Sept. 21, 2023

Collaborating to create change — Haskayne Alumni Award recipients use business as a force for good

Join us Nov. 9 to recognize thought leaders Carol Yan, Michael Torrance and Saifa Koonar
Haskayne alumni
Michael Torrance, Saifa Koonar and Carol Yan

Taking business skills beyond profitability to create large-scale change is evident in the careers of each of the 2023 Haskayne Alumni Award recipients. Working within diverse organizations, these alumni are using their entrepreneurial spirit to tackle some of society most pressing problems — energy transition, sustainability, and child health.  

“I am awe-struck by the incredible impact these alumni are making,” says Dr. Gina Grandy, dean, Haskayne School of Business. “Being new to Haskayne and to Calgary — it is amazing to see how the entrepreneurial spirit of Calgary has become a part of these graduates. They truly represent the heights of where a Haskayne education can take you.”

Carol Yan

Carol Yan

Rising Star Award — Carol Yan, BComm’13

“When you start at a large organization, it’s easy to feel like just a number,” says Carol Yan, EMEA head of energy transition and renewables, Amazon Web Services (AWS). “But I find the way that you can make a big impact is first immerse yourself in the company, and try to deeply understand the goals, the culture and above all, the people. Then find paths — sometimes you have to carve your own — of where you can make a meaningful difference.”

Yan started her career with IBM in Calgary, helping energy clients to maximize business operations through digital innovation. Her undergraduate case competition experience provided Yan with flexible and entrepreneurial thinking that helped her innovate within IBM and took her to roles in Toronto, New York, Houston, Chicago and London.

Today she heads the EMEA Energy Transition and Renewables business at AWS in London. In this role, she helps clean energy organizations solve their biggest challenges through digital and cloud-based solutions. A recent win for her team was helping a government agency drastically shorten the permitting process from 10 to two years so more clean, green power can be built across Europe.

“Carol has such drive to not just be successful, but be impactful,” says Jessica Allardyce, BComm’13, who has known Yan since second-year university and could not be prouder of the leadership her fellow alumna is taking in accelerating access to greener energy.

Michael Torrance

Michael Torrance

Big Ideas Bold Leaders Award — Michael Torrance, BA’02, BComm’02

“My commitment to the topic of sustainability comes from a belief that business can and does do good,” says Michael Torrance, vice-president, chief sustainability officer, BMO Financial Group. “I have always believed that right from the time I was at Haskayne.”

Growing up in Calgary, Torrance started his educational journey at UCalgary earning two undergraduate degrees — a BComm specializing in international finance and a BA in political science. This set the foundation for his law career where he began to explore the regulatory framework for sustainability, a niche topic at the time but an area that has gained importance as businesses are called on to deliver more to society than profitability.

“I think my experiences growing up in Calgary and learning from the entrepreneurial mindset of the Calgary business community has influenced the way I think about sustainability,” says Torrance. “There is a real value placed on excellence and being world class in all aspects of business, including sustainability. That spirit has definitely shaped how I’ve approached my career.”

Torrance’s advice to future graduates who are looking to make a big impact in a large organization: Prove yourself with current opportunities to ensure new opportunities come your way; be open to new challenges; have confidence to try the unfamiliar; and view each project as a learning opportunity and a building block toward creating the career you want to have.

Saifa Koonar

Saifa Koonar

Management Alumni Excellence Award — Saifa Koonar, BComm’92, MBA’02

Saifa Koonar’s family immigrated to Canada in 1972 and began building a life in Calgary with a commitment to education and giving back to the community. Building on this commitment, Koonar has completed two business degrees at the Haskayne School of Business and has spent over 25 years with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation bettering the lives of children and families.

“It’s a privilege to take the resources that our community has invested in this organization and do good with them,” says Koonar, president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. “And not just good with them — but to be innovative and to make life-changing impact.”

One of the most beautiful moments of Koonar’s accomplished career was realized in 2023, the opening of Calgary’s first centre for child and adolescent mental health — The Summit: Marian & Jim Sinneave Centre for Youth Resilience.

“I would strongly encourage all of you who are pursuing a degree in business to think about the not-for-profit sector or what I call the social-profit sector. This sector is challenged with solving some of society’s most pressing issues,” says Koonar.

“It needs people with management skills, with critical thinking and decision-making skills and the ability to lead and create change. There is no sector better to be a part of if you truly want to create impact.”

Join us to honour the 2023 Haskayne Alumni Award recipients on Nov. 9

The Haskayne Alumni Awards ceremony will be held Nov. 9 in the Events Centre in Mathison Hall, Haskayne’s newest building. Purchase tickets early to build and re-connect with your network while celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of your fellow alumni.

The Haskayne Alumni Awards are proudly sponsored by UCalgary Alumni.

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