2023 Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award: Jeannine LiChong (MAcc '92) talks success, glass ceilings and giving back

Monday, April 15, 2024
Jeannine LiChong

Jeannine LiChong (MAcc ‘92) is one of the top finance professionals in Canada, with experience managing portfolios worth $2.6 billion. She is the executive vice president and portfolio manager at Waratah Capital Advisors, a member of the School of Accounting and Finance’s (SAF) Director’s Advisory Council and a member of the Women in Finance Advisory Board.

LiChong is also the chair of the Toronto Symphony Foundation and is a past board member of the Royal Conservatory of Music. She earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Accounting (MAcc) degree from the University of Waterloo and holds CPA, CA and CFA designations.

LiChong is the very deserving recipient of the SAF Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award for 2023. After celebrating her 30th reunion in 2022, and as champion of her graduating class, she and two other alums have established a scholarship for MAcc students, aptly named the MAcc ’92 Leadership Award.

Read along as we discuss LiChong’s journey to success in a male-dominated industry, her plans for the future and the reasons behind her unwavering dedication as a mentor.

Q. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A. I didn’t have any preconceived career ideas when I was young. I fell into accounting because my dad recommended it. In my last year of high school, I was only taking sciences and then I listened to my dad and on a whim and applied to the accounting program. At the time, UWaterloo was the only school offering that program. I accepted my offer and it was a great experience.

Q. You chose to pursue a career in finance when it was mostly a male-dominated field. What influenced you to go this route when it was more common for women to work in accounting?

A. After I obtained my CPA, I still didn’t know where it was going to take me. I joined a management training program at Canadian Pacific, and they let me rotate in various departments, including tax, audit, internal reporting and pension investing. At the time, they were managing their pensions internally. That experience exposed me to the world of equity, real estate and fixed-income investing and I found it very interesting.

I found out on day one that there were very few women working in that area. It's nice to see more women these days but it's definitely still male-dominated. The great thing about this business is that if you can perform and make money for your clients, they will keep you. You might not fit in or look like everyone else, but if you bring in new ideas, you will have more longevity.

Q. Do you have advice for young women trying to advance their careers in the finance industry?

A. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the current SAF students and I have been thoroughly impressed with their abilities and work ethic. UWaterloo has evolved to meet current market demands and I think current students are very high calibre, skilled and far better equipped than I was.

I’m also so glad to see more women working in finance today. My advice is not to be afraid to reach out and tap into different networks for help. Organizations are very aware that they have to nurture and mentor women, so my advice is to seize that opportunity. I have had the privilege of having a fantastic mentor, Ira Gluskin to whom I owe my career.

Secondly— work really hard. Work harder than other people to prove yourself. Keep focused on your goals and don’t let anything else deter you.

Q. Your career is an inspiration to many, but whose career inspires you?

A. I really admire women at big financial institutions or women who are in senior positions at companies that we invest in. It's very tough out there and lonelier as you get to the top.

I also really admire female entrepreneurs who have started their own firms— I find that very courageous and inspiring.

Q. If you weren’t in finance, what else could you see yourself doing?

A. I had considered a career in tax. The SAF tax professors were phenomenal when I was in school. I enjoyed the technical aspect of it. I could also see myself in private equity or infrastructure because I find those industries very interesting.

Q. Tell me a little more about your background and relationship with music?

A. I studied music when I was younger, all the way up through high school. I have my Associate Diploma in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music. I have less and less time to play now, but my volunteer work keeps me involved and it’s a way of giving back to the community.

You are very involved at SAF, what are some of the other clubs and initiatives you are a part of?

A. I’m involved with the CFA Institute Research Challenge where students do a stock pitch. This challenge is on a global scale and universities all over the world compete. UWaterloo students always progress very far in the competition, in fact they will be competing in Poland this year! I’m in awe at the amount of work they put in— on top of their regular schoolwork. I remember seeing a student writing a proctored exam during the competition one year. That level of drive is amazing to me.

Women in Finance started during the pandemic and they asked me to be an advisor. At the first meeting I attended, the students had already drawn up a plan for the whole year. I was blown away by how organized they were. When students ask me to get involved in things or speak at events, I am more than happy to help.

I would be remiss not to mention Steve Balaban who is a very involved professor at SAF and is the driving force behind so much student success, too. We work very closely together on a lot of these things, and he deserves a shout-out.

Q. Do you have any fond memories of your time living on campus at UWaterloo?

A. I remember being in summer school while living in The Village, now known as Village 1. The vibe of being on campus in the summer was way more vibrant than I expected. People were playing frisbee and barbecuing. I was walking by one day and some people offered me some food. It’s such a fond memory of mine.

Q. What’s next for you? What do you want to do more of in the future?

A. Travelling as a family would be great, as my children get older. I also hope to get a little more involved in the grassroots community around me. Eventually, I’d like to sit on a private board or have an advisory role in a private company because it would be interesting to see things from the opposite side.

Ian Weng (MAcc’13) is the SAF 2023 Leader to Watch Award recipient. Visit our website to read our interview with Ian.