor John Tory who is renowned for having an outgoing, affable personality.
You are right, and I was shaking in my boots when I went up to the table. I will never forget it. I was doing a whole lot of conversation with myself. “Should I or shouldn’t I. I don’t want to bother him. I don’t want to be annoying.” Finally, I was like, “Jodi do it. Go and say hello. Take your own advice.” He was nothing but wonderful, and gracious. I gave him a letter my daughter had written to him. Right at the table, he wrote her back on the back of a menu. It was quite amazing to see. I told him that I would help tell the Toronto tech story when we got back, and how much I appreciated that he had made that trip.
For the Jan. 2017 event, I invited him to participate, but he couldn’t personally come to it. One of his staff, Siri Agrell, who is incredible, did a speech about Toronto being positioned to become a leader in the global tech ecosystem. But he came to our second event in May 2017. He showed up and he has not stopped showing up. Anytime. He always says, “Don’t hesitate to ask for help.” I feel very blessed to have that relationship with him and to be in a position where he’s been very supportive of me personally, and of the work.
The May 2017 “Women founders and leaders in technology” event, was a major moment for #movethedial.
I would ay that it was the first step of taking that event bigger and building it into something broader. We had the event at Osler hosted by one of my hub members Colleen Moorehead (Chief Client Officer at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, and founder and business director of the Judy Project designed for executive women ascending to C-suite positions at the University of Toronto’s Joseph Rotman School of Management) who created this wonderful event around teaching women to use their voice in the media. We had a fantastic speaker (award-winning author and women’s advocate) Shari Graydon who founded Informed Opinions. The mayor came and he took a pledge that day using our brand—I will never forget it—that he won’t speak on panels that don’t reflect the diversity of our population. If he is asked to do that, he will say “No.” And if he arrives at an event, and there’s no diversity on the panel then he will leave. He talks about how he was inspired by #movethedial to do that, and certainly him putting his weight behind the movement early on, and using our brand and supporting it, and speaking at our event made a tremendous difference in the trajectory of the success of the movement early on.
(Toronto Mayor John Tory made the pledge that he and other Toronto city officials are less likely to attend tech and innovation events if they feature all-men panels, and programming with little ethnic diversity while at the “Women Founders and Leaders in Technology” event.
Said Mayor John Tory later, “Our city is home to a diverse array of talent that must be represented in the events and programming we put on for each other and for the world. Diversity and inclusion are a huge part of our value proposition, and I will be supporting and championing those events that help build that reputation at home and globally.”)
Unfortunately, diversity is still an area where start-ups, tech companies, and music-related companies are still struggling. Women have historically faced challenges getting equal opportunities to develop their skills, share their stories, and advance in many industries.
You identified the gender gap when at your first quarterly dinner as CEO at a tech company you looked around the room and didn’t see any female role models, much less many women sitting at tables. there were three women in the room, out of about 130. The tech leaders in the room mostly were white men. There was a single man of color.
I have seen that scenario in the music industry. I remember being at an international music conference in Vancouver years ago. and a female Asian Canadian label executive asked me to look around the room of about 250 people and what did I see? I saw only 5 women and only one person of color. That was her.
It was distressing to me to think that critical creative and business decisions were being made without the perspective of half the population. Even today I see that “bro culture” continues to dominate both the tech and music sectors.
I see it as well. I think the message of this generosity of spirit, and the need to go out of our way has never been more relevant. The timeliness is right now. We need to do that even more coming out of a pandemic as the economy recovers
In the introduction to your book, Claudette McGowan, Global Executive Officer, Protect Fusion & Cyber Experience at TD, and CEO of Excelovate, tells a similar story of scanning faces of leaders at a tech gathering with the same experience. She said she doesn’t believe that male leaders are actively working to exclude women, people with disabilities, people of color, people from the LGBTQ communities, and others. Rather that most male leaders are not doing what they can to change for three reasons: “They don’t see a problem. They don’t see the business value. They don’t know what to do.”
Now that seems to be changing and being credited is the #MeToo movement, and Harvey Weinstein.
Yep. I think that there has been a significant shift in consciousness as a result of the Harvey Weinstein situation for sure, and all that ensued after that. So I do think that things have changed significantly, and there is some significant momentum building. I think this pandemic, unfortunately, is going to impact that in a negative way, and interrupt the momentum that has happened as well as we are definitely seeing a disportionate impact on women. That is some of the data and information coming out of the United Nations. It is showing that. We are going to have to work harder to move the dial as a result of what is happening now. But certainly, I think that there is a positive outlook on where we were three to four year ago
Not only Harvey Weinstein has brought disruption to our culture, but also the predator activities of such men as Billy Reilly, Charlie, Rose, and Louis C/K. Also, a factor is Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election– a contest featuring the two most unpopular candidates in modern presidential campaign history. Less than two weeks before Election Day, she held a clear lead in the polls. The final 12 days of the campaign allowed Trump to pull off the greatest political upset in American history.
As detailed in “All The President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator” by Barry Levine & Monique El-Faizy, since his campaign, Trump has already faced allegations from nearly two dozen women. The book reveals another 43 allegations, bringing the total to 67 accusations of inappropriate behavior, including 26 instances of unwanted sexual contact. In essence, Trump’s alleged misconduct with women seems to have been a regular occurrence and widespread.
Three years into his term, many American women were thinking, “I lived through stuff like this at the office to have this?” And now Joe Biden has a sex-assault accusation.
If we have understood one thing in the two years since actress Alyssa Milano tweeted #MeToo, sending the then 11-year-old phrase viral, it is that when women are not listened to, men in positions of power are left free to abuse their authority. When the accused abuser is a celebrity those allegations, and how they are handled have led to companies like Fox News, Uber, CBS, and the New York Times being rapped sharply across their knuckles for their behaviour. Today, companies can’t afford not to change. Paying lip service to gender diversity issues doesn’t cut it anymore
What attracted you to technology?
I just got excited by the way technology was transforming how we interact with one another, and the world. And that started to happen probably in my early 3os that I got excited about technology, particularly as I watched my brother (Michael Katchen) start his own Fintech company (Wealthsimple) and the way that you could use technology to make things easier for people. It was fundamentally exciting for me, and is what excited me to come back to technology after 20 years out of it.
(Fintech is a portmanteau of the terms “finance” and “technology” and refers to any business that uses technology to enhance or automate financial services and processes Wealthsimple, founded in 2014 by Michael Katchen, is a Canadian robo-advisor investment management service that offers investors hands-off a choice of investment portfolios to suit their risk tolerance and financial goals. As of August 2019, the firm holds over $5 billion (Canadian) in assets under management.)
Employment shouldn’t be based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin, but these, unfortunately, remain factors in business.
According to a 2018 Catalyst report, women account for less than a quarter of senior roles globally and remain a small minority among executive committees.
A 2017 Canadian study, co-authored by PwC, the MaRS Discovery district and #movethedial based on research and analysis of more than 900 companies, noted that just 5% cent of Canadian technology companies had a female founder, and a similar fraction had a woman as CEO, The study, also showed that women comprise 13% of the average Canadian tech company’s executive team while 53% of firms do not have any female executives.
It has, however, become increasingly very evident in North America, particularly in Canada, the need for diversity in the workplace include people of varying gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, languages, education, abilities, etc
Workplace diversity is now something most companies recognize that they need to strive to achieve. Workplace diversity provides a serious competitive advantage: Diversity of thought to build solutions as people from varied backgrounds and experiences will each have unique ways to improve products and services being offered.
I think that the link there is because of the consciousness shift people are seeing people different than they have before and I think that they are seeing past the bias. The more that we can hold up examples of what leaders look like that are different and what we are used to seeing think the more that we are chipping away at those longer standing bias.
I did an article in Billboard magazine two decades ago emphasizing that the lack of diversity at labels was undermining services being offered to an increasingly growing ethnically mixed population in Canada.
Yes. Your point there is 100%. The entire rationale behind the movement that I have been building. You can’t create music for the entire population if you aren’t representing the perspective of the whole population in the process of creative to production to distribution. If you don’t understand the needs of the consumer. And that is the same sort of transferable thought over to the tech industry and we can’t just design a version of Uber or Uber Eats or Airbnb etc. that is relative to all members of the population if we are only being designed by one.
Mentorship, you have said, has been critical to shaping your career path. There has probably never been a more important time to go out of our way to meaningfully connect with others.
There is a lot of demand on the time of senior people in tech who are “givers,” and there is a huge need among junior talent for meaningful mentoring relationships. Overlooked is that such relationships require ongoing attention to doing good work without complaint, and that the mentoring has to be earned.
It is different depending on the nature of the relationship, but for me, there is no replacement for just fantastic work and a fantastic attitude. Certainly, the folks that I have sponsored, and am sponsoring at the moment, these are people that show up; nothing is beneath them. You have a good attitude. You have a growth mindset. You just want to learn and to be of service, “How can I be helpful? How can I amaze and delight? How can I deliver unexpected value?” Certainly, those who have gone above and beyond for me, through the course of my career, have been people I’ve really tried hard to emulate, and certainly for me the difference between someone who says, “Will you mentor me? Just because…” and not really working for it, versus really demonstrating and investing in the relationship, and invest in themselves, and demonstrating their own hunger and curiosity, makes a world of difference in terms of my willingness to use my relationship capital, and energy to support them.
I have suggested to several women executives in music that they mentor younger women, and their reaction was, “No woman helped me to get to where I am. F them.”
You know there are some women who support other women and many who don’t. That is a fair observation.
I so appreciate your recommendation of building a 6 person hub of friends around yourself to focus on. With what I do, with all of the networking and connecting I do due to my job, my hub probably consists of 20 people.
Yes, I would say my hub is probably 20 also, but I think for most people who are not comfortable or adept at building and maintaining and investing in many relationships 6 is a very simple, and nice place to start. But certainly, people who are later in their life or who are very comfortable in entertaining relationships would have more. The philosophy for me, and something that I have lived, is really having a system by which to analyze, to be thoughtful and strategic about, and invest consistently in the most important relationships to you professionally and, of course, you can do it personally as well. The way that I run my relationships is quite methodical because I don’t count on my memory as I get older.
It’s going to get worse Jodi.
(Laughing) I can imagine. But the idea, I guess, is to identify to people per goal that you have for yourself; that can assist if you invest often, thoughtfully, authentically, and in a meaningful way in those relationships. The reason that I like to do it around specific goals is that it is wonderful to have relationships simply for the joy of the relationship; but, if you are trying to plan out, and chart your course careerwise, and your success, and how you are going to move forward, being able to be real thoughtful around your network, that can help you with that; and who are willing to help you when you invest in the relationship all of the time—not just when you need something. In fact, when you are giving more than you are receiving, I have found tried and true to work for me as a process. I have shared that philosophy over the last 10 years where I have been doing lots of speaking and teaching and coaching and the feedback has just been phenomenal around it working for people. That is why I shared the concept of building a hub in the book
With the people in your hub, it’s important for you to have a strong rapport with them, and also you have to figure out if they will help you with your goals.
What is the source of your lifelong volunteerism, including with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Sarcoma Cancer Foundation of Canada, the Breast Cancer Foundation and SickKids Foundation? Is it that you were raised to believe in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam in that it is a basic human nature to perform acts of loving kindness? I believe the phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage.
Yes. So very much based on that Jewish upbringing, and that ethos I learned in my home and certainly from friends that I had around me. A very close friend Jared Tessis really inspired me to deepen my commitment to tikkun olam when we started volunteering together for the Starlight Children’s Foundation when I was in high school. I started volunteering at Starlight when I was 16. I used to volunteer first for the gala, and with Jared, helped run the auction, collect all the forms, and tally everything up. Then after I graduated from Ivey (the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario) with my HBA (Honors Business Administration). I started to volunteer as a wish granter. I had some children that I helped the organization understand what their wish was, and to execute the wish. It was a deeply gratifying experience. Granting wishes to my wish kids was more nourishing than any other experience in my life, outside of raising my daughter.
Then at Starlight, I also undertook a volunteer website re-design project, engaging marketing team resources from the company that I worked for at the time. I helped them redesign their website, and think about some of their strategic issues once I’d gone to business school and started to work.
Community service was always very important to my mother. She did volunteer work and created an organization to benefit society and mental health very early in my life. I watched her and her modeling contribution, and along with my Jewish education and meeting Jared and being inspired by him really solidified my desire to contribute and it is something I try very hard to pass to daughter. I think it’s working. She decided on her own that she wanted to do a cake baking fundraise for a PPE (Personal protective equipment) for COVID-19. We had our first order. She baked all day yesterday for a fundraiser. She’s 11 and I’m so proud of her.
Let’s talk about your family.
Yes, I have a massive family. I was raised in two large blended families, with 5 siblings.
Not only is your brother Michael the founder of WeathSimple but your mother, Dr. Karen Katchen (of Katchen Consulting), is a clinical and consulting psychologist as well as an executive coach with four decades of experience. Throughout her clinical career, she has trained police, teachers, child welfare workers, physicians, lawyers, and judges. As an executive coach, she has advised executives, founders, and directors of some of Canada’s fastest growing companies. Your sister Amy Baryshnik is a Harvard Business School alumnus and was a partner and COO of Alignvest Investment Management.
You were born in Calgary, and after your mother and father divorced, you moved to Toronto with your mother when you were 6.
I was very fortunate to have two homes. My mom and my stepdad Bernie and my dad Jeff (Kovitz) and my ex-stepmother Leah, I was raised with a lot of love and a lot of belief in who I was, and my abilities. My mom really taught us to be curious, to trust our intuition, to explore it, to go for it, and really supported us in becoming independent, and to be able to figure it out, and to go and do it. My biological dad taught me really how to build relationships. I will never forget the story of I went to his office on a weekend and he showed up with Hershey kisses in his pocket for the woman who was his assistant. He did that to be thoughtful. To demonstrate, “I care about you.” And, “How are you today?” And listening deeply, as he modeled some of those behaviors to me very early on that I think led me to develop relationships in a way that really enabled me to find a kind of career and success that I have. And my stepfather Bernie has modeled for me integrity….
Both Bernie and Jeff are lawyers?
Yes. Bernie is a tax lawyer.
You worked as family law lawyer at Torkin Manes LLP (2005-2011) after a very brief stint at Scotiabank in leadership resource management, and after working at WorkBrain as a marketing specialist. You graduated LLB (Qualifying Law Degree) from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.
Did practicing family law further your ability to listen? Divorce, in particular, is a very tense time in peoples’ lives. Clients often need to feel heard, respected, and listened to. You have to listen carefully in order to really understand what people need, and how you can help.
Yes, that’s for sure.
Was practicing family law different from the legal career you had been expecting?
I fell in love with family law and sort of to be out of it at the time that I discovered it when I was in my rotation of articling. I just really, really enjoyed it. I found it fascinating. And even though I didn’t expect to go into it I realized that I wanted to help people. I love listening. I also thought that I could build a business. I could build my own practice by doing that versus if I had gone to corporate law where I wasn’t sure that I would have been able to have the same impact.
Is family law a more direct career point for female lawyers than other sectors of law at that time?
I don’t know the answer to that question. Honestly, I can’t answer it because I worked for great men. My boss was a man, and there were many different kinds of folks that were doing it. I was just personally drawn to it because of my own interest.
It was quite a different role and stature than when you moved to Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. First as director of client and business development (2013-2015) and later as director, client development, litigation, and director growth initiatives (2015-2016).
First, you were responsible for developing Osler’s national litigation business to create and execute on creative business development programs targeted at revenue generation and defense. Then your role expanded to include running a comprehensive associate business development program for 350 associates nationally which you created. This program included you speaking at, and facilitating, 10 sessions annually as well as coaching junior partners and senior associates to help set their long term business plans.
You wouldn’t have landed at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt in those positions out of law school.
No I wouldn’t’ t have been able to. I think the fact that I had practiced. The fact that I had built a practice was a huge part of how that happened.
One of your goals is to attract Oprah Winfrey to a #movethedial event. That’d be a big get.
That’s right. It’s on my shelf.
You got sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing down everything.
That’s right. I have a sign on my shelf that says, “Oprah 2020.”
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.