Heather Fraser exudes a passion for innovation fuelled by human insight, bold ideas and thoughtful strategy. For the first 25 years of her career, she built businesses and over 100 brands through leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, Ogilvy & Mather and TAXI Advertising & Design. In 2005, she co-founded DesignWorks, the Strategy Innovation Lab at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. As the Executive Director through 2012, she cultivated Business Design as a discipline, delivered student curriculum, and led innovation programs for over 3,000 executives. She then authored Design Works: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges through Business Design. In 2012, Heather founded Vuka Innovation to expand this work outside the academic realm. Inspired by the Zulu word that means to ‘awaken and stir into action,’ Vuka is dedicated to helping organizations create game-changing ideas and strategies to deliver new value. While leading Vuka Innovation, Heather continues to teach at the Rotman School.
My first job ever was… Selling greeting cards door to door in our small-town neighbourhood at age 8. After many small entrepreneurial ventures as a kid, I landed my first ‘real’ job at Procter & Gamble in Consumer Research. Early life experience gives you important cues to what makes you tick.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I find joy in creating a purpose-driven venture with equally passionate people.
My proudest accomplishment is… Writing my first book that brought all the pieces of my life experience together to inspire and empower others to innovate.
My boldest move to date was… Stepping out of the ‘safe zone’ of a clear career path in established companies and taking a chance on building something new from scratch.
I surprise people when I tell them…I tell them that I live my life by the motto of YOLO.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Surround yourself with people who have good values, who you can count on to do thoughtful, quality work, and who have a commitment to the shared purpose and collective success.
My best advice from a mentor was… That people won’t remember you for how many things you did, but rather the things you did well.
I would tell my 20-year old self… To always focus my energy on the future and not on the past.
“People won’t remember you for how many things you did, but rather the things you did well.”
My biggest setback was… When I lost my parents, who were such an inspiration to me.
I overcame it by… Keeping their spark alive by establishing a new foundation called Firefly, to support neuroscience education and inspire kids about brain health.
Work/life balance is… Not really a realistic notion to me – work life ‘integration’ is a more productive and fulfilling way to bring your purpose, interests and relationships into a rich life of accomplishment.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… What I’m going to do next.
I stay inspired by… New experiences, new people and learning new things – I try to step up to and tackle a new challenge every five or so years.
The future excites me because… Everything continues to change in the world around us, and that offers opportunities to create new value.
My next step is… To continue to leverage my life experiences and invest in the next generation.