Feature Story

Making connections

Jeff Gillham (’91) shares his journey from liberal arts student to the leader of an international telecommunications company
By: Shannon Wilmot

Since becoming CEO of Eastlink — an Atlantic Canadian, family-owned company that delivers internet, mobile, TV, data, and related services across Canada and to international locations — Jeff Gillham and his team of 1,300 have been guiding the company through the pandemic all while introducing a series of expansions.

This has included establishing a flexible work environment, opening a new core network facility in Halifax, NS, developing partnerships to grow the company’s 5G offerings, and delivering high-speed internet to more rural communities at a time of unprecedented demand.   

At first, it may seem worlds away from Gillham’s days as a Mount Allison political science and economics student, but he says his current success easily connects back to his alma mater and its liberal arts education. 

“A lot of what I got out of Mount A that stays with me is thinking about the great discussions we would have in class, where classmates and professors would debate issues and try to find consensus,” says Gillham. “That’s a lot of what I try to do in meetings today — bring teams together to discuss, hash out an issue, find consensus. My leadership style is collaborative, and I think that comes from my Mount A experience.”

Gillham was born and raised in Halifax, practically on the doorstep of Dalhousie University, as he puts it. But, when it was time to select a university, Gillham wanted the experience of moving away from home and followed in the footsteps of his father, P. Michael Gillham (’56).

He spent three of his four years living in Trueman House and puts the camaraderie he shared with residence roommates at the top of his favourite Mount A memories list.

What else is on the list? Playing every intramural sport he could, meeting and attending semi-formals with his future wife, Laura Murray (’91), seeing Blue Rodeo play in the basement of Trueman, “epic” football games, and the “shenanigans” of nights out at Steve’s Tavern and Ducky’s. Gillham even has a warm smile for the memory of the quintessential cold wind blowing off the marsh when making late night winter walks home from visiting friends off campus.

After graduation, Gillham started his career selling office chairs door to door along the Halifax waterfront. He later went to work for Eastman Kodak, selling printers and photocopiers, and would eventually find himself at Eastlink, where over the last 22 years he has held leadership positions in sales, marketing, product management, and operations, and, since last September, as CEO.  

“My dad used to say to me, ‘There’s always someone smarter, someone better looking, someone funnier. But you can be the hardest worker and put all your passion into what you do.’ That’s what I have always tried to do in my career,” says Gillham.

Eastlink’s founder, John Bragg (‘62, ’63, LLD ’93), is a proud Mount Allison alumnus and former Chancellor, and his son Lee Bragg, the company’s executive vice-chair, also attended the University. 

Gillham says there are several parallels between his company and alma mater, including that they both prove you don’t have to be the biggest and be located someplace like Toronto to be the best. 

“Mount A is so small, it’s always the underdog team, but it is consistently one of the best undergraduate universities in this country,” he says. “And at Eastlink, we are successfully competing against companies 10 times our size and consistently recognized as one of Canada’s best-managed companies.”