When Helen Antoniou succeeded Norman Hébert Jr., BComm 77, as chair of Concordia’s Board of Governors on July 1, it dawned on her just how much the university — and the world — had changed since her official appointment to the post last December.
“We’re obviously dealing with a new reality that came upon us very suddenly and has had a pervasive impact on all of our lives,” says the leadership coach and former corporate lawyer, management consultant and business executive. “It has not been easy to adapt, but I think Concordia is innovative and well-equipped to provide our students with the best education consistent with the health and well-being of our community.
“It’s during the difficult times that you notice good governance working well behind the scenes. Our board is responsive, participatory and effective, ensuring that the interests of all of Concordia’s stakeholders — be they students, faculty, staff, alumni, the community — are well balanced and serve to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, while moving forward research and innovation.”
‘We’re very fortunate to have such a diverse board’
Antoniou first joined Concordia’s Board of Governors in 2015; she became vice-chair in July 2019. Her new three-year mandate will involve chairing meetings (online for now) where legal and administrative frameworks are established and strategic decisions are made — such as the university’s 2019 pledge to aim for 100 per cent sustainable investments by 2025.
Fellow board members include Concordia President Graham Carr as well as 25 representatives encompassing faculty, students, support staff and members of the business, philanthropic and public sector communities.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a diverse board,” says Antoniou. “That’s where we get our strength — from the different thoughts and voices around the table. We’ve made a point over the years to try to get different constituents from the broader community.”
A multifaceted career
Guiding the board through uncertain times will take creativity and adaptability, two traits the Montreal native has shown throughout an accomplished and multifaceted career.
With law degrees from McGill and Université de Paris II, Assas in France — along with a Master of Public Health from Harvard — Antoniou has worked as a corporate commercial lawyer in Montreal and London, United Kingdom. She also advised large multinationals as a management consultant in Paris for five years.
Later, at Bombardier Aerospace and at the McGill University Health Centre, she assumed leadership roles and provided vital strategic direction. She also managed to find time to research and write Back to Beer ... and Hockey: The Story of Eric Molson (McGill-Queen’s University Press), the bestselling biography of Eric H. Molson, LLD 06, the former Molson Coors chairman and Antoniou’s father-in-law.
As the long-time chancellor of Concordia from 1993 to 2005, Molson facilitated a transformative endowment that led to the establishment of the John Molson School of Business in 2000. Championing the university has clearly become a family affair.
“It’s the spirit of Concordia that really attracts me. Graham Carr calls it a ‘next-generation’ university — and it is! It’s bold, innovative, both globally minded and community-focused. I consider myself very lucky to be part of it,” says Antoniou.
‘Teamwork and collaboration’
Antoniou currently works as an executive coach for corporate leaders and their teams, as well as family business owners and their successors. She believes this will serve her well in her new role which involves listening, understanding and supporting those running the day-to-day operations of the university.
“Running any organization takes vision, strategy, flawless execution, teamwork and collaboration. But when you’re dealing with a multi-stakeholder system as complex and dynamic as a university, the teamwork and collaboration aspects become very important. I think we’re lucky at Concordia to have someone like President Carr at the helm who embodies these values,” she notes.
Looking beyond COVID-19, Antoniou hopes to see the continued growth of innovative programs centred on fields like sustainability, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, health care and smart cities.
“I like our focus on real-world solutions to topical problems. Concordia is a relatively young university and a very dynamic one, with a lot of great accomplishments over the years. I think it’s on an upward path and I’m hoping to see that continue.”
“It’s during the difficult times that you notice good governance working well behind the scenes.”