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Denise Donlon

Media Trailblazer

Denise Donlon tackled the male-dominated music industry, giving her unique insights on female power in the workplace – how to get it, how to wield it and how to bounce back when you lose it. She took over as president of Sony Music Canada just as the music industry’s business model was imploding. Denise proved that the ability to adapt quickly is the only way to thrive in any sector that is changing rapidly. A member of the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, she paved the way for women in corporate leadership and brought social justice issues to the forefront in the media. A brilliant presenter, she explains how to navigate corporate culture with integrity, responsibility and a passion to be a force for good.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


The Power of Principle: Fearless (as possible) on the rocky road to ethical leadership
Regardless of your occupation, you have an opportunity to build a legacy, both personally and professionally. Denise Donlon will inspire your team with business, career and celebrity stories told with wit, empathy and zeal for the bottom line. She demonstrates why it’s best for business to do the right thing, engage your customers and community, and make a positive contribution.

If Darwin was a CEO: Lessons learned from the music business meltdown
Denise Donlon became president of Sony Music Canada precisely at the moment the recording industry began to reel from massive digital disruption. Her observations from the frontlines of an industry under fire, told with insight, humor and a dash of celebrity, illustrate why agile adaptation in the face of rapid change is the only way to evolve and survive in any business.

Backwards in High Heels: The trials and triumphs of lady leadership
Everyone knows the numbers. Women remain woefully underrepresented on boards, in politics and as CEOs. Denise Donlon’s vast executive experience in the cultural industries has furnished her with unique insights on female power in the workplace. In this presentation, she describes how women can break through the glass ceiling and inspire change in male-dominated workplaces.


Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award
  • Denise Donlon is more than engaging, she provides an inspirational message that is both authentic, charming and funny. She won over the audience as ‘speaker of the day’ at our annual Women In Business Conference. #WIBC17.The standing ovation after her keynote was testament to the fact that she is a brilliant presenter. It was an honour to have Denise join us, and we would welcome her back anytime.

    - CEO and Founder, Women in Business Conference, Ottawa
  • She was fun, funny and yet still provided a thoughtful and serious talk. I got lots of kudos from attendees…She’s got great charisma and you really get a sense of her as a person when she speaks. She’s warm and passionate and she knows how to share that boundless energy with her audience. Just fantastic!

    - Canadian Society of Training and Development
  • Denise is one of those rare individuals who inspires trust from all who know her and if you don't know her she soon makes you feel like you do. She is charming and disarming, and can fill a room with her warmth and child like enthusiasm and at the same time is sharp as a knife when it means cutting to the chase or staying focused on issues and problems and getting things done.

    - Musician & Humanitarian, Tom Cochrane
  • Denise Donlon isn’t just a Canadian media trailblazer, she is a fierce feminist, a sharp intellectual, and one of our country’s brightest beams of light.

    - Joseph Boyden, Gilller Prize Winning Author
  • Denise Donlon is the First Lady of the Canadian music business; a woman who has smashed every glass ceiling to smithereens and somehow has done it in the loveliest way.

    - Alan Doyle, Musician, Actor, and Author
  • On air and off, she’s battled for women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and environmental protection, championed AIDS research, and was among the first public figures to support War Child. She’s blasted through several glass ceilings, bettered our social and cultural landscapes, justly earned the Order of Canada and lived to tell about it all, gutsily and vibrantly. She is, in equal parts, Canada’s Sheryl Sandberg, Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron. - Macleans
  • As a speaker, Denise Donlon is personable, beautiful and bold. She takes on the tough and the tenacious, the terrible and the tender with a warmth and connection that is rare and compelling. An inspiring speaker who addresses ethical, personal and professional challenges, as a Keynote at Speaking Her Mind: Canadian Women and Public Presence, she was accessible and grounded despite her glamorous connections and world experience. She is absolutely fascinating, and speaks incredibly well. - Aritha van Herk, AOE, FRSC, D.Can.L. (Hon.) University of Calgary
  • I personally wanted to send a short note just to say how fabulous your keynote was yesterday and how amazing it was to work with such a pro from a production side. You were so relatable, warm, smart and fun. We also appreciated you plugging the sponsors and pushing the donations.

    - Canadian Women's Foundation

Summary Profile

With a career spanning almost 40 years, Denise Donlon is a visionary leader in Canada’s music scene. Recognized for rising through the ranks at Much Music, she went on to become the first female president of Sony Music Canada, where she worked alongside many of the country’s music elite, including Céline Dion, Leonard Cohen, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Our Lady Peace. Her zeal for Canadian cultural expression was further realized as Executive Director and later General Manager of CBC/Radio-Canada English Radio.

Her journey throughout her various careers with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Tragically Hip and more are chronicled in her memoir Fearless As Possible (Under the Circumstances). Donlon’s ongoing commitment to Canadian broadcasting has earned her many accolades over the years, including two Gemini Awards and an induction into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. Most recently, she was awarded the Walt Grealis Industry Builder Award at the 2018 Junos. 

Donlon began working in the music scene in 1985 at Much Music. In a few short years, she rose to the executive level, where she integrated social justice issues into the programming. She played a key role in the launch of MuchMoreMusic. In 2000, Donlon accepted the role of President of Sony Music Canada, overseeing artist relations, promotion, marketing, production, manufacturing, and distribution.

Donlon’s inspiring journey is complemented by her devotion to humanitarian efforts. She has lent her time to several charitable initiatives over the years, working with international organizations such as War Child Canada, MusiCounts, Waterkeepers, Live 8, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership and the Clinton Global Initiative.

Donlon’s achievements as a female executive in a male-dominated field have also earned her top honors within the world of business and literature. She won the Peter Gzowski Literacy Award of Merit in 2001, has two honorary doctorates, and has been named Woman of Vision from Wired Women.