New Board chair motivated to make a difference

Maryse Bertrand, BCL’80, the new chair of McGill’s Board of Governors, brings a varied legal and corporate background to the role. She will climb a mountain for a good cause (and we mean that literally).

Story by Brenda Branswell

September 2022

Maryse Bertrand, BCL’80, had an eventful summer – in July she began her new appointment as chair of McGill’s Board of Governors and also embarked on a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) in Tanzania – an expedition that had been postponed twice due to the pandemic.

“We climbed Kilimanjaro but there’s a bit of an asterisk in the sense that we both got altitude sickness at 15,000 feet,” says Bertrand, of she and husband William Brock, BCom’77, BCL’78, LLB’80.

“We had to come down, but we made it to 15,000 feet. So, you know what, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” she laughs. (Their daughter and son – Julianne Brock, BCom’15, and Philippe Brock, BEng’18 – who are also McGill graduates, reached the summit.)It wasn’t the couple’s only achievement: they helped raise nearly a million dollars for the Maryse and William Brock Chair in Applied Research into Stem Cell Transplantation at Université de Montréal and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada on the fundraising trek. Bertrand’s husband underwent a stem cell transplant in 2005 for leukemia, and the climb was initially planned for 2020 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his survival.

Giving back and playing an active role in fundraising efforts – a lot of it within the McGill network – is a recurring theme in Bertrand’s life. She takes on her new position on McGill’s Board of Governors already deeply familiar with the oversight body’s work. She joined the board as a member-at-large in 2016 and served as vice-chair from 2018 until taking over from outgoing chair Ram Panda on July 1.

“I think he’s been an extraordinary chair and his shoes are indeed very big to fill,” Bertrand says. One of the many things that impressed her was how unflappable Panda remained regardless of the difficulty.

“He’s managed to keep the board engaged and interested and high-functioning at a time that’s been very challenging,” she says of the pandemic period.

Bertrand brings a wealth of experience as a lawyer, and as a corporate director – she’s on the board of grocery store chain Metro Inc, and National Bank, among others. A former partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, Bertrand received the Quebec Bar Association’s Advocatus Emeritus distinction for her exceptional contribution to the practice of law.

In her work over the years in both roles what Bertrand says she most enjoys is trying to make a difference in helping clients, institutions or colleagues achieve their goals. “It’s the same thing at McGill on the board.”

When she was at Davies, Bertrand would tell younger partners that “our job as partners is to try and leave the organization in better shape than you found it” so the next generation inherits a better institution. “When I look back at some of the things I’ve done, I derive a lot of satisfaction out of saying to myself, ‘Yeah, I did that and things are better off for it’”, she says.

A Montreal native, Bertrand entered McGill’s Faculty of Law out of Quebec’s CEGEP system where she studied science. Her father Dr. Gilles Bertrand, now 98, is a renowned neurosurgeon whose illustrious career at The Neuro spanned nearly 50 years, including training as a resident under the legendary Dr. Wilder Penfield.

She had considered a scientific career but thought law “would be a way to marry the analytical side of me – the side that likes to identify issues and solve problems and the intellectual rigor – with this love of reading and wanting to be in an environment where you’re interacting with individuals as opposed to interacting with rats in a lab, for example.”

Bertrand returned to university decades later for a master of science degree in risk management from NYU’s Stern School of Business to improve her skills as a corporate director – a role that involves helping organizations manage risk. “I don’t think I ever worked as hard as I did in that year because it was very mathematically oriented,” says Bertrand who hadn’t done math since CEGEP. “So, I had to work three times as hard as everyone else, but that was part of the challenge that excited me.”

It’s given her the background and risk vocabulary that “enables you to have the rich discussions that you need to have at the board level to make sure that risks have been properly factored into the decision-making on management’s part.”

Bertrand has been active in philanthropic efforts in Montreal and also as a volunteer. She led the fundraising initiative in support of establishing the Reproduction Centre of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and co-chaired the Women’s Health Mission of the MUHC. She and her husband have contributed to the McGill Faculty of Law’s endowed chair in business law. Bertrand also taught a securities regulations course in the faculty and sat on its advisory board for more than 15 years before being asked to join the Board of Governors.

“I was already on the board of a number of publicly listed companies,” Bertrand says. “I knew that there was a way for me to continue contributing. I just thought it would be interesting.”

Looking toward McGill’s future, Bertrand is excited about the University’s New Vic project to convert a portion of the former Royal Victoria Hospital site into a state-of-the-art learning, research and teaching hub focused on sustainability systems and public policy. In fact, when she first joined the Board of Governors, she asked to be on its building and property committee because of the New Vic. At CBC/Radio-Canada where she worked as general counsel and vice-president from 2009 to 2015, Bertrand had overseen the real estate project for the new Maison Radio-Canada building.

“I had an interest in seeing another iconic major project like that taking shape in Montreal and figured that it would be fun to be involved and be part of that. Of course, as chair it will be a very high priority of mine to make sure that we keep the momentum going on that project.”

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