#GreatMTLer: Michael Penner’s unconventional path to Hydro-Quebec

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WATCH: After a successful career as a city lawyer, Michael Penner is the first Anglophone ever to be appointed chairman of Hydro-Québec. Global News Montreal Senior Anchor Jamie Orchard speaks to this great Montrealer about his unconventional success story – May 9, 2018

Michael Penner: he’s an anglophone who learned French at Roslyn Elementary who became chairman of the board of Hydro-Quebec — a feat he said proves anyone can get a seat at the table in this province.

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“Whatever it is you are going to do, do it in the most honest way with the most integrity and you’d be surprised,” he told Global News.

He started out as a lawyer and then became president and CEO of PEDS Legwear.

Now, he’s known as the first anglophone chair of Hydro-Quebec.

“That’s a lot of responsibility and I’ve taken it very seriously,” he said.

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Penner was first recognized for bringing manufacturing jobs back from Asia.

A $31-million investment in the American industry brought Penner an invite to meet then-U.S. president Barack Obama.

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“I mean, it was mildly intimidating,” he recalled.

“I was called to meet with him in the White House right next to the Oval Office. At first I said, ‘Hi, I’m Michael, I’m from Montreal.'”

Being at the helm of the jewel of Quebec’s Crown corporations isn’t without controversy.

Nevertheless, Penner said he’s worked hard to stress accountability — especially to customers.

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“When we say, ‘bienvenue chez vous’ — ‘welcome home,’ that is not just a slogan — that is an actual thought process on every decision we make or we decide not to make,” he said.

He has hired a new CEO and completely renewed the board, decisions he says have yielded positive results.

“You’re not going to win it if you’re not in it. Life is not a dress rehearsal, it’s always easy to say, ‘I’m not going to get that job, I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that,'” he told Global News.

Penner also puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to his community: he’s a major donor to Centraide, paying to send a thousand kids to summer camp; he also served as chair of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ annual fundraising drive; he has served on the board of les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, as well as his alma maters Selwyn House and McGill University.

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“What am I going to do? What’s the legacy going to be here for my kids?” he asked.

“Is this better than when I grew up — for them to have opportunity and to love the city because we don’t want them to leave?”

Even as he sat face to face with Obama, Penner said he’s never been prouder of where he comes from.

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“In this world that we live in now, people should come here and see how we make things work,” he said.

“We’ve been through political turmoil, but we have peace, we have diversity, we have people living side by side who worship different gods, love different people, speak different languages and yet it still works inherently well in a very tolerant and generous society.”

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