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Leech excited to be stepping into 'huge shoes'

Jim Leech (MBA'73), the former preident and CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, started his term as Queen's University's 14th chancellor on July 1. University Communications/Greg Black

This article is printed in the July edition of the Gazette, available as of today. You can get your copy at newsstands around campus.

By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer

He has managed billions in assets for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, trained as a soldier, written an award-winning book, and trekked to the Arctic Circle. Now Jim Leech (MBA ’73) is ready for his next challenge: serving as Queen’s University’s 14th chancellor.

It’s a role Mr. Leech, who stepped into his new position on July 1, admits is as daunting as it is exciting, especially when he considers his 13 predecessors.

“Collectively, there are some huge shoes to fill,” he laughs. “From former prime ministers and governor generals, to the governors of banks. It’s an impressive list.”

But Mr. Leech, 67, says he is very keen to get going. He is most looking forward to connecting with students, both formally and informally.

“I remember when Roland Michener was chancellor (from 1974-1980) and he used to go jogging early in the morning with students. That was his way to connect and to hear about what was going on,” he says. “I’m looking to do things in that vein.”

With 46 years in business under his belt, Mr. Leech knows he has a lot to share with the Queen’s community. On Jan. 1, he retired as president and CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan where he was responsible for managing over $140 billion in assets, representing the pensions of more than 300,000 working and retired teachers, a role he held from 2007.

Prior to that, Mr. Leech served as president and CEO of Unicorp Canada Corporation, one of the country’s first public merchant banks, and Union Energy Inc., an energy and pipeline company. He currently serves as the Chair of the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation, and on the board of the MasterCard Foundation, which advances youth education and financial inclusion for the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Leech, who is based in Toronto, earned his undergraduate degree at Royal Military College in Kingston, and currently serves as the honorary colonel of the 32nd Signal Regiment, Canadian Armed Forces. In April, he participated in a seven-day ski expedition to the North Magnetic Pole, organized by True Patriot Love which supports members of the Canadian military and their families. This well-publicized trek raised funds and awareness to support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That experience combined a lot of things for me – my love for adventure trekking and travel and my passion for Canadian soldiers who have served their country,” he says. “I was also probably trying to prove something to myself about not being old!”

He returned from the expedition to an announcement that his recent book, The Third Rail: Confronting Our Pension Failures, which he co-wrote with Jacquie McNish, had won the National Business Book Award.

Mr. Leech hopes the Queen’s community – students, staff and faculty alike – won’t hesitate to take advantage of his broad experience and expertise.

“My challenge to the community is to use me,” Mr. Leech says emphatically. “I have lots to share – from technical expertise in pensions and pension reform, to experiences in various jobs, huge international exposure and all kinds of adventure trekking. I look forward to being of service to Queen’s.”