Skip to Main Content
News@Ivey

HBA Candour Conference | Three lessons on character from Jeanne Beker

  • Communications
  • |
  • Feb 23, 2016
HBA Candour Conference | Three lessons on character from Jeanne Beker

Growing up, Jeanne Beker heard a lot of war stories.

As the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, she heard the horrific details of World War II, her family members’ early deaths, and her parents’ journey fleeing Poland. During these tales, Beker’s father would repeat the same mantra to her.

“Don’t be afraid and never give up.”

That was the message Beker repeated to students at the HBA1 Leadership Character and Candour Conference on February 9. She shared passages from her parents’ memoirs in Joy Runs Deeper and told stories from her own life. The event also featured a talk by anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky.

As the former host of Fashion Television, Beker took numerous leaps throughout her career. She always told herself that because her parents fought so hard to survive, she couldn’t just live a good life. She had to live a fantastic life.

“These stories made me dream big and believe that I could do it,” said Beker. “If they overcame what they did, it felt like I could do just about anything.”

1. Never take no for an answer.

Beker grew up with aspirations of being a famous actress. She attended acting school in New York, studied theatre at York University, and went to mime school in Paris before setting her sights on something completely different: Radio.

Despite her lack of radio experience, she applied for a job at CBC Radio and convinced them to take a chance on her.

“You have to be tenacious,” she told the students. “Having candour, that honesty and truthfulness – that’s about being honest with yourself, too. You have to admit not only to yourself but those around you what you want. And if you want something, don’t be afraid to ask for it.”

This relentless attitude, or “chutzpah” as Beker called it, led her to CHUM Radio and years later, fighting for the job that became her most iconic role: The host of Fashion Television.

2. Rise from the ashes.

Fashion Television was on the air for 27 years, and it opened Beker up to a world of possibilities. She travelled across continents, worked with some of the biggest fashion names in the industry, and started a family.

Just as Beker felt she was on top of the world, everything came crashing down. Her husband wanted a divorce. She was devastated, but remembering her father’s mantra, she didn’t stay down for long.

“If my parents could rebuild their shattered lives, heck I could too,” she said. “I just kept going.”

3. Keep an open mind and heart.

She gave Ivey students another piece of advice: Have an open mind and an open heart. You never know where life will take you, she said, and you need to be open to changing and trying different things.

“Dream, believe, don’t be afraid, and never give up,” she repeated to the students. “Do those, and you’ll be just fine.”

This mentality helped Beker throughout her busy career as she pursued different passions and interests. Now, a featured style columnist for The Globe and Mail, style editor of the Shopping Channel, and host of Style Matters, Beker says she still has big plans and more goals to achieve.

“I’m 63 years old and I feel like the best is yet to come,” she said. “You always have to believe in yourself no matter what.”