Technically, Janice Fukakusa is retired.
However, after more than 30 years at the Royal Bank of Canada, where she rose to the rank of both chief financial officer and chief administration officer, she doesn’t have much spare time on her hands.
She’s the chancellor of Ryerson University and sits on the boards of Cineplex Inc. and the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation. And, of course, she’s also chair of the board at Canada’s newest Crown corporation, the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
When Fukakusa was a young woman starting her post-secondary education at the University of Toronto, she had no ambitions to join the world of business.
“My undergraduate degree is in liberal arts, basically political science and philosophy, so I never, ever anticipated that I would be in finance at all,” she says.
Around that time, a friend was studying for her certified professional accountant designation. When Fukakusa had trouble landing a career-track job after university, she also took her CPA designation. “I thought it would be great for me to do that because then I could get a good job and it would give me flexibility in and out of the workforce,” she says. “That was a big thing with me being a female. I knew that I would be starting a family and going in and out of the workforce, and I wanted to always make it so that I have a skill base and a profession, so that I would have something to fall back on.”
She also threw herself into an MA program in business administration, specializing in accounting and finance while working part time in payroll. That led to a job in the auditing department at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Auditing is, of course, looking at the past, and I wanted to be more creating into the future, so I went into business valuations and it was a pretty good springboard for me into the financial services and banking sector.”
Next, Fukakusa took a role at RBC in mergers and acquisitions. Although she was destined to join the company’s C-suite, she says seniority was never her goal. Instead, she focused on flexibility and developing a diverse set of skills so she’d be ready for the right opportunity when it came along. For years, she moved laterally around the bank, spending time in auditing, corporate and retail banking. “I never targeted a destination, I always targeted learning.”
In her roles as CFO and CAO, Fukakusa was constantly occupied with stewarding the next group of women up the ladder. “There’s a lot more [female] representation in the industry, but you can never take your eyes off it because it’s just never done.”
When choosing candidates for senior jobs, she made sure diversity was on the agenda. “The criteria was you have to put someone of a diverse background and a female on your staffing list. And, if you don’t have one, you have to tell us why.”
As Fukakusa transitioned to retirement, she was attentive to the fates of the women she sponsored and coached during her career. “I tried to get them ready, and I made sure they would qualify and actually promoted them into more senior positions, because if I didn’t do it, it would not happen.”
The industry needs to strive towards gender parity, led by those who are passionate about the topic, she says. It’s perfectly natural for leaders to unconsciously select and promote candidates with whom they most easily relate, she adds, which is why it’s so important to be aware of these biases and ensure they’re taken into account.
“For gender, when you start with a position where there’s no parity, then it becomes really difficult to build it because of that fallback position that happens to everyone.”
Building a bank
In 2017, when Fukakusa was selected to chair the board of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the organization was starting from scratch.
“You had to order the pencils. I can’t describe it any other way — there was nothing. So I spent a lot of the first six months just setting up base infrastructure, premises, governance in place, all of that.”
Fukakusa also had to set up the rest of the board, executive staff and investment team. Hundreds applied for the board, but as they were narrowed down, the bulk were chosen specifically for their expertise in business and infrastructure, a few for their governance, risk, finance and compliance backgrounds and some for their expertise of governmental operations. Today, the board is comprised of five men and six women, counting Fukakusa.
So far, the bank has taken on four projects. First, it partnered with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec to provide a 15-year senior secured loan of $1.28 billion for the Réseau express métropolitain, an automated light-rail network that will serve the greater Montreal area. In total, the project is expected to cost $6.3 billion and include 26 new stations and 67 kilometres of track. The loan from the bank, which is intended to help ease the risks around construction and ramping up operations, started at an interest rate of one per cent and will escalate to three per cent over the 15 years.
While the bank currently has four subcategories of focus — transit, trade and transportation, green infrastructure and broadband development — its first projects are fairly transit-heavy. It also partnered with Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx to expand the GO Transit network’s service, committing up to $2 billion. As well, it intends to help Via Rail Canada with planning and pre-procurement due diligence on a high-frequency rail project.
The Crown corporation’s first commitments also bear environmentally friendly components, and its most recent project is another green infrastructure endeavour. In July, it announced it will allocate up to $20 million to water and wastewater systems in Mapleton, Ont. The town is seeking a consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain new and existing water infrastructure.
Since the bank is a federally funded project, one concern is it could lose its underpinning if the Liberals were to lose the upcoming election. Members of Parliament from both the federal Conservatives and the New Democratic Party have criticized the bank, with the Conservatives primarily noting the bank’s relatively slow start and the NDP objecting to private capital becoming entangled in public works.
“I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about the mandate,” says Fukakusa. “And the mandate is to really advance a new partnership model in Canada to transform the way infrastructure is planned, funded and delivered.”
The bank’s basic premise is to encourage private capital to get on board with funding infrastructure projects that are in the public interest, she notes. It’s intended to provide capital to alleviate certain pain points that can arise when investing in an infrastructure project, such as construction delays or unexpected costs.
“It’s about attracting dollars that wouldn’t be here,” says Fukakusa. “Investors always look at the sustainability of cash flow. And if cash flows are volatile, that’s a problem. And if you’re a pension fund and you’re trying to fund your long-term liabilities with assets that match your liabilities, infrastructure is great if you can take the volatility out of the cash flow.
“And volatility is created by everything from project completion, revenue targets that aren’t moving as quickly as you thought, all of that, because it’s impossible to predict the future when you’re setting up the project.”
Now that the bank’s investment team is solidified, a lot more projects will be coming down the pike, she adds, noting the value of the bank is more than just as a financier. Going forward, it intends to provide guidance and expertise to various governments at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
In future, Fukakusa envisions more projects that don’t require an element of government funding, ramping up the number of private investors making use of the bank as a partner. “Infrastructure is such a long game,” she says.
Martha Porado is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.