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The Suite Life: Learn More About Alberta’s Business Leaders

A pictorial approach to this province’s business community

There’s a lot of detail in the Venture 100 package, and we think it’s some of the best – and most valuable – information on corporate Alberta’s best and brightest that’s produced in this province. But sometimes, as the old saying goes, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and with that in mind we decided to use a few photos to help us tell the story of this province’s business community and the people in it. With the help of Colin Way, a proud Albertan and one of this country’s most talented photographers, we tried to capture the face – and faces – of business in Alberta.


Photography by Colin Way

The Geek Squad

Yes, they’re geeks, and proud of it. And why wouldn’t they be, given the crucial role they play in helping our increasingly tech-dependent economy and the companies that drive it move forward?


(l-r) Heather Campbell/CPR, Kim Johnson/Graham Group, Janet Topic/Trimac and Patrick “Scott” Walsh/Enerplus

Technology touches many aspects of a company and the role of the CIO is to bridge the gap between technology and business. By understanding technology and its importance on the business, the CIO helps drive companies forward by putting the right information into the hands of people making decisions. Here are four CIOs who are redefining the systems, processes and technology at some of the biggest corporations in Alberta.

Heather Campbell, vice-president and CIO with Canadian Pacific

When Heather Campbell was working at a law firm in eastern Canada, the company decided to introduce an IT system and Campbell worked on rolling out the local area network. “I discovered I really liked IT and from there on in, every job I’ve had has been in information technology,” she says. Campbell has held senior IT roles with a few different organizations and eventually became CIO when she joined CP almost three years ago. Technology is also a big part of Campbell’s personal life. The 47-year-old is married to a Java software engineer, their house is networked and instead of a home phone, they just use their cell phones. “We’re a very tech savvy little family,” she says. “Even my dogs are chipped.” When she needs to take a break from technology, it’s likely you can find Campbell in the kitchen trying out new recipes. “I’m a pretty good cook,” she says.

Q: Do you use a Mac or a PC at home?
A:
Mac.

Q: What Internet browser do you use?
A:
Internet Explorer. On my Mac at home I use Safari.

Q: What social networks are you part of?
A:
Facebook and LinkedIn. And Quora.

Q: What gadget do you use most in your personal life?
A:
My BlackBerry.

Q: How many emails do you receive in a day?
A:
300

Q: How much time do you spend reading and answering emails in a day?
A:
On and off, probably a couple of hours.

Scott Walsh, vice-president of information services with Enerplus

In the mid-1980s, the prospects for engineering jobs were bleak, but Scott Walsh saw potential in information technology. “At the time I was going to college it was relatively unknown and that attracted me,” he says. It was a smart move. For the past two decades, Walsh has been plying his IT knowledge in Alberta’s oil patch. He joined Enerplus in April 2011 to serve as the company’s vice-president of information services. As well as providing Walsh with a source of income, technology has found its way into much of the 43-year-old’s personal life. “It’s big, I coach soccer and hockey, and use technology for everything from practice plans to communication,” Walsh says. Every now and again Walsh’s dog Harley will remind him that long walks are a good way to escape from technology. A round of golf or boating in B.C. aren’t bad options either, says Walsh.

Q: Do you use a Mac or a PC at home?
A:
I use both at home, but my preference is Mac.

Q: What Internet browser do you use?
A:
Mozilla Firefox.

Q: What social networks are you part of?
A:
None, but I use my wife’s Facebook quite a bit.

Q: What gadget do you use most in your personal life?
A:
My BlackBerry.

Q: How many emails do you receive in a day?
A:
Probably around 100.

Q: How much time do you spend reading and answering emails in a day?
A:
Two hours per day.

Janet Topic, senior vice-president of corporate services and CIO with Trimac Transportation

After graduating university with a double major in computer science and commerce, Janet Topic was bound to become a CIO someday. The 53-year-old joined Trimac in 1996 and became the Calgary-based company’s CIO in 2002. In her role, Topic walks a fine line between balancing both the technology and business needs of Trimac. “The CIO role is very important in companies now with the need for good systems and making sure there is an applicable use in the company,” she says. “If the role is positioned properly, it’s a business enabler.” Technology has become an integral part of business and Topic says, “Technology is ubiquitous in our lives and we don’t even realize it.” When she needs to shut out the technological world, Topic turns to sports and most often, the swimming pool. “I do something every day, but if you ask me which sport is my favourite, I’d say swimming,” she says.

Q: Do you use a Mac or a PC at home?
A:
Mac.

Q: What Internet browser do you use?
A:
Internet Explorer or Safari on my Mac.

Q: What social networks are you part of?
A:
I’m not terribly active in that arena, but I have a Facebook page and LinkedIn, mostly to understand what these tools provide.

Q: What gadget do you use most in your personal life?
A:
My BlackBerry.

Q: How many emails do you receive in a day?
A:
In excess of 200.

Q: How much time do you spend reading and answering emails in a day?
A:
Not that long, maybe one and a half to two hours. I try to manage it like paper mail, so I don’t stop and read it in real-time. You can let it interrupt and drive you, but I try and manage it, rather than let it manage me.

Kim Johnson, executive vice-president and CIO with Graham Group.

Some people don’t choose careers, their careers choose them. Kim Johnson joined the Graham Group 17 years ago and after about a decade became CIO of the Calgary-based construction company. “Like a lot of things, it was more organic than anything else,” says the 39-year-old. “I started in IT and moved up through the company until I reached the top end of my area of expertise.”

Johnson says the organic growth of technology has shifted it into the background as people focus more on the ideas that connect them, rather than the technology they are using to do it. Technology is especially pervasive indoors, so when Johnson wants a bit of time to himself he heads outdoors. “Being in Calgary it typically involves the mountains,” Johnson says. “When you’re biking, hiking, climbing or kayaking, it’s harder for technology to intervene.”

Q: Do you use a Mac or a PC at home?
A:
PC.

Q: What Internet browser do you use?
A:
Internet Explorer. It’s a carryover from the corporate world.

Q: What social networks are you part of?
A:
LinkedIn, again it’s a carryover from the corporate world. And Facebook.

Q: What gadget do you use most in your personal life?
A
: My BlackBerry.

Q: How many emails do you receive in a day?
A:
Not as many as I used to. It’s probably down to less than 50.

Q: How much time do you spend reading and answering emails in a day?
A:
Quite a bit, it’s not the number of emails; it’s the content in them. Probably about a quarter to a third of the day.

Angel Investors

Alberta’s corporate leaders aren’t afraid of doing a little heavy lifting when it comes to supporting the causes that they believe in. Meet a few who are more than carrying their load, and the causes that benefit from those efforts.


(l-r) John Leder/Supreme Group, Tom Redl/Chandos, Radhe Gupta/Rohit Group, Diane Brickner/Peace Hills Insurance, Dave Mowat/ATB, Don Lowry/Epcor and Leon Zupan/Enbridge

Alberta’s corporate leaders aren’t afraid of doing a little heavy lifting when it comes to supporting the causes that they believe in. Meet a few that are more than carrying their load, and the causes that benefit from those efforts.

Alberta Venture: What lessons has your organization learned as a group as a result of its involvement with the Olympics?

Don Lowry, president and CEO of Epcor: What our involvement really reinforced was success through teamwork. We learned that if you work as a team and you set audacious goals like “Own the Podium,” you can accomplish outstanding achievements. For us it was improving operations and safety and success of our investments in Arizona and in the oil sands – all achieved through teamwork.

AV: What lessons have you personally learned as a result of your corporate involvement with organizations in the community?

Tom Redl, president of Chandos Construction: I’ve learned a lot in being involved with the Citadel Theatre. When I started I did not understand the value of theatre arts in the community. You come to understand that for a live theatre performance to be relevant to a community, it has to reflect the issues of that community. So, in a lot of cases, you can get a different perspective on an issue. I’ve had my perspective on a number of social issues really renewed and adjusted through experiencing the theatre.

AV: Are there tangible benefits, both to yourself and to your organization, in volunteerism and community involvement?

Diane Brickner, president and CEO of Peace Hills Insurance: I’ve been the president of Peace Hills for almost 30 years, but nobody really knew about me until I joined the board of the Edmonton Eskimos and all of sudden my profile skyrocketed. It was a bizarre thing. For myself and for Peace Hills, my being on the Eskimos board has made a significant difference to our profile. It’s also a ton of fun being on that board.

AV: What does your organization do to engage your employees and encourage them to become involved with the organizations you support?

Radhe Gupta, president and CEO of Rohit Group: We really ask every one of our employees to find a way of doing what they can to help out. We sponsor functions and we have a Mental Health Foundation fundraising evening at our own house. So we had 250 people in our own house and that’s a yearly event that we try to promote.

AV: How does community involvement help to develop corporate leaders?

Leon Zupan, vice-president of operations at Enbridge: Anytime somebody in business gets a chance to understand more about their community – and that’s certainly something that you get from the United Way – then you have an opportunity to come back and engage your employees. It provides a way to look at an employee’s job and our company’s role in the community differently.

AV: Why is it important for a corporate leader, like the president of a company, to get involved with an organization like STARS?

Dave Mowat, president and CEO of ATB Financial: It shows a different side of you as an individual and that goes a long way in building trust and believability. The more people know about you the better. When people appear one dimensional, you always wonder what that other dimension is. I’m an open book and ATB is an book, so I think it helps when employees can see me in the community.

People Power

In an economy where skilled labour is at a premium, the humble human resources specialist has evolved into a key player in every company’s C-Suite. Give them their due – they’ve earned it.


(l-r) Shane Sabatino/The Brick, Susan Adam/Alberta Blue Cross, Uve Knaak/Canadian Western Bank, Shad Smereka/Fountain Tire and Harmony Carter/PCL

In an economy where skilled labour is at a premium, the humble human resources specialist has evolved into a key player in every company’s C-Suite. Give them their due – they’ve earned it.

What do you do in order to attract the best possible people to your organization?

 

Uve Knaak, Canadian Western Bank: Canadian Western Bank makes full use of the normal on-line recruitment sources including sites like Monster and Workopolis as well as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook . However, our reputation as one of the 50 Best Employers in Canada and Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures is a major component in attracting the best people to Canadian Western Bank Group. Our strong corporate culture and great career opportunities, built on a strong compensation platform, make Canadian Western Bank an employer of choice.

Our employees are proud of where they work – the way we deal with staff and clients alike and, as a result, often refer friends and family members to the Bank for employment. Our staff Referral Incentive Program is our most effective recruitment tool in attracting quality applicants who stay and are fully engaged.

Finally, we are committed to the hard won character trait of loyalty. We work to earn the loyalty of our employees through accessible senior management, open honest discussion of any concerns, and a no layoff policy.

Susan Adam, Alberta Blue Cross: Alberta Blue Cross is a values-based organization, and we have been fortunate to find great people who share our values and as such want to be part of our organization.

We encourage a real work-life balance by offering flexible work hours and wellness spending accounts for all employees to supplement a healthy lifestyle outside of work. We foster the health of our employees through a wide range of initiatives to encourage and reward staff for their participation in physical activities, and we have an onsite fitness facility including daily exercise classes.

We support the growth and continuous learning of our employees by providing ongoing training and an annual education allowance as well post-secondary scholarships for employee dependents. We offer a career, not just a job, where individuals can plan their future using our internal development tool, Career Blueprint.

We promote an active community spirit and our employees play a key role in our community relations activities. One example of this is our employee-led registered charity, Hearts of Blue, which provides assistance to lower profile community based organizations across Alberta. In 2011, we also launched a new community investment program through which each of our employees was invited to allocate a $100 corporate donation to the Alberta-based charitable organization or community group of their choice. This program was a huge success, with donations exceeding $80,000 made to 289 organizations across the province.

We attract the best possible people because our current employees are proud to tell people they are part of an ethical values-based organization that Albertans know and trust.

 

Shad Smereka, Fountain Tire: Fountain Tire’s strategy to attract talent focuses on providing programs that represent the entire value an associate derives through working for Fountain Tire. By reviewing the results of our engagement survey and interviewing people across the company, we know Fountain Tire associates place high value on: Support in associate development and providing defined career plans, recognition and incentives for contribution to the organization, policies and programs that support a balanced lifestyle, competitive market wages; pay for performance organization, a safe working environment, comprehensive benefit programs for associates and their family and discounts for associates and their family on tires, parts, and services at all Fountain Tire locations

Shane Sabatino, The Brick: I remember listening to Jack Welch a few years ago and he said the number one way you can retain and attract the best people is simply by winning – “If you win,” he said, “employees you have will want to stay on your team and employees you don’t have will want to join your team”. If you have the best talent pipeline you will control your own destiny and that will lead to a winning organization. Our overall strategy to retain and attract top talent in the future tight labor market is to win in terms of profit, market share and ensure that we are a great company to work for – winning breeds winners. If we are winning, we will have positions available as well as dollars to pay competitive wages and offer benefits and additional perks to our employees.

Attracting the best and brightest is important, but we must also ensure we are retaining our current employees – it is incumbent upon our organization to ensure that we treat our current employees extremely well so we don’t have high turnover. Losing top talent is one of the worst corporate sins and we just cannot afford to do that, so we must treat employees with respect, pay them competitively and ensure they are appreciated and having fun – it is a never ending quest for The Brick.

We’re also launching a new careers website in late 2011 that will showcase all that the Brick has to offer. We believe it is critical to market to current and future employees what the Brick has to offer. We are also investing in our leadership team to ensure that they have the tools and training to make the right hires to ensure they will fit with the Brick’s culture, but also fit in the role they are applying for – the fit is so important if we want to continue to win and serve our customers better.

In the end, we don’t want to change too much. Our company is headed in the right direction, and we want to retain first and attract second. We want our programs and practices to build a great company to work for in all types of economies. If we treat employees better than our competitors we have a great chance to win and pass the fruits onto our employees, customers and the communities we serve. Sharing in the success is the key and will enable us to have the top leadership pipeline in good times and tough times.

Harmony Carter, PCL: PCL, I feel, has always had an advantage when it comes to recruiting new talent. Our reputation as a preferred employer, matched with the continuing efforts of our own people to refer their peers and colleagues, has provided PCL with a pool of talented and experienced recruits. Through employee feedback, PCL has placed on Canada’s 50 Best Employers every year, which is a testament of the people working here. We are a 100 per cent employee-owned company, and as owners, we want others to know PCL is a great place to work.

Another way we attract talent is through our unique ability to offer diverse positions and meaningful work projects. With PCL growing at such a fast pace, our website features a variety of careers—from office personnel to field experts—throughout North America.

Although we do use traditional forms of marketing, we believe that the best form of marketing is through our people. We believe in supporting ongoing professional development and lifelong learning of each of our employees. We’re dedicated, through our College of Construction, to providing innovative and effective workplace learning and development solutions. Investing in our people and contributing to their success is what drives our success as a company.

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