Navigating the corporate landscape: A conversation with Simone Cole | NEXUS Magazine | Alumni | Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law

Navigating the corporate landscape

A conversation with Simone Cole, Vice-President, General Counsel at Choice Properties

In a candid and insightful interview, Simone Cole (LLB‘06) tells the story of her remarkable journey from UNB Law student to business executive at Choice Properties, one of Canada's preeminent Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT). A model of leadership and resilience, Simone reflects on her experiences, offering valuable insights into the legal profession, forging a path to the boardroom, and the transformative power of mentorship.

From Ontario to New Brunswick and back again

Like many UNB Law grads before her, Simone was drawn to the East Coast in search of a tightly knit academic community. Having graduated from both Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University, the opportunity to remain in her new ‘home away from home’ for law school was compelling.

“New Brunswick will always have a big part of my heart; I lived there for the better part of a decade, and UNB Law was a natural choice. I wanted a small, exceptional law school. I remember meeting Dean La Forest when I was touring schools, and it immediately felt like the right place for me.”

Simone began her legal career in private practice with Torys LLP. After summering and articling with the firm, she joined as an associate, working in the dynamic corporate department working on major M&A transactions.

“I admittedly did not go to law school with a plan to work on Bay Street, but I was drawn to the unique learning opportunities that a large Bay Street firm offered.”

A couple of years into her career in private practice at Torys, Simone received a call that a large Canadian company was looking for an in-house corporate lawyer.She interviewed with George Weston Limited, the parent company of Loblaw Companies Limited and Choice Properties and she was hired on.

“That was 14 years ago. I came in as a young lawyer, and since I joined, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working at several parts of this amazing Group of Companies, including at George Weston, Loblaws, Weston Foods and now Choice Properties. While at George Weston, we undertook some transformational projects for the Group of Companies. In 2013, we created Choice Properties through an initial public offering. In 2014, Loblaw Companies purchased the Shoppers Drug Mart business.”

In 2017, Simone moved to the operational side of the business, joining Weston Foods as Vice-President, General Counsel and Head of Compliance of its North American food manufacturing division.

“We had 30+ plants across Canada and the US in a very dynamic food manufacturing environment.”

Simone managed teams in both Canada and the US, dealing with all legal aspects of food manufacturing. She oversaw significant commercial contracts, labour and employment issues, intellectual property, and significant real estate matters.

“That role touched on so many areas of the business and law and it was an incredibly rich development experience.”

Moving into her current role with Choice Properties

In 2021, George Weston sold Weston Foods, but Simone had the good fortune of staying within the Weston Group of Companies. Before the sale transaction closed, she moved over to the Choice Properties and accepted her current role as Vice-President, General Counsel and Secretary.

“My legal focus shifted to all things real estate—acquisitions, dispositions, development and real estate financing. We buy and sell a lot of real estate; we do a lot of leasing—we've got thousands of leases. And we also have major development projects."

On leadership and mentoring

Simone’s approach to leadership is one of support and collaboration. She believes a good leader is someone who can build a team and empower her team members to lead and be experts in their fields.

“When you start out, you push yourself to know everything and to try and have mastery over every variable. But as you get more senior, you have to build a strong team of people to help you lead the legal function. Their success is critical to your success.”

Simone also believes in strong connection between mentorship and leadership opportunities as a critical aspect of career advancement. Her advice is simple, find people who will sponsor you.

“You need to put your head down to learn and work, but to stretch the opportunities, you need to build relationships. Find those people who will invest in you and then you invest like hell in the people who join your team.”

Simone is investing in the next generation of black women and women of Carribean descent as they begin their legal careers. She has set up a law scholarship at UNB in honour of her grandmother, Veronica Mondesir, to promote and recognize diversity in the Faculty of Law.

“It's personal to me, as a biracial woman. I have opportunities that my mother didn't have, and my mother had opportunities that her mother didn't have. It's important that we keep investing in people who've been historically or systemically left out. We need to let them in, and there’s nothing more impactful than education.”

Simone has found an incredible amount of success since graduating from UNB Law. There’s been no shortage of memorable moments throughout her incredible legal career, the creation of the REIT and initial public offering, the $12.4 billion purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart, and the historic sale of Weston Foods, to name a few. For Simone, it’s something else that stands out as the ultimate career highlight.

“I can tell you without a doubt, the thing I'm most proud of is the people and relationships that I’ve developed. Relationships with those who gave me a chance to grow and flourish, and those who I’ve supported throughout their own journeys.”