Pierre Boivin takes office as McGill’s new chancellor

From healthcare to hockey, the Montrealer is recognized as a leader of key initiatives

In choosing Pierre Boivin as its new chancellor, McGill is welcoming a Montrealer with a remarkable and diverse track record. Though best known for his successful transformation of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, he is also celebrated for his support of initiatives that span from AI research to the health care sector.

Boivin’s leadership has earned him distinctions like the Order of Canada, the Ordre national du Québec, and labels like “most socially committed top executive.” (Les Affaires, 2015) However, in an interview with The McGill Reporter, Boivin is quick to mention that the role of chancellor will be a new challenge for him, one he considers an honour and that he approaches with humility.

“McGill is a revered Montreal institution, locally, nationally and across the globe. It was important for me to assess how I might be a helpful part of the team,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time discussing with Maryse Bertrand, Chair of the Board, and with Deep Saini, the President, wanting to understand the role, especially given the challenges that universities have faced over the last few years.”

A Montreal advocate

Pierre Boivin became McGill’s 21st chancellor on July 1Laszlo Montreal

“I was very fortunate to have been chosen to lead the Montreal Canadiens for 11 years. Though very different in terms of the vocation, what the Habs and McGill have in common is that they are at the core of Montreal’s identity, reputation, and visibility – and not just locally but globally.”

In 2017, Bovin co-chaired a steering committee for the Development of Québec’s Artificial Intelligence. It gave him the privilege to reflect on how to put together a strong ecosystem so that Montreal and Quebec would have their place in Canada and the world.  He also served as a member of the Canadian AI Consultative Committee which led to the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy.

He is the founding chairman of Mila, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute. “It was a unique opportunity for McGill and Université de Montréal to work together towards a common goal,” he said. “Now, Mila is recognized worldwide as a leader in AI research and in particular in the area of ethical AI.”

Boivin’s work supporting healthcare and health research means he’s also acutely aware of the positive impact of other McGill-related institutions, including the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Neuro, which he considers to be other examples of how the University is caring for its immediate community and helping position Montreal as a leading health center.

A committed listener

Like many top executives, Boivin is used to working with performance indicators. Three days into the job, it was clear that he had already combed through all kinds of McGill data and was seeking more information, about nearly everything.

“Though I would describe the on-boarding procedure as thorough, getting up to speed on stakeholder communities is essential for me, whether they’re students, faculty, members of governance bodies or those responsible for Advancement. I want to both broaden and deepen my understanding of the issues that are important to McGill.”

When Boivin took over leadership of the Canadiens, he said listening to fans was critical to understanding what needed to be done. He hopes for the same opportunity to work with McGill members and the larger community, locally and internationally.

“I think you need to approach a role like this with a very open mind, with a high degree of humility, and a lot of time for listening. The issues that face institutions like McGill are very complex and involve a number of stakeholders. For some the University is their alma mater, part of their formative years. For others it’s a place of work or study. All are passionate about McGill, but they may not come at issues the same way.”

Asked if he had a vision of how he might measure his success in three years:

“Measurement number one will be whether we are successful in getting our local community in Montreal to fully appreciate McGill’s role. I think I can help in highlighting our contributions to society and having the University considered “à sa juste valeur.”

“Measurement number two has to do with our academic rankings. We must continue to attract the best minds to McGill for their studies and research. That’s been made more challenging as a result of Quebec’s recent decisions on tuition for out-of-province Canadian students.”

“The third measure is how I can put my experience and network to the benefit of McGill. I am ready to reach out from the local to the international level to help build more bridges, partnerships and collaborations, as much with alumni as other institutions. More importantly, McGill must be a strong collaborative partner with other Québec universities.”

A local and international ambassador

“Quebec has gone through a lot of changes socially and politically over the last 50 years, and a number of perceptions emerged during that period. In the case of McGill, some of those need to be corrected.”

“We need to do a better job at communicating the importance of McGill, its role in the community and its economic impact. We have a lot of very strong ambassadors within the Quebec community that can help us do that,” adding that he’s already reaching out to other university chancellors and leaders.

“We must rethink and reinvent how we inhabit our planet. The New Vic Project, a state-of-the-art sustainability research, teaching and policy hub will do just that,” added Boivin. “As chancellor, I will dedicate myself to further people’s understanding of McGill as an inclusive, inspiring and important institution for all of Quebec.”

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