Alumni Testimonials: Business Law

Melissa Chung
Financial Advisor, CI Assante Wealth Management

After more than a dozen years working as a financial advisor at Assante, Melissa Chung jolted her career. She earned an MBA at Cornell, and came back to Toronto with fresh enthusiasm and a big new idea. Together with one of her Cornell classmates, she founded Krippit --- a startup that produces high-heel protectors via 3D printing. “We were trying to solve our own problems, to be honest,” she laughs. Melissa attended and completed a rigorous startup accelerator through the Founders Institute, and then enrolled in the GPLLM. All while managing her day job at Assante in Toronto.

“When I was in the accelerator we had to know so much about legal and IP. I was scrambling trying to read all the stuff myself and understand it,” she says. “Right now the program completely ties in to what we learned. So many of the topics are very relevant and make me so much more educated about making decisions.”

So far Melissa is thrilled. “The GPLLM helps me with my entrepreneurship but it also helps me with my financial clients,” she says. “A lot of them are business owners and startups too. Knowing the law makes me that much more ahead of the game.”

Kristen Ede
Managing Director, BentallGreenOak

As a senior vice president at Bentall Kennedy and co-Portfolio Manager of the firm’s Prime Canadian Property Fund, Kristen Ede is responsible for a diverse real estate portfolio worth about $5 billion. Essentially, it’s her job to generate alpha in the portfolio and decide which buildings, and in which sectors to buy or sell. “It’s kind of like monopoly to be honest,” she says. “We buy and trade buildings to have the optimal mix in the portfolio to maximize returns.”

Over a commercial real estate career spanning more than two decades, Ede has successfully maximized her own professional returns --- assuming increasingly influential roles at industry giants including Trizec Properties, Kimco Realty and Harbour Equity Capital. Along the way, she earned an MBA and obtained two certificates from Harvard’s executive management program. In 2016 she capped that impressive list of achievements with an LLM from U of T. “There are legal aspects in virtually everything we do,” Ede says. “I felt that a better understanding of those aspects would always be helpful, especially at the level of a masters degree from a top ranked law school from U of T.”

The program bolstered her confidence and gave her an added layer of legitimacy when dealing with legal issues at work, she says. It challenged her intellectually and sharpened skills that weren’t regularly put to use in her corporate world. “I had to write essays every week for a year, on subjects that I hadn’t been exposed to before. It was something different from the ordinary for me.” Ede also acquired some very practical tools she hopes to use in the future. “I’ve been told that because of the corporate governance and related classes in the program, when I go to sit on boards more formally than I do now, I won’t have to take separate courses to be qualified.”

But beyond the hefty professional advantages, Ede says the program gave her something she literally would not have found anywhere else. A top-notch, engaged and interesting faculty, combined with a cohort of students so smart and diverse that conversations during and after class were unlike anything she’d ever experienced. “It was literally like being a part of a mini  United Nations. When there are people from Saudi Arabia, and Libya and Russia and Venezuela sharing their opinions, from their perspectives, that was probably by far the most appealing part to me.”

Ian Robertson
CEO, Northern Genesis

When he’s not actively working as the CEO of the multibillion dollar corporation he founded almost 30 years ago, Ian Robertson can often be found flying a plane, or attending a class or lecture, looking for novel ways to challenge his brain and kick start his creativity. “I think the educational process keeps the neurons firing,” Robertson says. “I honestly believe the brain is like a muscle. Stop learning and it starts to atrophy.” If you want proof that Robertson actually lives that conviction, look no further than his string of postgraduate degrees and designations, which include an MBA, a CFA, and most recently, a  Global Professional Masters of Law from UofT.

“Why the GPLLM? As I looked at the knowledge set that I use every day in my career, clearly I’m involved with lots of things legal,” he says. “Particularly given Algonquin’s business outside of Canada. When I looked at the syllabus for the program it sounded consistent with the challenges I have every day.”

Those challenges often involve issues related to public financing, mergers and acquisitions and international trade relations, especially with a majority of Algonquin’s holdings scattered across the United States. Access to the brightest legal experts around is no substitute for the confidence he’s gained from earning the degree, he says. An informed and educated leader makes smarter and better business decisions.

 “I want to be an engaged participant in all of the discussions and decisions I make,” he says. “I believe in challenging people, challenging a discussion, understanding the issues they are bringing to my attention. At the end of the day, most decisions in life are factored on art not on science. So you have to be able to evaluate and prioritize.”

Robertson places such a priority on continuing education, he encourages all of his employees to pursue it  with financial support from the company. The subject of the course work hardly matters, as long as in some way it stretches their minds. Algonquin’s treasurer enrolled in the GPLLM after seeking Robertson’s advice.

But back to that plane. Robertson actually pilots the company’s corporate jet. He also happens to be a flight test examiner and check pilot for Transport Canada. That should reassure his colleagues, he says, as he flies them from place to place. He adds, with a chuckle, “I guess it’s always good to have something to fall back on in case the other thing doesn’t work out.”

Eric Brock

During more than fifteen years in the financial services industry, Eric Brock combined an undergraduate liberal arts degree with an MBA to take on progressively senior roles at some of Canada’s biggest banks. His latest move put him in the office of the COO of a large American Bank’s Canadian office, just as he was beginning classes in the GPLLM program at U of T.  “I’ve always been a great believer in balancing academics and experience,” Brock says. “I don’t want to be a practicing lawyer but having this knowledge is extremely valuable in being able to bring a legal understanding to some of the business decisions we’re making in Canada and across the border.”

 Just a few months in, he says he’s already put some of his newly learned skills into practice in the workplace, specifically when dealing with the numerous contracts he handles every day. “I have a much deeper understanding of the discussion that’s going on and the negotiations back and forth.”

With thought-provoking classes, diverse and intelligent classmates and top-notch professors, Brock is a believer. “U of T has really nailed being able to strike the balance between application and theory” he says. “I would say this is one of the most challenging but also practical and fun experiences in my professional development.”