By Johanne Adam
The University of Ottawa has set a skyward course, with Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada president and chief executive officer, becoming the 14th chancellor in its history. He succeeds the Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean, who stepped down as chancellor last April when she was elected secretary general of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
Just as other chancellors before him, Rovinescu will act as the titular head of the University and will be accorded the place of honour at Convocation and other functions on and off campus, such as student welcoming activities, presentations of prizes and awards, special lectures and conferences, and visits by dignitaries.
Rovinescu took a few moments out of his busy schedule to speak to the Gazette about his new appointment. Here is what he had to say.
G: How did you react when you were asked to be chancellor of uOttawa?
CR: I was extremely honoured because of the legacy established by uOttawa since its inception. I am very proud to associate myself with the University, especially under the tenure of Allan Rock, who has brought such energy and direction to this establishment.
G: As chancellor, how would you like to inspire prospective students, current students and alumni?
CR: I have been privileged to have had some fantastic experiences on the personal and business aspects of my life. And I would love to be able to share and communicate in the clearest way possible what great opportunities leading Canadian universities can provide. How, with higher education and ambition, the sky can truly be the limit. My parents came to Canada as immigrants when I was five years old, and their university degrees were literally their only assets. This lesson was not lost on me over my career.
G: What made you agree to take on the role?
CR: When I look at the mission of the University and its objectives going forward, it hits so many of my own interests, such as its global aspirations and its commitment to the ethics of service and responsibility. There is also the bilingualism aspect, uOttawa being the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world. Furthermore, I am enthusiastic about fascinating new initiatives, such as the Brain and Mind Research Institute and the university’s strengths in public policy, such as the Crossroads Initiative.
G: How do you view your role as one of the key figures of the University?
CR: My role as chancellor is to set an example and represent the University directly or indirectly, wherever I am. And, as president of Air Canada, I tend to travel almost everywhere on a regular basis.
G: What do you hope to accomplish during your term?
CR: Through my experiences and relationships, I hope to continue to build on the university’s strong brand and legacy, both on and off campus.
An outstanding career trajectory
Rovinescu earned a degree in common law from uOttawa in 1980. Before that, he received a DEC from McGill University in 1974 and a degree in civil law from the University of Montreal in 1978.
In 2014, the University bestowed an honorary doctorate on him in recognition of his distinguished career in corporate law and business. In the same year, he became a member of the uOttawa campaign cabinet.
Mr. Rovinescu first joined Air Canada in April 2000, serving in a variety of senior management positions, including as Executive Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy, Chairman of its various subsidiaries and as Chief Restructuring Officer until April 2004. In November, 2004, he became a co-founder and Principal of Genuity Capital Markets, an independent investment bank.
He returned to Air Canada on April 1, 2009, as President and Chief Executive Officer. At a time of economic turbulence and financial distress, he piloted the airline’s transformation to global expansion, improved customer satisfaction and dramatically increased profitability while overseeing the return to a surplus position of its $15 Billion pension plan. Air Canada has also been recognized as the leading North American airline for five years running by the leading global airline rating agency. As a result, in 2013, Report on Business magazine named him Canada’s best CEO.
In 2012, Calin Rovinescu was elected chair of the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board, the controlling body of the 27-member Star Alliance network of airlines. In June 2014, he was elected to chair the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Mr. Rovinescu also serves on the boards of several private and non-profit corporations.
Mr. Rovinescu will be officially installed as chancellor at a special ceremony at a later date.