2007 Alumni

Northwest Public Sector

Dorothy Wright

Dorothy Wright It seemed like a harmless enough newspaper advertisement.

A 10-month contract position for a project development officer attached to the new Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM).

“Literally this (job) looked to me like a lark,” says Thunder Bay’s Dorothy Wright, who had left public service with the Ontario government in 2002, to retire to her Thunder Bay home with no plans to work.

Yet, she was intrigued that the skill sets required closely matched her own. It appeared to be low-level development work that was a nice departure from a responsibility-laden position at the Ministry of Finance.

“This looked like a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. job. I had never had a 9-to-5 job.”

In her previous posting as a Regional Director in Missi-ssauga, she oversaw a staff of 300 in three offices, handling $100 million in revenue.

The Rotman School of Busi-ness graduate had once been tasked with amalgamating the Ministry’s services into one-stop, customer-oriented shops and later helped implement Ontario’s new employer health tax.

“It was a great responsibility in Mississauga, one of the richest tax areas of the province and dealing with major corporations.”

Certainly, this kind of opportunity would have no more than a five-year air commute between a southern Ontario condo and her family in Thunder Bay.

Wright interviewed for NOSM Founder Dean Dr. Roger Strasser. Within a day, she was offered the position and asked to start work the next week after Labour Day.

She had no idea what she was taking on.

The following Tuesday, Wright walked into three tiny offices at Lakehead University. No phone. Nothing to write with or on.

Welcome to your new job as CAO of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. The first charter class begins September, 2005.

“I never did get a job description.”

It was the biggest task she had ever taken on. She was her own support system.

There were architects and contractors to be hired, support positions to be filled, equipment suppliers needed to outfit the two campuses; all the while drafting recruitment protocols, employee benefit plans, affiliation agreements, organizing fundraising campaigns and designing the governance of a complex, non-profit entity with a faculty of medicine between two universities separated by almost 1,000 kilometres.

In an environment of constant change, regional political sensitivities and pressure-packed deadlines, Wright knew she had to be innovative and be willing to delegate duties.

She wanted to assemble a team of eager learners, respectful of each other’s ability and open to new ideas.

“If you know everything, I can’t teach you anything, and chances are you’re gonna think you know more than everyone else. That’s not going to foster the growth of a new organization that’s dynamic.”

Breaking new ground on a one-of-a-kind medical school operating over great distances has meant frequent travel and required extraordinary leadership.

From her colleagues, Wright has been described as a “mentor to all who are fortunate enough to cross her path.”

They say her business acumen and contract negotiation skills has been largely responsible for establishing Ontario’s first medical school in 30 years with a full- and part-time staff of 240 employees.

Others say Wright exhibits a “quiet strength” in managing all obstacles in a “professional and efficient manner” that has “blazed a trail for others to follow.”

To keep her troops settled and focussed, she harkens back to her earlier career honing her people skills as a senior accountant with Clarkson, Gordon (Ernst & Young) in the mid-1970’s and later in teaching accounting and finance at Confederation College.

Wright says a key challenge has been establishing a one-for-all belief system amongst her team that NOSM was for all of Northern Ontario, not just split between two cities.

A strong believer that “people can move mountains” if put on the right track, “I see my job as one of facilitator and clearing the path for people to move forward.” She credits her administrative assistants as the glue holding the organization together.

Wright says the process doesn’t always work flawlessly. But that means hiring people who are self-directed and are comfortable managing people they can’t see.

“If the two-site school was going to work,” says Wright, “We had to foster the fact people could work across distances to support the model of a school based on technology.”

To relax, she retreats to the cottage on the Sibley Peninsula, 40 minutes from the city, where she lives the Lake Superior lifestyle.

Married to husband Bill Wright for 34 years, Wright has two grown children, Jody, 29, and Jennifer, 34.

The demands of the job has forced her to drop some charity work, but Wright always makes time to travel and exercise with family and friends, and attends theatre and symphony productions. She also hits the golf links three times a week.

“It’s fresh air and it’s greenery,” says Wright. “and the only thing you focus on is your next shot.