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Taking a bite of the Big Apple

Meet five alumni who've made it in New York City
May 2, 2017
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By Richard Burnett and Toula Drimonis

Although Concordia’s 200,000-plus alumni can be found around the world, the largest international contingent go to sleep each night in or around the City That Never Sleeps.

Wall Street, Broadway, the United Nations and more have enticed nearly 1,000 grads to the New York City region. We introduce you to five alumni who have succeeded in making it there.

The art of diplomacy

Michael Grant, who’s represented Canada around the world, now relishes his United Nations posting.

Michael Grant Michael Grant, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations, says diplomacy is “essential in our post-globalization world.”

Veteran diplomat Michael Grant, BAdmin 92, finds the multilateral world of the United Nations very different from his previous international postings. 

As ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations, Grant works with a dedicated team representing Canada across the complete spectrum of UN bodies and activities in New York City. He also chairs the Working Group of the Whole of the UN’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping, as well as the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti as part of the Economic and Social Council. Grant also co-founded the Bridge Group on UN budget issues to help find common ground between member states. 

Grant, who joined External Affairs and International Trade Canada in 1994, served as Canada’s Ambassador to Libya from 2012 to 2013, following assignments in Serbia (1995), Turkey (1996-1998), Argentina (1998-1999) and Mexico (2001-2004). 

“In this diplomatic world you are committed to serving abroad,” says Grant. “Going from Libya to New York, I went from a place where security was our number one concern, to a city where I no longer had a protection team. But the adjustment was mostly going from a bilateral to multilateral world at the UN.” 

No matter where he is posted, Grants says what he likes most about his job is representing Canada. “It sounds a little corny but that still gives me a thrill,” he says. 

Grant reveals that there is behind-the-scenes camaraderie at the UN, despite public differences. “I have 192 interlocutors — the UN has 193 members — so on a daily basis I am engaging with various levels of depth with 30 or 40 counterparts,” he explains. “Everybody recognizes you are here to defend and advocate for your national positions. That is the nature of diplomacy. But at the same time we are all human beings. You can be in a meeting room at one moment for a robust heated debate, and the next moment you could be sitting beside the same person, co-operating on a different issue.” 

Grant loves living in New York with his family. “It is one of the great cities of the world,” he says. “I’m from New Brunswick, and there are elements of New Yorkers that remind me of Maritimers: they are people who grew up on the coast. I call New Yorkers the most direct polite people in the world because they are polite at heart but they can be a little bit in your face, which is fun.” 

Grant tips his hat to Concordia and Montreal. “They gave me a good understanding of what it was like to be a Canadian in the world,” he says. “At Concordia, sports — rugby — shaped my experience as much as academics. We were just a bunch of guys who enjoyed rugby and we still get together each year in New York City at a tournament we started in the Big Apple in 1989.” 

Having travelled widely, Grant underscores “the tremendous system of education we have in Canada. When you have conversations in various parts of the world, inevitably somebody in that chat will have studied in Canada or wants their kids to study in Canada,” he says. “Concordia, like a lot of universities in the country, is world class. I’m always out there selling Concordia. I think it’s a tremendous school.”

—Richard Burnett, BA 88

From political science to wealth management

Julie Richard took chances on her way to a successful career.

Julie Richard Julie Richard is chief compliance officer of private banking for Brown Brothers Harriman in New York City.

Today Julie Richard, BA 96, holds the impressive title of chief compliance officer (CCO) of Private Banking for financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman in New York City. Yet when she graduated from Concordia with a BA in political science in 1996, she wasn’t sure what she would do with it. Since the Canadian economy was struggling at the time, she looked south of the border. 

“I took a gamble and invested a fortune to attend law school in New York City, where starting salaries are three times what they are in Montreal and where I assumed I could network myself into a job,” Richard says. 

Richard contends that the quality of her law school education wasn’t half as good as the one she received at Concordia — at 20 times the cost. “Everything, however, went according to plan and I managed to graduate magna cum laude and land a job at a premier New York law firm,” she says. “People don’t appreciate how good they have it in Montreal and at Canadian universities.” 

A career in hedge funds

Richard knew even then that she wanted to specialize in hedge funds, which use high-risk investment methods in hopes of realizing large capital gains. So she took the step towards becoming a financial services lawyer. When her former boyfriend was transferred to London in 2002, Richard left her dream job in New York for a British law firm, where she had to requalify as an English solicitor. She was there for almost three years. 

“I loved London, but when he [the boyfriend] was transferred back to NYC I decided to broaden my skills,” she says. “I went from a hedge fund lawyer to working as a broader asset management lawyer. I started working at AXA Advisors, where I could cover broker-dealer, investment-advisor and investment- company act issues.” 

Three years later Richard joined Bear Stearns. “Well, we all know how that ends,” she admits — the global investment bank failed in 2008 as part of the global financial crisis and recession. “I did meet my husband there, so it was worth it,” Richard adds. 

She was later recruited to spearhead the hedge fund practice of a New York law firm. In 2011 her old boss at AXA Advisors — then CCO at Brown Brothers Harriman — asked her to join her. Richard jumped at the opportunity and has been at Brown Brothers Harriman ever since. 

Several corporate restructures later, Richard is now CCO, Private Banking. “Change management and multitasking are my forte, apparently,” she says. 

Richard only has good memories of her time at Concordia. “I loved it there,” she says without hesitation. “Most of the professors were passionate and the school was always supportive. While getting an education is much cheaper in Canada, the quality of graduates is impressive.” Richard notes with pride that her nephew is now attending Concordia. 

“I love staying involved with the university as much as I can,” she says. “Other successful Concordia NYC alumni I know also feel the same way, and we all like to get together as often as we can and reconnect.”

—Toula Drimonis, BA 93

Champion of athletics and commerce

Paul Levesque has represented Canada in the New York City investment and amateur sport circles for nearly five decades

Paul Levesque Paul Levesque received the Concordia University Alumni Association’s Benoît Pelland Distinguished Service Award in 2011.

The life and times of Montreal-born Wall Street investment banker Paul Levesque, BA 57, have been nothing less than extraordinary. In 1960, Levesque began his career at Canadian stock brokerage Nesbitt Thomson, before joining Shields & Company in New York City in 1968. 

“I thought they wanted to hire me to open an office in Montreal, but their intention was to have me move to New York,” Levesque recalls. “So I thought, what the hell, I’ll go down and give it a try for a couple of years. If I make it or not, I can always come back. And I’ve been in New York ever since!” He joined investment banking firm Coady Diemar Partners as senior advisor of Investment Banking in 2004. 

Levesque has seen it all, yet says one moment that stands above others is 9/11, when this quintessential New Yorker — who lives on Park Avenue in Manhattan — was actually visiting Quebec at the time. “I have a country house in Cacouna, Que., located near Rivière-du-Loup, and was down there when I got a call from my sister telling me to turn on the TV,” Levesque says. “That was a big shock. I got back to New York five days later.” 

Sports insider

As a star amateur athlete, Levesque’s bobsleigh and luge career highlights include Canadian national team gold medals at various championships, and he participated in the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Games as a Canadian National Luge team player and coach. 

Then in 1977 Levesque founded the hugely successful Canadian Association of New York’s Annual Hockey Achievement Award Dinner. The association turned the dinner into an annual event with Levesque at the helm for over 30 years. Levesque continues in the role of chairman emeritus. The dinner benefits local New York charities, and honourees over the years have included hockey legends Gordie Howe (1984), Maurice “Rocket” Richard (1985), William “Scotty” Bowman (2002) and Wayne Gretzky (2012). 

His own honours include the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 1986 he was made an honorary traditional chief of Tabou in Côte d'Ivoire, in appreciation of the growing co-operation between Canada and that country. “I flew to Abidjan, stayed at the Canadian embassy, and drove to Tabou for the ceremony, where I was robed and anointed with oils,” Levesque recalls. “It really was quite something, one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever been on.” 

During his time at Loyola College, one of Concordia’s founding institutions, Levesque participated in varsity skiing and other intramural sports, and was inducted in the Concordia University Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. In 2011 he received the Benoît Pelland Distinguished Service Award from the Concordia University Alumni Association at its 20th Annual Alumni Recognition Awards Banquet. 

“I was a normal student, not overly competitive, and I enjoyed my time there,” Levesque says of his Loyola days. “I do miss Montreal a little. I love the city, but there is always something going on in New York. If I want to go to a hockey game, I’ll call up Glen Sather, the president of the New York Rangers, who is a good friend of mine: ‘Hey Glen, I’m coming over tonight for the game.’ This city offers everything you could possibly want, and I live in the middle of it all.”

—Richard Burnett

Chasing a dream

Tyler Chase has stayed the course through the challenging world of indie filmmaking

Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Dale and Tyler Chase Tyler Chase, right, with actors Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Dale. The actors participated in Chase’s documentary Touched by Duse, a tribute to the Pioneering Italian actress Eleonora Duse.

After years working in independent film and theatre, filmmaker Tyler Chase, BFA 79, hopes to conquer both worlds with her new documentary film Touched by Duse about Eleonora Duse (1858-1924), the Italian actress considered to be the mother of modern acting. 

Chase, born in Sherbrooke, Que., at age 11 moved to Montreal, the city she calls home and where she studied at Concordia in the late 1970s before moving to New York City in 1979. 

“I came to New York because I was a theatre major at Concordia, where my mentor was Professor Norma Springford,” says Chase. “She was an amazing woman who took me under her wing, and who thought I could make a go of it in New York. So I came here and, with a scholarship, studied with Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof at the HB Studio.” 

Chase then worked as an actor, director and playwright, producing Off- and Off-Off-Broadway shows before returning to school, completing her studies at the New York University film program. While at NYU she shot her 16-mm narrative short film about a violent gay bashing, Urban Inquisition, on location in New York’s West Village in 1998. “The film was very gritty and well received at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival,” Chase says. “It was ahead of its time, before Boys Don’t Cry. A year later I followed that up with a short satire called Fowl Play, starring Jack Mulcahy.” 

Star power 

Chase would continue as a freelance photographer and director of photography over the years. At the same time, she worked to complete her own independent films through her indie film and entertainment company, L’ORAGE Productions, which she founded in 1998. Chase says her upcoming documentary film, Touched by Duse, is a collaboration with Canadian actor Jennifer Dale and features the participation of American film stars Ellen Burstyn and Paul Sorvino. 

“We’ve already had a few screenings, but right now I’m trying to get an interview with Al Pacino for the film because Pacino loves Duse,” Chase says. Chase says New York showbiz is not all glitz and glamour: “The journey has been tough,” she admits. “You know, a lot of documentaries that you see are prefabricated. Mine are real. And it takes time and a lot of patience. You have to be very dedicated, and I really hope 2017 is our breakthrough year.” 

Although she considers Montreal home, Chase has no plans to leave New York anytime soon. “New York is very expensive,” she says. “I rent, it’s impossible to buy at this point, but obviously I love New York — otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” 

Chase is proud that Concordia helped shape her career. “Concordia was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life,” she says. “To have someone like theatre professor Norma Springford believe in me was valorizing because I was a tough little girl. I was stubborn and not very social, and she would talk to me for hours in her office. She was a tiny little thing but I looked up to her. She taught the directing course when I was there. Just to have one person like that believe in you — it changed my life.”

—Richard Burnett

Searching for the best in the big apple’s corporate community

Patricia Lenkov is a proud Montrealer in NYC

Julie Richard Patricia Lenkov, president of Agility Executive Search, spoke with Concordia journalist-in-residence Patti Sonntag at Concordia’s Women and Leadership event in New York City in 2016.

Patricia Lenkov, MBA 86, a highly regarded expert on board recruiting and board diversity, has worked for some of the largest and most successful executive search firms in the United States. She founded and became president of her own firm, Agility Executive Search, in New York City in 2008. Clients have included one of the largest private equity firms in the world, a senior-living company based in Iowa and a large dental insurance company. 

“You might say I started at the top,” Lenkov says. “Early in my career I had the good fortune to learn from the very best. Concordia had a great MBA program with great teachers. What I loved about it was that it included many people who worked during the day and were completing it at night. The combination of younger, just-graduated students and working students provided for a very good dynamic.” 

Lenkov says the quality of her Concordia education has been a valuable asset for her career. “The MBA Case Competition and opportunities to get hands-on experience — above and beyond just sitting in the classroom answering questions — prepared me for business and it gave me a very well-rounded education,” she says. “I honestly went in there — and I tell people this all the time — not even really knowing what the discipline of accounting was. They did a very good job of giving us a strong foundation in all of the disciplines of business.” 

After graduation, Lenkov left Montreal for about six years, then received a call from a former professor, Alan Hochstein, who told her a position was opening up as assistant director of the MBA program. She accepted the challenge. Lenkov’s role was to oversee the program’s operations. “It was so interesting for me to go back and experience the MBA program from an administrative and leadership role. It felt like coming full circle, really,” she says. 

Holding her own in NYC

Lenkov then moved to New York City and spent a decade at top-level executive search firms before founding Agility Executive Search. “I’ve been in NYC 20 years now,” she says. “Even though people say it’s the centre of the business world, Montreal has a very cosmopolitan, sophisticated attitude about it, too. For better or for worse, we’re interesting, diverse, funky, we cross the road on a red light, we don’t really pay attention to all the rules. I think NYC is very much like that, so moving here wasn’t really a major adjustment for me. In many ways, NYC is like Montreal on steroids.”

Lenkov cites the integrity of Montreal and Canadians in general, and the education she received here, as major reasons for her success. “It allowed me to walk into the largest recruiting firm in the world and go into the boardrooms of the largest companies in this country and hold my own with the CEOs and the Ivy League-educated boards of directors. And that’s something I feel I owe to Montreal.” 

Lenkov remains grateful to her alma mater. “I feel very close to Concordia and very loyal,” she says. “I’m proud to be part of the community and toot its horn whenever I can.”

—Toula Drimonis

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