Ideas, inspiration and opportunities can come from the most surprising places – if only we are open to them, said Constance Sugiyama, president of ConMark Strategy Inc.
“Listen carefully to find these opportunities,” she said, offering advice on how to make the most of what life presents.
Sugiyama spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Health Sciences, Faculty of Law and School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Wednesday, June 17, afternoon session of Western’s 305th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD), upon Sugiyama in recognition of her career as a leader in law, a volunteer and advocate.
Nurses and lawyers share nobility in their profession, she told the graduates. Both are professionals who embody trust, integrity and a duty to care for people – often in high distress.
“But hubris and dogma are the enemies of professionalism. Avoid both, if possible. Remember, it’s not always about you. A lawyer’s greatest dogma is the worship of the billable hour. Question whether this model serves the best interest of clients and the profession,” she said. “For nurses, there are other dogmas to question and bury. Be aware of them and challenge them.”
A third-generation Japanese-Canadian, Sugiyama’s legal career has spanned more than three decades. She is a former deputy chair and partner of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and a partner and national executive member at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.
Considered a trailblazer and corporate mergers and acquisitions lawyer, Sugiyama retired from law in 2012, after a 35-year career on Bay Street.
A corporate director and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Ryerson University, Sugiyama has served on a diverse range of public and private sector boards and advisory committees, including as chair of the Hospital for Sick Children, vice-chair of Canada Health Infoway, director of Luminato, Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, among others.
“Life is full of little pricks. Avoid those little pricks, and above all else, don’t be one. It’s a small world, and it’s only getting smaller,” Sugiyama continued.
Be known as a decent person, or be highly selective of the people you choose to offend, she added.
The founding director of Women in Capital Markets, Sugiyama continues to serve as a member of the Advisory Council and currently serves on the boards of the Ontario Financing Authority, the Toronto International Film Festival Group and the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement.
Her opinion and expertise on issues such as corporate governance and ethics, board culture and effectiveness, enterprise risk management and workplace diversity and inclusion, are often sought out and Sugiyama has been recognized for her accomplishments with many awards, including Ascend Canada’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, the Women in Capital Markets Award for Leadership and the Difference Award from the International Alliance for Women.
The Women’s Executive Network named Sugiyama one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2009 and 2011. In 2014, she was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.
In her citation, Political Science professor Joanna Quinn said Sugiyama has been a formidable, warm and inspiring leader who uses impact for positive change.
“Among her many achievements, Connie has played an integral role in the Japanese-Canadian community, which continues to monitor and to speak out against human rights violations. She remains a special advisor to the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre and Japanese-Canadian Redress Foundation. One of the many projects that Connie has been involved in is the collection, documentation and preservation of the stories of Japanese-Canadians through audio and video recordings Japanese-Canadians who were born in the pre-war and war years,” Quinn added.
“Throughout her career and life, Connie has continued to push the bar higher and has provided encouragement and inspiration to many in Ontario and across Canada through her work, her words and her actions.”
Sugiyama concluded, “It is better to be known as a good person.”