By Robyn Brown, IBI Group
With the recently announced ULI Top 40 Under 40, Laurie Payne is one of only two Canadians selected for the great honour that recognizes the best young land-use professionals from around the globe. In her current role as the Vice President of Development at DiamondCorp, Laurie is in charge of one of the city’s largest redevelopment projects, the 60-acre former Celestica Site at Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue East. Formerly employment lands, the new development will create a live/work community at one of the major stations on Toronto’s new LRT, the Eglinton Crosstown. It plans to change the area from a suburban industrial district to a transit-oriented urban neighbourhood.
Leading this project, Laurie represents three leading Toronto developers: Lifetime, Context and Diamond Corp.. It’s her job to keep the project on track, and she is connected with all of its facets, including legal, planning, financial, PR and marketing. This job is perfect for Laurie as she believes that “the development business is about relationships. The development process is complex with a lot of stakeholders you need strong relationships to get results.” She attributes her ability to work with different groups and styles of decision making for much of her success.
Beginning her career in public consultation after receiving her master’s in planning at University of Toronto, Laurie learned how to deal with many different stakeholders. With an undergraduate degree in forestry from UBC, Laurie credits her job at Urban Strategies with her early professional development. “They are very good at mentoring young people,” she says. “Their product is their people, and they invest in them.”
Moving to Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was natural to Laurie, who admits she is attracted to big projects. “I am a jigsaw puzzle nerd, and big projects offer a similar challenge,” she says. Laurie was exposed to TCHC as a consultant on the Alexandra Park revitalization. After joining TCHC, she became the Development Manager of the Lawrence Heights revitalization.
“When I worked with TCHC on Alexandra Park, what really impressed me was the creativity and business focus they brought to the work. There was genuine consideration about humanity and vulnerable people,” she says. Laurie spent five years there, becoming the Director of Development at TCHC. “It was the hardest job I’ve ever had, yet the most rewarding,” she recalls.
Laurie is a Toronto booster and believes strongly that we can’t take for granted the quality of life our city offers its residents. “I think one of the reasons for the great success of Toronto as a city is that we try and take care of people. I worry about people being left behind, the most vulnerable in the city. There is a lot more we can do about it,” she says. Her work at TCHC exposed her to many community leaders, as she worked to revitalize outdated housing for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Laurie embraces her role as a city-builder. “We are very lucky to be in Toronto. The industry is strong, it is fun and interesting work, and people are interested in what we do,” she says.
Beyond her work, Laurie is passionate about ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). As a founding member of the Toronto Chapter, Laurie is involved in its programming and development into a global movement. “In part, I’m passionate about WLI because of those who are involved, and their ability to get stuff done. It’s a really inspirational group,” she says. She believes there is a greater need for diversity in the industry, and through her work in the WLI, and its initiatives such as the Championship Team, she hopes to bring about meaningful change.
Asked what she would do differently, Laurie laughs, “I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I wouldn’t do anything differently.” She pauses, “Well maybe I wouldn’t sweat the mistakes as much. I’ve learned from them. Everything can be overcome.”
Laurie encourages young professionals to seek out large and complicated projects. “There are so many opportunities to learn in big projects. Your exposure to new people and different ways of addressing problems is huge,” she explains. Laurie also believes it’s important for young people to make their first couple of career choices without focusing on salary. Salary will come with time, if you are on the right career path. “My approach has been to offer my ideas with confidence, while always being willing to take on the day-to-day work that just needs to get done. I don’t know if it’s the right strategy or not, but I have been lucky with great opportunities and generous mentors.” she says.
Laurie’s newest project is proof that her strategy works.