FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Bonnie DuPont
May 24, 2016
She’s been a very active Fellow.
The day before our interview I was at the Calgary Petroleum Club for lunch. I saw a painting I’d not noticed before – of Emerald Lake, a favourite place of mine, donated by a former Club President, Bonnie DuPont. She was our first female President.
She’s been first at a lot in her life.
And my sense is she’s been kind of strong. Kind. And strong. Powerful, important, recognized and praised, honorary degrees – just check out her bio!
She wanted to direct our discussion to advocating for the University of Calgary. I get that, but I wanted to focus on learning what made Bonnie DuPont, the pride of speedy-creek (that’s Swift Current, Saskatchewan for those who don’t know) tick? What propelled her from there to here, through an awesome career? We found a compromise – I would point readers to Eyes High – Vision and Strategy of which she is very proud, the 2015 Community Report, … and I would back-off prying questions about her private life. Along her way – one marriage, one divorce, one daughter, one grandson – currently ‘very happy’ but not disclosing anything … fair enough. I appreciate, given how public her life and ‘apres-retirement from Enbridge’, corporate directorships, extensive corporate and community career being so public - that guarding privacy is important. Here is what I got:
You might expect to meet someone who has been first at so many things, so accomplished - that they might be arrogant, haughty or aloof – but I didn’t see anything like that. I saw poised, clear, strong (perhaps a bit stubborn), articulate and fiercely focused – she showed me the boardroom where she’s served for 10 years, first as a director and the last three as Chair, and photos of her predecessors – all male. She's the first, the only, woman!
So, back to the beginning – she’s firstborn of three (younger brother, younger sister) in Swift Current, into a farm family. Mom was a homemaker, dad was a farmer. Grandfather was a butcher. Grandmother a registered nurse. When dad died, mom remarried a non-farmer (she’s still ticking – Bonnie visits monthly in Swift Current). Grain and cattle farming. She attended Herbert High School in Herbert, Sask. They didn’t have valedictorians, but she was top of her class, yearbook editor. Volleyball was her sport. She couldn’t sing – so didn’t make the Glee Club. Then a nursing career – training in Regina, then Weyburn – then six years as a public health nurse in Swift Current. “Nursing wasn’t for me, so I started taking university classes - it took a while.” She got her B.SW. degree in Program Planning and Evaluation – then a job in the Department of Labour in the Blakeney government, working with crown corporations, women's issues and aboriginal issues. She was recruited to Sask Power where she rose swiftly, worked on succession planning and affirmative action programs. When the Devine government came to power in 1982, she moved on – joining Saskatchewan Wheat Pool as Manager of HR. She took a job with the City of Calgary as Manager of Education, Emergency Medical Services, just as the ’88 Olympics were coming. In 1987, a move to the executive team at Foothills Hospital, as Director of HR, just in time for a nurses' strike! And, while she was there she did her Masters degree at U of C. Next, from 1990-97 she was VP HR & Administration at Alberta Wheat Pool. “I really support people I work with – I really like to hire strong people.” … but in a merger, head office was moving to Winnipeg. Bonnie elected to remain a Calgarian. Lucky us! Brian MacNeill was CEO at Enbridge (they’d worked together in the United Way Cabinet) where an opportunity arose – and Bonnie became Sr. VP of HR & Public Affairs (first C-suite woman at Enbridge), and later Group VP after a reorganization – until ‘retirement’ in 2010. But she’s not the retiring kind it seems …
Why are you successful? “I don’t know how to define it. I’m a farm girl from Saskatchewan. All I knew was ‘work hard and study’, and I did. When I was 22, living in Regina, I was examining some choices I’d made – and I resolved to be accountable. My strongest lasting influence – when I was eight years old, an adult told me what I should think. I remember thinking, ‘that’s not for me’ – which has been a theme for me. Both a blessing and a curse.”
What has held you back? “I’d rather answer that as ‘what I might have done differently?’ … I could have been an English Prof. I’m a good writer and a really good editor. My grandmother was a registered nurse. That influenced my early choices.”
She has, and still does, served as a director of several public companies and is a very active ‘Fellow’ in the Institute of Corporate Directors. Her accolades are well earned and she is understandably very proud of them. DuPont, my research indicated, means ‘from the bridge’. I suspect she’s built many, blown up few.
How do you see your business – governance of University of Calgary – going forward over the next quarter?
… it’s going extremely well. “I will lift up mine eyes …" gave us our Eyes High Vision. We have 32 metrics we measure – we are proud of how we are doing.
And over the next five years?
… we have some big money raising goals, but we also have a very generous community. Our governments are strongly supportive of Advanced Education.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I do my due diligence. In people, I select largely based on past performance – because it is the best predictor of future performance.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Bonnie DuPont, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… my HR experience, my governance experience. There aren’t that many ‘new questions’. My experience as a corporate director, and as a teacher in that field.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… collaborative. Maybe sometimes too collaborative. Some see it as a sign of weakness. Personally, I try to see both sides …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about the next generation. The influence of social media. Violence. We seem to be getting desensitized to violence. And ISIS.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Grandmother McLauchlan was a very active equal partner in the family farm operation, raising kids, growing and selling produce from a massive garden. My grandmother DuPont was from England, a nurse, raised eight kids. Both of them were very strong. A teacher in Regina, an existentialist, he taught psychology – focused on individual responsibility, “you will determine your success, not others”. He showed me that if you are willing to take risks, you can move out of the ‘victim space’.
… travel. Crossword puzzles. Went to Cambodia, Viet Nam, Korea, Myanmar. A home on a lake in the Laurentians, north of Montreal – close to family, close to the ski hill. Opera. Gilbert & Sullivan. Rigoletto at the Met is on my calendar. Going on a cruise to Alaska in July – after my term here ends July 9th …
What do you read?
… I read the Booker Prize nominees. High Mountains of Portugal is on my list. And I inherited my grandmother's books – I worked my way through them.
What do you write?
… I’m a student of English literature. I’m a good business writer. I like to write. I’m a very good editor.
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