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In Good Company: Covered in success

Learn about four alumni who play key roles at Sun Life
November 9, 2023
By Will Pelloux

Aerial photograph capturing the Sun Life Building in Montreal at dusk. The building stands out with its grand, historical architecture amidst the modern cityscape, showcasing a blend of classic and contemporary structures. The iconic Sun Life Building stands tall in Montreal's downtown district. Sun Life employs more than 400 Concordia alumni | Photo credit: Stéphan Poulin

Few landmarks in downtown Montreal stand out quite like the Sun Life Building.

After the first of three construction phases, the grand structure was inaugurated in 1918 and, upon completion 15 years later, became the largest in terms of square footage anywhere in the British Empire.

Close to 2,000 Sun Life employees still work in the building today. Founded in Montreal in 1865, the financial-services company provides asset-management, wealth, insurance and health solutions across Canada, the United States, Asia, the United Kingdom and more. As Canada’s third-largest insurance company, Sun Life assists one in five Canadians on an annual basis.

In 2023, Sun Life ranked first among insurance companies globally on an annual list of sustainable corporations published by Corporate Knights. Multiple sources frequently name the company as one of Canada’s best places to work and a top employer for new graduates.

Now headquartered in Toronto, Sun Life employs more than 400 Concordia alumni and — like its namesake building — remains a prominent fixture in Montreal.

Portrait of a man standing confidently with arms crossed. He has short, light hair, wearing round glasses, a dark pinstripe suit, a light blue shirt, and a dark wristwatch. “When I look back at my time as an undergraduate, it was the first point in my life that I stepped out of my comfort zone,” says Jacques Goulet. | Photo: Sun Life

Jacques Goulet, BSc 87

With such an extensive reach, Sun Life has to keep constant tabs on disruptions in economic markets, social policies and health-care access, says Jacques Goulet, president of Sun Life Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are two major challenges faced by the industry, he adds.

At the helm of Sun Life Canada since 2018, Goulet sees his role as a “steward of strategy and culture.” He makes sure the right people are in the right roles, develops employee talent and rallies the company around a shared vision.

Goulet’s introduction to financial services began in high school.

“I was good at math, and one of my teachers suggested I become an actuary,” he recalls. “I didn’t even know what that was!”

On the teacher’s advice, Goulet searched for actuarial science programs — there weren’t many back then, he notes — and came to a decision between Université Laval and Concordia. Though the former’s French-language courses would have been easier on the Shawinigan, Quebec, native, Goulet was keen to learn English.

“It was a risk, but I immersed myself, made anglophone friends and, by the end of my studies, considered myself more or less fluent.”

Goulet also jumped at the opportunity to get hands-on experience through Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education.

“The program was highly valuable,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to reflect on whether I could see myself in this career long-term. I did four work terms through Co-op, and it reinforced that financial services was for me.”

With his bachelor’s degree in actuarial science, Goulet joined Mercer, the global consulting firm. He travelled extensively between Paris, Switzerland and New York for 29 years.

The mentorship of Dean Connor, the former president and CEO of Sun Life, was critical to Goulet’s professional trajectory. When Connor moved from Mercer to Sun Life, Goulet followed in 2018.

“I’ve only ever had two employers, and was hired by the same person each time!” he remarks, adding that his move to Sun Life was also motivated by the company’s prestige in Quebec.

“It was very attractive to become the head of such a marquee brand in the city and the province,” says Goulet. “Sun Life also aligns with what I consider to be the two most important things in people’s lives: health and financial security. It’s a noble duty to provide that kind of security to people during unpredictable times.”

It’s fitting that Goulet’s career in assessing risk started at Concordia — a gamble that he can now say paid off.

“When I look back at my time as an undergraduate, it was the first point in my life that I stepped out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Concordia gave me the fundamental skills to problem- solve in business, which has been my whole career.”

Close-up portrait of Puja Chaubey, a woman with a warm smile, medium-length dark hair parted to the side, and clear skin. She is wearing a black high-neck top and subtle makeup with natural-toned lipstick. The background is softly blurred with hints of greenery, suggesting an outdoor setting. “The dual nature of my role enables me to provide value while helping me grow as a professional,” says Puja Chaubey.

Puja Chaubey, BComm 01
Director, Finance

While she describes herself as a “numbers girl,” Puja Chaubey is also a people person — a combination that serves her well as she leads digital business and financial solutions at Sun Life.

In her role as finance director, Chaubey oversees a broad portfolio covering financial planning and analyses for several departments. She also manages inter-company client relationships for business groups across the Sun Life network.

It’s a dynamic position that she says underscores what attracted her to the company in the first place.

“The dual nature of my role enables me to provide value while helping me grow as a professional and a person. It might sound cliché, but every day at Sun Life really is different.”

Chaubey has worked a variety of positions in financial-risk analysis since she joined the company in 2017. With the rise in concerns about digital security, cybersecurity risk assessment was also added to her portfolio.

“Sun Life is always adjusting and adapting its technology investments in light of new information and a changing cyberthreat landscape,” says Chaubey. “This keeps my job interesting and allows me to use my financial, accounting and strategy acumen to help the company meet its strategic objectives.”

Financial problem-solving wasn’t part of Chaubey’s original plan. She entered Concordia with an eye on the sciences — biology, in particular — but soon found her niche in accounting.

Concordia made it easy for her to make the shift, she says, and the John Molson School of Business gave her a solid foundation.

Professors Mahesh Sharma and the late Fassil Nebebe were particularly impactful, she recalls.

“They were very good at making me feel interested in the subject and had the know-how to apply the theoretical skills I had learned in earlier classes.”

Like many of her fellow alumni, Chaubey says the supportive community at Concordia — and the networks she built there — were a tremendous source of encouragement.

“There is a strong social component to university life,” she says. “Concordia provided me with numerous opportunities to improve my collaboration and communication skills, ultimately helping to shape me into a better director.”

Portrait of Karim Refaat, a man with a friendly smile, sporting short dark hair and light stubble. He is dressed in a sharp navy blue suit with a white shirt and black tie. In the background, there is an outdoor setting with a glass door, artwork on the wall, and a blur of green chairs and vibrant red flowers, suggesting a relaxed, yet elegant ambiance. “Concordia made me the problem-solver and critical thinker I am today,” says Karim Refaat

Karim Refaat, BEng 09
Director of operations, Finanacial Operations

After he decided to move from his native Egypt to Canada to pursue his engineering studies, Karim Refaat had a choice to make.

Industrial engineering was the most attractive specialization to me,” he recalls. “But there weren’t many programs in Canada at that time. After narrowing it down, it was between Ryerson [now Toronto Metropolitan] University and Concordia. Concordia stood out.”

Refaat has since made Montreal his home and now works with advisors to set up contracts, issue payments and offer support to clients. In a broad sense, he consults data and liaises with analysts to efficiently drive operations forward.

The role is a culmination of leadership and consultancy positions Refaat has held over the years at Sun Life. He previously served as director of operations for the company’s contact centre, where he led a team of hundreds to contract with businesses on a range of services, from pensions to retirement accounts.

The passion he feels for the job marks a far cry from his entry into operations — sales, where his career began after Concordia at a different financial-services company.

“I hated it,” Refaat recalls. “It’s a miracle that I lasted as long as I did in the position, which was four years. My strengths came into focus when I shifted into operations, where I could make decisions based on data and facts.”

After a transition period to consultancy work, Refaat landed a job as a senior consultant with Sun Life in 2016. He has steadily worked his way up since.

Refaat says he loves the challenge of making Sun Life’s vast network of operations run seamlessly. His current role is “a good bridge between the operational side and the engineering side,” and an ideal application of the skills he acquired at Concordia.

“I was never very studious,” Refaat admits. “My first two years at university were more general in terms of the coursework, but during my last two years I was able to take more specialized classes in engineering. My grades really improved because I was so interested in the subject.”

Refaat says he still draws from his Concordia experiences on a regular basis.

“The professors I had and the classes I took gave me the underlying principles of how to approach operations. Concordia made me the problem-solver and critical thinker I am today.”

The image shows a professional portrait of Marie-Chantal Côté. She is smiling and appears confident. The setting seems to be an office or a corporate environment, indicated by the blurred background which suggests an interior with windows. She has shoulder-length wavy hair, styled neatly, and is wearing what appears to be a business suit with a black jacket and a white shirt with a black collar. “There are a lot of transferable skills that prepared me for the broad set of roles I’ve held,” says Marie-Chantal Côté | Photo: Sun Life

Marie-Chantal Côté, BA 97
Senior vice-president, Group Benefits

As a vice-president of Group Benefits at Sun Life, Marie-Chantal Côté helps to ensure that millions of Canadians can tap into health-care solutions through their group or employer plans. It’s a responsibility that comes with being purpose-driven, something she says her alma mater nurtured.

“When you feel an emotional attachment to a place, like I do to Concordia, you feel equipped and inspired to do more,” Côté observes.

That attachment began in the Department of Journalism. Between classes, Côté worked as the sports editor at The Link, the student-run newspaper, an experience she says served her well after she joined Sun Life as a technology consultant in 1998.

“Journalism requires you to go deep, synthesize information and put forth a distinct perspective while being open to what others have to say,” she notes. “There are a lot of transferable skills that prepared me for the broad set of roles I’ve held and where I am today.

“The thought-leadership in the department was impressive. I recall conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion when I was a student in the 1990s. Concordia was ahead of its time.”

At Sun Life, Côté has since made inclusive and equitable health-care coverage a priority.

For example, she has helped oversee Sun Life’s recent Family Building program, which offers its clients adoption and surrogacy benefits, the first among major insurance companies in Canada.

Facilitating access to mental-health care is another cause Côté takes seriously.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that people weren’t using resources for mental health,” she says. “The stigma around seeking help was so strong.”

To help individuals receive access to mental-health care, Sun Life has put in place a Mental Health Coach solution that connects people with experts and resources.

While Côté knows there are no quick fixes, she is confident that she can do her part.

“I see a lot of desire among people to shape society and have a positive impact,” she says. “People want to pursue meaningful goals. In my case, Concordia prepared me to be purpose-driven.”

In Good Company is a series on inspiring grads who work for corporations, nonprofits or industries that employ a large number of Concordia alumni.

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