Anne Giardini: Renaissance Woman

Simon Fraser University's new chancellor is a successful lawyer, novelist and corporate president. (She is also a prominent patron of the SFHC).

By Darah Hansen Fri Jun 6, 2014 2:00pm PST

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bildeAnne Giardini sounds remarkably unruffled for someone who is running late for her own class reunion.

Laughing, she shares a remark she wrote a decade ago, when she last met with her former classmates at the University of British Columbia (UBC) law school.

“I said, ‘I want to keep as busy as possible so I don’t notice the time passing,’” she said.

“I guess that it worked.”

Truth is, Giardini has never needed much help in that department.

This is a woman who, at 54, is at the top of her game and has been almost since she graduated from law school 30 years ago.

Her curriculum vitae is jam-packed with so many astonishing accomplishments it’s difficult to believe it describes the life of just one person.

Since 2008, she’s served as president of Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd., the Vancouver-based Canadian subsidiary of the U.S. forestry giant.

Before taking on the top job, she worked 14 years as the company’s general counsel. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Simon Fraser University (SFU), a law degree from UBC and a master’s in law from Cambridge University.

She is the author of two novels, both published by HarperCollins, with a third in the works (said to be her most ambitious literary effort yet).

She is a current or past member of several boards that span her interests in literature, equality, education and sustainable forestry, including SFU’s board of directors and the Federal Advisory Council for Promoting Women on Boards.

Her collection of professional accolades numbers in the dozens, including the Robert V.A. Jones Award recognizing leadership in corporate counsel practice and being named one of Canada’s 25 most influential lawyers of 2013.

Last year, Giardini was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her fundraising efforts on behalf of Plan Canada’s “Because I’m a Girl” campaign, in support of women and girls in Tanzania.

“I just think we cannot be morally at peace in the world knowing what we know about the plights of so many people, and women and girls in particular,” she said of her global advocacy work.

If all that wasn’t enough, on June 13 Giardini will be sworn in as chancellor of Simon Fraser University, taking over the prestigious role from former B.C. finance minister Carole Taylor. She’s promised to work as a “tireless advocate for the university’s students and alumni.” It all begs the question; how on earth does she do it?

“Oh, well,” she said. “There is time for everything if you are organized, and if you don’t mind working late and waking up early.”

To her friends, Giardini’s professional successes are secondary to her personal magnetism and palpable love of life.

“She is all in, as opposed to “Lean In”,” said Claudia Casper, a fellow author, in reference to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book about women and leadership.

Casper met Giardini in 2001 when their works appeared in Dropped Threads, a literary anthology edited by Giardini’s famous mother, celebrated Canadian author Carol Shields.

Her first impression of Giardini was that her fellow writer seemed like a hard-core feminist, but it didn’t take long to see a goofier side.

The pair have remained friends over the years, despite Giardini’s demanding schedule, and recently spent two weeks together in Iceland at a writer’s retreat.

Casper said one of Giardini’s most admirable qualities is her ability to routinely push beyond the self-doubt that holds so many women back from the helm of power.

Notably, Giardini never second-guesses herself.

“She is one of the very few women I know who makes a decision and that is the decision she sticks with,” Casper said.

If it doesn’t work, so be it. She’ll get it right the next time.

“There is no hand-wringing or beating herself up,” Casper said.

“Anne is like a living example of when you let go of those things, how you can fly.”

It’s worth noting: Giardini is also a lot of fun.

While in Iceland, she gamely downed tequila shots in the company of Björk (the Icelandic singer was seated at the next table) and unabashedly posed for a photo as she offered up wildflowers to the country’s legendary “hidden people” during a ramble through the countryside outside Reykjavik.

Casper later posted the image to Twitter along with the cheeky caption: “The new chancellor of SFU believes in elves.”

Giardini is the first to admit she’s had a lot of help as she has built her career, including the backing of assistant Deanna Stad, who keeps her work schedule running smoothly, as well as the services of various caregivers on the home front, such as nannies to her three children.

Giardini gave birth to her youngest daughter, now 19 years old, shortly after joining Weyerhaeuser’s law department in 1994, but was able to nurse her baby for three years, as she did with all her children, with the assistance of a sitter who would bring the child to the office.

“Nobody batted an eye,” Giardini said of her supportive peers.

Giardini also gives credit to her husband, Tony Giardini, whom she describes as “extremely patient.”

Casper said the marriage partnership is much more than that, noting, “They drive each other. He definitely encourages her to take on challenges.”

The pace of Giardini’s life is not for everyone.

“She said ‘yes’ to as much as she possibly can. In fact, she is triple-booked frequently because she does say ‘yes’ to everything,” said Casper.

But Giardini said she is sincerely happy to do as much as she can, while she is able to do it. Sure, she’s had to give up a few things along the way. She hasn’t watched television in years and rarely goes to see any live theatre events.

True to her character, however, she regrets nothing, not even a media interview jammed between meetings on a Friday afternoon when she has a party to get to.

She doesn’t flinch when asked her age, the final question on the reporter’s list. Instead, she names the day, month and year of her birth: October 12, 1959 – a Thanksgiving baby.

As her 30th reunion approaches, Giardini reflects on the fate of a classmate and friend who died of breast cancer at age 42.

“So I am not at all abashed about getting older. I am thrilled,” she said. “That is what you want.”