An accomplished manager with a passion for science, engineer Maud Cohen (Po 1996), Eng., FIC, MBA, ASC has been named Polytechnique Montréal president. She will officially take office August 10, 2022, for a four-year term. On the eve of its 150th anniversary, this is the first time the engineering university has a woman at the helm.
The Polytechnique Board of Directors were unanimous in their recommendation, thus the Conseil des ministres of the Governement of Québec ratified this important appointment by decree at its June 22, 2022 meeting. Ms. Cohen's candidacy had previously been recommended by the Comité de consultation pour la nomination à la direction générale.
An influential career
An engineer (Polytechnique Montréal - 1996), MBA (HEC Montréal - 2004) and certified corporate administrator (Collège des administrateurs de sociétés; Université Laval - 2012), the new Polytechnique president has an outstanding track record in the fields of ethics and sound management of organizations with key roles in society.
From last March and dating back to 2014, Cohen was president and CEO of the Fondation CHU Sainte-Justine. Prior to that, she was President of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec (2009-2012) and was also President of the Executive Council of the Coalition Avenir Québec (2013-2014). Her career has also included the position of director at Invensys Systems Canada, and then at CGI Group, where she managed large-scale projects in Europe and the United States. Over the past year, Cohen has put her experience in engineering governance to use, as Head of the independent experts committee for the architectural and urban integration of the REM de l’Est de Montréal.
Simultaneous to the above, for several years she has been involved in various boards of directors; Loto-Québec, Gestion FÉRIQUE and Aéroports de Montréal are among the organizations that have benefited from her expertise.
Just one of her many accolades includes being named one of the "100 Women Leaders of the Future" in 2010 by Entreprendre magazine. She’s certainly lived up to this title, as she now prepares to take the reins at her alma mater.
Maud Cohen and Polytechnique: from past to present
Some 26 years after her graduation in industrial engineering, Cohen returns to "Poly" with the ambition that characterizes her profession: value creation.
"Polytechnique is already on a brilliant trajectory. Thanks to its contributions, Québec can pride itself for its innovation and daring. For the institution to remain influential intellectually, economically, and socially, operations improvements must be continuous. There are meaningful and impactful solutions to be developed, especially in terms of social-ecological transitions. I’m convinced that we’re at a crossroads: with confidence, openness, proactivity, and affirmation, our community - which has accomplished so much in the past - must now reflect on its future," Cohen stated.
Cohen's desire to make a difference is nothing new. During her academic career she was involved in student decision-making at Polytechnique, and her peers could count on her to defend their interests when she took on the vice presidency of the Association étudiante de Polytechnique - AEP (Polytechnique Student Association). Throughout her studies, she also was on the Programme d'intégration des nouveaux étudiants de Polytechnique – PINEP (New Student integration) committee, and was one of many voices behind the student radio station’s microphones. Cohen was also a participant in the Jeux de génie du Québec, and the Canadian Engineering Games. After her academic career, she was drawn into public speaking, where she developed skills as a communicator, notably alongside former Polytechnique student, Dominique Anglade.
Now a head of household, corporate director, and seasoned manager, Cohen is looking forward to her new mandate leading Polytechnique. With extensive experience in engineering and research financing, and strong philanthropic management skills, there’s no doubt that she’ll fit right in at her alma mater.
The energetic convener
A dedicated boxer, Cohen has a fighting spirit and the drive you'd expect from an influential leader – yet make no mistake, those tough gloves? They can also have a soft touch. In conversation, one finds a positive leader with integrity, whose collaborative approach naturally builds a solid foundation for engagement.
In sport and at work, agility is the key to her modus operandi. Her career thus far demonstrates her ability to mobilize teams, inspiring them to take on new approaches, and question the “whys” and “hows” of the way things operate.
To use just one final boxing analogy, one can’t forget the question of impact. Under her leadership, the Fondation CHU Sainte-Justine saw its donation revenues increase by over 30% in five years, reaching a total of more than $250 million, as part of the major “Healing More Better” campaign that culminated in 2018. Even in the midst of the pandemic, and despite major fundraising upheavals, the "Cohen effect" was still going strong. The Fondation weathered the COVID storm, despite seeing projected organizational revenues in decline by 40%. In the end, the Fondation was able to replace over 100% of projected revenue loss, even ending the year with gross and net revenues exceeding those of previous years.
An ambitious and strong woman, Cohen is pleased to challenge prejudices related to women's leadership in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She wants to change society, and has chosen Polytechnique as the venue to do so – and clearly, Polytechnique feels the same way.
“Maud Cohen impressed the Comité de consultation and Board members alike with her varied accomplishments in management and philanthropy, and the leadership she’s consistently demonstrated throughout her career. She has everything required to rally the community to support a unifying, promising vision that will enable Polytechnique to pursue its quest for educational excellence and research. In particular, her leadership will contribute to the development of innovative institutional strategies to address societal issues such as sustainability and equity, diversity, and inclusion, which are very important concerns for our community," explained Board Chair Pierre Lassonde.
Lassonde added, “We thank Interim President Professor Gilles Savard, for his outstanding work since the beginning of his mandate on October 1, 2021. We wish Ms. Cohen every success. Her success will be our success.”