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Shannon Rogers: Well suited

Global Relay's success a testimony to lawyer's acumen
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President and general counsel at Global Relay, Shannon Rogers has found a niche application to bridge her law degree with business

As a young lawyer getting her start at McCarthy T├ętreault, one of the biggest of Toronto's Bay Street law firms, Shannon Rogers would have told anyone that she had just stepped on the legal escalator.

Her law degree would, in time, be put to broader use in her current role as president and general counsel at tech giant Global Relay, but she admits she didn't see it coming.

"If you were to tell me that one day I would be president of a global technology company I would have never believed you."

Looking back now, she can see that the case for a career shift was on the docket all along.

After graduating from the University of Victoria, she travelled in India for a year, spending five months volunteering at Mother Teresa's Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta before returning to Canada to study law at McGill University.

No surprisingly, her interest in law was global. "I loved international development work." Following graduation, her work with the big firm left her feeling disillusioned.

Her father's advice was also global; he counselled her to take a broad approach to her life goals. "As he one day pointed out, 'I didn't tell you to go be a lawyer at a big law firm. I just told you to get the legal ticket.'"

"I realized I have to take this ticket and do what I want with it. I wasn't in the city I loved, and I realized I was on the wrong side of the board table."

She returned to Vancouver, and although she continued to practise law to pay the bills, she kept watch for other, more global, opportunities.

Around the same time, a friend, Warren Roy, was trying to build a technology compliance and archiving company. The business interested her, and in her spare time she helped Roy, drafting contracts and providing other legal and writing services.

Rogers' immersion into the business grew both gradually and inescapably. "I started liking it so much. More than my day job as a lawyer." Roy eventually convinced her to join the team.

In the beginning, money was sparse. "I probably went the next two years, at least, without a salary," she said. "I realized I had started with a company that was struggling, that had no money and [that] couldn't get any venture funding."

The ongoing struggle to make the company successful was daunting. "If I knew how hard it was actually going to be, I don't know if I would have done it."

But she and the others on the team dug in and persevered, and once the company began to turn a profit in 2006, everything changed. Clients started knocking on their door.

The company's quickly growing success had as much to do with a rising need in the corporate marketplace for data storage solutions as it did an increase in regulatory practices governing data archiving, e-discovery and compliance among financial institutions that stemmed from the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 and onward.

"We were a pioneer in cloud [storage] as a service," said Rogers. By claiming that niche, Global Relay set itself apart. The company now archives data for some of the world's largest banks and registered hedge funds in over 90 countries.

Now, Rogers provides direction on issues of legal and corporate governance as ubiquitously as she secures clients. It's a sound fit. "At Global Relay, we sell legal. It's compliance and archiving of messaging for legal purposes." Being able to speak with the authority afforded to her by her legal training sets her above the rest in the field.

Profit Magazine named her the the No. 1 female entrepreneur in Canada in 2011, and No. 2 in 2012. In 2007 she was also included in Business in Vancouver's Forty under 40, and Lexpert named her one of the top 40 lawyers under 40 in 2006.

But Rogers is perhaps best defined by a story from her childhood when her father helped her succeed in getting the prestigeous Brownies/Girl Guides Canada Cord Award. "He said, 'Be strategic in how you go about this,' and I followed that."

She became the youngest girl in Canada at the time to get the award

Five Questions
What accomplishments are you most proud of?

The biggest accomplishment by far, what I've put the last 10 years of my life into, would be Global Relay. It was a 3% fledgling startup when we began. Now we have 225 employees. Part of that pride comes from the fact that we built the business based in Vancouver. That's not an easy thing to do.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

The flip side of that. Growing a global technology company in Vancouver; sourcing and hiring the right staff, people who can keep pace with the speed at which we've grown, and outpacing our competitors, including IBM, HP, Google and Microsoft, in technology development.

What career decisions would you make differently were you starting out today?

I love where I've ended up, but it took me a long time to figure out how to use my legal background in a way that I felt passionate about. It took me a while to figure out that it was the business side that I loved more than the legal side.

What's one business lesson you'd like to pass on to others?

You always have to follow your passion. Everyone wants to find it; you have to stick with it until you do.

To what extent do you think there are still glass ceilings for women in business?

I think men actually love to work with women. They want to work with smart women who can go with the flow, who they feel comfortable with and who they can do business with.