Stephenson: It takes courage to keep going

Courage is at the heart of a life well lived, Carol Stephenson told graduates at the Tuesday morning session of Western’s 307th Convocation.

“Sometimes, all there is to do is put one foot in front of the other – I call these the groan-and-get-over-it moments. It takes courage to keep going when the cards feel stacked against you,” she said. “Expect plenty of these moments. Expect the problems to get more complex and for more to be at stake. I don’t know any successful leader, including myself, who hasn’t had a handful of these character-testing days, weeks, even months and, possibly, years.

“They are horrible; they are awful; they are golden. They help us know who we are, who we want to be and what is most important to us.”

Stephenson spoke to graduates from the Ivey School of Business and School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 21, morning session of Western’s 307th Convocation.

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Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, upon Stephenson in recognition of her work as a visionary who helped transform business education and passionately promoted the advancement of women in leadership throughout her career.

From 2003-13, Stephenson was Dean of the Ivey Business School, where she introduced and successfully led the execution of a transformative strategic plan that doubled the size of Western’s renowned HBA program, introduced an innovative one-year MBA, built an award-winning new facility and completed Ivey’s largest fundraising campaign, raising more than $200 million.

Prior to joining Ivey, Stephenson spent 30 years in the telecommunications industry, advancing through a series of management positions to join the executive ranks of Bell Canada in 1988. As President and CEO of Stentor Resource Centre Inc. from 1995-98, she led the national marketing and technology development centre for Canada’s 9 telecommunications companies. Then, as President and CEO of Lucent Technologies Canada from 1999-2003, she spearheaded the team that succeeded in tripling Lucent’s market share in Canada despite an industry downturn.

In his citation, Western President Amit Chakma said while a self-described “shy child,” who may have seemed an unlikely candidate for leadership, “Stephenson grew up to be an outstanding role model for anyone with high personal standards, a burning desire to make things happen and the courage to take risks. She approached such challenges undaunted, seeing them rather as opportunities to learn and make an impact,” Chakma said.

Stephenson currently serves on the boards of several leading companies. She is a Director of Maple Leaf Foods, Intact Financial Services Corporation, Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., Ballard Power Systems Inc., General Motors Company and the Stratford Festival.

She has earned significant recognition for her community work and industry involvement over the years, including induction into Canada’s Telecommunications Hall of Fame, London’s Business Hall of Fame, Women of Influence’s Top 25 Women of Influence, and National Post’s 50 Most Powerful Women. In 2009, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 2012 received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award.