Celebrating the spirit of innovation and collaboration

Perhaps it was the peripheral buzz of the Toronto International Film Festival happening all around our event, or just the glee of finally seeing the Innovatio Awards take shape at the Four Seasons last month, but from the moment guests started arriving, I could tell it was going to be a really good night.

We had a black carpet, not a red carpet, but the excitement felt for those who had come to claim their awards for innovative work done in-house was in the air.

Launched last September, our “for in-house, judged by in-house” awards program sought to honour the work done by in-house counsel — both small and large departments — often the unsung heroes of today’s business environment.

I think by far my favourite part of the evening was listening to the acceptance speeches from the award winners. All of the recipients spoke from the heart with a passion about the work they do.
Whether it was RBC talking about Lean Six Sigma or Manitoba Telecom describing how a law student worked on their litigation project, I felt the audience found their stories relatable.

Blair Fantillo, director of legal affairs at 3M Canada moved many in the audience, I’m sure, when he accepted the award for diversity, small departments, and spoke of the program his legal department takes part in with WIL Employment Connections in London, Ont., giving new Canadians with foreign legal training experience working in the legal field.

In his speech Fantillo said: “‘In diversity there is beauty and there is strength,’ as the oft-quoted saying goes. There is also opportunity and our partnership with WIL has shown us that opportunity is a door that opens both ways.”

One of my favourite lines from the night came from BMO’s senior vice president, deputy general counsel and chief compliance officer, Blair Morrison, who at the end of his speech, gave an impassioned plea that, “The next time you see your compliance officer, give them a hug.”

He then received one from BMO SVP Simon Fish as he stepped down off the stage.

Another great moment was John Marner, director of legal services for Canadian Solar Solutions Inc. who likened his tenure at the fast-paced company to riding The Hulk roller coaster he recently experienced with his kids at Universal Studios in Florida. But Marner also claimed the award for in-house deal making, small department category, not just for his two-person legal department but also for the business units he works with, saying: “Even though this award is given to our legal department, it really is shared with the departments and individuals with whom we work so closely at Canadian Solar, as I consider us all part of the same team.”

The general feeling in the room was summed up in a message delivered by The Keg’s general counsel, Catherine Chow. After speaking enthusiastically about the risk management project she rolled out last year Chow remarked: “I’m really thrilled this innovation has worked, and is being recognized by my in-house and ‘outhouse’ peers. I’m really, really thrilled because I really love what I do.”

The nominations are now open for the 2015 awards. We hope the winners of the 2014 program provide some inspiration for you to nominate your department in one or more of the categories.
You too could be walking our version of the in-house red carpet next year.

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