Cornell Wright, JD/MBA 2000

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo / Photography by Jim Ryce

From the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Nexus

In a sunlit waiting room with a view of the skyline, Cornell Wright, JD/MBA 2000, partner at Torys LLP, gets down to business to talk about his work, his volunteerism and how he pulls together great teams to serve clients, advance firm strategy and goals.

“What’s a typical day like?” I ask.  

“Dynamic. A lot of moving parts, and a lot of different kinds of things going on. And I am moving from one to another, using different parts of my brain at various points in the day,” he says. It’s no wonder then that he likes to keep moving the “goalpost.”

“What’s been the most challenging time in your career so far?” I probe.

“I’d say right this moment. If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I probably would have said that moment. It’s been challenging in different ways, in every stage and today I feel challenged, pushed, and pressured to deliver and perform. So I would say it’s today.”

He’s lauded as a savvy team-builder, able to pull the best of them together to work on some of Canada’s biggest deals, like the Thomson Reuters and Blackstone transaction announced in January of this year, and two Weston Group deals as well.

“I look for people who are smart, creative and complementary and work together well and I'm fortunate that I have a good group of people I work with a lot who get along well.”

Wright believes collaboration is a big part of success, business and personal. So too is learning to lead from advisors. “I’ve had five or six people at any given stage of my career who I would say are key mentors.”Among them, former law dean Ron Daniels, who suggested the JD/MBA program to Wright, and former U of T president Rob Prichard, whom Wright met while a student, and who “has been in my life since.”

But his most inspirational source of guidance to this day isn’t even a lawyer—and she’s 95 years old.

“My grandmother. She's been a major influence on my life since I was a little kid. Still is. She is totally with it—strategic, insightful, engaging. She was a teacher for over 50 years, in Jamaica then Canada, an incredible force and highly accomplished herself. She overcame some pretty serious challenges in her life. And she has pushed me and continues to push me. I was at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and I watched her take each of our three children for five minutes. She looked straight into their eyes, and gave them the same talk that she'd given me.”

That unwavering familial support set him on a path to success, and now he’s paying it forward—in the community, as chair of the National Ballet of Canada, and a trustee at hospital network UHN—and at the Faculty of Law. His generous gift of $25,000 will fund a bursary in his name to encourage the next generation of Black law students to pursue a legal career.

“The Faculty of Law opened up so many doors for me. A legal education is just so powerful. And I think it's terrific that the law school is very focused on making sure it's accessible to as many people as possible, in particular, for people from backgrounds that have been sorely underrepresented in the legal profession. I'm a supporter of that objective and happy to contribute in any way I can.”