By: Eunice Wong, EY Transaction Real Estate
Hillary Marshall, Vice President of Stakeholder Relations and Communications at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (“GTAA”), has come full circle in her current role. Working out of Lester B. Pearson International Airport (“Toronto Pearson”), the Mississauga native draws perspective from a long career in public affairs and communications to bring rapid transformation to a global hub in Canada. Specializing in all aspects of communications, including government and stakeholder relations and crisis and issues management, Hillary possesses over 20 years of expertise within the context of city building and development. While she earned a postgraduate diploma in public relations from Stirling University in Scotland, it was during Hillary’s time spent earning her BA in Japanese and Political Science from the University of Toronto that she worked at the former Harrods store in Terminal 3 at Toronto Pearson. Hillary’s passion for travel, genuine fondness for airports, and wholehearted commitment to relationship-building has brought her back to Toronto Pearson.
Prior to joining the GTAA, Hillary held senior communications roles at Bell Mobility, Direct Energy, Hudson’s Bay Company, TSX Group, Hill & Knowlton and National Public Relations. From 1997 to 2001, she was the press secretary in the Office of the Premier of Ontario. What attracted Hillary to the communications profession is the intersection of ideas and how people respond to them – whether it’s sharing an idea, selling a vision, or understanding a perspective. When common ground is discovered, innovative solutions can be developed. It’s in recognizing how to deliver a message and understand a vision that the communications profession can aid in facilitating decision-making and strategy.
Hillary highlights the importance of communications and stakeholder relations, which should not be understated in the context of city building. Relationships with stakeholders, including members of the public, are crucial in communicating a vision. With these types of relationships, Hillary believes a healthy momentum can be sustained, allowing coalitions of support to be built for city building and development, which she acknowledges is a long-term process. However, in reflecting back on her experiences, Hillary has come to realize that the average person thinks about long-term infrastructure based on their immediate experiences. “It is difficult and very complex to get people to come to conclusions when their decision is based on what they are experiencing today,” she says. It’s then the role of communications professionals to consider how to capture the broad set of opinions and ensure the vision or plan is truly understood.
The opportunity at the GTAA resonated with Hillary as it offered a chance to work with a team of people who wanted to change the way we view airports. She credits Howard Eng, the President and CEO of the GTAA — an individual that she considers a true visionary in the world of airports — with being at the forefront of transforming the public perception of airports and exploring innovative solutions for Toronto Pearson to allow it to become Canada’s first mega hub airport.
Cities have historically been built around transportation hubs and it is widely recognized that airports have become the key transportation hubs for connecting the world. “Transit connectivity is essential for any airport to connect properly and efficiently with the region that they serve. It encourages business investment that creates employment. It opens the roads up to get cargo to and from the airport. It puts Toronto Pearson — already one of the most connected airports in the world — on a level playing field with its counterparts in London, Amsterdam, Shanghai and New York,” Hillary wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post earlier this year.
As a result, it is Hillary’s mission, along with her team at the GTAA, to help people understand the power of airports and the role they play in modern society. To assist with this mission, Hillary is involved with Partners in Project Green (“PPG”) as part of her work with the GTAA. She is currently serving as the Chair of the Economic Development Committee at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, and also sits on the Economic Development Committees for Brampton and Mississauga. Toronto Pearson is situated in two municipalities — Mississauga and Toronto — and is also adjacent to Brampton. Hillary and the GTAA are committed to mitigating the environmental impact of airports. Acknowledging that Toronto Pearson spans multiple communities and is at the centre of the second-largest employment zone in Canada, PPG has consolidated local businesses, Toronto Pearson, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, large institutions and local levels of government to collectively form an eco-business zone to promote environmental sustainability surrounding the airport.
Hillary has been a member of ULI Toronto since 2015, where she also currently serves on the Advisory Board. “Toronto aspires to be seen as a world-class city — the most livable city in the world,” she says. It is the diverse range of backgrounds and professions which co-exist in the ULI member community that give voice to the definition and preservation of Toronto as a world-class city.
When asked what we, as the ULI Toronto community, can do to hold each other accountable with regard to city building and responsible use of land, Hillary reminds us of the importance of “Say and Do.” The ULI community holds an immense wealth of knowledge and perspective on the growth of the City of Toronto (and surrounding region). In the arena of city building, it’s imperative to recognize that one voice is not a majority. “We need to make sure that the silent majority has their say too,” she says.
Hillary trusts that when communities or stakeholder groups have been given the opportunity to provide feedback, highly engaged citizens will mobilize and coalitions will form to protect a position. She notes the balancing act between the support for region building and the unique needs of a municipality.
With a significant presence in the industry through her commitment to the ULI Toronto Advisory Board, Economic Development Committees for Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga, and PPG, Hillary brings an invaluable perspective to ULI Toronto that has integrated city building with transportation and infrastructure.