When Doneta Brotchie was 14, she landed her first job as a page at her neighbourhood library. She kept this position and promptly picked up two others: one at Manitoba Hydro and another at Eaton’s department store.
When the librarian found out about all of Brotchie’s “moonlighting,” she fired her.
“She fired me because I had those jobs and she thought other people should have a chance to have a job,” Brotchie [BComm(Hons)/73] says and laughs.
“I was trying to get enough money to put myself through university.”
She is still a notoriously hard worker and now sought-after to join boards of directors, given her leadership savvy as the former senior vice-president and regional head of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). It is her generous gift of self—her volunteerism—for which Brotchie has been most honoured.
She has brought her expertise to the Province of Manitoba’s Economic Innovation and Technology Council, the president’s campaign team for UM’s Front and Centre campaign, and is chair of the Winnipeg Foundation, program director of Leadership Winnipeg and vice-chair of the Grace Hospital Foundation board. She has also sat on boards of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, among others.
“I just hate to turn anybody down. If they need a favour, if they want help, I will,” says Brotchie.
“The charitable sector is truly the third key sector of the functioning of our city, province and country—government and business being the other two. I’ve learned lessons from my involvement in philanthropy about sharing skills and knowledge, about appreciating diversity, passion and creativity and the power of maximizing and leveraging all types of resources.”
The enthusiasm she brings to community outreach comes from her mother, her only role model growing up, she says. Brotchie’s father died suddenly, and with no insurance, when Brotchie was eight years old, leaving her mom to raise two young girls on her own.
Full of personality and drive, her mother, Betty Ann Porteous, worked in promotions and had her own show on CJOB Radio ’68 where she was known as “Betty ‘OB.” She also ran travel seminars, was a fragrance representative and set up a kindergarten in the basement of their house.
A young Doneta watched wide-eyed and was raised to feel like she was never a step behind. She was born 31 seconds after midnight at the Grace Hospital—becoming the New Year’s baby—and many other firsts would follow.
The UM commerce grad was the first female store manager at the downtown Hudson’s Bay and years later, the first female senior executive to head a region not only for CIBC but among any of the five major Canadian banks.
In 2006, Brotchie upended 132 years of Manitoba Club history to become the first woman to be president of the then-male bastion. She had already been the first woman to be invited to become a member, 15 years earlier, opening a door for others to follow.
Traditionally, the most senior executives of the major chartered banks were automatically invited to become members and she had just taken up her post at CIBC.
“They had to make a decision. Were they going to be a men’s club…or were they going to be a club of community leaders?”
Brotchie says four women joined that year and were honoured at the new member’s dinner.
“I remember all of us there together and feeling really good about that,” she says, recognizing that serving a community can take many forms.
She also feels good about the work she’s doing to shape the next generation. With a longstanding commitment to Leadership Winnipeg, a UM-accredited program she leads for Volunteer Manitoba and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Brotchie encourages young people to develop an understanding of themselves, their community and their role in it. With more than 350 graduates over 15 years, she continues to mentor and advise many of its alumni.
It’s important they bring their unique voice to the conversation—often these perspectives are what’s missing, she insists. Young, aspiring community leaders are matched with charitable boards for one year in an ex officio role.
“I think it inserts new thinking. I’m happy to say that a number of people we’ve put onto boards have been become regular board members.”
She’s known for bringing innovation while making positive and enduring connections across the community, most recently with The Winnipeg Foundation, which distributed $57 million last year to more than 900 charities. Brotchie is only the fifth woman to be chair in its 99-year history.
In this role, she’s been inspired by personal stories of struggle and strength, including that of a woman she met—someone whose organization has received grants from The Winnipeg Foundation—who grew up never hearing “I love you” from her mother, a Residential School Survivor.
Philanthropy inspires greater dialogue, and grows connection and understanding, says Brotchie.
“The demonstrated love of our mothers so many of us experienced as part our everyday lives was missed by this woman, and on her own determination and courage, she built a life for herself and has influenced many others,” says Brotchie. “I have come to admire her a great deal.”
In recognition of Brotchie’s tireless volunteerism and professional contributions, she was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2018—the excitement of which was not lost on her.
“When they sat us at Rideau Hall, I was sitting next to the first female commissioner of the RCMP. There were so many people who have done so many huge things. I just feel a little bit dwarfed by the whole thing,” she says.
“I have my medal by the bed so I can see it every morning and just say, ‘Wow.’”
Whether as an executive in business or a community builder in philanthropy, Doneta Brotchie has gleaned much leadership insight. We asked her to share five lessons learned. Here’s what she told us:
- Recognize others as much as you can.
- Share the best of who you are.
- Always find a way to accept a new challenge.
- Give extra chances. Play four or five-strike baseball, not three.