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Far-flung alumni

Meet seven Concordians whose careers have taken them across the world
January 30, 2018
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There’s no denying Montreal’s charms. The city was again ranked number one in 2017 by QS Best Student Cities, for instance. Close to three quarters of Concordia’s 200,000-plus alumni call it home.

Yet for a variety of reasons many alums move elsewhere after graduation — and some quite far away.

More than 5,000 Concordians are settled outside of Canada and the United States, scattered around the globe in 150 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Of those international alumni, about one third reside in Europe, 20 per cent in the Middle East and 15 per cent in China. We introduce you to seven internationally based Concordia alumni.

William Yip William Yip is generating buzz about Concordia across greater China and beyond.

Concordia champion in Hong Kong

In the half century since he graduated from Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s founding institutions, William Yip, BA 67, LLD 98, has witnessed tectonic changes in the way the university goes about welcoming and educating foreign students. Now, following a successful decades-long career as a real estate developer based in his native Hong Kong, it’s his goal to make sure those changes continue their positive momentum.

When Yip arrived in Montreal in the early 1960s, he knew very little about the institution he would call home for the next several years. “In those old days, we didn’t have systems like the internet,” he says. “We just had word of mouth from some senior people who went to the school or came from Hong Kong.”

Faced with a lack of opportunity back home, Yip and thousands of other young, ambitious Hong Kong residents hoping to carve a future for themselves went abroad for their studies. All he knew about Sir George Williams was its reputation as a good business school.

Navigating life at a new school, in a new city and in a country half a world away from home was a challenge for bewildered foreign students. “There were very few of us at the time. I believe that we had about 200 students at Sir George from Hong Kong in my time,” he says. “They had many other students from other countries, including local students. They were very busy. We had to overcome many difficulties.”

Yip graduated in 1967 and soon re- turned home to Hong Kong. Yet he had forged deep links with the community in Montreal, including as a founding mem- ber of the Corporation of the Montreal Chinese Hospital, which continues to serve the local Chinese community today.

He started up the real estate devel- opment company Canada Land Ltd. in 1972. While building it into a power- house in the nearby mainland Chinese city of Guangzhou, he found time to support and raise Canada’s profile as an academic destination for young Hongkongers.

Honoured

Yip — who was awarded an honorary degree by Concordia in 1998 — has been chairman of the board of governors of the Canadian University Association (Hong Kong) since 1984, having served the six previous years as its president. In 1998-2000, Yip served as the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the largest chamber outside Canada.

He became the founding president of the Concordia University Hong Kong Foundation in 1999. “Since then, we have provided 110 scholarships to kids from mainland China and Hong Kong to study at Concordia, in all faculties, in- cluding in master’s programs,” he says. “And we’ll continue to provide scholar- ships to needy students.”

Now Yip is closely involved with the newly launched Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen. Now, as the Asia division’s honorary vice-chair. His plans include raising the university’s international profile among an already crowded field of Canadian and other Western universities hoping to attract mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students. He’s confident Concordia’s strengths will make it stand out. “As I see the John Molson School of Business giving a very strong background to Canadian as well as international students, many of our kids from mainland China or Hong Kong want to get into the school to prepare for their careers,” Yip says.

—Patrick Lejtenyi, GrDip 99

Stacey Jackson Musician and fitness enthusiast Stacey Jackson got the showbiz break most people can only dream of while in her 40s.

Boogying to the beat of her own music

Do you believe in fame after 40? Stacey Jackson, BA (comm. studies) 91, sure does.

A number of Jackson’s songs have hit the United Kingdom dance charts, the first of which, “Band of Gold,” made it in 2010 — after her 40th birthday. That tune was the lead single from Jackson’s album Upside Down, a collaboration with underprivileged children from the U.K.-based arts charity Music for Youth. They reprised some of the catchi- est Motown hits of the 1960s and 1970s, with their version of “Gold” reaching number 17 on the U.K. Commercial Pop Club chart in 2010. Their take on The Supremes’ 1966 “I Hear a Symphony” reached number nine.

As Jackson puts it: “The album started getting some buzz, and then all of a sudden I’m sitting between Lady Gaga and the Scissor Sisters on the charts.” Since then, her career has included a chart-topping single with gangsta rap legend Snoop Dogg, “Live It Up,” and six subsequent top-10 chart hits.

Jackson says her Concordia education helped her get the initial buzz going for Upside Down. Back in the 1990s, while pursuing her BA in communication studies, she interned at CBS News in New York City. “After that internship, I started building up my contacts in entertainment and public relations,” Jackson says. “That opened up new avenues for my career when I entered the workforce.”

Soon after her graduation, New York City’s Lifetime Television sponsored her to come work as their publicist. Five years later, she left to start her own company, Stacey Jackson Publicity. She ran it successfully for three years until her former boss at CBS, Tom Goodman, reached out, asking her to be a founding partner at his nascent PR firm Goodman Media in 1998.

While climbing the New York public relations ladder, Jackson never stopped making music. “I was still performing around the city in my own Motown band called Fuzzy Dice,” she says.

In 1999, Jackson followed her husband to London with their two kids and put her PR career on hold to focus on music.

Staying fit

Another of Jackson’s long-time passions is fitness. She taught aerobics through the 1980s and 1990s and has now developed her own “StaePumped” music tapes she hopes will encourage people to move, as well as a line of fitness apparel, StaeFit.

“Everyone these days is wearing fit- ness clothes as a fashion item,” Jackson says. “If you want your stuff to sell, not only do you have to solve a problem but you have to make people want to wear it to pick up their kids as well.”

Jackson designs eye-catching clothes that also have major functional advan- tages: they’re moisture-phobic and full-coverage. Her brassiere-built-in tops attach from the front — “no more wrestling matches with sweaty clothes,” Jackson says. Having acquired the patent for her front-closing tops, she’s focus- ing on diversifying her brand.

At first, Jackson says, her children were a little bit embarrassed about her new fame. Yet it’s been nearly a decade since their mom’s music started playing around the country and they’re used to it. Jackson ventures they might even like it. “Now my sons are in college in the States,” she reports. “When I went and visited them, one told me, ‘Mom, all my girlfriends want to meet you. They think you’re so inspirational.’”

—Lucas Napier-Macdonald, GrDip 17

Dennis Chan Dennis Chan keeps Concordia’s hong Kong-based grads in touch and works towards adding to their numbers.

Finding ways to support future grads

When deciding which Canadian university to attend, Hong Kong native Dennis Chan, BComm 77, says he was attracted by the strong reputation of the business school at Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s founding institutions.

A particular strength of the faculty, now known as the John Molson School 1979, due to immigra- tion rules at the time, Chan had to return to Hong Kong and reapply from there to be allowed back in Canada to work. Instead of returning, he found a job at Hong Kong’s Universal Furniture Ltd. He became involved in putting together the first initial public  offer- ing (IPO) of an Asia-based company on the NASDAQ exchange in 1982. Chan says he was almost uniquely equipped to guide the delicate process thanks to the education he received at Concordia.

“Not too many people knew about U.S. general accounting principles in Hong Kong at that time,” he says. “The company went very well and I worked there for 12 years before I moved on. At the time of its first IPO, the company’s revenue was [US]$100 million. Revenue rose to [US]$650 million in 12 years. Working there gave me very good professional business experience in handling different types of people in 13 different jurisdictions, and gave me a very good chance to advance my professional career.”

Hong Kong presence

As his career evolved, work took Chan to the United States, Canada and Singapore from his base in Hong Kong. Although he remained busy working for listed and non-listed international companies until 2007, when he set up his own consultancy firm specializing in financial advisory, accountancy and corporate secretarial services, he always kept Concordia close.

In 1979, soon after his return from Canada, Chan co-founded the Concordia University Alumni Association’s Hong Kong chapter and in 1999 he co-found- ed the Concordia University Hong Kong Foundation. He has created a $5,000 annual scholarship in addition to mak- ing gifts to JMSB and the Concordia Library. “Since the start of the Hong Kong Foundation, I’ve regularly donated to help students from Hong Kong and mainland China study at Concordia,” he says.

Having stayed in touch with the uni- versity over the decades through his philanthropic and other ventures, Chan is now vice-chair of the Asia division (Hong Kong) for the newly launched Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen. Now.

—Patrick Lejtenyi, GrDip 99

Geneviève Tremblay Madrid-based Geneviève Tremblay says the writing skills she learned while in Concordia’s Journalism program have served her well throughout her career.

How Geneviève Tremblay parlayed a journalism degree into an international career

When Geneviève Tremblay, BA 97, was contemplating career paths, she toyed with the idea of studying law. However, she eventually decided to enrol in Concordia’s Department of Journalism because its writing component won her over.

Two decades later, Tremblay is now responsible for sustainable development and external communications at Madrid-based LafargeHolcim Spain, part of the global construction materials and solutions company.

She has nothing but good words about her time at Concordia. “Thanks to the program being quite small at the time, the directors [Lindsay Crysler and Enn Raudsepp] were very ‘hands-on’ and I felt like the professors and my fellow classmates were part of a small, infor- mal family,” Tremblay says. “The older students would get involved and often mentor the younger students, and I found the atmosphere at school very inspiring. It was an excellent program.”

After graduating Tremblay travelled to Africa, which inspired her to immerse herself in project management and sustainable development for non- governmental organizations. She later travelled to Switzerland to work in communications, planning and implementing media strategies for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Feeling the need to broaden her education, she returned to Montreal and went back to school and in 2006 graduated with an MSc in Management from HEC Montréal. In 2007, Tremblay arrived in Madrid as head of Corporate Social Responsibility for LafargeHolcim, where she managed stakeholder relations, social projects and sustainability reporting.

Languages offer an edge

Tremblay attributes much of her early success and access to opportunities to the fact that she was bilingual. The now- trilingual Montrealer — she’s added Spanish to her arsenal — recognizes that not many francophones were in the journalism program at the time, giving her an edge when internships at French-language daily La Presse came along. “As a francophone studying in an English school, it really benefited me a lot,” she says.

Having lived abroad on and off for about 15 years, Tremblay readily admits to craving Montreal’s diversity. “I miss the variety of ethnic backgrounds in the people around me, the different languages, how better integrated immigrants are in Canada,” she says. “Living away from Montreal, homesickness will always be a factor, but it fluctuates depending on the time of year. It may sound surprising, but I do miss the snow!”

As the political and social climate in Spain has become more complicated, the current crisis has, in turn, somewhat affected her work environment. “Like many employees of companies around the world, when layoffs occur, we are ex- pected to do more with less,” Tremblay explains. “In a way, I’ve come full circle. Once again, I’m being asked to use my communications skills for the company’s media relations and social media. I’m always ready to use those tools and that has always given me an edge.”

Tremblay adds, “Throughout my career, I have always been able to draw on my ability to write, and I owe that to Concordia’s journalism program.”

—Toula Drimonis, BA 93

Doron Cohen Montreal native Doron Cohen has been an entrepreneur in Israel for more than 20 years

From marketing in Montreal to entrepreneurship in Israel

While studying marketing and economics at Concordia, Doron Cohen, attendee 94, naturally gravitated towards business and enjoyed the thrill and excitement of entrepreneurship. “My mother wanted me to become a dentist,” Cohen admits. “But once I became involved in the family business [clothing, manufacturing and, later, optical accessories], I was hooked. I really liked that path.”

Cohen was already working full time during his stint at what is now the John Molson School of Business, from 1992 to 1994. “In hindsight I wish I had completed my studies,” admits Cohen. That hasn’t seemed to have held him back too much, though. His career has been a steady mix of accomplishments and successes across a number of business sectors.

In 1997 Cohen moved to Israel in part to accommodate his wife, an Israeli who was having difficulty adjusting to the harsh Canadian winters. While the transition to Israel wasn’t that much of a culture shock for Cohen due to his Jewish background and his knowledge of Hebrew, it was still in many ways like starting from scratch.

His first few years were exploratory ones, learning to understand how the corporate culture worked there. “In 2002, I had a unique opportunity to combine my education and my expe- rience to work with an Israeli-based, London-traded company,” he says.

“I was able to work in a variety of sectors like telecom, gaming, the mobile sector, health care and so on.”

Over the past 15 years based in Tel Aviv, Cohen has founded and managed several technology and service companies, two of which were acquired. Today he’s CEO and managing partner of in- vestment bank A-Labs Ventures and BII Holdings, which provide banking and corporate advisory services, as well as consulting, business development and investment services for start-ups and high-tech companies.

Investor and mentor

Cohen has now reached the point in his career where he feels he can use his extensive experience to help other companies go public and support their entrepreneurial ventures.

“It’s really where my passion lies — helping companies move forward and take risks and mentoring start-ups,” he says.

He believes his time at Concordia was extremely well spent. “The marketing portion really helped me with my business ventures. It taught me how to present myself and my vision to customers,” Cohen says. “Economics gave me very important tools that complemented the hands-on experience I was already getting every day at work. I appreciate it even more now that I see how valuable that education was. Concordia was a fantastic platform for me and I met many interesting people.”

The businessman continues to be just as excited by the next entrepreneurial venture around the corner. He admits to always looking for the next opportunity, travels a lot for work — “My Canadian passport comes in handy,” he points out — and would love the opportunity to mentor Concordia students.

What does he miss most about Montreal now that he’s been living abroad for 20 years? “You’ll laugh, but apart from my family, I miss the cold, the snow and easy access to skiing,” Cohen admits. “It’s nice having four seasons and a wardrobe that changes with it. You don’t get that in Israel.”

—Toula Drimonis, BA 93

Winston Kan Winston Kan has seen his career bounce from Canada to China repeatedly, yet always with a warm spot reserved for Montreal.

Man on the move

By his own recognition, Winston Kan, BAdmin 81, could have spent more time paying attention in class. His impressive list of extra-curricular student activities while at Concordia between 1978 and 1981 includes the local chapter of AISEC —    the International Association of Students in Economics and Commerce —    and getting elected to the Student Senate and as the representative for the Commerce and Administration faculty council to the university’s Senate. That didn’t leave too much time for studying.

“I must say, I wasn’t really a good student,” Kan admits. “I managed to graduate, but I wasn’t top of my class.”

Certainly his career didn’t suffer. Since he graduated, Kan has had a work- ing life best described as nomadic. His first year post-Concordia was spent in Ireland and London. Upon his return to Canada he pursued his passion for politics by volunteering for a local Liberal Party of Canada riding association in the Ottawa area, where his parents lived, while taking extra university courses fo- cusing on international business.

By 1984, Kan was working on the Liberal Party leadership campaign and eventually, though briefly, in the Prime Minister’s Office under John Turner. He continued doing political work for some years afterwards, yet was eventually drawn back to the private sector — and to his native Hong Kong, where settling in Toronto to work for Hewlett-Packard Canada, yet remained restless: he’d never lost his ambition to work internationally.

Answering a blind ad in the Toronto Star in 1992, he took a chance on a company unknown to him based out of nearby Oshawa, Ont. It turned out to be EHC Global, one of the world's largest manufacturers of escalator rubber handrails — which today has a 40 per cent global market share and was looking to further expand in Asia. Despite the benefits offered by a Fortune 100 company like HP, Kan left, and his international business career took off.

That career would take him travelling to Asia, predominantly to China.

He moved from one job to another, working for the Royal Canadian Mint and later Export Development Canada, where he was finally posted to China.

Alberta rep

After some four years in Hong Kong working in executive search, Kan is now based in Beijing, where he’s the Government of Alberta’s representative, based out of the Canadian embassy. His days are mostly spent promoting the province’s agriculture, education, technology, tourism and, of course, energy sectors. although he also works with his team on student recruitment and helping Alberta companies do business in China.

Kan’s latest endeavour will involve fundraising for Concordia out of Beijing. One of the challenges, he says, is to help build the Concordia brand with his fellow alumni against many other Canadian and international universities active in China.

“I owe a lot to Concordia,” he says. “It taught me how to be independent, to learn things no matter how hard it is. My career was in different industries. I never repeated the same position from one company to the other. I focused on business development, networking and interpersonal skills, which I learned at Concordia.”

Kan adds, “My time in Montreal really helped me — I had no relatives there, not a lot of friends. It helped me to be independent and learn a lot.”

—Patrick Lejtenyi, GrDip 99

Fatima Albalooshi and King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain Fatima Albalooshi is pictured with King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain in 2012, when she was minister of social development and minister of health. Forbes magazine named Albalooshi the fourth most influential woman in government in the middle east in 2014.

Former Bahraini minister considers hers a “Concordia family”

Fatima Albalooshi, BSc 84 was only 16 years old when she moved from Bahrain to Montreal to attend Concordia. The young woman was one of many taking advantage of her country’s initiative to send students abroad to receive an education since, at the time, Bahrain did not have a university. She chose Canada because she was intrigued by the possibility of living in a place so different from her home.

“It was only while I was making my way from the airport to the campus that I saw all the French street signs and realized this was a predominantly fran- cophone city — and I didn’t speak the language,” she admits.

Things worked out well, though. “My time at Concordia was the best time of my life,” Albalooshi says. “The friends I made there are still my friends today. I lived at Langley Hall and beautiful Loyola Campus was where I mostly took classes.”

Albalooshi originally intended to study biology and eventually medi- cine. Instead, after graduating from Concordia, she headed to New York’s Columbia University, where she earned a PhD of Education in instructional technology and media in 1991.

She then returned home to Bahrain and entered academia.  Albalooshi later served as dean of the College of Education at the University of Bahrain.

Albalooshi was appointed Minister of Social Development by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain in 2005, and she served until 2014. During that time she developed and supported community centres that focused on family counselling services and shelters for abused women and for the homeless. Albalooshi established Family Bank — the first Islamic microfinance bank in the world — as well as children’s and eldercare services and more. She also worked tirelessly to establish close ties between the government and various non-governmental organizations on the ground.

During that decade, she also served at one point as Minister of Health. “Although I was only Minister of Health for a year and during rough political times, I was able to implement major im- provements in the ministry,” she says.

Albalooshi now is CEO of onegcc. com, a private firm that creates innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions for Bahrain nationals. “Onegcc is the first digital platform for the nationalization of GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] jobs, and the first dedicated talent pool for GCC nationals that helps to empower them and realize their ambitions to pursue a successful career,” explains Albalooshi. “It’s a job board that helps revolutionize the way GCC HR managers recruit.”

Impressive career trajectory

Albalooshi was recently appointed chairman of the board of trustees for the Bahrain Trust Foundation, a non-profit organization that develops practical models to make education and health services accessible to people in refugee camps and disaster areas. Because of her long-standing humanitarian work and community involvement, as well as being the longest-serving female minister in the Bahraini government, Forbes magazine named her the fourth most influential woman in government in the Middle East in 2014.

Montreal was where she lay the groundwork for her impressive career. “It was in this city that I truly matured and grew up, became exposed to many cultures and learned to rely on myself,” Albalooshi says. “Montreal will always have a special place in my heart, and Concordia holds the best memories for me. After all, we’re a Concordia family. My husband, Abdulrahman Alatawi [BSc 83] studied here, and that’s where we met. Our son Alharith also graduated in 2009 from the John Molson School of Business.”

–Toula Drimonis, BA 93



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