Carol Hansell encourages graduands to lean into their passions

Carol Hansell

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

Carol Hansell, an internationally recognized expert in corporate governance who has been a key influencer on the development of public policy for more than three decades, was awarded an honorary degree from York University during a June 21 convocation ceremony for the Schulich School of Business. A graduate of both Schulich and Osgoode Hall Law School, she is no stranger to York U.

Hansell began by telling graduands how she became a leader in her field. After deciding against a career in academia, she began working as a deal lawyer, helping clients with mergers, acquisitions, financing, buyouts and more. What helped her excel in this role, she believed, was her passion for research, writing and teaching – skills she honed through her education – and she was intentional about pursuing projects within the legal world that played to those academic strengths.

Pictured, from left to right: Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps, Carol Hansell, Chancellor Kathleen Taylor.

Early in her career, she said, a publisher saw something she had written about corporate governance – which had not yet become its own field – and approached her about turning it into a book. It took her six years and a lot of research, but it resulted in her gaining expertise in what soon became a topic of global interest, and enabling her to contribute to public policy and start her own firm.

“My point for you is I didn’t follow my passion,” Hansell said. “If I had done that, I would have become a history professor. Instead, I became a corporate lawyer – it was interesting and, frankly, the compensation was better. I leaned into my passions and was able to build a career that was satisfying for me at every level.”

Hansell highlighted a tendency among some professionals to develop strong attachments to the organizations they work for. She encouraged graduands to maintain a balanced perspective and not take business decisions personally. Instead, they should pay attention to the character of decision makers and seek out organizations with values that align with their own. “Like any other relationship you have in life,” she said, “you will be most satisfied by interacting with organizations whose values you share.”

It wouldn’t have been a business school convocation without some lessons in finance. First, Hansell reminded graduands that money is not the only important factor when settling on a career path. “Money undoubtedly unlocks a lot of possibilities in life,” she said, “but having pride and purpose in what you are doing seems to me to be a minimum requirement.”

Another consideration, she said, should be ethics. “Don’t let yourself get swept up into a logic or pattern of conduct that justifies something you know isn’t right. It sticks with you. You can’t wash it off,” she warned. “And the money won’t save you when your reputation is tainted.”

With an anecdote from her own life about her husband leaving his financially lucrative career to take a short-term dream job in politics, she suggested graduands avoid taking on more debt than they need to. Having personal finances in order and living within one’s means, she explained, can provide the freedom to pursue meaningful life experiences that might not otherwise be possible.

Hansell closed her speech by telling the future business leaders how excited she was for them and all that lies ahead in their lives. “You are going to experience change, progress and developments that we can’t even begin to imagine at this moment,” she said.