No one ever got ahead by being a wallflower


By Rebecca Heaton





Being assertive in a professional setting isn’t always easy, and you’re not alone if you feel like you’re often not being heard. This is especially true for women who may find themselves to be silent observers in other words, wallflowers. To them, I would ask: Are you using muscular language (active words and authoritative statements) or are you downplaying your authority? Are you being a discussion leader? If not, it’s time to embrace your inner boss lady, whether the world is ready for her or not.


Come to the table, and have something to say when you do

As a young woman starting out in her career, I began where many of us begin: at an internship. I was lucky enough to land an internship at Women of Influence, where I could develop my skills and personal communication goals in an environment where I was committed to the cause and loved the people. It’s a place where I felt valued and confident. It was a place where I could be loud. While I am happy more women are going to university and coming to the table, I can’t help but notice that young women don’t feel very confident verbally asserting themselves. What’s the point of being at the table if you’re going to be a silent observer? There are many ways women can advance themselves. Why not start by speaking up? Even if you get shot down, at least people know you’re in the room.  


Don’t be afraid to take up space

Once you’re at the table, it can feel like you’re not supposed to be there. Myself and other women suffer from imposter syndrome, a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” despite external evidence of their competence. I often find myself trying to fake it ‘til I make it. However, by being a presence in the room and reaching out to other influential women, I have accessed mentorship and opportunity, and I now have people in my corner. It has been uncomfortable and scary, but I gained much more than I lost. I made mistakes along the way and might have embarrassed myself a few times, but I have my foot in the door and that’s what matters. 


Fill the gaps and be of use

It’s important to remember that being at the table is a privilege, one we should not take for granted. So, be of use when you occupy a seat. Prepare yourself before you walk in the door. If you’re going to speak, say something smart and remind your boss why they hired you. If you see a gap in the process, offer to address it. Taking initiative and being engaged are some of the ways competence is judged, and the bar is unfortunately much higher for women. We have to constantly prove ourselves to be taken seriously. We have to show up over and over again. We have to go the extra mile. We have to work harder and work smarter because of the double burden we face. And it will do wonders for career advancement, but maybe not always for likability. But you’re not in the business of people pleasing, are you?  


Take pride in your accomplishments

Success and likability are often in opposition for women. We worry about being disliked, appearing unattractive, outshining others, or grabbing too much attention. A study done at Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both. Obviously, men are not exempt from doubting themselves, but they do not let their doubts stop them as often as women do. Think of this when you’re applying for your next job. Maybe you don’t meet all the requirements, but please understand that no one knows everything. Most of us just pretend we do, and some of us are better at pretending than others. Some of us are better at sticking out our noses and asking, “why not me?” I have come to understand that you must know what you have to offer and only accept what you are deserving of. No one is going to advocate for you but you.



Built from the Ground Up: Meet the Woman Who Has Made a Career Out of Defying Expectations

Amanda Shuchat was given the keys to Vision7 International’s newest PR agency, The Colony Project, at an age when many doubted her capabilities. Yet in just over a year as Managing Director, she has made a name for the shop as one that offers something the big guys simply can’t compete with. Which to those who know her well comes as no surprise  — Amanda’s career is defined by exceeding expectations, and bringing those she leads along for the ride. 


By Teresa Harris



“I like to think of The Colony Project in terms of Goldilocks — we’re not too big, not too small.” Amanda Shuchat says with a laugh.

It’s an apt description from the Managing Director of the year-old Toronto-based public relations agency, which combines the tight-knit, personal service of a boutique shop with the backing klout of a large parent company, industry heavyweight Vision7 International. With access to the resources of a global network of agencies, and the trailblazing, creative mindset of a smaller firm, The Colony Project provides a blend of services that many agencies by nature can’t compete with.

“We’re a full service PR agency, but we’re not your traditional PR agency,” she emphasizes. “We focus less on niche markets, and more on bringing brands to new people, using innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to stay one step ahead. Every campaign we tackle begins with one question: How can we help this brand reach a new audience?”

This unconventional approach is clearly working — having already won over global brands like Nando’s and La Roche Posay, The Colony Project has flourished since its inception in January 2016, with Amanda at the helm.

And as she reflects on where the last decade of her own professional life has taken her, Amanda acknowledges her own quick rise in the ranks was also pretty unconventional — she was hired to start the agency with little more than ten years of industry experience to her name. But one thing she has learned, both in watching The Colony Project and her own professional trajectory change and grow, is that our paths are rarely expected.

“Success doesn’t have to be in a straight line — with every opportunity, you never know what you’re building towards.”  

IMG_9924Amanda graduated university with a degree in journalism, yet quickly realized that an extroverted, business-minded, people person like herself would be a better fit for the world of PR. So she secured an internship at a boutique PR agency, and kicked off her career promoting consumer brands. A change in focus led her to technology, then to the U.S. where she worked with Gwen Stefani’s fashion team and pitched Canadian natural resource products south of the border. Upon returning to Canada, she joined Citizen Relations. Five years and five promotions later, she became Citizen’s youngest-ever Vice President, was named one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, and was ultimately appointed to launch and lead Vision7’s newest PR shop.


“Success doesn’t have to be in a straight line — with every opportunity, you never know what you’re building towards.”


Amanda always knew that experience was relative, and that with hard work and an entrepreneurial mindset, anything was achievable. “It’s about being hungry, taking advantage of what’s in front of you and making it your own.”

She credits much of her hustle and drive to her upbringing. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and my dad always pushed my brother and I to pick what we liked and do whatever it took to make a career in that happen.”

Beyond her formative family ties, Amanda is also able to recognize how influential professional mentors — even “unofficial” ones — have been in shaping her work ethic and future aspirations.

“At each agency, I identified someone who was driven and dedicated to growth and advancing their own career,” she explains. “Someone who has their ear tapped to the ground and is always thinking of innovative ways to do things is a great person to model yourself after. Someone with emotional intelligence. At the end of the day, a mentor should leave you thinking, ‘This person gets it’.”

Amanda now focuses on being a role model for her own team, aiming to instil in them the same confidence and ambition that led to her own success. Developing a strong team is both personally rewarding and of great value to the business, not only in delivering the best possible outcomes to clients, but also in creating a working atmosphere that feels nurturing, exciting, and — most importantly — collaborative.


“At the end of the day, a mentor should leave you thinking, ‘This person gets it’.”


“Culture is a big thing in an agency. In a lot of cases, you’re with these people more than anyone else in your life,” Amanda explains, describing the natural camaraderie that agency life often catalyzes. But this emphasis on fostering interpersonal relationships within the office speaks to more than just ensuring everyone gets along — although she’s the first to encourage birthday celebrations, communal lunches, and grabbing a drink together later in the week.

“If you don’t have a sense of real, day-to-day, in the trenches collaboration and support from the people you work with, you get burnt out.” She has seen the impact a toxic and over-competitive workplace can have — not only the people, but on the bottom line — and is dedicated to preventing that environment at The Colony Project.

“It’s so crucial that as a company, we have each other’s backs. Nobody is above any task. We’ve created a strong team full of talent, because that’s what serves our clients best.”


When Deviance Works to Your Advantage

Tired of mediocrity and negativity at work? Jana Raver, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, offers five strategies to give you the power to inspire organizational change.


By Alan Morantz



When we think of deviance, we typically think of social outcasts who behave in some abhorrent way outside the norms of society. From an organizational perspective, deviance is also typically associated with such behaviors as slacking, not upholding the norms of the organization, unethical conduct, and even incivility and harassment.

But there’s more to deviance than meets the eye. And, there can be great benefits to going against the norm, especially when the norm isn’t overly positive.

According to Jana Raver, Associate Professor at Smith School of Business and E. Marie Shantz Faculty Fellow in Organizational Behaviour, the positive norms that we hope to find within organizations such as active engagement, growth, achievement, honesty, and benevolence, aren’t always as prevalent as we’d hope. “Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.


“Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.


When you’re able to demonstrate positive behaviours by acting in a way that’s outside of the norm, you have the chance to expose the standards that are actually dysfunctional. “This type of behaviour has been linked to improved job performance ratings, recommendations for rewards, and actual rewards including raises and promotions,” Jana says.

Smart companies realize that encouraging constructive deviance saves money and increases innovation. Research has shown that it exposes dysfunction and unethical behaviour, allows for social change, encourages growth and learning, and improves group decision-making.

But it’s not always easy. “If you sit back like a disengaged, apathetic employee who will simply tolerate mediocrity,” Jana says, “then you’re not going to be able to make that positive change.”


To inspire organizational change, Jana offers the following five strategies to stand up for what you believe in:

  1. Find your cause: Determine the issues you believe strongly enough in to stand up to.

  2. Pick your battles: You can’t resist and question everything, so check your motives and be sure that you’re committed to helping improve the group/organization rather than putting your own self-interest first.

  3. Know how to build a case: Know that the quality of your input matters, so draw upon principles of effective persuasion and social networking skills to support your cause. Do your homework to ensure that what you’re proposing has been well thought-out and can be clearly articulated.

  4. Be willing to do the work: High quality suggestions are those that you’re willing to execute yourself and to take ownership of, rather than passing on to someone else. Know that once you’re invested in any cause it will take work and commitment to bring it to life.

  5. Be persistent: Finally, realize that if you’re fighting norms you have to be willing to go the distance. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. If needed, know where to go for support in order to make change a reality.

“So, dig deep inside,” Jana says, “and be the change you want to see. You can choose to take action and be a constructive deviant to uphold the standards of what you believe in.”


You can hear more of Jana Raver’s discussion on constructive deviance in the workplace in this Smith Business Insight video, Building a Better Deviant.


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Meet the Woman Revolutionizing Toronto’s Events Industry, One Soiree at a Time

As the founder and President of The Concierge Club, a nation-wide event and staffing agency, Monica Gomez is behind some of the best celebrations Toronto has ever seen. But she’s not only owning the events industry  — she’s making it a better place for women, too.


By Teresa Harris



Some leaders have a strong business sense, while others know how to take care of their employees. The great leaders? They’re known for both.

A savvy businesswoman, entrepreneur, and mother of two, Monica Gomez manages to embody the combined personas of a whip-smart executive and the warm older sister you never had.

Monica is the founder and President of The Concierge Club, a full service, Canada-wide event and staffing agency that provides event coordination and staffing for high-profile brand and celebrity events. Having launched just five years ago, the agency now boasts a regular roster of high-profile clients including Ciroc, Guerlain Cosmetics, and even the Bieber family.  

Yet despite her current status as an event industry heavyweight, Monica got her start in the financial industry, where she worked in office administration. However it didn’t take long for the creative and energetic people person to realize that she wasn’t passionate about the administrative side finance.

“Event planning kind of fell into my lap,” she recalls, having been involved through the financial industry in planning and executing the hospitality suites for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) trade show. But when the stock market crashed and the future of finance seemed bleak, she realized it was time for a change and moved east to Toronto.

Craving the creativity and social networking opportunities of the entertainment industry, and armed with the knowledge that she couldn’t work for anyone else, Monica decided to start her own company.

Under the mentorship of prominent Toronto event planner Elvira Muffolini, Monica quickly developed a name for herself, and The Concierge Club was born.

“Elvira is one of the people who helped make me who I am today and is now my Director of Events,” Monica reveals. “I don’t burn bridges, because you never know who’s going to come back into your life. This is also why I always treat everyone with the most respect no matter what.”


“I don’t burn bridges, because you never know who’s going to come back into your life. This is also why I always treat everyone with the most respect no matter what.”


Monica’s staff of brand ambassadors often refer to her as a second mother, a title she’s proudly earned by being attentive to both their professional development and their personal lives. From tax trouble to boyfriend problems, very little is off limits.

“From day one I treated the girls with respect. If they made a mistake, there was always an open line of communication ― even personal issues are on the table, because I get that sometimes they affect work. If I can help, I want the opportunity to do so.”

With over ten years of industry experience under her belt, Monica has seen the worst side of the events and promotions industry first-hand. Many staff, particularly younger women, are regularly taken advantage of, often being scammed of their pay and disrespected by management.

“With The Concierge Club, I wanted to do the opposite of what I was witnessing,” Monica says. “When you instill in your company a foundation of respect and communication, you get that back from your employees. Clients notice ― they see the difference in our brand ambassadors.”

Several of those brand ambassadors have graduated from in-field to now run the day-to-day operations of The Concierge Club, and whether it’s giving bonuses or passing along positive client feedback, Monica always makes sure her staff feels appreciated and valued — because they are.

“It’s rare to see that kind of investment in people in this industry,” Monica explains. “Because of this so many staff contact us and ask if there’s anything they can do to grow with the company, and we’re always receptive.”


“When you instill in your company a foundation of respect and communication, you get that back from your employees.”


When it comes to growth, Monica sometimes can’t believe how fast things have changed in the last few years. In 2016 the Concierge Club expanded its services to include total event planning, and has since pulled off some of the biggest events the city has seen. These include Justin Bieber’s dad’s engagement party, which made it into every big media outlet globally; the Dragon’s Den season 11 launch party; and most recently the nationwide events for cosmetic powerhouse Guerlain cosmetics. “This launch was very special for us.” Monica says “This was the biggest fragrance launch to date for Guerlain, with Angelina Jolie as spokesperson, and they entrusted us to plan it for them.”

“I’m a hustler and won’t take no for an answer.” Monica says.

Monica’s family has also doubled in size; in past few years she’s become a mother to two-and-a-half-year-old Adriana, and six-month-old Ayden.

“It’s a challenge to balance,” Monica admits. “And there’s a lot of guilt, a lot of the time. But in the end it’s all for them. I want my children to see their mom working hard and succeeding.” And despite being a self-proclaimed hustler who is rarely satisfied, she doesn’t hesitate to provide credit where it’s due. “My mom lives with us and is a huge help ― the company wouldn’t be where it is without her. And my husband has been my number one supporter since day one, constantly giving me the confidence I need to keep moving forward even when times are tough.”

It is those moments to stop and feel thankful that Monica relishes. She can often be found having celebratory dinners at Harbour Sixty, or treating her management team to spa days.

But her generosity extends beyond the walls of the company. Last year The Concierge Club raised almost $100k for various charities, and this year they have plans to add a new program to their charitable contributions — but they can’t announce it just yet.

“It’s easy to get lost in this world, and sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are. It’s important for me that we set an example as a company, and have our staff get involved in giving back.”

It’s this commitment to excellence and integrity that Monica believes sets The Concierge Club apart. And she doesn’t plan on changing her business model, even while eyeing expansion in the future.

“I want to be known for changing the event staffing industry. I started doing things differently, and now everyone else is following suit. I want to keep that going. We have become a leader in this industry and will continue to do so.”


Photographer: Dexter Quinto

Designer: Caitlin Power

A Balanced View

As Chief of Staff, RBC Wealth Management U.S., Kristen Kimmel has a job description that doesn’t fit well into just a few sentences. But despite her broad role, she still makes time to be a mentor, and advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace.


By Marie Moore



Kristen Kimmell is one of those fortunate people who discovered at an early age what her chosen career would be. In fact, her path to becoming the chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. had a very clear and memorable start: “My older sister brought home an assignment for her high school accounting class. I can still see the big portfolio, and the green ledger paper. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Kristen was so fascinated by the project — which included recording debits and credits in a ledger, and producing handwritten income statements — that she ended up doing most of her sister’s homework, even though she was several years younger. Her passion for accounting never faded, and she went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Jamestown University, landing her first job as an accountant in 1993.

Kristen’s career in financial services continued to flourish, although the path wasn’t exactly linear. She joined her current firm in 1995 (which became part of RBC in 2000), and has held numerous positions including staff accountant, accounting supervisor, fixed income accounting manager, director of financial reporting and administration, and director of strategic finance. While some of her title changes represented a natural progression, she has admittedly “taken some leaps sideways and in different directions.” The promotion to chief of staff came in 2010, a position that she describes in its simplest terms as “a combined chief administrative officer and chief operating officer role.”

The longer explanation she offers more accurately captures the broad scope of her work: “I tie everything together — from the business perspective back to the execution — with all the functional groups,” Kristen says. “I’m connecting the dots, making sure we have the right priorities and are executing appropriately, and keeping everything running behind the scenes.”

She credits RBC’s culture of development for enabling her to climb through the company’s ranks. “They really provided some incredible growth opportunities. It’s just a culture where we are always looking to cultivate talent,” she says. From leadership training to formal mentorship programs, Kristen has taken advantage of the many initiatives designed to help high potentials succeed. She also hasn’t been shy about creating her own channels for learning.

“I’ve had a lot of people that didn’t even know they were my mentor,” she says with a laugh. “I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”

“I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”

As Kristen progressed in her career, she herself became an integral part of the development culture. At her peak, she’s had seventeen simultaneous mentees, coming from a combination of formal programs, outreach by managers, and personal requests. She has an innate desire to share her experiences with others to help them find their own solutions, and knowing how much courage it can take to ask someone to be a mentor, she rarely says no.

In addition to her work with individuals, Kristen is having an impact on a broad scale in the area of women’s advancement. She was named Co-Executive Sponsor of the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) in September 2012. In the role, she provides input and leadership to WAFA on their goals of recruiting and retaining female branch directors and financial advisors, and increasing the productivity of financial advisors. Kristen is also on the board of RBC Wealth Management’s Women of Wealth (WoW) global women’s network. Developed within RBC, WoW brings together women representing different business units from across the globe, with the aim of getting a unified approach on activities related to helping women advance in the workplace.

One of the initiatives she strongly supports is providing women with access to visible role models, who can speak authentically about their successes — and struggles. “As women, we tend to think that our issues and our challenges are unique to us, so we don’t reach out, or think that anybody else would understand them. We hold ourselves to this unrealistic standard, thinking that everybody else has achieved it,” says Kristen. “I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”

“I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”

This belief that women often carry — that everyone around the table has the answers but us — can lead to a fear of asking what we don’t know about. Kristen sees this combining with our natural tendency to overbook ourselves, and leading to another issue for women, outside of the workplace: relying on our partners to do the finances. “We divide it up like it’s a household chore. Not because we’re not interested or capable, but because it’s one more thing on the plate and it’s an easy one to pass on,” she says. “It may seem like another chore, but it’s a life skill.”

Alleviating a packed calendar can help, but she also feels we need to have a more honest conversation on the subject of work/life balance. “A balance indicates to me that once you get the weight setting on each side, then it’s done and you can walk away from it, forever balanced. But you can’t think of work/life balance as an end state. It’s an evolution,” Kristen explains. “Sometimes you’re going to get heavy on one side or the other, and having the ability to recognize that and being able to adjust it when you’re out of balance, is the best possible thing.”



Stay Put to Move More: How a long career at one organization can lead to unique opportunities

It’s no longer the norm to spend twenty years at the same company, but Allison Hakomaki has done just that — and it’s enabled her to live in cities across Canada, better her education, and climb to a role in senior management.


By Hailey Eisen



Changing jobs every two to three years has become the norm rather than the exception — but contrary to popular belief, it’s not the only route to interesting experiences and opportunities for growth. There’s something to be said for carving out a meaningful career within the same company.

Take Allison Hakomaki, for example: her 20-year career with BMO has taken her across the country from coast to coast, giving her the chance to live in a number of different cities, work across a variety of business lines, and pursue academic advancement including earning a CMA and EMBA.

Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Allison began her career with BMO when she entered into the commercial banker training program in Toronto. Fresh out of business school she was eager to apply her learnings to the real world. While she was being encouraged by her employer to go back to school to pursue an MBA — something the bank regarded highly for its leadership-track employees — Allison decided she would first complete her CMA and get as much work experience as she could under her belt.

It would take more than 10 years and a move to Calgary (for a promotion to Managing Director, Corporate Finance) before Allison decided it was time to further her education. “The majority of the leadership team within BMO had MBAs, and I knew that in order to move into an executive role this was the next step,” she recalls.

Because her job already required quite a bit of travel, Allison was eager to find an EMBA program that she could complete without having to hop on a plane to attend classes. Queen’s Executive MBA at Smith School of Business presented itself as a great option that would allow her to learn out of a boardroom learning centre in Calgary while joining students from across the country in a live, interactive virtual learning environment.

Working with this diverse group of students turned out to be an invaluable experience — one that Allison was able to leverage as she moved up within the bank. “Professionally, the diversity really helped me. I now have a network of classmates from across the country, and from different industries — not just financial services, but also manufacturing, medical, self-employed, a real variety. It provides a number of different perspectives, which is really nice.”

Allison also learned invaluable lessons about working on a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. “You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful,” she says. “And to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by. Like the expectation that everyone has to contribute. If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”

“You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful, and to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by…If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”

In keeping with the Queen’s approach to team-based learning, Allison suggests that these team expectations be laid out and revisited, just like you would with a set of business goals. “Revisit them on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is performing at the level that’s expected. At the same time, allow them to evolve. As you learn to trust your team, you can operate more efficiently and effectively.”

The emphasis on teamwork in the Smith program was also an excellent opportunity for Allison to hone her leadership skills. “We all had to rise to the occasion,” she says. “At some points you had to lead and at some points you had to follow, and the key to success was to learn the strengths of your team members and leverage those.”

Allison’s growth was certainly noticed at BMO. Part way through the EMBA program she was promoted to her first executive position: District VP of New Brunswick and PEI. She moved with her husband to Moncton, New Brunswick, and, thanks to technological innovations in the program, was able to continue her EMBA. More moving vans were in the cards for Allison upon completing her EMBA: she and her husband relocated first to Halifax and then back to Calgary, where she took on her current role of Vice President and Head, Prairies Region, Corporate Finance Division. In that time, she also managed to have twins. As Allison says, “I was used to juggling multiple priorities.”  

Almost three years into her current executive position, Allison hasn’t stopped her learning trajectory. “I consider myself a fair, empathetic leader, but I’m also serious — which can be a little intimidating,” she says. “I’m learning to show my fun side too. It’s a work in progress.”


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Distilling the Corby Culture: Meet Amandine Robin

Amandine Robin

Named “Top 30 Under 30” by PR in Canada, Amandine Robin is making her mark at Pernod Ricard, the worldwide co-leader in the Wines & Spirits sector with brands such as Absolut, Jameson, Chivas, and J.P. Wiser’s. In the span of just a few years, she’s rocketed to the top of the corporate ladder, recently promoted to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA. She shares some of the innovative ideas that have led to career success at Corby Spirit and Wine, the Canadian affiliate of Pernod Ricard.

For Amandine Robin, wine has always been in her blood.

“I was born and raised in Reims in the Champagne region,” says Robin. “So I was living five minutes away from the G.H. Mumm Champagne — one of Pernod Ricard’s brands.”

But despite growing up near France’s vineyards, Robin fell into in the wine and spirits industry. She actually worked in the financial and legal sectors for several years, before stumbling upon a Corby’s job advert for a Communications Manager.

“For me, it was the dream job,” she says. “To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

She applied and won the position. Since joining the Pernod Ricard family, Robin has distilled a culture of innovation into the company, and transformed how the company communicates. It has led to a big boost in employee engagement and corporate brand awareness, multiple award wins, and personal promotions — most recently to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA, the group’s biggest affiliate.

“For me, it was the dream job….To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

“We imagine corporate communication as writing speeches for executives or writing press releases,” she says. “That’s not at all how I see it. It’s about being completely transparent, working together, and creating excitement inside and outside the company.”

Robin credits the success to an executive team that’s “open to trying things differently” and values collaboration. While novelty may scare some companies, Corby welcomed her fresh ideas and experimentation with new approaches, especially in tough financial times. With this “carte blanche” in hand, Robin has spearheaded some cutting-edge initiatives that are now reaping major rewards for the company.

“Our tagline globally is ‘creators of conviviality,’” says Robin. “That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

One such initiative is Corby’s Den, a corporate challenge based on CBC’s Dragons’ Den TV series that sees top management travel across the country to hear employees present their best and most innovative business ideas.

“That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

“Employees were put in teams and had 10 minutes to pitch an idea to our dragons,” she says. “The size of the idea didn’t matter — it could be something small that doesn’t cost anything or a big national idea to change the system.”

At the end, the “dragons” selected a handful of winning ideas to implement across the company. What was most surprising? Participants loved the “Corby’s Den” experience, even more than the company conferences held overseas.

“They liked the chance to see the executive team in a smaller format and share their ideas,” says Robin. “It was great from a business point of view, and the executive team discovered talents that they might not see from Head Office.”

Robin also launched “I Thank,” a corporate program to boost the company’s non-financial employee recognition. Based on gamification principles, employees can virtually award each other achievement badges with a personal congratulatory note, which are visible online to the entire company. Employees move up the levels of recognition as they accumulate badges, with those reaching gold receiving an extra week of vacation and $1000 donation to a charity of their choice.

“It’s a created a culture of recognition,” says Robin. “Within one year, the ratings of non-financial recognition increased by 25 per cent. And the program cost zero dollars!”

Under Robin’s leadership, Corby is also winning awards for corporate social responsibility, such as a Road Safety Achievement Award from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for the Corby Safe Rides program. This annual partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission promotes responsible drinking and provides free public transit on New Year’s Eve — ensuring that everyone has a safe ride home.

“Being a socially responsible company drives employee engagement,” says Robin. “We’re the department distilling the culture — both inside and outside the company.”

As for Robin, she’s eager to keep up the momentum in her new role and continue “making a difference” inside and outside of the company.

“What I’m the most proud of is changing how we do corporate communication,” says Robin. “The pride of our employee engagement and being excited to come to work every day. That’s what I find rewarding.”

Five steps for building bounce-back teams

Shawna O’Grady, associate professor of management at Smith School of Business, knows that strong teams start with a strong foundation. She offers five steps to help your team develop a resilient streak.

By Shawna O’Grady


When I’ve been asked to identify the most important area to focus on in order to build a resilient team, the answer comes quickly: develop a strong foundation.

Resilient teams are proactive, and that comes from being set up well when team members first come together. Sadly, most organizations skip the upfront basics and worry more about getting team members focused on the task and assigning roles and responsibilities. That’s certainly important, but not until team members have a shared understanding of team basics (steps 1 and 2 below).

Step 1: Develop Respect Among Team Members And For The Team Approach

The goal here is for team members to trust what each member brings to the team, to build respect for each member’s unique strengths, skills, and abilities and to understand why they’re together.

Step 2: Create Team Mission, Goals, And Norms Alignment

What’s our mission and the goals to help us achieve the mission? What expectations do we have of one another to make the team successful? And how will we build alignment around these expectations to develop a set of norms we can operate by?

Step 3: Clarify Team Leadership Roles, Team Process, And Organization

It’s now time to assign team members to roles that will take advantage of their expertise, clarify the decision-making process, and also organize the team for maximum efficiency. How often do we need to meet? Will there be face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, or a combination?

Step 4: Build In Review Though Team Debriefing

Sustaining resilient teams is all about debriefing of projects and meetings. What’s working? What’s not? What can we do better? Or: What should we stop doing that’s not being effective? What should we start doing? And what are we doing well and should be reinforced? Document the lessons learned to continue building upon these insights.

Step 5: Tie Results To Rewards And Performance Management System

Resilient team members hold themselves accountable through the performance management system, measurements, and rewards that were agreed upon at the start.

Follow these five steps and boost the chance that your team members will be able to adapt to unexpected developments and stay on track.

To learn more practical strategies to build teams that thrive, watch Professor Shawna O’Grady’s webinar on developing resilient teams.


Good strategy, bad strategy, and learning to tell the difference

As Co-Owner and Co-CEO of Women of Influence, Stephania plays an integral role in defining the strategic direction of the business. In March, she attended the Queen’s Executive Education Strategy Program at Queen’s University, and came away with the tools needed to do a better job of guiding the organization ahead.

By Stephania Varalli


Bad strategy can destroy a business. I know that, you know that, anyone that has run a company—or even just worked for one—knows that. Unfortunately, recognizing that strategy is an important factor for success doesn’t make it any easier to identify whether or not your choice of strategy is a good one.

I know this from experience. When I became co-owner of Women of Influence, my partner and I quickly got to work on developing our strategy. I was confident in the framework we created, and we set about aiming ourselves in this new direction—while simultaneously keeping the day-to-day business running smoothly with the help of our stellar team. A few months after taking over, I had the opportunity to attend the Queen’s Executive Education Strategy Program. After five days of intensive work onsite at Queen’s University, I could confidently identify the shortcomings of our strategic plan.

Discovering that we still had work to do was an uncomfortable feeling, but it was better than the alternative. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The course covered everything from basic fundamentals to specific processes and tactics. Through lectures, case studies, and group work (which was invaluable for the diversity of perspectives it provided), I learned how to properly identify planning issues and needs, develop a strategic plan, and lead change in an organization. Throughout this time, I was having “Aha!” moments—points when I recognized what we had done well, and what we could be improving in our own strategic process and plan.

These represent a small slice of what I learned from the four brilliant professors who led sessions during the course; they may strike a chord as you conduct your own strategic planning:

Strategy defines the what and how of success.

It was quickly impressed upon me just how much strategy is used as a catchall term, making many “strategic plans” not actually strategic. To some extent I had fallen into the trap of letting our annual plan—the details of what we’ll be doing over the course of the year—become blurred with our strategic plan, which should have a big picture focus and no set term. Strategic plans work until they aren’t working anymore. Focusing on the bottom line, aiming for growth, or just trying to keep the lights on is not a strategy—they are outcomes of a good strategic plan.

You can’t know everything before you get started.

Prior to the start of the course, we all took an online assessment called the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), which measures and describes thinking preferences in people. My HBDI result proved that I like to gather plenty of facts and figures before making an informed and rational decision. There’s nothing wrong with being analytical rather than emotional, but I recognized that my need to know everything was causing me to delay decision making. You won’t have—and you don’t need—all of the information before you build your strategy.

Strategy is a statement of action.

Nothing will come of a strategy that is built without being implemented. This might seem obvious, but many of my classmates agreed that their strategy stalled after the planning stages. I can attest to how easy it is to get caught up in the daily needs of the business rather than attend to the bigger picture. Others get bogged down by the old way of doing things. If you don’t have a clear plan for implementing your strategy as well as the drive to act on it, you’ll never succeed. It’s a dedication to the pursuit of your winning strategy that will get you to where you need to go.

Don’t try to boil the ocean.

My partner and I saw so much potential in Women of Influence, it was easy to come up with a long list of bold, new ideas for evolving and growing the company. We quickly learned that strategy requires choice. Having discovered the hard way that it’s just not possible to do everything, I was glad to hear this being taught by a strategy expert. Change requires full time resources, so if you don’t have the manpower, time, or budget to implement your strategy, you have to scale it back.

No matter what, not everyone is going to get on board.

We all want to believe that if we build a smart new strategy backed by insight and data, everyone in the organization will quickly come on board. In practice, only about 20 per cent of your employees will embrace the change immediately and want to make it happen. Around 10 per cent will actively try to stop the change from happening; they will never be on board. The remaining 70 per cent will sit on the fence until they see results, and you have about three months to show them that it will be a success (so plan for an early win).

If these don’t resonate with your own experience, you might want to check out the course for yourself. With the breadth and depth of material covered, I don’t think anyone would complete it without coming away with their own unique, invaluable lessons. My fellow students worked in varying roles and industries, from human resources to operations, from finance to the public sector. Many of them expressed that they were having their own “Aha!” moments, and often they were different than mine. What did we all have in common? We finished our week with a greater appreciation for the importance of strategy, and the skills and tools we needed to get strategic with our own business.


In today’s ever-changing world, disruption is a fact of life. Unfortunately, much conventional wisdom surrounding strategic planning can result in stale, plodding discussions. Professor Elspeth Murray discusses the practice of agile strategic planning and how to incorporate foresight, innovation, flexibility and speed into your strategic planning process. Sign up now for her free webinar: Disrupt Or Be Disrupted? The Practice of Agile Strategic Planning.


Liked this? Read more articles on preparing for senior leadership.

How do you find a mentor?

I was at an event recently for Young Women of Influence, and was really struck by something that happened.  We had just heard an engaging presentation on personal branding and how to get ahead in business.  The room was packed with acutely ambitious and well-heeled women poised in their career and ready for take-off.  The speaker had just opened up the floor for questions, when a young woman raised her hand and asked the ubiquitous question: “How do you find a mentor?”  I looked around, completely surprised, and thinking to myself, are we still having this conversation?

As the owner of a company dedicated to providing access to female role models, we have this conversation all the time, but so have many others, including mega-watt female role models like Sheryl Sandberg who wrote an entire chapter on the subject.  So, why are we still asking this question?

Just as I’m thinking this through, I heard another woman, this time right behind me, whisper to her friend “oh, that’s a good question!”

I guess that’s my answer!  We’re still talking about this and it’s important.  Maybe we need to get better at answering it.

On November 20th we celebrated the Top 25 Women of Influence, the annual ranking of the most influential women in Canada, so I took the opportunity to ask these women how they found their mentors, and how young women can reach out to them.  Here’s what they said.

The Top 9 ways to find a mentor, from the most influential women in Canada:

1. Be coachable and be passionate.
Claudia Hepburn, Executive Director, The Next 36

2. Establish trust early on.
Kimberley Mason, Regional President, Atlantic Provinces, RBC Royal Bank

3. Have many mentoring moments during critical periods in your career.
Jane Allen, Chief Diversity Officer, Partner, Global Renewable Energy Leader, Deloitte

4. Surround yourself with good people.
Chris Power, Christine Power, President and CEO, Capital District Health Authority

5. Make a list of who you want to be when you grow up.  And then find a way to make them part of your life.  Don’t limit yourself to one person.
Connie Clerici, President, Closing the Gap, Healthcare

6. Pay it forward.  Offer to help junior or senior people to create mentorship moments.  It can only be viewed as a good thing.  The best is to then make them recurring moments to learn and understand the context of the organization and how you could contribute to those issues.
Gay Mitchell, Deputy Chairman, RBC Wealth Management

7. Reach out to people you admire.  Finding a good mentor can be as important to your career as finding a soul mate is to the rest of your life. Don’t sit waiting until a mentor finds you.
Wendy Cukier, Vice President Research and Innovation, and Founder & Director, Diversity Institute, Ryerson University

8. Be open to serendipity. It was serendipitous that I met my mentor.  I was searching for employment and what came of it was one of the most influential people in my life.
Danielle Smith, graduate of The Next 36 and mentee of Claudia Hepburn

9. Use social media to demonstrate what you’re good at, your interests and strengths.
Lisa Heidman, Senior Client Partner, The Bedford Consulting Group

On the subject of asking for a mentor itself, I have heard a consistent response from peers and influential women everywhere; they don’t like to be asked.  In fact, the general rule of thumb for finding a mentor seems to be that if you have to ask, it’s probably not right.

Instead, opt for a less direct approach, but no less strategic.  Scouring LinkedIn and keeping up to date with news to find people who inspire you is the first step, and then find ways to get close to them.  What’s always worked well for me is a combination of joining a project, group, club, or team so that you have the opportunity to bond and get to know each other in a comfortable environment.  And then offer to do something for them.  Paying it forward has never let me down as a strategy.

To read in depth and personal profiles of the Top 25 Women of Influence, click here.

Carolyn Lawrence (@CLLAWRENCE) is the president and CEO of Women of Influence Inc, ( a North American company offering Gender Diversity consulting, Executive Leadership Development, Events and Media; all to shatter the glass ceiling and see women and business succeed together.

Five Steps to Motivating Your Team


1. Consider their unique talents.

Your team is made up of individuals with unique talents and passions they may have never shared with you or their team members. By taking a true inventory of your team’s passions and talents and having a deeper understanding of them, you will gain a richer insight into what motivates them and what aspect of their unique talents they may bring to the table. We can’t motivate individuals if we don’t know what is important to them.

As an example, if a team member is highly motivated by fitness you may want to get them to organize an early morning jogging club, or a noon yoga session or even hand out pedometers. How would this help? It might be a tool in showing you care about them as individuals not just as production tools. It might engage them more with other team members. It might help cross departmental conversations.

The most important thing it does is give you a new lens to look through in your efforts to build a winning team. Before you have a winning team you need to have a team. Do your reports feel and work as a team? Do your team members know each other’s key skills? Do they have a culture of helping each other and sharing their skills, insights and knowledge? Are they excited about what they know or can do to help each other?

Do your people know the full range of people they could turn to when they are stuck on a certain problem or need to bounce an idea off of? Would this add to their efficiency or performance on the job?

2. Treat them like the experts you want them to become

Chances are each of your people is particularly good at something, or has a particular area of interest they would be passionate to explore. It could be project management, benchmarking, social marketing, creating good will, customer espionage, graphic design, or almost anything else. Hone in on what they are good at and talk to them as the expert in this area. Encourage them to research and build their skill and knowledge base in their area of expertise, and encourage them to find others that have a similar skill that they can talk about. Linked In has interest groups in hundreds of areas of expertise and it is easy to be introduced to others like them.

Start them on the road to becoming an expert in what they are passionate about and then look for ways to leverage their passion in their work. In short, be more expansive in the way you help them build their craft.

As soon as they start to show promise in a particular area, find ways to showcase them and build their reputation. Look for ways to encourage them to become companywide or industry wide experts. Ask yourself, “Would it be helpful if someone on my team was seen more as an expert in their field”? How would you leverage and build an expert on your team?

3. Build a team of passionate experts.

How long has it been since you spent time thinking of your dream team? Too often we accept what we have rather than thinking of the qualities of a dream team. I am not suggesting firing members and trying to find better replacements. Rather I am suggesting identifying the qualities, skills and experience you would ideally want on your dream team. What is your dream team? And how can you start to develop your team toward these skill sets?

Having a team of passionate recognized experts in your industry or in dealing with a particular customer’s problem will enable better insight, faster innovation, and an easier route into your customer organizations. Can you make your people sought after experts in your industry or in your company?

4. Ask for the moon without defining it.

Have you ever asked your team members “If you had no possibility of failing, and were thus guaranteed of success how would you choose to make a real difference in this company, in the industry, in the world?

The answers you receive might surprise you and give you a whole new growth strategy or product, or give you a new customer satisfaction strategy. People often don’t dream big enough and this might give you a project they could be truly passionate about. Give them the confidence to shoot for the moon in their own way.

5. Fine-tune your “yes” compass.

Passionate activities create a whole new level of possibility, yet most of us are constantly killing enthusiasm and focus by saying “no”.

How do you feel when your idea is turned down or even when you realize yourself that your strategy or idea is wrong?

When a team member comes with an idea do you say “no” or throw up objections – reasons it won’t work, or do you see the task at hand as – what do I need to say yes?

When you say no the recipient will almost certainly get discouraged and be more likely to find reasons not to do the important things. Why? When they’re feeling down, their threshold for handling rejection or complexity tends to be low as well. Their spirits sink, and their performance will, too.

When you or your team hit a challenging cycle, there are two keys to moving forward: staying positive and staying focused on the problem not on a particular solution. At the very time when new ideas should be encouraged we often shut new ideas down. Be open to the ideas of others. Think of it as a conversation, as a real exchange. The answer to not saying no is often two simple things. Create a yes mentality and ask more questions that can be answered now.

To develop your “yes compass” begin with easy things that have nothing to do with work. Pay attention to events and experiences that elicit a “yes” and start small. “Which breakfast food feels more like a ‘yes’? Which pair of shoes? Which television show? Does it feel more like ‘yes’ to read your email right now or work on that writing project?”

Identify which projects and strategies feel like a yes and start your day working on “yes” projects. Now, what would you need to do to make another project feel like a yes?

The answer to not saying no, is often to ask more questions. “If we do that how can we……” or “ what will we do next” are two good ways to acknowledge their proposal and get more thinking on how to make it work.

Your positive attitude about their suggestions is a precious asset. Protect it and use it. Work on getting everyone you can to be proactive about being positive.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful people (those who lead great companies, develop great products and fulfill their highest potentials) are idea boosters. They are people that help their teams envision boldly and use all available resources to make the vision better, cleaner, simpler and more feasible. How do they do it? Their method is amazingly simple. The whole idea centers on not trying to do too much. They narrow the complexity of the idea not the final outcome. Rather than aim lower they look for easier routes to the big idea.