Antoinette’s parents came from a farming community in southern Italy and her father was the first of his family to emigrate. “My dad and I were very close, but he really wanted a boy. I think he came to realize that there was no stopping me, and he could be proud of what I accomplished.”
Growing up, her family owned and ran a neighborhood grocery store, which became a central force in their daily life. “I had a really nice, loving big Italian family in Montreal. We had our meals together and worked together — as soon as I could count I was running the cash register and doing inventory.” Her neighborhood was a confluence of cultures, and as a result she’s fluent in English, French, and Italian, and can even get by with a bit of Greek.
After high school, Antoinette enrolled herself in a strict, two-year, pre-college, private girls’ school run by nuns: Notre Dame Secretarial School — also known as “The Mother House.” “I knew to be successful I would need a more structured environment, and the discipline and training there was amazing.”
With the rigors of The Mother House behind her, Antoinette was hired at a boutique commercial real estate company and enrolled in college at night, but a separatist provincial government body was elected in Quebec in 1976 and the economy slumped — along with the commercial real estate business. She went back to school full-time and received her Bachelor of Commerce, Marketing from Concordia University in Montreal, graduating with distinction and winning the marketing award. She was the first person in her family to earn a degree.
Antoinette immediately went to work for the Bank of Montreal in the marketing group, to help develop marketing campaigns to attract customers to new branches and make them profitable as quickly as possible. “That’s when I realized real estate was in my blood.”
In 1981, a former boss introduced Antoinette to his client at Canadian National Railways, and encouraged her to apply there. But when she arrived at the office, located in an old building next to the railway tracks in downtown Toronto, she felt like she had stepped into a time warp. Struggling to imagine herself there, she considered walking away when her future boss made her a deal: “Take the job, and if after two years you aren’t happy, I will pay to move you back with no hard feelings.”
She stayed 18 years, working her way up to head up the Real Estate Division.
After being part of Canadian National Railway’s successful privatization, which included selling off and transferring the railway’s income and development properties, she found herself asking, “What next? Real estate is what I do.” And more than that, what would be next that would allow her to continue to grow and leverage the management and leadership skills that she gained from her Canadian National Railways experience?
The answer has come in variety of positions over the years. From running the corporate real estate group and leading one of the largest private outsourcing programs in Canada at CIBC Development Corp., a subsidiary of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, to leading CBRE’s Global Corporate Services team in Canada after working in the U.S. for three years on several Fortune 500 companies as account lead, Antoinette has been able to use her broad experience to make an impact.
In 2009 Antoinette joined Colliers as Executive Vice President for REMS Canada. “I really got excited about the opportunity at Colliers — the culture, senior leadership team and the clients. I’ve been here 5 years and I’m loving it. It’s never dull. It’s always challenging. And it is great to be part of a winning team — we just had our best year ever!”
Antoinette has achieved so much despite the challenges that women often face in a vastly male-dominated industry. “I’ve always been focused on results and being professional, and it was not always easy to find a role model. When I first started my career, people would assume I was my manager’s secretary. The railway was a real man’s world. There were very few women in managerial jobs, and only a couple in senior positions. At senior leadership meetings, there would be 800 men and maybe 5 to 10 women.” It did however provide an excellent environment for growth with many terrific mentors along the way.
“I have been fortunate in my career to have worked with some amazing people. They helped me grow personally and professionally and there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than to have helped people along the way with their careers.”