April 25, 2017

Leslie O'Donoghue receives Distinguished Business Leader Award

Agrium executive is passionate believer in helping the next generation of business leaders

When Leslie O’Donoghue received the news she had won the 2017 Distinguished Business Leader Award (DBLA), she thought of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway flubbing the best picture award at the Oscars. “What if this is the wrong name?” she quipped.

But it’s the exact right name for the award that’s co-presented by the Haskayne School of Business and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to recognize outstanding leaders in the Calgary business community. O’Donoghue, the executive vice-president corporate development & strategy and chief risk officer at Agrium, is a passionate leader, tireless advocate for the community, and a big believer in helping the next generation of leaders.

She was a partner and litigator at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Calgary before joining Agrium in 1999. Among her long list of accomplishments, O’Donoghue established the Agrium Women's Inclusion Network (formally called AWLG), an organization that provides mentoring, networking and opportunities for women within Agrium. She has been recognized for her leadership on several occasions, including WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada Hall of Fame, and an Alberta Queen’s Counsel Appointment for her outstanding contributions to legal and public life.

Commitment to community, diversity, leadership 

“When you get to a certain position as a business leader, especially a female business leader, you have to take some accountability and responsibility to move the needle,” she says. “I have a passion for driving diversity in the workplace."

O’Donoghue also helps significantly in the community, with roles that include serving with the YMCA Calgary YWhisper Gala, the United Way of Calgary and Area Board of Directors, and as the only Canadian to sit on the Leadership Council of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

A part of her success is due to “amazing mentorship, a hugely patient family and loyal friends,” she says. O’Donoghue also credits the opportunities for growth provided by Agrium and an amazing team: “It’s really all about them.”

“Leslie is an excellent leader who is constantly demonstrating that ethics are the building blocks for success in business,” says Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business. “Leslie was selected as the 2017 winner by a top-notch panel of judges,” says Adam Legge, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber. “I think they made a terrific choice because Leslie is so committed to supporting future leaders.”

Gala dinner proceeds fund student scholarships 

O’Donoghue is “very humbled” to accept the award and join the long list of impressive recipients. She says it is “quite inspiring” to be part of DBLA, which uses proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships of the gala dinner to fund an annual scholarship for an undergraduate at Haskayne, as well as the Emerging Entrepreneur scholarship through the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

As for that next generation of leaders, O’Donoghue advises to try to stay optimistic. “Optimism is contagious and leads to more opportunities. Don’t let fear dictate or prevent you from taking risks,” she says. “If it feels right, it likely is. And the reverse is also true.”

Leslie O'Donoghue

Leslie O'Donoghue

Photo courtesy Jazhart Studios Inc.