A sharp suit and a seasoned smile…the recipe for success, as one look at Don Lovisa would have you believe.
But a closer look into the college president’s lifestyle suggests it’s far more than just that.
The fifth president of Durham College (DC) has, so far, spent 33 years in the college system and every one of those years has helped him practice the craft of being a passionate leader.
“I love what I do, I love the energy I get from the students and the community…and I know we make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
Lovisa started out in high school working as a retail salesman of men’s clothing and shoes at McTaggart’s in Fort Frances, Ont, a small community of just under 9,000 people.
A couple years later, he moved to Winnipeg to work as a small business advisor. In 1985, a position at Confederation College took him to Thunder Bay, Ont, where he spent 22 years and travelled to Poland, Ukraine and Jamaica.
“I was a young man and for me, it was a very eye-opening experience to go to another country and teach through an interpreter with different languages that I couldn’t speak,” said Lovisa. “It was very rewarding. It taught me a lot about myself.”
Lovisa was offered the role of vice-president, Academic at DC in 2007. Barely 10 months later, he was appointed president after his predecessor’s unexpected departure.
The new role came with challenges but Lovisa believes “part of doing a good job is loving what you do.”
His days can run from as early as 6 a.m. to as late as midnight but Lovisa is fuelled by the passion he has for his job. He stands by the DC mission that says the student experience comes first.
“I’ve worked for many executives and Don is the easiest one to work for,” said Laura Bogaert, executive assistant to the president. “[He is] the most easy-going and the most dedicated to his job and the students of Durham College.”
Lovisa splits his day into three parts. One part is spent providing leadership in the institution while another is spent in politics in an effort to impact government policies in favour of colleges. The remainder is spent “building partnerships in the community.”
“It’s all a bigger part of a more holistic view of what we can add to society, what we can add to community, what we can add to people’s lives and how we can support people,” he said. “And if we can hold on to that and have a culture that does that, then that’s a pretty nice place to be.”
While most of his time is spent either at the school or in meetings, Lovisa is a family man at the end of the day. “As you get older, you realize just how important your family is,” he said.
His days off are spent reading a good book, usually one by Malcolm Gladwell, or making a mean spaghetti and meatballs his kids and grandkids, who only like eating it when ‘nono’ makes some for them. Lovisa, who is of Italian heritage, is called ‘nono’ by his grandkids, which means grandpa in Italian.
Like everyone else, the DC president has chores at home too. He cuts the grass and helps his wife clean the house.
“I’m no different than anybody else. I just have a really cool job,” Lovisa said humorously.
According to him, the key to good leadership is being personable, humble, genuine and working with people.
Lovisa, who is on his third term, will continue in his presidency until March 2021, after which a meeting with the school board will play a prominent role in deciding whether or not to re-elect him.
“Why retire when you’re still having fun, right,” he says.