B. Comm. (Hons.), 1983,
President and Chief Executive Officer
Fortis Properties Corporation
St. John’s, NL
When Nora Duke graduated from the bachelor of commerce program at Memorial University in 1983, her sights were set on a career in human resources. It was her willingness to take chances and that of others to take chances on her that she credits with leading her to her current role as president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Fortis Properties Corporation in St. John’s.
“I always give credit to people who helped me get here because people had to take a chance on me, too. They didn’t know I could do it but yet they took a chance and offered me these opportunities to grow and develop. And so I always think about that with my own staff ... throw them into things, give them different kinds of opportunities, because the outcome can be really great.”
Fortis Properties Corporation represents $660 million in assets and operates in eight Canadian provinces with a total workforce of over 2,400. As president and CEO, Ms. Duke is responsible for the growth and operation of the company’s two divisions: commercial real estate and hotels.
Following graduation, Ms. Duke worked for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation for three years before making the move to Newfoundland Power.
“I think of those early few years where I did some junior stuff. It really laid a good foundation for what I was subsequently able to do,” she says. “I’ve actually had, from an employment point of view, very steady employment. The degrees and doing well in those programs certainly opened doors for me and the co-op placement certainly helped. You had that bit of work experience to tuck under your belt as you went into interviews.”
Ms. Duke worked at Newfoundland Power for 16 years, from 1986 to 2002, during which she transitioned from a role as a human resource specialist to the manager of human resources, and then, following some organizational restructuring, to a role as vice-president of customer and corporate services.
“That was a really important step for me – going from the HR function only to then being responsible for a number of departments,” says Ms. Duke. “Getting to the point of being in an executive or senior leadership role felt quite a bit different – it was a different level of accountability. That was a really important milestone for me.”
She moved to Fortis Properties in 2003 when an opportunity for a one-year placement became available.
“It was part of an executive rotation program and at the time that it was offered to me I thought, ‘Well you know what? I don’t know anything about hotels but it would be something really neat to try out – something completely different.’ So I came here with the idea that I was only going to come for a year and I never went back.”
Ms. Duke has been the president and CEO of Fortis Properties for the past six years. For her, the path to this point has been about building confidence and continuing to challenge herself.
“As you grow and as you learn you get more confidence and do things you really enjoy and then you get more confident to do the next thing and the next thing,” says Ms. Duke. “You have to be really open-minded and be flexible to those opportunities. When the CEO that was [at Fortis Properties] at the time offered me the opportunity to come here for a year I could have thought, ‘That’s kind of scary – I’m probably better off to stay put.’
“That might have been the safe thing to do, but you have to take a chance sometimes and I got here and I loved it.”
Ms. Duke sits on numerous industry boards including the Hotel Association of Canada, Global Board–InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Owners Association, the board of directors of Newfoundland Power, and the board of Genesis Group Inc. She is frequently invited to speak at industry events.
She also dedicates time to community involvement surrounding both health and women’s leadership. She is currently a board member of the Health Care Foundation and has previously been involved with the Murphy Centre, a local organization that nurtures youth at risk and helps them receive an education. In 2012 and again in 2013, she chaired Bust a Move St. John’s, a volunteer-led event partnered with the Health Care Foundation and the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation focused on raising funds for breast health research, education and medical equipment.
Ms. Duke’s success has been recognized nationwide. She has been named one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEOs from 2009-2013 by Atlantic Business Magazine and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 to commemorate receiving this acknowledgement five times. She was also named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2010 by the Women’s Executive Network.