GC Profile: Sunita Mahant builds a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ivanhoé Cambridge

Mahant leads a multi-disciplinary project working on several areas of transformation

GC Profile: Sunita Mahant builds a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ivanhoé Cambridge
Sunita Mahant

SUNITA MAHANT, the legal team leader at the Toronto office of global real estate company, Ivanhoé Cambridge, welcomed the opportunity to add to her remit last year by taking on the additional duties of head of global initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

In this new role — created by Ivanhoé Cambridge as part of its strategic objective to be an inclusive investor — Mahant leads a multi-disciplinary project team. The team includes cross-functional employees from different sectors with different experiences and expertise. As part of the newly created corporate strategy, it has produced several areas of transformation, one of which is becoming an inclusive investor. 

“This was about creating that space where we could add perspectives, create an inclusive culture and environment, and have an opportunity to amplify the voices of many different business groups and communities,” says Mahant, who acts as a catalyst for the development and execution of the corporate strategy. As the daughter of immigrants, Mahant sees the role as an opportunity to give back to new generations and help create opportunities for many more within the industry. In taking on this significant new role, Mahant also transitioned some of her responsibilities for the legal department to other team members, allowing them to expand their duties and experience.

The goal of the diversity, equity and inclusion team for 2021 is to review existing policies and practices and meet with stakeholders and partners to develop a strategy that the company will execute over the next three years. The team led the company in celebrating events including Black History Month, International Women’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples Day and Pride. Mahant is also leading the team on an unconscious bias training strategy across the organization. 

“A key part of that learning is to become self-aware and figure out how we can interrupt the bias, and make a difference to the way we work and the way policies are structured,” says Mahant. She says it provides the opportunity to learn a different skill set, create strategies and processes, and transform culture. 

Having started in private practice, where she first developed a taste for real estate law, Mahant quickly moved to an in-house role at Smart Centres in 2007. One year later, she landed at Ivanhoé Cambridge, where she has been honing her real estate skills. Starting as legal counsel, Mahant learnt all the facets of commercial real estate and gradually worked her way up the ranks to her current multi-faceted role. 

As senior director, legal, and head of global initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion, Mahant — together with legal colleagues in Toronto — provides strategic legal support for the development, operations and leasing of office and industrial assets in Canada and the US. She has observed firsthand how the company’s investment strategy has changed over the years. Mahant also works closely with the company’s larger Montreal-based legal team and legal colleagues in Europe and Asia.

Since joining Ivanhoé Cambridge, Mahant has worked on numerous different development projects built from the ground up — initially in the retail sector, and more recently, in the office sectors as the business has expanded and evolved. 

“I’ve been fortunate to work not only with an amazing team and such great talent, but I’ve also really been able to see the evolution of the real estate industry through the lens of an investor,” says Mahant. Being involved with all aspects of a project from start to finish allows her and her team to know the business and manage risk from the onset. 

A highlight of Mahant’s career was leading Ivanhoé Cambridge’s legal team in negotiating the CIBC SQUARE two-tower office development project in Toronto. The first tower is due to open this year, and the second is currently under construction. At 3 million sq. ft., the development includes one of the largest office lease transactions in Canadian history with CIBC. The legal team, supported by external counsel partner, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, worked on the deal quickly and provided legal support for all related business units. They also worked closely with Hines — Ivanhoe Cambridge’s partner and development manager — for the project. 

Mahant knew that the size of the CIBC SQUARE project, the various parties involved, and the complexities of such a development in downtown Toronto would make it challenging. However, the experience has allowed her to develop new skills and expand her knowledge of the business.  

Seeing how the role of in-house counsel has evolved, Mahant notes that in-house lawyers today are typically involved in a project from the start, bringing a proactive approach to avoid and manage risk. 

“Companies are really engaging in-house counsel a lot more and seeing our value-add because we wear a legal hat. But our skills, our training, our understanding of the business strategies, and our reflexes allow us to bring a lot more value to the organization,” she says.

For the remainder of 2021, Mahant will be focussing on completing Ivanhoé Cambridge’s strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion, and working on a successful grand opening of 81 Bay at CIBC SQUARE. She also hopes to continue her current path of learning more about the human capital side of the business and surrounding herself with people who want to make a difference.

“It’s not about titles or privilege or the scale or size of a project. It’s about the impact you’ll have on people and how you make people feel,” she says.  

Name: Sunita Mahant
Company: Ivanhoé Cambridge
Title: Head of global initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion / senior director, legal affairs 
Years in the industry: 15
Career highlight: Acting as lead counsel for Ivanhoé Cambridge in the negotiation of one of the largest office lease transactions in Canadian history — CIBC SQUARE

FACT FILE 

  • Named as a Lexpert Rising Star, 2015 
  • Director of the Commercial Real Estate Equity & Diversity Council 
  • Founding member of the Ivanhoé Cambridge Women’s Forum 
  • Co-chair of the Ontario promotion committee for Women in Governance’s annual recognition gala 
  • Member of the International Council of Shopping Centres Canadian Law Conference planning committee 

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