Michelle Savoy (BAdm ’82) is a Corporate Director at NAV Canada, Laurentian Bank of Canada and Pizza Pizza Royalty Corp. She is an Activator at Coralus (formerly SheEO™ Inc.), a global initiative financing and supporting female entrepreneurs. Michelle is also the Founder of GROW (Giving Ring of Women), an organization which collectively gives thousands of dollars every year to meaningful causes across the nation. Throughout her expansive career, Savoy was the President of Capital Guardian Canada and spent more than ten years at CIBC World Markets in an executive finance role.
Savoy is an accomplished high-finance professional devoted to celebrating and supporting female entrepreneurs, a champion of empowering women in leadership, and a philanthropist. This year, Michelle adds the Recipient of the R. Trudeau Medal from the Telfer School of Management to her impressive list of accolades.
The R. Trudeau Medal is the highest honour one can achieve from the Telfer School. It is awarded to extraordinary alumni who have achieved exceptional success in their careers, contribute to their community, and are engaged with their alma mater. Savoy’s professional success can’t be grasped at a single glance, her work supporting women in gaining economic self-sufficiency spans the nation, and Michelle is a dedicated alumna of Telfer.
Paying It Forward — Where It All Began for So Many: Family
Michelle Savoy grew up as the eldest of four children with a mom who did everything. It was a formative experience, seeing her mother go to work, struggle, and put food on the table for four kids back when the world was less kind to women, in the 1960s and 1970s. “My paternal grandmother was a big giver [too],” adds Savoy in an interview. “She was very generous, always volunteered and held strong political views. I’ve always emulated her and my mom.” Impacted by her matriarchal family’s journey, Michelle knew it was most important to her to achieve financial independence in her life, above all else. Through relentless hard work in her career, she has. Now, and for the last few years, it has been her conviction to pay it forward and help other women on the journey to financial independence.
“Everything I do in my work of giving to women is to provide a better way of living, a seat at the table, to inspire women to be their own person, and make their own decisions. This means a lot to me,” says Savoy. As the eldest sister, she has always known the sense of responsibility it takes to be a role model and a leader.
Women in Capital Markets: Lessons from Michelle Savoy
When Michelle completed her Bachelor of Administration at the University of Ottawa in 1982, she wasn’t sure what to do next, a feeling familiar to many new graduates. Testing the waters, she completed 65 interviews at different companies before starting a role at Xerox.
“When I finished university, I was a very proud recipient of my degree. But when I started selling photocopiers door-to-door, I felt let down. I thought: ‘How am I going to use what I learned at school?’” she shares. Not one to give up, Michelle changed her mindset instead. Rather than focusing on the difficulty of the job, she zeroed in on the core skill of the job — direct sales. She figured that if she knew how to sell she would know how to best sell herself to land a job. And she was right: sales knowledge was the secret to success and opened the doors to capital markets where Michelle prospered and rose up the ranks for more than 12 years.
“A career is not a straight line,” she says. “I never expected to end up where I am now. Little pivots took me in different directions. I’ve taken step-backs and compensation cuts for a giant leap forward down the road.” From Xerox to a very successful career in capital markets, she didn’t stop there. In a new direction, Michelle worked as an executive recruiter for a few years before shifting into the world of investment management and becoming a franchise owner of a Boston Pizza with her brothers along the way.
Telfer and AIESEC: the Student Experience
Michelle loved her time at uOttawa. Even though she was a self-proclaimed “C” student, she always loved learning and her time at uOttawa was no exception. Plus, Michelle made life-long friends she sees to this day, worked as a Counselor in residence, and was involved in AIESEC, an international youth-run and led non-profit focused on youth leadership.
“I am so grateful for my experience in AIESEC,” shares Savoy. “It gave me the opportunity to get to know my business and economics colleagues a lot better. We worked on projects together, we attended provincial and Canadian AIESEC gatherings which opened my horizons by meeting students from different schools. While I did not participate in AIESEC’s work exchange program because of a full-time employment commitment, I was able to visit an Ottawa U colleague during her exchange program in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. I have never forgotten this wonderful and rich experience of meeting students from around the world working on their exchange programs in former Yugoslavia.”
Share the Wealth: the Importance of Giving Back Through Philanthropy
Growing up, Savoy never thought she’d go into capital markets. Working at a camp for underprivileged girls in her youth, she thought of continuing to help people by becoming a social worker or camp director. But returning to her compass of obtaining financial independence and following in the path of her mother and grandmother, she chose business. Thanks to this pivotal decision and a successful career in high finance, she is now fulfilling her original purpose of helping people through philanthropy.
Joining fellow Telfer alumni and colleagues in their commitment to supporting the School, Michelle is proud to give back. “I want to show my children the various dimensions of giving and giving for impact. To make the world a better place and to leave a legacy for my children to continue,” she adds. Michelle is also a big advocate of philanthropy as an intentional stage in a professional’s life at the last step of their career. It’s a window to give back, pay it forward, and have an impact while gaining a seat at the table with fellow accomplished donors.
The School is grateful to have received Michelle’s generous gift to her class of 1982, and our students are able to continue their studies thanks to Michelle’s student assistance contributions throughout the years. In 2018, Michelle Savoy received the Dean Philos’ Award for her generous gifts.
Women in Leadership: Why a Support Pillar of Mentorship is Key
“In the 12 years I was working in capital markets, we worked tirelessly to encourage young women at universities to get into the field” recalls Savoy. Unfortunately, trading floors today don’t look much different than they did a few years ago. Michelle attributes a part of the problem of the lack of women in capital markets to a lack of confidence and belief in oneself.
“Like most women, I’ve always had impostor syndrome,” shares Michelle. “But I was very fortunate in my early career to be trained — if you don’t ask for more responsibility and money, someone else will ask and get it.” Always making an effort to demonstrate her contributions and value to management, Savoy now shares the confidence with the young boys and girls she mentors. But the difference in their response to this valuable lesson is vast: while young women often shy away from the challenge of asking for a raise or a promotion (despite delivering clear value), young men go for it and get it.
That’s why Savoy’s secret sauce to her successful career in a male-dominated field is to find someone to work for who has your back, no matter their gender. When someone else fiercely believes in you, whether a mentor or a successful colleague, you are empowered to go forth and ask for more.
Benefits of Experiential Learning at Post-Secondary Institutions
A love for learning is not bound by grades on theoretical assignments — it’s truly through experiential learning that so many of us learn vital work and life skills, Michelle Savoy included. A “terrible” student in university, she learned best through her student experience at AIESEC and meeting people, then through the sales school at Xerox and then every day of her finance and management career. A fierce advocate of experiential learning, Michelle continues to expand her horizons, having taken a variety of courses, and participating in coaching and personal development: “You can’t take enough courses to learn how to be a better person.”
To current Telfer students, Michelle has a short and sweet piece of advice: “Be kind. Be curious. Go for it.” We are honoured to award Michelle Savoy with the R. Trudeau Medal and can’t wait to see her continued accomplishments in supporting women in leadership and philanthropic efforts.