When he hears the stories of Western alumni, Warren Bongard regrets not having spent his undergraduate years on campus.
He is thankful, however, that when it came time to apply to law school, Western offered him more than an acceptance, providing a supportive environment, great opportunities, lifelong friendships and a chance to count himself among the school’s graduates.
“I walked in frightened to death I wasn’t going to survive. I put my nose to the grindstone, worked my butt off and had a very successful first year. I realized I could do this, but more importantly, what a great place this was to do it,” said Bongard, LLB’91.
“It was the beginning of the next chapter in my life and I am forever grateful, not just because Western took me, but because it was such a warm and family-oriented environment. I feel forever indebted to the university for not only accepting me, but for providing confidence.”
It was Bongard’s desire to remain connected that nurtured his confidence and spurred his continued involvement with the Alumni Association. This month, he steps in as the organization’s president, following David Simmonds, BA’07 (Political Science).
“Growing up, I was probably one of the more insecure kids in high school and I never felt quite like some of my peers. Western gave me a level of confidence and self-assuredness that I don’t think I could have gotten elsewhere.”
Bongard was called to the Ontario Bar in 1993, starting his career at a firm on Bay Street in Toronto. He quickly realized while he had a knack for corporate law, client and business development, this was not going to be the way forward in his career.
“After three years, I didn’t feel like I was going to get to where I needed to be, or that I had the desire or the commitment to do it,” he noted, adding options of a career in sales, legal recruitment and consultancy emerged and he felt confident and compelled to follow his own vision.
A legal recruitment firm Bongard started at home eventually merged with another, forming ZSA, where Bongard has served as president for more than two decades. Over the years, he has also given his time to the Board of Directors at The York School in Toronto, the Western Law Alumni Association and the Toronto chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization – all before joining the board of Western’s Alumni Association.
“When I was in recruiting in the early years, I met a guy named Rick Morelli, who was the president of the Western Law Alumni Association. He said, ‘Come join the board, it’s good for your business.’ I saw a great way to network within my legal community and use my Western degree, and so I joined, sat on the board and became president, eventually,” Bongard said.
“I loved it. I know deep down, I did it originally because it was good networking and business development, and I was also able to give back. But I honestly lost sight of the networking part; it just became part of my life, part of my feeling good about my roots and feeling good I was able to connect with my classmates.”
While he served as president of the Law Alumni Association, his graduating class lost a classmate, bringing everyone closer together, he added. When the opportunity to join the university’s Alumni Association came up, there was no doubt in his mind he wanted to expand and continue fostering his connection.
“I enjoyed connecting with people who are Western grads, seeing improvements, making the university better and I get personal enjoyment out of the social aspects that arise from being part of the university,” Bongard noted.
“It just feels right. It never feels like a chore; it doesn’t feel like work; it feels nice to go back and see the school and it feels good to connect with people. I have one big regret in life and that’s I didn’t get to experience Western as an undergraduate, and I wish I had, because I can tell by some of the stories we hear from alumni it is a special experience.”
As president of the Alumni Association, he sees challenges and opportunities to address fundraising and engagement challenges but feels optimistic with the recent development of a strategic plan geared to alumni. If we improve alumni engagement, we improve fundraising opportunities, which is becoming increasingly important as postsecondary government funding continues to wane, he explained.
“I have very large shoes to fill with David stepping down, but I’m thankful for him because with his initiative, we built the strategic plan for the coming years, and I feel that plan really is the guidepost in terms of everything we do as an association. The ultimate goal is to enhance and improve alumni engagement and I am more than happy to be helpful and instrumental in doing whatever it takes to enhance alumni engagement,” he said.
“The results of the alumni engagement survey, which was done earlier this year, are being produced for us now and I think together with the strategic plan, it will dictate where the association goes from here and how we are responding to the interests of our alumni constituents.”