When Juggy Sihota enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Smith School of Business back in 2004, she had just been promoted to director. It was a significant challenge in her career, but certainly not the only one she’s had to overcome. The Vice President of Consumer Health at TELUS shares her story.
By Hailey Eisen
As a child, Juggy Sihota wanted to be “everything” when she grew up — from a doctor, to a foreign service officer, to a world leader, and a business person. She was raised to believe the sky’s the limit. But growing up in a suburb of Vancouver in the early 80’s, Juggy’s childhood wasn’t without challenges.
“Being one of the only minorities in our community was not easy,” she says. Still, she credits childhood disappointments for much of the grit, resiliency, and personality she has now.
For example, she remembers a childhood audition for a district production of the musical Annie. “What I wanted more than anything in the early years was to be an actress and a singer,” she recalls. “And my music teacher, Donna Otto, was one of the most incredible allies I’ve ever had.” While Juggy aced the audition for the lead role, it was instead given to another girl who ‘looked the part.’
“I’ll never forget how furious my teacher was when she said to me, ‘The only reason you didn’t get that part is because you’re brown,’” Juggy recalls. “I was just happy to have been in the final two, but my music teacher was helping me see something more important.”
That wasn’t the last time Juggy experienced racism. But it certainly strengthened her resolve. “With everything going on in the world today, I look back on that moment and the impact it had on my life.” While she talked herself out of a career in acting, she went on to study political science with the goal of making the world a better place.
She got her first job with TELUS (BC Telecom at the time) as a way to pay off her university tuition. It marked the beginning of what would be a decades-long career with the Canadian telco, during which she’s led several emerging technology businesses and operations spanning service development, operations, strategy and marketing. In late 2016, she took on her current role of vice-president, consumer health.
“My love of technology comes from my father who, as an immigrant working in a lumber mill, never got to realize his dreams in terms of his career, but whose hobbies always revolved around tech,” Juggy says. Today, she looks back on her career with a fond view but knows there is much more to do yet.
That’s not to say she hasn’t experienced her own professional challenges. The first big one came when she decided to go back to school. “I’d always wanted to do my MBA, and while I didn’t want to stop working and move to Kingston, Queen’s was my number one choice.”
Juggy chose a pivotal time in her career to begin the Executive MBA program, having just taken on a new role as director, technology and operations, managing a team of 200 field managers, leaders and technicians and launching the new TV service for TELUS. “There were many who told me not to do an MBA with a new role starting and a lot on my plate professionally, but I remember thinking, if you believe in me, let me make this decision for myself. ”
With her family’s support, Juggy set out to tackle the new position and the MBA simultaneously. “The last five months of the MBA were the hardest in my career,” Juggy recalls. At the time, TELUS experienced the largest labour disruption in its history. “It was culturally challenging and hugely emotional and I was writing exams, flying back and forth to Kingston, working 14- to-16-hour days and trying to support hundreds of team members who were out of work and on the picket lines.”
While Juggy says she felt like she’d reached her “breaking point” many times during those five months, she discovered new reservoirs of grit she had, and the experience taught her a lot about perseverance.
There have been times, on occasion, where my age, gender or my ethnicity have been called out in some way. Those moments can teach you what you may be up against, and so I’ve taken the responsibility of being a strong role model for other young women, minorities even more seriously.
Upon completing her MBA, she stayed in that director role for a few years, and despite the challenges it presented, she says it has been her favourite job at Telus to date, primarily because it taught her so much about people. The teams she led taught her a lot and helped shape her leadership view well into the future.
“One of the most important things I learned during the MBA was in Dr. Julian Barling’s leadership class, where we talked about employee engagement and studied Gallup’s elements of a great workplace,” Juggy recalls. “This is something I’ve applied to every leadership role I’ve had since.”
Juggy has also had to tap into the lessons she learned as a child. As a young, female director, Juggy said she was prepared for challenges she’d face but still had much to encounter.
“There have been times, on occasion, where my age, gender or my ethnicity have been called out in some way.” Juggy says that while she only saw herself as a leader, some of those experiences helped her see how others may see her, rightly or wrongly. “Those moments can teach you what you may be up against,” she says, “and so I’ve taken the responsibility of being a strong role model for other young women, minorities even more seriously.”
Juggy’s move into healthcare was inspired by a personal experience and motivated by her original career objective to make the world a better place. “My mom, who had otherwise always been healthy, had a heart attack and required surgery. She’s fine now but it was quite an ordeal to get timely access to care,” Juggy recalls. “After that whole experience, I decided I wanted to spend my time doing something more meaningful — something that would help others facing similar challenges my mom had gone through in the health-care system.”
Wanting to make access to health care better for Canadians, Juggy says she had a number of choices. “I could go back to school to become a doctor, find a job that would influence healthcare policy, or look to TELUS Health, a new division of the organization at the time.”
In 2013, Juggy joined the TELUS Health team as vice president, shortly after expressing her interest to people within the organization. “I’ll give this advice to anyone who asks,” she says. “You’ve got to tell people what you want to do and why you want to do it — because that puts people in a position to be able to help and I think people generally want to help if they can.”
In 2016, she became the vice president of consumer health. The digital health practice became even more interesting when the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year. “The demand for digital health, particularly virtual care, has skyrocketed in 2020, and it stunned us in March when we didn’t have enough supply to support the demand,” she says. Very quickly her team expanded across Canada and took digital healthcare to a whole new level. They worked tirelessly to onboard more doctors and clinical staff to meet the demand spike. “There were several weeks this year when the pandemic hit that my team and I were working 24/7 non stop,” she recalls.
This all proved to be just another challenge and another learning opportunity for Juggy, whose commitment to civic good extends well beyond her career. Despite the busy work schedule, she still finds time to volunteer as Vice Chair of Vancouver General Hospital and is a member of a number of boards including the Vancouver International Airport, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation. She also advises the City of Vancouver on race and social justice issues. She’s also a mentor and role model, committed to showing other young women in particular what’s possible.
“I am a glutton for having a lot on my plate,” she says with a laugh, “but I feel I am spending my time on what is most meaningful to me so it doesn’t feel like too much. It’s purposeful for me.”
Seven years into her career in health and months into the pandemic, Juggy feels as though she’s living what she set out to do as a child — but she’s nowhere near done.
“My advice for young leaders, especially women and people of colour, is that the time is now,” Juggy says. “Be ambitious, bring the power of both your intellect and compassion to bear — this is an important time for diverse leaders to emerge and to step into meaningful leadership roles in communities, in government and certainly in business. The time is now.”