Canadian Lawyer

February 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 13 of 35

12 FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED MAKING THE LEAP from general counsel to CEO is the stuff of dreams for many in-house lawyers. While in-house roles are extremely varied and often highly influential, many ambi- tious GCs will ask themselves "what's next?" after leading the legal department. For Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, the answer to that question had been clear from the outset of his career. He wanted to be a busi- ness leader. In law school in the late 1970s, Desjardins- Siciliano attended a conference where Ian Sinclair, chairman and CEO of Canadian Pacific, spoke. At the time, CP was a conglomerate of airlines, train lines, hotels and other businesses. Sinclair, recounts Desjardins-Siciliano, "talked about how being a lawyer had brought him to the head of this large Canadian conglomerate. It inspired me to pursue my legal studies with a view to becoming a busi- ness executive. That's how the whole the whole thing happened." Many years later in 2014, Desjardins- Siciliano moved from a legal role to take on the helm of VIA Rail Canada as president and CEO, and he is now CEO at Siemens Mobility Canada. But his path was anything but direct. what a lawyer practising at a law firm would have received, including in marketing, sales, finance and even installing computers. "I displayed the ambition to be a business executive at IBM, [and] the way to become an executive at the time required that you carry the bag, as they say." While Desjardins-Siciliano was settled at IBM, one day he received a call from Stanley Hartt, a former partner at Stikemans, who was working for the prime minister, Brian Mulroney, at the time. Hartt asked Desjardins-Siciliano to become a chief of staff to the minister of labour and minister of state for transport. Desjardins-Siciliano wondered at the time whether leaving IBM was a good idea, so he asked his father for advice. "My father said to me [that] when your It involved uncertainty, short-term failures and an openness to varied experiences. Desjardins-Siciliano's first taste of what felt like professional failure was when he articled at Stikeman Elliott LLP in Montreal but was not asked back to the firm. "On a personal level, it taught me to deal with failure, because I failed in staying at Stikemans, [but I found] within me the confi- dence to pursue my career objective and keep my eye on the long term." Desjardins-Siciliano took a role with a smaller firm in Montreal, but he soon joined the corporate world at IBM Canada in 1982. That, he says, was really the beginning of his business education at "what I still believed to have been the best business school." IBM's culture meant that Desjardins- Siciliano was given experiences well outside of "I displayed the ambition to be a business executive at IBM, [and] the way to become an executive at the time required that you carry the bag, as they say." THE MEANDERING PATH FROM LEGAL TO CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER Yves Desjardins-Siciliano always knew he wanted to head a company, but it took the new CEO at Siemens Mobility Canada years of persistence

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