Bernard Courtois has been the CEO of ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada) since 2004. But prior to his role as the head of the Ottawa-based national IT association, Courtois’ career began in law in Quebec. “I went from a lawyer that had a knack for numbers and so on … to having a whole badge around public policy, regulation and legislation that came in very handy,” he said.
Today, Courtois very much considers himself a member of the IT industry, as do many other professionals without an IT background, yet who are, as he describes, “essential components of the IT industry.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Courtois obtained a civil law degree from the University of Montreal. He started his legal career as a commercial litigation lawyer in 1969 after taking the Quebec bar and has since also successfully taken the Ontario bar exams. After 22 years at various firms including Ogilvy Renault and Lavery deBilly, Courtois joined Bell Canada. In his time with the telecommunications giant, he ran the legal, strategy and regulatory departments at a pivotal period when the organization was morphing into an internet company. He recalls the challenge that was changing people’s mindsets. “In those days, people thought there were bell heads and net heads and they were not compatible,” said Courtois. “I had to convince them it was not a different world.”
Early Leadership Exposure
In the early years of Courtois’ career, he found a great leader in his mentor Ernie Saunders, a litigation lawyer who eventually headed Bell Canada’s legal department. Courtois recalls Saunders’ iron focus on quality and integrity. “I was never terrorized but I always appreciated starting my career on the basis that would make me focus on qualities that served me all the rest of my life,” said Courtois.
Courtois recognizes an equally great leader in Jean Monty, then a senior lawyer at a law firm where he worked. Monty brought to his firm a unique mix of empathy for those he worked with, pragmatism and team collaboration. “He was an extremely smart man, extremely action-oriented and pragmatic,” said Courtois.
Courtois believes that leadership is all about team work and “firing on all cylinders to make sure everyone can realize what they have as talents and capabilities.” Adapt roles to fit each person’s unique assets, not force people into set roles, said Courtois.
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