Meet Gaia Orion: A trained architect turned artist

For the first seven years of her life, Gaia Orion spent her time mostly barefoot in Africa, this provided the foundation for her love of nature and aspiration for living free. She studied and graduated in Paris as an architect before moving to Canada, becoming a self-made entrepreneur, and a mother of three. In just ten years she built a successful career as an artist — as well as a corporate creativity coach — and has exhibited in cities around the world, with her artwork featured in over 60 different publications. Featuring strong feminine images, she aims to use her art to invite women to embrace and reconnect to who they are in the full scope of their power and capacities.

 

 


 

 

My first job ever was… working for Zap Pizza in Paris, I wanted to practice riding a moped delivering pizzas before deciding if I should buy myself one!

I became an artist because… I never imagined myself being an artist, I am still getting used to the idea. For me, life has unfolded step by step and turned me into an artist!

My proudest accomplishment is… I moved from bustling Paris, France to a hermit life in the forest in Canada. After 20 years I still miss my family and friends, the French food and the European way of life although I know that being uprooted allowed me the freedom to take bold decisions and find my way to living a meaningful extraordinary life.

My boldest move to date was… Over 20 years ago, after my twin girls were born (and with a 14 month old boy) my husband and I decided to quit his job. We had no idea what we were going to do, we only had enough money to survive for 6 months. Necessity kicked our entrepreneurial spirit in gear and we have only worked for ourselves since then!

I surprise people when I tell them… I had three kids in 14 months! For my first son it was supposed to be twins and for the twins after, I had triplets at the beginning of the pregnancy! Imagine I could have had 5 kids in 14 months!!!

My best advice to people hoping to have a career in the arts is… just do it! The 21st century is the best time in the whole history of humanity to be an artist as there are countless resources available and many ways to bring income with our art. I run my international career from my little home by the river in the forest North of Toronto!

The key to creativity is… practice boredom, avoid distractions and find inner silence, this gives space for the Muse to show up. These skills are precious in our sensory overload world. Creativity is useful for anyone, not just artists, practicing these key skills would do good to everyone!

 

“The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.”

 

My biggest setback was… my self-esteem and confidence. I was very shy, I thought if people liked my work they would just buy it. I soon found out that I had to develop many social and personal skills if I wanted to be successful. It’s unfortunate that many artists (and people in general!) don’t believe in themselves.

I overcame it by… doing psychotherapy, meditation and many other healing modalities.

I wish everyone in the world knew… the potential available in all of us. The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more, there is never enough time to read all the existing amazing books I want to dive into!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love cooking, I make all my meals from scratch and I always hold back from taking photos and sharing on social media my beautiful creative meals. If I didn’t restrain myself people would think I am a foodie and not a painter!

The one thing I wish I knew when starting out is… Our uniqueness and differences are our strengths. Because my art is so different than everything else I saw around me it was hard for me to find my place in the world or feel that I belonged to the art world. Now I realize that the original visual signature of my art is the most important asset I have.

I stay inspired by… the harmony, peace and beauty of nature

The future excites me because… I feel I have worked hard to build a strong foundation to my career. Now my motto is to work smart not hard and to simplify to amplify. I really like getting older: my body doesn’t have the same energy so I adapt by being wiser and softer in my approach to everything.

My next step is… doing more teaching of creative tools especially in the corporate world and do more public speaking because now that I am not so shy anymore I really love it!

Meet Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow, a human capital expert and immigration champion

Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow is the President & Chief Human Capital Officer of 3C Workforce Solutions. With close to 30 years of experience in human capital research and development, she has worked on a range of initiatives that span private, public and voluntary institutions in Canada, Central Europe, Latin America, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. An active volunteer, Dr. Chandler-Crichlow is Board Chair at Toronto Region Immigration and Employment Council (TRIEC) and also participated in the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration’s Expert Advisory Panel, which led to the province’s first-ever immigration strategy that was introduced in 2012.

 

 


 

 

My first job ever was… As a high school teacher of science, chemistry and mathematics in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

I chose my career path because… I have a passion for human capital development. I love developing and helping others – both at an individual and corporate level – to achieve their full potential, whether this is in the area of education like math or science, or in areas of self-development and soft skills like in communications, negotiations, or problem-solving.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… The strong network professional leaders that I have developed internationally throughout my career in government, corporate and the non-for-profit sector.

 

My boldest move to date was… Taking the step to become an independent consultant and have my own practice. This has allowed me to pursue a range of initiatives including meeting amazing leaders in the human capital industry, academia, and government and the non-for-profit sector.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I am an ardent sports aficionado! I love cricket, soccer, basketball, skiing, and Formula One! In fact, my favourite team is Arsenal F.C. in the English Premier League. I have their swag and have attended many of their games in London.

 

My best advice to people starting their career is… To focus on integrating their passion into their career and make an effort to not box themselves in to pre-defined roles. It’s easy for one to define their life by their occupation. But I say discover your passions, strengths, and expertise and start from there.

 

“It’s easy for one to define their life by their occupation. But I say discover your passions, strengths, and expertise and start from there.”

 

My best advice from a mentor was… To create a groundswell if I want to implement sustainable change within a corporate culture. And to create this groundswell, you have to immerse and learn their culture first.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… To enjoy every single opportunity you get. Regardless of how bizarre it may seem, enjoy learning from them all! And I would also say, be present in each moment and learn wherever you are.

 

My biggest setback was… I would not call this a setback, but rather a hurdle: I was living in Trinidad and Tobago and really wanted to study and do a particular masters degree program at Harvard University, but the international student fees were very high. I had absolutely no idea how I would be able to pursue that dream.

 

I overcame it by… Doing two things: first, I created a vision of myself attending Harvard. Just being there. And second, I created a critical path of actions that I could take to make that vision a reality. I did extensive research in the library to learn about all the international scholarships available to foreign students that I would qualify for. I applied for and received a fellowship from the Organisation of American States and that’s how I was able to attend Harvard University. Again, you have to envision yourself achieving your dreams, create a plan and never doubt yourself.

 

Work/life balance is… An essential aspect of building a successful career, exploring personal goals, and having a strong family base.

 

I stay inspired by… Remembering that there is always an opportunity to learn from others and pay it forward at a community level.

 

The future excites me because… I see the energy, spark, and brilliance in the youth I meet from walks of life. What a tremendous opportunity to help build the leaders of tomorrow.

 

My next step is… To continue to find avenues in which I can contribute to strengthening the skills, competencies, and capabilities of youth and immigrants, especially with my work as board chair at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

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.

 

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

 

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

The Hardest Workin’ Mom in Showbusiness

Catherine Reitman, the creator, producer, writer, director, and star of CBC’s Workin’ Moms, is adapting scenes from her own life to tell an honest story of working mothers.

 

By Liz Bruckner

 


 

Ask Catherine Reitman when she knew she wanted to be a writer and actor, and she’ll point you to her six-year-old self.
 
“My nickname was ‘Bossy’ a lot. I did them at home, too, but I vividly recall customizing plays when I was at school to suit whatever lesson was up first. I’d throw together a script, convince my friends to act in it, and beg my teachers for seven minutes at the top of class to perform in front of the class.”

The daughter of iconic Canadian director and producer Ivan Reitman, and actress and director, Geneviève Robert, she attributes part of her early appreciation for writing and acting to her parents’ passion for artistic ventures. “Even from that young age, though, I remember being aware of how much I loved the almost tangible power I’d feel when the class would laugh at my scripts, and how passionate I was about figuring out how to parlay my interests into something that would appeal to a large group of people.”
 
Fast forward to today and she’s all but mastered her craft. An accomplished actor with myriad roles to her credit (including Blackish, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother), she’s now the creator, executive producer, writer, and star of Workin’ Moms, a popular CBC comedy that highlights the lives of four women juggling careers, motherhood and love. She plays Kate, a PR executive who’s fresh from maternity leave and trying to wade through the unexpected realities of being a working mother.
 
“I think part of what is so exciting about doing a series like this is the fact that it’s raw and real. When I returned to acting after having my first son, Jackson, I was experiencing postpartum depression and saw firsthand how flawed the structure around working moms is. I’d talk to fellow moms and we’d commiserate about how our stories weren’t being properly told by TV networks, how the attempts that were made weren’t anywhere near realistic or funny, and I think that struck a chord in me,” she says.
 
It must have, because weeks after delivering Jackson, while shooting away from home, the concept for Workin’ Moms was birthed. “I was on-set for my first Mother’s Day, and no one told me that that’s the day your social media feeds blow up with people congratulating you on being an amazing mother. Ironically, I wasn’t even being a mother that day, and it hit me hard,” she says. After grappling with hours of self-inflicted guilt in her hotel room, she joined a crew of male actors and comedians for dinner, where “they jokingly gave me shit for being away from my son on the first real day that mattered,” she says. “I cracked. Started sobbing, chest heaving — all the stuff you see in the boardroom scene from the first episode of the show.”
 
After an emotional phone conversation with her husband — actor Philip Sternberg, who co-stars in the show as Kate’s husband, Nathan — she began to write. “At his prompting I started to scribble things down and was alarmed at how quickly ideas came, and at how much emotion was bubbling. My son was only six weeks old and I had story after story. That was my ‘aha’ moment.”

Catherine Reitman 2

Months of writing followed, as did a second pregnancy. She found out she was expecting the day before presenting a bare-bones, eight-minute sizzle reel to Sally Cato, head of programming at CBC-TV. “Sally watched it and green-lit it for 13 episodes on the spot. From the beginning, she gave me the freedom to direct the show as I’d intended without the worry of it being mishandled. I’ve never felt so professionally encouraged,” she says.
 
Reitman spent the next few months pregnant with her youngest son, Liam, and holding the Workin’ Moms reigns. She ran a team of writers in LA and churned out 13 episodes before relocating to Toronto, where the show is based and shot. She handpicked the crew and actors — all this while balancing being a mom and wife.
 
“It’s been a struggle to manage my home life with my professional goals, without a doubt. I’m hard on myself. There have been times where I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, because as women, we’re taught to survive whatever challenges are thrown at us while also thinking of others first.” Add a child or two to the mix and there’s this expectation that you’ll automatically be selfless and loving, and while some people nail it right off the bat, she says she doesn’t think it comes naturally to most.

 

“There have been times where I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, because as women, we’re taught to survive whatever challenges are thrown at us while also thinking of others first.”

 

“Having my sons is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever done, but I know from experience that brushing off the difficult emotional situations that come with motherhood can lead to a pretty dark place. There was part of me that didn’t feel like I had what it took to be a worthwhile human being for a while, let alone a good mother. Things I relied on before to make me feel like me seemed to be gone after I had my first son — I didn’t see myself in the mirror anymore.”
 
Thankfully, she says, her work enabled her to reconnect with herself. “Getting back to something I have always loved was cathartic, and showed me that I need to listen to my gut. Women have this drive to play by the rules and be liked by everyone around us, and while I think it’s important to listen to people in your life, you also have to listen to yourself. Sometimes that means pushing all other opinions and fear away so you can hear what’s happening inside. That’s how we hear what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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.”

 

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

Women of Influence Luncheon Series – Nancy Southern

On September 21st, 2016, we welcomed 300 guests to the premiere of the Women of Influence Luncheon Series in Calgary to hear from Nancy Southern, Chair, President & Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Ltd. In her encouraging and humble keynote, Nancy shared with us the inside story of the family legacy that led to her ultimately assuming the help of the ATCO group of companies, as well as the leadership skills that have helped guide her for more than two decades.

Congratulations to Tammy Main from Alliance! Concluding the evening events, we announced the winner of our VIP Membership Experience Giveaway. Thanks to the generous contributions from our sponsors, Karen has access to a spot at the short-format executive education programs offered by the Smith School of Business as well as $350 childcare certificate from Kids and Company as well as a spa package from Captivate.

Photography by Joe Kelly  Photography

Living #InSync: Dina Pugliese on overcoming her inner critic and making her dream career a reality

After ten years as Co-Host of Breakfast Television, Dina Pugliese is accustomed to the spotlightbut it wasn’t always that way. We’ve partnered with Activia to share Dina’s story of how her experiences taught her to listen to her inner critic, trust her instincts, and find the balance that allows her to achieve her best.

By Hailey Eisen | Photography by Genevieve Charbonneau

 

Dina Pugliese spends her mornings in front of the camera, entertaining and informing Torontonians as they begin their days. Despite the rigid early morning schedule she keeps in order to work as Co-Host of City TV’s Breakfast Television (BT) Toronto, it seems as though she’s permanently in a good mood. And that’s not just an act. Unabashedly quirky, Dina remains committed to being her true self, or what she refers to as “that crazy Italian girl,” both on and off camera.

“In the age of YouTube, what’s resonating with people is authenticity and integrity, being yourself rather than the polished, perfect, robotic version of a person we’re used to seeing on TV,” she says. “What you see is what you get with us.” And that’s the way it always been, since Dina assumed the role of BT co-host in 2006. She writes all her own Tweets and tells her own jokes—and admits she’s no longer afraid of what others think of her. “Love it or leave it, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.”

But back in her 20s, Dina’s inner critic plagued her. An A+ student who graduated first from York and then from Humber College’s broadcast journalism program, Dina spent the early part of her career “doing her time” working behind the scenes, monitoring police scanners, making coffee, working the shifts no one wanted, and trying to build up the courage to apply for an on-air position. Like many women (according to a worldwide study conducted on behalf of Danone Activia, a full 62 per cent of women), she felt that her inner critic was holding her back more than most other things in her personal life.

When she finally did put together a demo tape and asked the news director at Global Television, her employer at the time, to take a look, he brushed her aside saying something along the lines of, “don’t get your hopes up, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

While she remembers feeling as though she might throw in the towel before really giving it a shot, she was lucky to have some incredible female role models rooting for her success. “I took the advice of Beverly Thomson and Mary Ito, both of whom I was working with at the time, and sent out my demo tape, which I happened to think was pretty terrible.”

Within three days she had two job offers.

Thankfully for viewers across the GTA who now rely on Dina’s uplifting spirit and natural on-air talent to kick start the day, the young reporter was able to work constructively with her inner critic, allowing it to guide her to her full potential. She pushed beyond her comfort zone in her first on-air job as entertainment reporter, writer, and producer of Toronto 1’s Morning Show, Toronto Today. “The truth is, if you work hard enough and really put yourself out there, you’ll get rewarded. I’m so grateful to be doing what I’m doing today,” she says.

“Love it or leave it, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.”

It’s this gratitude that guides Dina in her personal and professional life. “At 4 a.m. when I’m exhausted and people are Tweeting me to say good morning and wishing me a good show—that’s when I say to myself ‘let’s take on this day, let’s find the good, find the joy, and find the positive moments.’”

Feeling good about herself and overcoming her inner critic has allowed Dina’s positivity to flourish in all that she does. But working crazy hours and spending much of her life in the public eye means Dina needs to take time to find her balance, look after her own well-being and to connect with her husband, whose work hours don’t coincide with her own. “People used to say to me, ‘you have to get yourself out there and attend and host more events’,” she recalls. “Suddenly I found myself feeling burnt out. I didn’t want to disappoint people, but I had nothing left for me.”

Finding that balance was key to Dina’s success, and it has allowed her to maintain the same hectic schedule for 10 years as of this October. When she gets that gut feeling that she needs to rejuvenate, she says she goes into her “bubble” with her husband, spending a day or even a whole weekend in their PJs, watching movies, working on their backyard, or just doing nothing together. “It’s important that we make time for us to reconnect, just the two of us, and then schedule in other time to be with our families, our parents, nieces and nephews, and siblings.”

Family is extremely important to Dina, and a big part of the reason she’s never taken a job in the US (though she’s had the opportunity). “We didn’t try to have children until I was much older, and by then my body told me it was too late,” she recalls. “But I don’t have any regrets. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m so blessed to have so many things to be grateful for.”

 

Want to know more of Dina’s story? Watch her personal video as part of Activia’s Women InSync series, and see her in person on October 27, as she hosts an evening with Rocket Scientist and Explorer Natalie Panek. For even more inspiration, follow @activia_canada on Instagram and look out for the Live #InSync hashtag. You’ll see how exceptional women from across Canada are achieving that special state when body and mind are in harmony, and they are driven from within to achieve their full potential.

A Day in the Life with Cheryl Hickey

As the host of Entertainment Tonight Canada, Cheryl Hickey is not only a successful reporter and celebrity; she is also a mother of two, a budding entrepreneur, and a wife. But all of those roles didn’t grow overnight. Cheryl worked diligently and strategically to bring her career to where it is today, and that drive and determination has followed her into her role as mother and entrepreneur. So how does one elegantly juggle so many roles?

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