"Our society is only as strong as the governance framework and the governance structures that support it. It's very important not only for businesses, but also for not-for-profits, for Crown corporations, for all organizations that have a community impact. Governance is absolutely critical."
Bonnie DuPont has a gift for making organizations better. No matter the industry — energy, agriculture, finance, transportation, construction, academia — she brings the same commitments to each boardroom table: a dedication to building business while adding social value, a belief in the imperative of sound governance, and a drive to build diverse and inclusive communities. She delivers all of this, while opening doors for others. In short, she is a trail-blazing executive who stands out for her contributions to business and communities across Canada.
Bonnie Dianne DuPont was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, in 1946 and raised on the family farm near town. After her father passed away when she was six, Bonnie lived with her grandparents along with her mother and brother. Her grandparents were wonderful role models who instilled in Bonnie a philosophy that she embodies to this day: "If you make the world a better place during your lifetime, you will have fulfilled your purpose."
Bonnie graduated from the University of Regina in 1976 with a degree focusing on psychology and sociology. After working with the Saskatchewan Department of Labour and Saskatchewan Power Corporation, she decided she had a future in business and set about evolving her career.
When Bonnie became a Superintendent with Sask Power, she became the first female manager with the organization. Bonnie credits her mentor, the Vice-President of Human Resources, at the corporation for her success.
"He said to me, 'Bonnie, you are the first woman Superintendent, but I do not want you to be the last.' It just vibrated through me that — yes — this was a step not just for me, but for other women in that organization."
It wasn't the most senior position Bonnie would hold, but it was one of the most meaningful, because she carried that philosophy with her as she went on to accomplish a long list of firsts. She was the first or only woman to hold a senior position at no less than 14 major Canadian organizations.
Bonnie also credits that same mentor for encouraging her to branch out into new areas, leading her to study and develop programs in succession management and leadership development. It wasn't long before she was asked to join Saskatchewan Pool to do similar work in an expanded role. Bonnie became the first female senior manager at Saskatchewan Pool and again at Alberta Pool, where she continued to expand her human capital development work. Meanwhile, she returned to school, earning her M.Ed. in 1990 with a specialization in Human Resources from the University of Calgary.
Perhaps the most significant contribution Bonnie made to industry is the emphasis on corporate social responsibility. When she arrived at Enbridge, CEO Brian McNeill had already fostered a culture of caring, making the organization ready to pursue the concept of social license. Together, they fostered an advanced organizational culture that included a commitment to the triple bottom line — ensuring the corporation's sustainability by focusing on its social and environmental returns, as well as its financial returns. That bottom line soon expanded to include excellence in governance and human capital development, particular interests of Bonnie.
It's no coincidence that Bonnie's 13 years at Enbridge Inc. are when Enbridge achieved its greatest growth and expansion, and developed a stellar reputation. During her tenure, Enbridge was named one of the Top Employers in Canada 10 years in a row, and was named by the World Economic Forum in Davos as one of the world's Top 100 Sustainable Companies. These initiatives were lasting and Enbridge continues to rank highly in each of these indices.
After her success at Enbridge, Bonnie brought her commitment to building social capital and sound governance to a list of boards that reads like the Who's Who of corporate leaders: Canadian Wheat Board, UTS Energy, AltaGas Energy, Alliance Pipelines, Viterra, SilverBirch Energy, SilverWillow Energy, Bird Construction, and CustomerWorks. And she was the first woman appointed to all of them. Even Calgary's Petroleum Club asked Bonnie to join their board, despite their previous stringent rule that women must enter the club only through a side door and only on special occasions. They, too, invited her to be the first woman on their board and the first female chair, roles she eagerly accepted.
When she was asked by late federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to sit on the Bank of Canada board, she was initially hesitant, having had no previous banking experience. But when she discovered the board needed someone to chair their human resources and compensation committee, and to participate on their governance committee, she knew the job was for her. Her ability to cut through the noise and get to the heart of the matter, her focus on doing the right thing even if it was difficult, and her down-to-earth, people-focused approach were deeply respected by her fellow board members.
Bonnie's service to higher education is particularly significant. She has served on the boards of the Banff Centre and the Alberta University of the Arts. And her relationship with the University of Calgary spans more than 30 years, including 10 years on the university's Board of Governors where she was the first female chair. As well, she served for 25 years with the Haskayne School of Business Management Advisory Committee and taught for 10 years in the Directors Education Program.
Awards and recognition have been coming Bonnie's way since she was the Most Distinguished Graduate when she convocated from the University of Regina, which — 32 years later — granted her an Honourary Doctor of Laws. She also has an Honourary Degree in Technology from SAIT and an Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Calgary. She was named a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors — a distinction reserved for a select few governance leaders in Canada — for the value she has brought to her boards and the directors she has influenced through the institute. After being named one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women four years in a row, she was inducted into the Top 100 Hall of Fame.
Given her long-standing reputation as a champion of good governance and high ethical standards, Bonnie receives far more invitations to sit on boards than she can accommodate in her busy schedule. So she focuses on causes that she is most passionate about like Top 7 Over 70 — which celebrates people who begin new pursuits after they turn 70 — not to mention Calgary Opera, Institute of Corporate Directors and YWCA. The advancement of women also remains a keen interest.
"We're still struggling to see women move up the ladder and take their rightful place. As I served on the board for the University of Calgary and attended convocations faithfully, I saw hundreds of women cross that stage and get their degrees. Then I look around me and I say, 'Where are these women?' They should be more strongly represented in all of our institutions and businesses. But we're not there yet. More work needs to be done, more barriers need to be broken down."
As busy as she is, Bonnie and partner Barry Bultz make time to gather with their three children and three grandchildren as often as they can. Still a farm girl, Bonnie also makes time to return to her farm in Saskatchewan, saying that it keeps her in touch with her rural roots, a connection that she feels every day as she endeavours to walk in her family's footsteps and fulfill her purpose.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence