by Gary Francoeur
Alan Desnoyers, BCom’85, the new incoming president of the McGill Alumni Association (MAA), is nothing if not committed to his alma mater.
Desnoyers, Regional Vice-President and Managing Director for Quebec at BMO Harris Private Banking, has served on the MAA’s Board of Directors since 2007, occupying roles as vice-president, treasurer and secretary during that span. He was also a volunteer for Campaign McGill, the chair of McGill Homecoming in 2010, and a member of the Desautels Faculty of Management Advisory Board and the Advisory Committee of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.
But why such a persistent passion for McGill? Desnoyers took some time to sit down with the McGill News to answer questions about himself, his two-year term as president and his vision for the future of the MAA.
Q: Congratulations on your role as MAA president. What does the opportunity mean to you?
A: It has been wonderful to be an ambassador for McGill, and to have the chance to be involved with both students and the broader alumni community. Now, with the presidency, I feel like I have the opportunity to do even more on the University’s behalf.
Everything that we do at the MAA boils down to finding new and meaningful ways to engage alumni. For instance, if you’re moving to a new city and are looking for commonality and community, McGill can help with that. If you’re looking for career services or networking opportunities, McGill can help with that as well.
At the end of the day, if you have a positive experience with McGill, you’re going to want to be an ambassador and promoter for the University. Those relationships can continue throughout a lifetime, and they can continue equally when someone has the financial means to support the University.
Q: What are your aspirations for the MAA as president?
A: Over the last few years, there was a huge amount of foundational work completed by the MAA around governance – efforts that made the board smaller and more nimble, and made the structure around it better, smarter and more modern. Moving forward, we want to build on that work and focus primarily on two things.
First and foremost, we need to do a much better job of bringing our student and alumni communities closer together. We want to encourage graduates to take a more active role in helping and supporting McGill students, whether it be as mentors or through philanthropy and internship opportunities. On the flip side, we want to educate students about the importance of alumni involvement to the University’s overall success – and therefore their own success.
Secondly, the MAA largely operated on its own in the past, and it is critically important that we bring the Association’s priorities closer in line with the University’s advancement and alumni relations goals. You would think that this would be a given, but the reality is that it hasn’t always felt that way.
Q: That’s a tall order. What are some of the ways that the MAA will better engage alumni and bring them closer to students?
A: After lengthy discussions over the past year, we determined the best way to assist with this process was through the creation of two councils: the Alumni Leaders Advisory Council and the Alumni Student Engagement Council.
The membership of the Alumni Leaders Advisory Council will include the Montreal Branch presidents along with other MAA volunteer leaders in key alumni communities across Canada and internationally. The council will provide an opportunity for these volunteer leaders to have a voice, provide advice and guidance to the board of directors on specific issues, as well as advance the MAA’s initiatives and events in those communities.
The membership of the Alumni Student Engagement Council, meanwhile, will include the presidents of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Student Organization for Alumni Relations (SOAR), the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), and other student leaders on campus. The council will provide an opportunity for student leaders to have a voice with the MAA and to provide advice and guidance to the board of directors on specific issues concerning the student body.
Q: You’ve volunteered with the MAA and other parts of McGill for almost a decade now. What was your motivation to get involved?
A: When I graduated from McGill and entered the workforce, University fell off my radar screen for many years. I later worked in Toronto for several years, and when I was transferred back to Montreal, I started to hear about all of these great things taking place in the Desautels Faculty of Management. I poked my nose in and volunteered with the Faculty’s advisory board in 2006 because I liked what they were trying to achieve. When I was approached to join the MAA the following year, I was happy to get involved.
My biggest enjoyment, both during my time with the faculty advisory board and now with the MAA, comes from interacting with students. It makes me feel like I am contributing and making a real difference at the University, and that’s what keeps me engaged.
Q: And what was it that you valued the most about your own experience as a McGill student?
A: I’d like to start with a caveat. I often tell students that they should take advantage of the exciting and enriching opportunities that lie beyond what is simply offered in the classroom, yet I worked part-time as a student so I didn’t really have the chance to do that. But I do think it is important that students invest time in extracurricular activities such as student government and social clubs.
But when I look back at my own experience, I think that McGill gave me a great, well-rounded education in finance and international business, and an experience that provided a real sense of belonging. By the time I graduated, I had developed a myriad of foundational skills and competencies that enabled me to look at issues from different perspectives, as well as an aptitude for decision-making and analysis.
Q: You mentioned a sense of belonging. What is your favorite memory from your time as a McGill student?
A: One of the highlights for me was a class I took on organizational behaviour, in which students spent one semester learning how to teach the course and the second actually teaching it. We were a total 28 students and we developed a phenomenal bond of friendship during that year, spending a lot of time together, going to cottages together, etc.
In fact, 25 years after graduation, during the time I chaired McGill Homecoming, we organized a reunion and over 20 people from the class came from as far away as Paris, London, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and even Moscow. I have many wonderful memories from my time in that class.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk. It sounds like alumni have plenty to look forward to from the MAA over the next two years. Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: It is a privilege and an honour to come into this role and serve McGill. This is about what I can do to try and move forward the MAA’s agenda and leave it in a better position than the one I inherited. It’s not about me; it’s all about McGill.