Sticking to Success

by deirdre kelly

Growing up in Port Elgin, Ont., Penny Wise (BA ’89, MBA ’91) despised math and couldn’t wait to get out of high school to escape the suffocating boredom of fractions, decimals and integers. She applied to Glendon College at York University to study French and history, thinking it was the perfect escape.

To test her decision – and ensure she was making the right move in becoming a humanities student – she added a calculus course to her first-year timetable. It was supposed to be loathsome. But to her shock, she ended up loving the math elective more than her study of languages, and all because of the professor, Jean-Paul Bouhenic, who teaches at Glendon still. “He was so influential,” Wise says. “He made me fall in love with math.”

Switching her major to math for commerce, she realized she had a flair for numbers and head for business. After getting her undergraduate degree, she immediately applied and was accepted to the Schulich School of Business, where she specialized in marketing.

Her first job upon graduation was with 3M Canada. She’s been there ever since, rising through the ranks to become president of a company that makes far more than sticky notes. Surgical tape, building and construction, fire retardant and automotive parts made through its innovative 3M Science division represent only a fraction of what the company can do.

“It’s been quite the journey,” says Wise, whose 20-year career at 3M allowed her to excel at several leadership roles, most recently in St. Paul, Minn., where the company is headquartered. Her new position, announced earlier this year, has brought her back to London, Ont., where she started her career at 3M before relocating to the U.S.

She remembers her first day at work, walking down the main corridor, whose walls were lined with photographs of 3M presidents past – all of them men. “I remember thinking, ‘One day my picture will be on that wall.’ And now it is,” she says with a glimmer of pride. “I’m the company’s second female president, but its first in Canada. The company has always been about diversity and inclusion, and I am proof of that. I’ve always had great mentors.” Starting with her math prof at York.