If Brodie Swartz had been asked while attending law school in what capacity he planned to work after graduation, one would have been surprised by his answer, given his success as Vice President, Legal at the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) Administration Corporation in downtown Toronto.
“I never would have thought in a million years that I’d be working at a pension plan and enjoying it,” he said in a phone interview.
Evidently, his decision to explore this unexpected career path has paid off. A graduate of the class of 2002 at the Allard School of Law, Swartz was recently named a L’expert Magazine Rising Star, recognizing him as one of the leading lawyers under the age of 40 in Canada.
Coming from the small pulp and paper town of Iroquois Falls in Ontario, Brodie and his now wife moved to Vancouver, having never visited British Columbia before, in order for him to attend law school.
After graduating from the Allard School of Law, Swartz moved to Toronto and articled at McCarthy Tétrault, where he later became an Associate. After a brief period in London at the firm Clifford Chance, he left the UK in 2007 to return to Toronto, taking a position at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt in their banking and financial services group. Several years later, he began working at OMERS in their corporate office, expanding his practice area to include mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and venture capital matters. In this position he has provided in-house expertise on many complex negotiations and acquisitions undertaken by OMERS.
Though his dedication and hard work are evident through his many accomplishments, Swartz modestly credits his successful career path to a willingness to seize opportunities as they arise.
“What I don’t like to do is imply that I had some grand plan and it’s all been working out,” he said. “In fact it’s been the exact opposite. I’ve been open to opportunities and it’s all had a way of working out so I see no reason to change to that approach. I always think, ‘why not?’ as opposed to ‘why?’”
Swartz says that he made the decision to attend law school with few expectations; he had no idea what type of career he might be interested in when he first started, but remained open to the many possibilities.
“I didn’t really have a frame of reference, so it was tough for me to have an expectation of what being a lawyer meant,” he said. “I had never had an office job until I articled. I worked in a pulp and paper mill, then a paint factory in Vancouver, just paying my way through school. I knew of lawyers and they seemed to be successful people doing interesting work, and it seemed like a degree that could be utilized to do a lot of different things.”
While the long and sometimes grinding hours of private firm work provided him with valuable experience and lessons, he began to look for a change when he and his wife, who have been together since high school, decided to start a family.
The move to OMERS has provided him with many exciting growth opportunities and the ability to achieve a balanced life, while still producing high-end work. Swartz says that pension fund organizations in Canada have become the global leaders in the pension industry, and have brought increasing amounts of expertise in-house. As a result, pension plan members have benefitted enormously, which has, in turn, allowed him to spend his time on a broad range of challenging work.
On top of his many responsibilities as Vice President of Legal at OMERS, Swartz has a busy household which includes two children, ages four and two, and he loves spending time with them.
“I was fine and I was happy in private practice, up until the point that I started having kids and a young family and started to think, you know, maybe the lifestyle with a private practice wasn’t best suited to the type of involvement that I wanted to have with family,” he said. “We’re in a really happy, great time in our lives now. We love spending every minute we can with the kids and doing stuff with them.”
When he reflects on his experience at law school, Swartz says he remembers his time at Allard as the first time he was challenged with and exposed to thinking about complex issues in different ways. “I guess intuitively everybody kind of does that from time to time but to really think about it, put labels on it and articulate a way of thinking, I’d never thought about that until I went to law school. It clearly has colored the way I look at a lot of things.”
He says that the years he spent in law school helped foster many close relationships that he still maintains today.
“With the benefit of some perspective, looking back it was a relatively carefree time. I remember my first couple of days being a little bit daunting, wondering if I belonged. But then I remember making some really good friends, and now several of my closest friends are classmates that came to Toronto when I did. We’ve sort of grown up together, and it’s gone beyond classmates and colleagues to real friendships, which has been great.”
Looking forward, there is no doubt that Swartz will continue to take hold of any opportunity presented to him and continue to produce inspiring results.
“I see some people sort of get married to an idea and if it doesn’t work out exactly they become frustrated, or they feel like they somehow failed,” he said. “But the fact remains, if you’re open to opportunity, you never know where you’re going to end up or the fun and interesting stuff you could do.”