The first chapter of Kerri Pope’s career sounds strikingly familiar to the opening salvo of the 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Mary, a young, single woman with big career aspirations, leaves her small town and arrives all alone in the big city, eager to see where it will take her.
Now substitute Mary for Kerri. Pope, originally from the small, quaint town of Pembroke, Ontario, on the Ottawa River, moved to the big city of Toronto. Little did she know then that the job she secured would drive her future career.
Not long after her 1993 arrival, Pope took a job as a receptionist in a boutique corporate-securities law firm, Wildeboer Apps (now Wildeboer Dellelce), which was just starting out itself. She showed promise and ambition, and was promoted several times, first to secretary, then to law clerk, and finally to manager of the corporate-clerk department.
Enjoying her climb up the corporate ladder, it was while standing on a rung somewhere in the middle that her view changed. In eight and a half successful years, she realized she had gone as far as she could go in the law field with the skill set she had.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” Pope says. “I liked what I was seeing, but knew I wouldn’t be able to do more without being a lawyer. If I wanted those last few rungs on the ladder, I would have to go to law school.”
And that’s just what she did. Leaving the law firm in 2001, with the support and encouragement of her many friends there, she enrolled at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Pope received her bachelor of laws in 2004, graduated near the top of her class, articled for the law firm Gowlings, and was called to the bar in 2005. She was a litigation lawyer at Gowlings until August 2008. Her time there included a secondment to the Bank of Montréal in its retail banking department.
Then one day another opportunity knocked for Pope: she ran into her former boss, Rob Wildeboer, cofounder of Wildeboer Dellelce, at the 15-year anniversary party of the firm. He had left there in 2001 to become executive chairman of Martinrea International, a growing automotive-parts company that is now a global, multibillion-dollar operation. He invited her to join the company, and she did.
Martinrea produces metal parts, assemblies, modules, and fluid-management systems that are primarily targeted to the automotive sector, including engine and transmissions products, suspension modules, and fuel tanks, among other products. The company operates 37 plants in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, South America, and Asia, and now has more than 10,000 employees.
“I enjoyed working with Rob previously,” Pope recalls. “He was a fantastic mentor, and I was looking for an opportunity to move in-house. Also, the automotive industry and the company itself appeared exciting and seemed to present a lot of opportunity for growth, so I accepted.”
Pope started as internal legal counsel in August of 2008. In October 2011, she became director of legal services and assistant corporate secretary. Today, Pope manages the law department and practices law. “I love the industry and my job,” she says. “It is full of opportunity, and I am fortunate to work with top executives and great people.”
Although her daily activities vary, Pope’s responsibilities include assisting with acquisitions; advising on corporate, commercial, pension, and tax-law issues; and overseeing her department. “A small law department in an international, public company is a very exciting place to be,” Pope says. “You see everything you would in a full-service law firm, pitch in where needed, and rely on your outside experts. You quickly learn that you can’t know everything.”
For people who aspire to do what she does, Pope says be prepared to work hard, find a good work environment, and truly understand the needs of your client. “It’s not enough to know the law; to be a good lawyer, you have to understand your client’s business and listen to your client,” she says.
The most challenging part of the job is prioritizing competing demands so business people can move forward. “We’re very busy handling multiple requests,” Pope says of her department. “To be a leader and still get my work done means I must be good at delegation. It’s a small law department—just four people—so we work closely with outside counsel. I am in constant communication with them.”
New to her role as a leader, Pope’s goal is to teach others to lead and to take ownership of their practice areas. “I try to get everyone to work together as a team, but I also rely on them to work independently and to be excited about their jobs,” she says. To that end, Pope continually looks for ways she can motivate and help her team provide the best client service.
A brown belt in karate and an amateur artist, Pope is the type of person who strives for the best in all areas of her life. “On a personal level, within five years, I hope to be a black belt and to sell a few paintings,” she says. “On a professional level, I will continue to grow and evolve as a lawyer, leader, and mentor.”
Much like Mary Tyler Moore, it’s clear that Kerri Pope has achieved her dream of a successful career in the big city. This story is not yet in reruns, however, as Pope has much more to achieve.
Martinrea, for its part, is doing well too. The company received a Canadian Deal Makers award for its 2011 acquisition of certain assets of Honsel AG. “That,” Pope says, “is a testament to all of our people.”