Gabby Nobrega is a natural business-builder, senior executive, and mentor. Her passion in life is helping organizations grow, transform, and protect their corporate reputation while fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. Her career runs the gamut from launching video games for Nintendo, working on initiatives that have shaped advertising to kids and social influencer activations, pop-ups and private events for TIFF sponsors – to press tours for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and helping companies manage high-profile crisis events spanning class-action lawsuits, employee fatality, and CEO misconduct. Following successive senior roles and achievements, Gabby put her entrepreneurial passion to work launching Breakthrough Communications and Consulting Inc. Today, she consults CEOs, senior leaders across multinationals, SMEs, not-for-profits, and foundations on their own brands, presentation skills, and media training.
My first job ever was… delivering the newspaper. I recall having to drudge through the snow, carrying what were heavy (Saturday) papers, waking up early to ensure the papers were there bright and early, having to collect the monies owed and submit them. It taught me about responsibility and the value of hard work at an early age. I had several jobs during my University years and my first job out of University was in PR. I fell into it. I had just graduated with a BA in English and one in Labour Studies – there were few jobs in unionized environments for women, I was downtrodden and took a job to pay off my student loans. It was kismet.
I launched Breakthrough Communications and Consulting because… it was the right time to take my experiences in agency, at a large trade association, and a Fortune 100 company, and create a role that allowed me to bring a full scope of services from business development through crisis communications (and all that lies in between) to a range of cross-sector companies. There was a tremendous risk but significant upside to growing something and have a material impact in helping companies breakthrough. I’ve often told people that I’ve had more unique experiences in my career than some people have an in a lifetime – from helping public companies steer through very high profile crisis events, and orchestrating multi-partner fundraising campaigns that benefit children in need, to working with A-list celebrities at a world-renowned film festival. It’s a large and exciting scope that leverages my career experiences, strengths, and passion.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… there are a few: among them the opportunity to pursue your passions and self-direct many choices including the assignments you choose, along with some flexibility. While there is autonomy, I have also found it to be a wonderful experience growing an extensive network with people across a range of companies that I otherwise might not connect with and learn from. The scope has forced me to keep current in several areas and always push myself to think outside a narrow role or vertical. I can approach a project without bias and a much more holistic perspective. The journey has also been fraught with disappointments and risk forcing discipline that large companies have. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to look at the fundamentals, insurances, legal, trademarks; create policies around scope creep, be flexible, know your worth, and negotiate fairly and with transparency. Think long term when it comes to your business growth and in your partners’ success.
My proudest accomplishment is… the number of people who have either reported into me, or I have mentored, or coached and we are friends many years later; they’ve gone on to great things and they have shared with me that I had a hand in their amazing journeys. That and managing the press tour for Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton during her Canadian “What Happened Tour.”
My boldest move to date was… getting on a plane, flying to New York, representing Canada as part of a global pitch for IBM with Lou Gerstner in the room. I had been on an Apple computer and had to convince the executives I could manage their business along with global teams who were all tech experts. We won the pitch, and I learned firsthand what it meant to rise to an occasion.
I surprise people when I tell them… the unvarnished truth. What it’s like being an entrepreneur, married to an entrepreneur, both facing risks, headwinds, trying to figure out what’s best for your kids, including a child with Down Syndrome with several health complications. I’ve often told people my life reads like the opening of a book: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope and the winter of despair.” Thankfully, there’s been much more light and laughter than darkness.
“Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.”
My best advice from a mentor was… realize that each person will leave the same meeting with an entirely different perception including about you, be careful to own yours and manage it.
I would tell my 21-year-old self… success is not your title or compensation, it’s your reputation and your integrity, the rest will follow.
My biggest setback was… finding myself in a situation where the fit was not right. I believe in similar situations too many of us see the wrong fit as a personal shortcoming. I think if we do that, we risk selling ourselves short. That‘s not an excuse to not learn and grow, it means you have to place a premium on the culture as much as you may the role.
I overcame it by… reflecting as part of my self-awareness journey and opportunity to learn and grow as a leader; seeking the input of others who were unbiased and could offer a balanced perspective and advice; showing-up and actively pursuing opportunities to advance to the organization’s success notwithstanding, and move on.
One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… “give it your all, but don’t give it all away.” What I mean by that is we often forget to look after ourselves in our desire to chase it all; be it success in our career, the proverbial pursuit of ‘work-life balance’ inner peace, you name it. I spoke on a panel this year about when this hit me like a ton of bricks during a women’s conference I was attending. The speaker was retiring and wanted to share this advice with those of us in the room. I recently was on a panel and wanted to pay it forward by sharing the same advice. It resonated with many people in attendance and in social media posts that event, leading me to believe this is something others may be facing.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I nearly died. Gave birth to a disabled child 11 months later. I’m grateful for both. They have shaped my life in countless ways, from my ability to appreciate the small stuff.
I stay inspired by… reading, chasing my passions like cooking and travelling, and by surrounding myself with a circle of people who want to do good for others and invite me to be a part of their journeys.
The future excites me because… there is a crop of emerging leaders who want to change the world, who are fearless, principled, and have access to digital platforms and networks that can create global movements. Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.