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Woman of the Week: Linda Hung

Linda Hung is a theme park enthusiast. While speaking on the phone with Women’s Post, she talked excitedly about Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The experience, she said, was made unique by the magical landscapes and the transitions from island to island.

And Hung knows what she is talking about. As Senior Director of Theme Parks for FORREC, it is her job to ensure theme parks and resorts are designed in a way that cultivates the best possible guest experience — and the most fun.

FORREC is an international entertainment design agency based in Toronto, responsible for designing some of the world’s most attended and admired theme parks. This includes Canada’s Wonderland, Universal Studios in Florida, and several LEGOLAND properties, among many others.

Hung was always fascinated with design and architecture. “It was the idea of being able to create something with your imagination and then believing you can transform that image into a real place,” she said. “I day dreamed a great deal when I was young. I had an interest in art, design, and drawing, coupled with technical skills in math. I fell into landscape architecture.”

After graduating from the University of Toronto with a bachelor degree in Landscape Architecture, Hung moved to Asia. Employment in Canada was scarce, and in Hong Kong she was able to get a job as a Junior Architect and Intermediate Landscape Architect, while learning more about her family history.

While she loved her work, she loved theme parks and resorts more. Ever since she was young, she visited these attractions as much as possible. When a position opened up at FORREC for a master planner, Hung jumped at the opportunity. That was 19 years ago.

“I often think of how lucky I am and stay engaged and inspired in one place all these years. I’m constantly learning from my peers and clients. Projects are so diverse, I’m never bored.”

Now, she serves as Senior Director of Theme Parks, a role that incorporates her knowledge in design and architecture with business and finance. “I’m not just trying to sell them a theme park. I understand what they need to make their project and development viable, efficient, and compelling to guests. Plus, I love the whole industry, bringing entertainment to projects. We have a unique skill set with FORREC to marry it with our projects to make it stand out.”

With so many options around the world, the theme park industry is highly competitive. Each project needs to be looked at through different lenses and must cater to the client, location, brand, culture, and story. With so many entertainment offerings out there, Hung needs to constantly think about what is going to make their parks unique. How will they capture the free time of their guests?

According to Hung, the key to a successful resort is integration, ensuring guests are entertained and occupied from when they get up in the morning to when they return to their rooms at night. At a theme park, great rides and attractions are absolutely necessary, but Hung says it is about more than that. “The park in itself is also a destination. We look for things that create a whole story or environment so that once you walk in you are entering a different world. You are escaping your world and walking into a fantasy.”

FORREC also helps design smaller, local projects such as a playground at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. The playground included elements of waterplay, handwork, and food, set around a chimney, which acts as a central gathering space. Hung says that working internationally is a thrill, but it is even more rewarding to work in your own backyard.

Hung also helped create Splashworks at Ontario Place, an experience she enjoyed greatly.

“I remember working on that project and bringing the master plan home and my kids were inspired by it and said we have our ideas, and this is what we would love to see in a splash park. And I implemented some of their thoughts. Years later they recognized some of those things in the waterpark. Those are the little moments that make it really special. Creating things in your mind and having it built into a physical place. You can experience it in design.”

Hung has an entrepreneurial spirit, and encourages creativity and adventure within business. “I would encourage a curious mind. If you have a new concept, whether it;s landscape architecture or entrepreneur. You shouldn’t stop there. Always think what could make it better. For women, being sensitive is a good thing. It’s what makes us keen observers, that’s what enables us to explore.”

When Hung isn’t working, she spends a lot of time volunteering. She does work with World Vision, Toronto City Mission, The Scott Mission, and Sketch Toronto.

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Woman of the Week: Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is best known for her role as a “Dragon” on CBC’s hit television show Dragon’s Den. Her passion, tenacity, and knack for numbers has made her a driving force on the show — and an investor everyone wants to have backing their team.

What sets Romanow apart from her co-stars is her focus on the individual. If she is going to invest in a business or a company, she wants to get to know the people behind the project.

“I think as tempting as it is to look at the exact business on hand, I inspect the entrepreneurs themselves,” she said in an interview with Women’s Post. “You are looking for someone with a chip on their shoulder. Someone who needs to win. There are so many pivots and turns when you start a business, you want someone who is going to make it work.”

Beyond the “Den”, Romanow is a tech titan and serial entrepreneur who knows how to spot an opportunity. By her 28th birthday, she had already started three different companies across different industries.

She began her career as a civil engineering student at Queen’s University, a tough program that taught her how to problem solve. Romanow had an interest in math and science, but it wasn’t until she helped launch a sustainable, zero consumer waste café on campus that she realized she had a passion for business. Her goal was to convince the administration that her pitch wasn’t about a food service, but rather a sustainability project important to the development of the school. She raised most of the capital herself and the café — called The Tea Room — remains a fixture on campus to this day.

Since then, Romanow has jumped from project to project, solving problems and building new ventures.

“The power that you have [as an entrepreneur] is enormous,” she said. “I think the fun is in solving problems you don’t want to see in your world.”

Her second business was Evandale Caviar, a fishery based in New Brunswick that distributed high-end, Canadian sturgeon caviar to luxury hotels. Unfortunately, the business fell apart in the 2008 recession.

Since then, Romanow has launched a number of incredibly successful businesses. She is the co-founder of Buytopia.ca, Snap by Groupon, and Clearbanc. Clearbanc is Romanow’s most recent venture — an online financial service that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to get capital to grow their own company.

Romanow also helps craft digital solutions for international brands like P&G, Netflix, Starbucks, and Cirque du Soleil. She was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards; and was a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award global finalist. Romanow is listed as one of the top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and was named as one of the Forbes Top 20 Most Disruptive “Millennials on a Mission”.

You would think she is a person who loves to be busy and have numerous things on the go, but Romanow is passionate about her work and doesn’t like to “be busy for the sake of busy”. She would rather get things done and spend her time on something that matters.

In July of 2017, Romanow partnered with Ruma Bose and Richard Branson to launch the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative. The goal is to showcase Canadian entrepreneurs and offer assistance to those starting out.

“How do we create more Canadian success stories, especially women,” Romanow asked. “Almost half of Canadians can’t name an entrepreneur they look up to.”

Clearbanc is committing $1 million to finance small businesses and help create those success stories.

In addition to all of these projects, Romanow makes time to mentor women and offer advice to young entrepreneurs. Her biggest piece of advice? Just do it!

“Overplanning can be a detriment,” she said. “My first piece of advice to people is that you have to get started now. Most people think about and analyze businesses for a long time, but it’s important to start to move it. The first idea never ends up being the business that works, but the process allows you to get there.”

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Toronto approves move to Phase Two of Rail Deck Park

The proposed Rail Deck Park has multiple functions — providing much-needed green public space as well as becoming a connecting area for GO Transit commuters.

This idea was reinforced with an amendment at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting. In addition to recommending staff advance to the second stage of the work plan in 2018-19, staff will also assess opportunities to create “new connections to Rail Deck Park”, including the Green Line along the hydro lands and extensions of the West Toronto Railpath.

Rail Deck Park is expected to be a sprawling 21-acre green space in the heart of the city, built above pre-existing transit lines that stretch from Bathurst Ave. to Blue Jays Way. According to the report presented to the executive committee, it will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley.

“If this growth is to continue, there is a need for significant new infrastructure, including parkland, to ensure the quality of life, health, and sustainability of Downtown neighbourhoods. If this cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for the City to reconsider the pace and amount of future development in the Downtown.”

The cost for the project will be an estimated $1.665 billion, or $83 million per acre. This estimate includes about over $600 million in contingencies. The city plans on taking advantage of Section 42, also known as cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication funds. This revenue is collected from new developments with the sole purpose of developing and acquiring parkland. Not much is known about how the park will be funded other than the city will explore sponsorships, donations, and contributions from other levels of governments.

 

The city of Toronto is growing rapidly, and the downtown core is in great need of more green space to off-set future development. There is also an advantage of ensuring connectivity by integrating access to GO Rail.

City staff will report back on the financial feasibility of Phase Two in a few months.

What do you think of the Rail Deck Park? Let us know in the comments below!

Janice Fukakusa, chair of Infrastructure Bank, to speak in Toronto

Janice Fukakusa was appointed as Chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank in July. After 31 years with Royal Bank, Fukakasa was the perfect fit for the new organization. As Chair of the Infrastructure Bank, Fukakusa will help choose the board of directors that will oversee the agency’s operations and guide daily actions.

Fukakusa has previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She has a Bachelor of Arts from University of Toronto, a Master’s of Business Administration, and is a Chartered Professional Accountant and Business Valuator. In 2007, Fukakusa was inducted into Canada’s Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame and named one of 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2016.

She is currently on the board of Cineplex, General Growth Properties, the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and the Wellspring Cancer Foundation, among others. She also sits on the Board of Governors of Ryerson University.

Fukakusa will be a special speaker at the 25th Annual Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships (CPPP) National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships. Her address will discuss “Canada’s New Infrastructure Frontier” and touch upon how best to increase private sector investments into complex revenue generating projects through the support of P3s.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank is a new $35 billion initiative of the Liberal Government and was announced in their 2017 federal budget. It hopes to provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects by injecting private funds for public projects. The Bank hopes to be operational by the end of 2017.

Register for the CCPP National Conference here.

Co-operative housing may be the way of the future in Toronto

Have you ever dreamed of buying a house, but didn’t have enough money?

It turns out with ‘C-Harmony: Creating Co-operative Connections’, it may be possible to still buy a home by joining with other prospective buyers. The concept comes from owner, Lesli Gaynor, who launched GoCo., an enterprise that helps facilitate co-ownership and runs the C-Harmony events. The first pilot event held last week brought together prospective buyers to meet in a speed-dating styled experience to see if they are compatible to purchase real estate together.

Gaynor came up with the idea when she co-purchased a home with a friend several years ago and shares her experience with others looking to do the same. GoCo facilitates events and support services to help with financing, the legalities of co-ownership, risk mitigation, finding partners and property, and establishing an agreement. Though the idea of co-owning seems unorthodox, the more you look into GoCo, and the steps to take to make it happen, it becomes a sensible way to buy in an expensive city such as Toronto.

Begin by calculating what your current rental payments are and average that amount to equal what you would pay in mortgage and expenses. This lays the groundwork for how much you can afford and what you could provide financially in a co-operative ownership. There are other issues to consider once you decide to proceed with co-owning such as discovering what your living needs are. Do you want two bedrooms? A backyard space? How many bathrooms? Once all this criteria is laid out, the idea is to find an owning partner who has the same needs, equitable finance and a compatible personality. Then you can set out on finding a property together.

Other key considerations include deciding how the property will be divided. There are many different ways according to GoCo. on how to proceed with co-sharing including living in the home together, or one party living in the house while the other invests money into it. Both parties would need to decide what works best for them and divide financial responsibilities and bills in advance to avoid any issues.

Though co-owning a home is a difficult decision to make, it is a progressive concept for community building in an expensive real estate market such as Toronto. GoCo. is giving a forum for people to join together and compete in the housing market, which will allow more families and individuals access to good homes. It will be interesting to see how this new speed-dating concept of co-owning proceeds in Toronto and if it grows in popularity.

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Reynolds

Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), thinks there is an ingrained corporate and economic culture that is to blame for the lack of gender equality within the financial industry. The number of women in positions of power has stagnated, and in 2017, that isn’t a good thing.

“I think sometimes people aren’t aware that Canada has fallen behind in terms of women in senior roles, on boards for examples,” Reynolds said. “Our representation is 12 per cent. Europe has representation up to 30-40 per cent. We, as a country, have fallen really far behind.”

WCM is the largest network of professional women in the Canadian capital markets. This group of women try to educate younger generations in the finance industry to consider careers in capital markets and advocate for greater gender diversity on boards and senior management. The organization hosts over 80 events a year and leads a number of campaigns, both in-person and online.

Reynolds became involved with WCM in 2000 and started volunteering for the then-grassroots organization helping educate young high school girls about careers involving math. She also volunteered for the mentorship program.

“When I graduated in 1994, I thought our generation would be the one where women would have leadership roles in the economy,” she said.

Obviously, WCM had an influence on Reynolds because she remained an active member of the organization for 13 years before becoming the president and CEO. The organization is shaking things up a bit under Reynold’s leadership, trying not only educate young women as to the many opportunities in finance and capital markets, but also trying to involve men in the dialogue.

“Most of these initiatives was about women discussing diversity. It took us a long time to get here, but now we are getting there and we have to involve men in the discussion because they are in senior leadership roles and we need to have dialogue with them to encourage progress,” she said.  “We need to give them a voice and an opportunity to see what they can do personally.”

One of the WCM programs Reynolds is most proud of is Return to Bay Street, an award that helps women return to the workforce after a career break. Each award-winning woman will receive a minimum four-month long paid contract with a sponsoring financial institution, $5,000 towards an education program, access to a WCM mentor, as well as a one-year membership with WCM.

Return to Bay Street is in its sixth year and will be accepting applications until April 13, 2017.

“Too often for women, if you need to take a break, it’s hard to come back,” Reynolds said. “You fall off the track because people think your skills are stale. [Return to Bay Street] helps replenish the pipeline for senior leadership. It brings back senior talent.”

Reynolds studied economics and political science at McGill University with the intention of becoming a lawyer. She found herself enjoying her economics classes immensely, and after four years decided she was better off in business.

“I ended up, fortunately, getting to know some people in the investment industry … and it sounded like a great career — fast paced, opportunity to travel, rewarding,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds worked with the Bank of Montreal as director of capital markets for 10 years before moving on to work with WCM. She is also on the board of the Canadian Development Investment Corporation, a crown corporation that works for the federal minister of finance and is responsible for a number of initiatives.

Reynolds thoroughly enjoys working on the board. In addition to her role with the Canadian Development Investment Corporation, she is also the director on the board of Studio 190, an independent, Toronto-based theatre company.  For her, being on various boards allows her to explore different industries and be creative. It’s also a great way to diversify her network.

As Reynolds explains, every organization has a president and CEO that runs the business, but that person reports to a board, “a bunch of senior people with expertise who help guide strategic vision.” This can be everything from where the company should be heading to overseeing financial statements — it’s also why it’s so important that boards be gender diverse.

“So, what does it matter? It matters because I think women should be part of creating strategic missions of businesses and companies in Canada,” Reynolds said. “From a purely data and research perspective, studies that show if you have that gender diverse boards, it makes your business more profitable. But, you need that diversity on your board – and from a common sense perspective, if you are recruiting from 50 per cent of talent pool, you’ve got to be limiting yourself. You are not getting the best. It’s common sense.”

How do companies do that? Reynolds said it takes two steps. The first is to actually hire women in positions of power and the second is to change your business’ culture. It all starts with statistics, ensuring the company counts and measures everything. “How many women in each level of organization, how long does promotion take, wage gap at each level, then you will figure out what the problem is. Is it that your leadership team only brings forward candidates that are men and non-minority, for example,” Reynolds said.

“If you leave it to chance, it won’t happen. But, if I have anything to say about it, it’s going to change!”

 

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Woman of the Week: Beatrix Dart

Beatrix Dart believes that women are the better innovators, even though they’ve been cultivated to remain in the shadows.

“They are more creative in their thinking, but they are also more detail-oriented and willing to follow up on the smaller components, and that makes or breaks a good project idea,” Dart explained. “Women also have the advantage of being better in collaboration and not being afraid to raise their hands and say they need help. There is not as much pride or ego involved.”

Dart is a professor of strategy and executive director of the Initiative for Women in Business at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She exudes passion for her field and her energy is contagious. Speaking with her in her office at U of T, her mid-morning snack — yogurt from the cafe downstairs — remained untouched as she spoke with great animation about the future of women in business.

Dart’s list of academia accomplishments is impressive: She has a degree in physics and quantitative economics, a degree in information sciences, and a PhD in Economics and statistics. “I was a very quantitative person by background. I felt very comfortable in that environment because it was really logical.”

Her first job after graduation was with McKinsey & Company, an international management consulting firm. Dart fell in love with the job, but she found it challenging to move from the intensive, solitary lifestyle of PhD research to a more active role in public relations.

“That changed my perspective — I went from thinking that being brilliant means being logical, analytical, and smart, to being brilliant actually means being a person people can trust, want to work with, and who will take the recommendation and move forward.”

Dart’s first introduction into gender politics was when she became pregnant with her first child. She was approached by McKinsey & Company and asked to participate in an internal project about how to keep female consultants once they become mothers. The results showed a definite bias towards women after pregnancy.

“Suddenly people make assumptions about you and suddenly all these gender barriers you’ve heard about kick in. They really exist,” Dart said. “Who is taking care of the child? Who is taking time off to go to the doctor? The assumptions are always made for you. They think: ‘Oh, I don’t think she will be ready to take on this project because now she has a newborn at home.’ They will not even ask you.”

This internal project kickstarted a deeper passion within Dart for gender studies. When she returned to academia at Rotman, she noticed a lack of women in the program. This spurred the Initiative for Women in Business, a set of programs that Dart helped found in 2008 specifically tailored to advance the career of women in business. The initiative now has 1,500-2000 professional women within their network. The most popular program is the back to work course, which helps women who have been out of the industry for three to eight years return to the market.

Dart also chairs the steering committee for the 30% Club in Canada, an organization that works to help women get on corporate boards.

One of the biggest challenges for women in the workforce is salary negotiation, ensuring they receive fair compensation for the work they produce. The wage discrepancies we hear about on a daily bases do exist, and lack of negotiations is one of the reasons why.

“It’s true, unfortunately, that women are not as strong at negotiating on their own behalf in particular,” she said. “We are not cultivated to market ourselves and toot our own horn.”

Dart cited a study conducted by Catalyst Canada that reviewed the salaries of MBA graduates. It was found that women, on average, received anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 less as a starting salary, simply because of a lack of negotiating.

“The worst part of that, if you think of how a salary develops over years, you get a percentage increase,” Dart said. “So if you don’t negotiate the same starting salary, it goes up! Your salary gap gets bigger and bigger over the years.”

Dart offered up some tips for women who don’t feel comfortable with salary negotiations. The first is to change your mindset — pretend you are negotiating on behalf of someone you love or someone who is dependent on you. An example is a child or a senior parent. “We are actually viciously good negotiators if we negotiate on behalf of our kids. We will ask for the world.”

Another is to always ask “what else can you do for me.” Those seven words can open up the conversation and the employer may offer a salary increase, extended vacation days, or maybe an allowance for transportation. The biggest challenge, according to Dart, is who puts out the first number, something that is called setting the ceiling. Dart suggests allowing the employer to do so by asking what the typical range of pay is for the position. If that doesn’t work, make sure to do your research. Find out what people are making in comparable positions. Dart suggestions the website glassdoor.ca, which offers standard salary ranges for various positions in different companies. And finally, always suggest the higher range and have an argument to back up why you are worth it.

For Dart, equality in salary and within the workforce isn’t the only thing she is fighting for. “If I had a magic wand and I could change one thing, I probably would try to create more equality for men and women at the home front.” She is currently reading “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a book that offers up a solution found in Denmark and Sweden, a solution Dart firmly believes Canada should implement — mandatory paid parental leave for both parents in exchange for government subsidy.

When she isn’t working, Dart loves to travel and explore different cultures. Her favourite place to visit, to date, is India.

Woman of the Week: Ann Kaplan

Think big — that’s Ann Kaplan’s biggest piece of advice for those wanting to succeed in business.

“I wish I had thought bigger,” she said. “Once I looked back and saw how big we had become, I thought ‘why didn’t I envision that when I was thinking of building the business?'”

Kaplan is president and CEO of iFinance Canada inc., a money-lending company that offers loans for elective surgeries, veterinary services, dental, and home improvement financing — items that would otherwise be difficult to get a loan from the bank. She built the corporation from nothing, relishing in the chance to pitch her ideas and grow.

Kaplan originally went to school for interior design, but once she opened up her own store, dealt with her own clients, and got a taste for the back room dealings of business, she was hooked. She now has an MBA in finance, a Masters of Science in Business, a Corporate Governance designation (ICD.d) and is completing her PhD thesis, which involves creating an algorithm that would determine whether a consumer would default on a loan.

All of her hard work has resulted in an influx of awards, the most recent being the PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship as part of the 23rd annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She said she cried when she found out she had won. “I was taken aback. I knew I was a finalist, but there were very qualified candidates.”

Kaplan was also recognized in 2000, a few years after the creation of Medicard Finance Inc., her first enterprise which is now under the iFinance umbrella, as Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year, Start-Up. In 2001, she won the Peak Award of Excellence in Finance. Kaplan has been on the Canada’s Profit Top 100 Companies nine times and has held a place on the Canadian W100 list eight times. She was inducted in the WXN Hall of Fame in 2014 after being named as one of Canada’s top three Female Business Leaders and as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. If that isn’t enough, she has also written four books — and these are only some of her notable achievements.

Despite her success, Kaplan remains humble and modest, speaking with a dry sense of humour — “verbal volleyball” she calls it, a skill that makes her popular with bankers and businessmen. Her time is split between work and her large family of eight kids, which means the word ‘relax’ isn’t in her vocabulary. Kaplan gets her hair done three to four times a week, and schedules in time for manicures and pedicures, but even then she has her laptop on hand. “No time is wasted,” she says.

What’s unique about Kaplan is that after nearly 20 years building iFinance, she still sees the opportunity for growth and education. But, what else made her start-up a success? Kaplan spoke with Women’s Post over the phone to go through a few tips on pitching to investors or lenders. According to Kaplan, the first, and most important aspect of a pitch, is to have an idea. This idea must help solve a problem. “That’s what a good business model is. Whether that is an App or providing instant financing that’s unsecured.”

Kaplan explains that the internet is inundated with everything. An idea must stand out and it must be able to provide a service that solves a specific problem. This means that people will actually be motivated to use the product or service you are pitching.

The next step is preparedness — be prepared to demonstrate your market, competition, and uniqueness. Understanding how your business is going to grow and what investors are going to get in return is crucial to landing a pitch. “There are great things like crowd-funding, but even in that you need to be prepared and be able to display the vision.”

In addition to knowing the worth of your business endeavour and of the company you are pitching to, it’s also important to also understand your own worth. Don’t undersell.

Finally, it’s all about communication and confidence. If you are able to explain in a concise manner how investing in your idea will be mutually beneficial, how the idea will be a success, and how you plan on making it into a larger, bigger entity, there is no reason why the pitch shouldn’t be considered.

For Kaplan, the independence that comes from creating a business from scratch is empowering. “The first time someone besides your mother buys something — it’s exciting!” That’s why it’s so important to continue to grow and think of new ideas, expand, and adapt to the new technology available. Kaplan is in the middle of a new and exciting enterprise called Brix Exchange, a Canadian crowd-funding portal for real estate and technology start-ups. It will be the first regulated portal of its kind in Canada.

The biggest piece of advice Kaplan can give, besides thinking big, is to follow your dreams. You can have everything if you are organized.

“Young women … they come to talk about handling their boyfriend who are concerned they are not spending enough time with them. It sounds like I’m generalizing, but it’s very common,” she said. “Family will come, but you should set yourself for your future.”

“Being able to walk away and do what makes you happy is empowering.”

Ann Kaplan is currently reading “So Anyway” by John Cleese.

 

Woman of the Week: Johanne Mullen

“I’m so glad you didn’t ask me about my work-life balance.”

Johanne Mullen would much rather talk to the media about the work she is doing than adhere to the stereotypical questions asked of women in positions of power.

What’s unique about Mullen is her confidence and her experience in a traditionally male-dominated infrastructure world. Despite her impressive range of titles — National Infrastructure and Project Finance Leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC) , director of the Institut pour les partenariats public-privé du Québec, director of the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships — she is down to earth and can speak as easily to one person as she can to a crowd. Her passion for her work is obvious and her knowledge and professionalism is impressive.

Women’s Post sat down with Mullen before her panel discussion on transit with Metrolinx’s CEO Bruce McCuaig at the annual National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships last week. The discussion ranged from Mullen’s background in finance to the future of public-private partnerships, and with each question her passion for project finance and infrastructure became obvious.

Mullen began her academic career at Concordia University, where she studied Commerce in Finance, before completing her Master of Business Administration in International Business at McGill University. She has over 20 years of experience in capital project and procurement advisory, as well as in project and structured finance.

In 2000, she started to work with the PWC, and fell in love with advisory and project finance. Some of her more notable accomplishments include acting as procurement and financial advisor for Saint-John’s Safe Clean Drinking Water program; advising the government of Nunavut on procurement and financing of the Iqaluit airport expansion; acting as an independent financial advisor for Nalcor Energy; and advising Infrastructure Ontario on the Pan Am Athletes Village.

“I love the advisory bit because I feel like I’m helping people develop something that is important to them, to the community,” she said. “I like the tangible aspect of the job—when I project is delivered you get to see it, you see the benefits.”

Mullen works with P3s, better known as public–private partnerships. These partnerships allow for a performance-based approach to procuring public infrastructure, which means the government does not pay for an asset until it is operational. This puts pressure on the private sector to remain accountable and to produce results. What’s unique about these projects is that the government is making a long-term investment. The cost of the asset includes 20 to 30 years worth of maintenance, depending on the contract.

According to Mullen, about 98 per cent of P3 projects are built on time and on budget.

“The reality is that if you understand the contractual model, the cost of delivering late is significant and obviously every cost overrun (the private sector) are picking up,” she said. “So they can’t afford to get it wrong.”

Right now, a lot of P3 projects are federal or provincial; however, they are trying to break into the municipal sphere. Mullen is already working on a project in Saint-John’s, and she would recommend that big cities such as Toronto look into P3 projects to help solve issues such as affordable housing.

“Personally, I think it’s been ignored more than it should be,” Mullen said of social housing.

In the meantime, Mullen has been working with municipalities such as Toronto to see how P3s can make a difference with public transit. The panel discussion she moderated at the National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships was a huge success, and promises to be a topic of discussion for Toronto’s future transit goals. At least we know there is a qualified, capable, and passionate woman leading the way.