Do not be afraid of risk as it always precedes great success, said Donna Soble Kaufman, past board chair of the Institute of Corporate Directors and former chair of TransAlta Corporation.
“You can prepare for everything except the unexpected. The future is predictably unpredictable,” she said. “Who, among you, would even recognize the person you will become over time? But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have ambitions, dreams, to teach, learn and change the world. It means these things are the product of years of following your dreams, your friends, good advice, bad advice. They are products of winning, of losing, of living.”
Kaufman spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Social Science at the Wednesday, June 10 morning session of Western’s 305th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD), upon Kaufman in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the world of business and communications.
“Every worthwhile endeavour is comprised of success and of failure, the yin and yang of life. Successes are like mile posts, letting you know where you are in some measurable way. Failures are building blocks,” she told the graduates.
Kaufman, a professional corporate director, has followed a distinguished career path that has made stops in business, law and communications. Starting out as a broadcast journalist and executive with CHCH-TV in the early sixties, she is also a trained lawyer and former partner of Stikeman Elliott, an international law firm, where she practiced antitrust law.
She has served on several boards of directors, including Selkirk Communications, where she was chair and CEO, Southam, Provigo, BCE, Bell Canada, Bell Canada International, Bell Globemedia, The Public Sector Pension Investment Board, Hudson’s Bay Company and UPM-Kymmene, of Helsinki, Finland.
Kaufman is also former governor of the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, the Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, and the International Development Research Centre. She served as director of the CRB Foundation and the Historica-Dominion Institute, as a member of the Canadian Advisory Board of Catalyst and a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service of Canada. Today, she is a member of the Senior Advisory Panel of the Global Professional LL.M. program in business law at the University of Toronto.
“You will fail early, and you will fail often. You will fail in public, in private. You will fail your companies, your friends, your families, yourselves. You won’t fail because of ignorance, or lack of effort. You will fail because you are exceptional, and it is exceptional people who change the world,” she encouraged graduates.
Having authored Broadcasting Law in Canada: Fairness in the Administrative Process, among numerous journal articles, Kaufman holds a B.C.L. from McGill University and an LL.M. from the Université de Montréal. She is a member of the Bars of Quebec and Ontario.
She received the Award of Distinction from Concordia’s Faculty of Commerce and was named a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors.
In his citation, Social Science Dean Brian Timney praised Kaufman as one of Canada’s leading independent directors and experts on matters of corporate governance.
Her success can be attributed to her high standards and dedication to everything she does, Timney noted.
“Despite her very busy professional life, Donna has maintained her strong commitment to her family with her husband, Fred Kaufman, a Quebec Superior Court judge, and their two children, both of whom are also lawyers by training. She has also committed her time to a broad range of charitable organizations representing health care, education and business,” Timney added.
“Her career and her accomplishments provide a superb example for women, many of whom are in this audience and about to start their own careers.”
“You can avoid failure, and not take risks, avoid tasks that are hard. The halls of mediocrity are filled with people who have never failed, not even once.” Kaufman added.
“Or, you can dare to fail, again and again. One day, you won’t fail; you won’t have the wrong answer. You will be right, and you will be heard and you will answer questions ordinary people said were unanswerable. And that is not a mile post – that is an achievement.”