Valerie McKenzie-Flynn’s career to date has been anything but ordinary. But the human resources director with Oxford Imaging and mother of two wouldn’t have had it any other way.
By Hailey Eisen
Valerie McKenzie-Flynn’s work experience started much younger than most, when at the age of 12 she found herself running her family’s campground in Cape Breton — with the help of her younger sister — while both of her parents worked full-time. “My grandmother was an entrepreneur, and the campground was hers,” Valerie explains. “After she passed away we continued to run it, but since my parents both had jobs my sister and I ran the place, took reservations, managed and ran the on-site convenience store, cleaned the washrooms, mowed the grass — essentially from the ages of 12 to 16, we ran the show during business hours.”
Her adult career has continued to be anything but ordinary. Valerie’s first few jobs out of university were in human resources, first in insurance and then in a US-based high-tech startup. A layoff in the mid-1990s happened to coincide with her first pregnancy, so Valerie decided to take the time, and severance, to figure out what she wanted to do next.
She was starting to think about going back to work when her son was 18-months-old — and then she found out she was pregnant with her daughter. “All plans for work were postponed at that point, and I decided to focus on being a mom for a few years,” Valerie recalls. “While I had always been very career-driven, this was a fantastic part of my life and I’m very happy I made that choice to be home with my kids.”
While she did take on the occasional freelance project, and consulted many individuals within her network after layoffs or during career transitions, she spent most of her time being a full-time mom. After a few years, she started to crave a challenge and decided to look for something that would allow her to go back to work but also be there for her kids.
In 2009, Valerie joined the Guelph Business Enterprise Centre, and with the support of this local incubator she was able to take an inspiration born out of a dinner conversation with her friends, and turn it into a business.
Channeling her late grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, Valerie started This Box Rocks, a care-package assembly and delivery service that reached university and college students across Canada. Inspired by the wonderful care-packages Valerie’s own mom used to send her when she was in university, the web-based company allowed busy parents to customize care-packages online and have them delivered right to their child’s dorm. Things were going quite well for This Box Rocks — Valerie had earned some media attention, found a business partner, and had begun to partner with a few university residences in southern Ontario — but she was still investing almost all of her earnings back into the company.
To help supplement her income, Valerie decided to seek out part-time work. It was around this time she came across an HR Manager role with Oxford Medical Imaging, a Kitchener-Waterloo-based startup with 25 employees, focused on diagnostic imaging. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity to work part-time while continuing to run This Box Rocks,” she recalls. “The only glitch… Oxford ended up growing explosively and my job very quickly turned into a full-time position.”
While she had offers to purchase This Box Rocks, she couldn’t bear to let it go to someone else, so she parked the business. Her focus was on growing Oxford Medical Imaging, which very quickly became a mid-sized, GTA-based corporation with 200 employees across Central and Southwestern Ontario.
With her strong human resources background and startup experience, Valerie was able to bring a great deal of knowledge to Oxford. She worked closely with the company’s CEO to build the management team. She also created and launched a performance management program and in-house training program, and implemented ADP’s Workforce Now system, including the Payroll, HRIS, and Applicant Tracking Systems. Within two years she was promoted to HR director. “I’ve been really lucky to be part of this company, to be able to watch it grow and evolve, and experience success — I’m really glad I chose this route.”
Valerie’s kids are now 9 and 11, and she’s managed to find a new balance that works for her family. “There were times when the company was in high-growth mode, that I wasn’t able to handle it all well, but I’ve learned to be proactive, to get the support I need to ensure things run smoothly at home, and to pick my battles, and focus on what really matters.” It’s been an exciting career, and there’s lots more to come. “There are lots of changes happening at Oxford all the time,” Valerie says. “You never know what’s going to happen next.”
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