Chrominska: Work hard, take risks, learn from mistakes

Paul Mayne // Western News

Success comes from an openness and willingness to adapt to new opportunities, business leader Sylvia Chrominska told graduates at the Wednesday, June 11, morning session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.

“While it might appear as if I had a career or life plan, I wasn’t ambitious,” Chrominska said. “My career was a combination of luck and some wise choices, but my path was not without a few bumps along the way.”

Chrominska spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Social Science at the Wednesday, June 11, morning session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Chrominska for her instrumental work in advancing women, leadership, diversity and inclusiveness in Canada.

Chrominska told graduates early in life, she lacked ambition, and even failed the Grade 12. After some reflection and hard efforts to get into university, she realized something.

“There’s nothing wrong with failure; we’ve all failed at something. But you would never, ever want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough. If I was going to make something of myself, I’d have to work for it,” Chrominska said.

A dedicated Western alumna, Chrominska has served as a member of the Ivey Business School’s Advisory Board and as vice‐chair of Ivey’s Campaign for Leadership.

Chrominska joined Scotiabank in 1979 and held progressively more senior positions over the next decade until being appointed senior vice-president, corporate credit, with responsibility for eastern Canada, eastern United States, Europe and Japan. In 1994, she transferred to human resources, where she was appointed executive vice-president in 1995. In 2004, her mandate was expanded to include public, corporate and government affairs, and was made group head in 2008.

She was appointed a director of the boards of directors of Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago Limited and Scotia Trust and Merchant Bank Trinidad and Tobago Limited in January 2013, and became chair of both boards two months later.

Chrominska’s community activities include serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board at Ivey and the National Board of Directors of Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. She is chair of the Capital Campaign for Women’s College Hospital and a member of the International Women’s Forum, Women’s Executive Network, the Global Human Resources Roundtable and the Institute of Corporate Directors.

In 2005, she received the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Corporate Leadership for her work in helping to advance the careers of women and was named to the Top 100 List of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network for four consecutive years – and named to its Hall of Fame in 2007. She was also the recipient of the Ivey Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to Ivey.

Most recently Chrominska was honoured by Women Against MS for her support in the fight to end multiple sclerosis, as well as her broader philanthropic contributions.  She was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence for 2012 by Women of Influence Inc., and by Evanta as a Top 10 Breakaway Leader, an award that celebrates leaders who are changing the face of HR.

This success, however, didn’t come from high aspirations, she admitted.

Chrominska was initially happy just to have a job in a successful company. As she climbed the corporate ladder, she eventually discovered she had a profound responsibility to do more.

In her citation, Carol Stephenson, professor emeritus and former Ivey dean, Chrominska has been instrumental in advancing the cause of women, leadership, diversity and inclusion, which were essential components of Scotiabank’s success.

“She inspired her colleagues to succeed and worked to ensure more women entered senior-level positions,” Stephenson said. “She re-launched the bank’s Advancement of Women initiative, which made executives more accountable for the advancement of female employees, as well as creating women’s networks and mentoring relationships.

“Sylvia told me when President (Amit) Chakma called her to advise her of her honorary degree, she shed a few tears. Sylvia’s mother died recently and her mother would have been proudest of this academic honour, given her mother’s teaching background and love of learning.”

When she discovered responsibility to do more and get involved, she discovered a new definition of success, Chrominska said.

“Helping others brings enormous awards; it benefits you in and it benefits the community. Use your skills and abilities to contribute to a greater good and find a purpose beyond position, and beyond money,” she told graduates.

“Work hard, learn from your mistakes, be curious and take some risks early in life. Consider your future in context of the kind of person you want to be.”