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10 questions to Concordia’s new co-chancellor

Learn more about trailblazer Gina Cody
April 5, 2024

Gina Cody, née Baktash, immigrated to Montreal in 1979.

She left behind the ongoing revolution in her native Iran to pursue a master’s degree in building engineering at Montreal’s Concordia University. She followed that up with a doctorate and became Canada’s first woman to earn a PhD in the discipline.

Cody spent more than 30 years in the private sector as an engineer and business leader of a Toronto-based engineering consulting firm. Under her leadership, her firm was named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies and she was named one of the country’s Top Women Entrepreneurs by Profit magazine. She also received the Canadian Standards Association’s Award of Merit and was inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

Since selling her business in 2016, Cody has focused on philanthropy and advocacy for higher education.

In 2018, she made an historic $15-million gift to the faculty she had twice graduated from, which was renamed the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. It became the first engineering and computer science faculty in the world named after a woman.

At her alma mater she currently serves as co-chair of the Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen Now, the most ambitious fundraising initiative in the university’s history. She also chairs the Gina Cody School Advisory Board and is a past member of the university’s Board of Governors, its Governance Committee and past chair of its Real Estate Planning Committee.

Cody is one of the few women to chair a TSX 60 company – the Canadian Apartment Properties REIT. She also chairs the European Residential REIT and serves on the boards of EllisDon, CIMA+ and Sienna Senior Living.

She has been named to the Orders of Montreal and of Canada, and last year she was named a Woman of Distinction by the Women’s Y Foundation of Montreal.

Upon her nomination as co-chancellor, we sat down with Cody for a Q&A.

Concordia was where you started in Canada, as a master’s student. Now you’ll be its chancellor. Are you surprised to be at this point in your life?

Gina Cody: When I was young, did I ever think I’d become chancellor? Obviously never. Did I ever dream that? Not really. It’s a position that was beyond my dreams.

You will become the first Concordia chancellor who is a new Canadian. What does that signify to you?

GC: I think it’s very emblematic of what Concordia has always stood for as a true champion of equity, diversity and inclusion. That was certainly my experience as a student here and I have seen the university continue to lead on that front ever since.

Today, Canada depends on immigration to keep us globally competitive. It is important that our country’s most respected institutions — and that certainly includes universities like Concordia — reflect that reality.

How does it feel to be the second woman to become chancellor of Concordia? What does that represent for you? 

GC: It’s not what it represents to me that’s important, but the message it sends to our current and future female students.

Did your time as a student at Concordia prepare you for your career of leadership, and if so, how?

GC: During my PhD program I was also a full-time university employee teaching materials testing labs at the Centre for Building Studies. I was dealing with people my age, older and younger. It built up my self-confidence and helped me when I faced similar situations throughout my career. The job also covered my tuition. Together, the money and experience were worth more than any scholarship the university could have given me.

Who are a few of the leaders you admire and what lessons have you taken from them and applied in your own leadership?

GC: At university, your professors are your idols. Each one of them teaches you something different. It’s also helpful to see that they make mistakes, just like anyone else. You get to learn from your own mistakes and theirs, too.

One of the chancellor’s main duties is to preside over convocation ceremonies, which you already did this past June to fill in for Jonathan Wener. What was the highlight?

GC: The best part was seeing the excitement of the young graduates and their parents. It’s very fulfilling and rejuvenating. It’s the start of a new life for them.

What, to you, are some of the other responsibilities of the position?

GC: We want to ensure our departing students feel part of our global community of alumni and create a more cohesive alumni network. Being the chancellor gives you the opportunity to see them as they’re leaving the school. If we can strengthen our ties to them at that moment, it will make our university stand out.

People will stay connected if they’re given the chance. It’s our responsibility not to lose contact. Post-graduation is a new chapter when people get very busy with their job and their family. As the job market gets tougher, life today is getting even more challenging. How do we ensure we remain a pillar of their success?

If you look at the Ivy League schools and others with great reputations that people want to stay connected with, it’s mainly because of their networks. We need to raise our graduates’ pride in Concordia even higher and work on it constantly. We can do that by creating a community for them so that they enjoy themselves and continue to feel the connection adds value to their lives.

You’ve been very generous to your alma mater. Why do you think the Concordia experience resonated so strongly with you compared to other graduates?

GC: I was only 22 when I left the revolution in Iran behind and came to Canada. My loneliness and my need for a sense of belonging were perhaps bigger factors for me than for others. To be accepted by a community that didn’t even know me and gave me every opportunity possible to grow — I couldn’t have imagined it, and I definitely knew I couldn’t take it for granted.

In that vein, do you see your landmark $15-million gift to Concordia in 2018 in some ways as an investment? If the university helps support students financially as it did you, then that will spur others to give back, too?

GC: Absolutely. If 50 per cent of graduates feel more connected and consider giving back to their alma mater, then we will have achieved something meaningful.

How do you feel about the outcomes of your donation so far?

GC: I am very encouraged. When a student sends me even a short message through social media, it is very fulfilling. When people are emotional, their message goes very deep and leaves a lasting impression!

Read the announcement about Gina Cody being named co-chancellor.



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