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Positive influence

Meet five Concordia alumni whose work has far-reaching impact.
September 26, 2013

Most people have some sway on those around them, including family, friends, co-workers, clients and so on. Yet a select few — including a number of Concordia alumni — hold positions where their decisions and actions can ripple outward to stimulate or inspire the actions and beliefs of hundreds or even thousands.

We asked five such graduates how they arrived at where they are, how they influence others and who their own mentors were.

Live from D.C.: Joyce Napier

Joyce Napier Joyce Napier is now Radio-Canada’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

Throughout her long career, Radio-Canada’s Washington, D.C., correspondent Joyce Napier, BA 81, has covered a considerable number of significant world events, including both the death and beatification of Pope John Paul II and United States President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign and victory. She also interviewed convicted Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka two hours after her release from prison in 2005.

Prior to Napier’s D.C. post, she was Radio-Canada’s Jerusalem correspondent. She takes pride in sharing her years of experience with the next generation of journalists.

Describe your work and career path.

I always wanted to be a reporter, from when I was 13. I wanted to be like Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for literature, but before that was a journalist.

It was very fashionable when I was young to be this tormented existentialist. I thought it would be very cool to be what the French call a chroniqueur, somebody who tells the story of his or her time.

That was the inspiration. But how you get there in journalism is how you get there in other businesses: hard work and not giving up. And boy, I got a lot of rejection when I was a young graduate. There has to be some crazy belief that the rejections don’t matter, and you are going to do what you want to do — and what you have to do. I started as a freelancer. I was in print for almost 10 years, and then I was at Canadian Press, then La Presse and then I went to CBC.

Do you think about your legacy, the mark you leave on others?

I think what’s important, and we do this in Washington, is to address the students and young journalists coming up. I always try to make time for that. What we leave as a broader legacy is the truest story that we can write. I think that’s the best we can do: be true. Be true to the place that you’re covering. Don’t try to make the story prettier or worse than it is.

What influence did Concordia and your professors play in your progress?

My journalism professors at Concordia, Lindsay Crysler and Enn Raudsepp, were the guys who opened the door. All of a sudden it became possible. I could at least hope that I could get there. That’s why they are so important to me.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

I do. I think that is a duty we have: to spend time with that next generation.

I truly believe that, especially if you work for the public broadcaster, there’s something you have to give back. Yes, I do have knowledge; could I pass it on to the bright, young intern working in our office with us? Yes, and I’m kind of proud of that. If everybody did that, we’d have a better prepared generation.

The technology has changed a lot, but the way we do journalism — what, when, where, why, how — has remained the same for 100 years. So what I can teach them goes beyond time and progress. It’s like love. Now you can go online, but it’s still the thing as before that makes your heart beat.

How do you foresee your profession evolving?

The future for our business is uncertain but not dire. It’s changing fast. I think new technology is amazing. When I was a freelancer, you could freelance for radio or print, so your horizon was bright but there was not that much out there. Now the sky’s the limit, but it’s scary because it’s diluted.

Today, you don’t have these big conglomerates of newspapers that hire and take care of you until you’re old and grey. We didn’t have all the alternatives — internet or blogging.

If there are five bright kids who want to start their own website on whatever, they could do it and be very successful. It’s infinite what you can do.

— Simona Rabinovitch

Leap of faith: Bishop Tom Dowd

Bishop Tom Dowd, BComm 92 Bishop Tom Dowd became Canada’s youngest bishop in 2011.

Bishop Tom Dowd, BComm 92, was ordained a Catholic priest in 2001. A decade later, he was named auxiliary bishop to Montreal Archbishop Jean- Claude Cardinal Turcotte.

At the time, CBC dubbed him the “Facebooking Father,” and today Bishop Dowd also ministers via blog ( and Twitter, helping anchor the church firmly in the digital age.

Describe your work and career path.

I am the assistant or associate to the archbishop; in corporate terms, vice-president to his president/CEO. My core function is episcopal vicar to the English-speaking faithful of Montreal, about 200,000 Catholics in 34 parishes. I act as liaison and support for a host of autonomous groups founded by the laity that want to have a relationship with the diocesan structure.

I like to tell people I had a mid-life crisis at 24. I held a degree in international business and was manager of a global, software-testing unit at Ericsson Canada. Achieving my dream so young had me wondering if that would be enough, career-wise. That’s when the call of God became louder, and I took a leap of faith. If you want to be bored, don’t go into the priesthood. It’s an adventure every day.

Do you think about your legacy, the mark you leave on others?

The most important aspects of my spirituality are the themes of hope and unity, reflected in my episcopal coat of arms: green is the colour of hope, and the translation of the Latin motto on my coat of arms is, “To be of one heart and soul.” Ultimately, my intention is to be a positive influence, provide compassion for the sick and assistance to the poor, and work for social justice.

Who influenced you?

My biggest influences were my parents. My dad had a master’s degree in medieval philosophy and my mom had a degree in theology. I grew up believing that critical thinking and faith went together. I bring that to everything I do.

What role did Concordia and your professors have on your progress?

I’m grateful to the entire faculty. Associate dean for undergraduates Rolland Wills was a mentor to me, especially when I was in the student association. I was involved with some 25 groups as a student. One of Concordia’s unwritten rules was that the faculty encouraged student life by having flexibility about due dates for assignments and so on. They knew practical involvement enriched education. That was a great encouragement.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

Absolutely. As a bishop, a lot of my ministry is with the public. As a priest, it was more of the one on one, to help identify others’ gifts and give them a chance to use and develop them.

Your profession faces increasing challenges. How do you foresee it evolving?

The church — our whole society — faces many challenges. It’s not that we’re living a crisis of faith; I think we’re living a crisis of hope. I think a lot of people still have faith, but they’re not quite sure how that belief can be put into practice in a concrete way.

What we need to do is find a way to articulate a new narrative, for the individual and society. Can a society actually have a projet de société? Can we work together, build something together?

There’s a constant effort that needs to be made to identify people’s interests and values and see how they can be harmonized for the sake of the common good. Religion acts as an organizing factor, something I think can make a very positive contribution. It’s a factor of hope, not just of faith.

— Beverly Akerman

POV filmmaker: Daniel Cross

Daniel Cross, BFA 91, MFA 98 Concordia professor and filmmaker Daniel Cross received the inaugural mentor award from the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association in 2006.

Daniel Cross, BFA 91, MFA 98, is an associate professor and the chair of Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. He is also an awardwinning documentary filmmaker.

He’s president and founder of EyeSteelFilm, which Realscreen magazine has listed among the world’s top 100 non-fiction production companies. His earliest films cemented a reputation for concern with the homeless. The company’s recent films include the acclaimed Last Train Home (2009), Inside Lara Roxx (2011) and Atanasoff, the Father of the Computer (2013). One of Cross’s current projects is on Montreal’s crumbling Turcot Interchange highway system.

Describe your career path.

I make theatrical documentary cinema, documentaries that use the language and aesthetics of cinema; social issue pointof- view (POV) documentaries that break down mediated stereotypes; films about people not justly represented in corporate media; cinema verité rather than experts or talking heads.

At the age of 26, I applied to Concordia and King’s College [in Halifax]. The King’s College advisor reviewed my transcript and said, “Your transcript does not confirm you can read or write… I suggest you apply to phys ed.” I walked out before he finished his next sentence. Concordia accepted me as a mature student in cinema-film production. With boyhood dreams of playing for the Canadiens and filmmaking desires fuelled by the NFB [National Film Board of Canada] in Montreal, I immediately accepted.

Do you think about your legacy, the mark you leave on others?

When you’re successful in getting a film budget, it could be $200,000, which is relatively well financed considering I’m working with homeless people [such as in The Street: A Film With the Homeless (1997) and S.P.I.T.: Squeegee Punks in Traffic (2002)].

Therefore, I ensure that my filmmaking process has a positive impact on the subjects’ dayto- day realities. As a filmmaker, I get involved in the realities both in front of and behind the camera. I do not see this as an ethical dilemma. When I get involved, I make a better film. I created [a website by and for the street community] as an activist project. I believe self-expression builds self-esteem.

Who influenced you?

My dad was a real community activist, a member of the Ridgeway Crystal Beach Kinsman club. I became his front man in community fundraising campaigns after he realized that a kid showing up at the door gets a better response than an adult. So from him I developed my social conscience and activist attitude. Then there was Katimavik, a federal government youth program, where I travelled across Canada with 30 others, performing community work. We were sent to Lund, B.C., situated at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway along the Sunshine Coast two or three ferry rides from Vancouver. I started a teen-youth group there and began showing NFB films like Never Cry Wolf [1983]. It was my first inkling into the idea of becoming a filmmaker.

What role did Concordia and your professors have on your progress?

My mentor was cinema professor Thomas Waugh. He was my academic advisor when I came to Concordia. Because of him, I was able to enrol in the History of Film course, which exposed me to the world of cinema, showing me the kind of films I wanted to make.

There was also NFB camera operator, cinematographer and director Martin Duckworth, also a part-time Concordia professor. He helped me get extra film stock to complete my first films. By the end of my second year at Concordia, I had my films in festivals.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

I received the inaugural Mentor Award from the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association in 2006. There’s a really good relationship between my mentoring students and giving them opportunities through EyeSteelFilm. Yung Chang [BFA 99], who made Up the Yangtze [2007], and Brett Gaylor [BFA 99], who made RiP: A Remix Manifesto [2009], were students of mine. Then there’s Eric Denis, also known as Roach, from SPIT. He got off the street and IV drugs as a result of filmmaking and is now completing his fifth movie with EyeSteelFilm.

Your profession faces increasing challenges. How do you foresee it evolving?

TV is our major financial outlet. The rise of fact-based entertainment and reality TV means there’s less space on TV for POV documentaries. On the other hand, equipment is cheaper than ever, so films cost less to make and, with the web, they’re more and more accessible. The problem is that web distribution hasn’t really been monetized yet.

One of the good things about teaching at university is working with young people. Students are arriving with a new literacy in media; that seems to be innate in all young people. Now the challenge is for me — us — to keep up.

— Beverly Akerman

Building better workplaces: Gina Cody

Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89 Gina Cody is president of CCI Group in Toronto.

Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89, is executive chair of CCI Group an engineering firm that employs 150 across Canada.The Toronto-headquartered company was named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies in 2013 and was among Canada’s Best Workplaces for 2010- 2012.

Cody won an Award of Merit from the Canadian Standards Association and is an Officer of the Order of Honour of the Professional Engineers of Ontario. The Concordia University Alumni Association named her Alumna of the Year in 2011.

Describe your work and career path.

We’re a national company covering all aspects of engineering and building science: construction, restoration and rehabilitation of buildings. For new projects, we look at the soil for environmental and geotechnical investigation, at quality control during construction. For financial institutions or investors purchasing large portfolios, we also do a lot of assessment on existing buildings: environmental, structural, mechanical, electrical. We also prepare programs for restoration. From childhood, I knew I would be an engineer. From about the age of 10 I knew how to repair the TV— the one with the tubes — because I couldn’t bear when it wasn’t working. If a chair broke, or the door, I fixed it.

I’m very methodical in my planning, whether it’s about my family or my company: when it was time to get the company to the next level, work on the bottom line or grow the company nationally. The company becomes your baby.

Right now, we’re growing our Montreal office. We have five people overseeing the restoration of the Olympic Village, which will take at least two years.

Do you think about your legacy, the mark you leave on others?

I’ve hired lots of young engineers, and many have been with me for 25 years. You need to teach them, to keep them under your wing. I’ve been sister, mother and supervisor to many of them.

Who influenced you, and how?

My family, very much. My sister is a dentist and my three older brothers are engineers. My dad always wanted me to be an engineer. He ran a private boys’ high school. I taught there during first year university, almost like I was in training to direct a large group of men.

What role did Concordia and your professors have on your progress?

I arrived in Montreal from Iran in 1979 to do my MEng at McGill University. My brother had just finished civil engineering at Concordia and he introduced me to [Building Studies] Professor Cedric Marsh. Cedric made me feel so comfortable I decided to move my studies to Concordia the same day. Professor Marsh’s work with industry was intriguing; I did my MEng and PhD with him. Sadly, Professor Marsh passed away last year.

Now I’m trying to encourage my daughter to do her PhD at Concordia; she’s currently at Carnegie Mellon [in Pittsburgh, Penn.] in engineering. Concordia has a strong industry approach, rather than being too theoretical, and produces very good graduates for the engineering profession.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

Yes, absolutely. The younger engineers rely on me. And some of my best clients are my ex-employees.

I also teach pro bono at the Canadian Condominium Institute, a non-profit that educates condo boards of directors. These are lay people who may not have a clue how to run a building. I also write guidelines for the Professional Engineers of Ontario and develop standards in the construction industry.

Your profession faces increasing challenges. How do you foresee it evolving?

One problem in our society is that engineering isn’t seen as a helping profession. Women particularly have a passion to contribute to society. CCI has a higher percentage of women than most engineering firms, 20 to 25 per cent. Women need more role models. But the real challenge is keeping up to date with new technology, materials and techniques. To do that, I stay involved with professional associations. And I remind people anything that’s growing fast needs oversight.

— Beverly Akerman

Energy guru: Ray Jolicoeur

Ray Jolicoeur, BAdmin 90 Guru Energy Drink co-founder and VP Marketing Ray Jolicoeur.

Positive energy, healthy living and inspiring others to do great things is part of the lifestyle that Ray Jolicoeur, BAdmin 90, infuses into the popular GURU energy drink.

From sponsoring Montreal music event Piknic Électronik to volunteering as honorary chairman of the GURU Business Creation prize for the Montreal region in the Quebec Entrepreneurship Contest event in 2011, the successful brand’s co-founder and VP marketing embodies the GURU lifestyle.

Describe your work and career path.

I started the GURU energy drink company with some friends back in 1998. It’s been a fun ride! After Concordia, I studied international business in the United States for one summer, then I started at Kraft Foods and spent a couple of years there marketing salad dressing and mayo.

A few years later, I went into marketing for Corby Distilleries. Then, out of a casual cultural conversation with my good friend, François Bazinet, a business plan evolved: we discovered energy drinks, and eventually launched one. We had a product that was made from natural ingredients and an inspiring name that represented a lifestyle that reflects what we believe: that eating and drinking healthy is a good thing. So, being true to our values, we created a product that reflects who we are.

Do you think about your legacy, the mark you leave on others?

Our mission for the brand is that GURU gives good energy for people to make great things. So if we can help them do that with not only our drink but our general message, that’s what GURU’s there for. I’m not sure I’d use the word “legacy,” but we’re really happy our brand fits into the lifestyle of active people who like to get things done!

The values of the brand, and its name, imply that if you put your heart and energy into something that you like, good things will likely come out of it; that’s our whole message about GURU giving good energy. I’m quite passionate about making sure the brand means something to people, in terms of the product, but I also like to see that there’s more to it than just a drink.

Who influenced you?

Family, first and foremost. My dad was an entrepreneur and a marketing person, and my mom has always been extremely supportive of everything I do, which helps build confidence and sense of responsibility. My two very accomplished sisters and supporting wife are also inspiring influences! In terms of who influenced me for GURU, mostly friends. I started this company with three friends from high school. Beyond that, I’ve always had a knack for looking into how entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs. The first book that drew me to marketing was Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) by David Ogilvy. Today it might be a little more trendy to look at marketing through the lens of Mad Men, but back when I read the book it wasn’t the case.

What role did Concordia and your professors have on your progress?

I use a lot of the skills I acquired at Concordia studying marketing and international business, whether for production scheduling or advertising plans or all kinds of business strategy moves. Certainly there were a number of teachers, like marketing professor Michel LaRoche. Professor Michel Bergier, a marketing research professor, had a great impact on me. His was a very demanding class; he was a hardnosed math guy who had a passion for communicating numbers in a way that would mean something to people, and that’s what marketing research is: to look at data and make a story out of it.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

I think that’s a question you’d have to ask my employees. My goal is certainly to coach them when I can, and help them in their career paths and decisions. But you can learn from them as much as they can learn from you. That’s the beauty of having your own business; you get to work alongside talented people who put their passion into what you’ve created, and eventually it takes on its own life.

I’m always looking for mentors, because there’s always something you can learn from other people. GURU is a lot about that: to keep on learning and gathering wisdom.

— Simona Rabinovitch

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