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Kirstine Stewart, managing director of Twitter Canada. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Kirstine Stewart, managing director of Twitter Canada. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Kirstine Stewart: From TV to tweets, a career worth following Add to ...

It was a tweet that launched a thousand résumés – Kirstine Stewart would leave the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. for Twitter.

“Excited to announce @KirstineStewart as new Managing Director and 1st hire of Twitter Canada,” chief revenue officer Adam Bain tweeted. “Bienvenue chez Twitter! Now hiring in Canada.”

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As executive vice-president of CBC’s English services, Ms. Stewart often overshadowed the public broadcaster’s other executives. She was a regular at conferences and industry panels, sure, but where she really built a following was on Twitter. The announcement drove hundreds of people toward her LinkedIn page, where they bombarded her with résumés. Three hundred landed the first day, and the avalanche hasn’t slowed. It’s not every day you find out a pre-IPO powerhouse is starting up in your backyard.

Especially one with an estimated market value of $18-billion.

“I feel bad,” she says, eyeing her seared tuna suspiciously. “There’s a real pile of résumés on my desk that I never got to on the first day. I’m trying to manage them all as they come in.”

Ms. Stewart, 45, has been one of the most frequently quoted women in Canada since taking over the Twitter job. Part of that comes from the cachet surrounding the social media site. But even before joining Twitter she was the subject of long profile pieces in magazines and speculative pieces about her future.

As she settles into a booth at a French bistro in downtown Toronto, it’s evident that her new job has made her a better interview. She avoids the corporate-ese that used to pepper her press clippings while at the CBC. She’s not only revealing, she’s downright chatty – a change that has been mirrored on her Twitter account.

“I feel like what I can talk about has broadened,” she says, momentarily excusing herself to reply to a text from her teenaged daughter. “She’s considering whether to have a cookie. I told her that’s okay.”

She’s gone from worrying about a diminishing billion-dollar budget at the CBC to stickhandling Twitter’s expansion. There were times she thought about bailing on the CBC over the past three years as the challenges mounted, but she always stuck around.

But when Twitter called earlier this year to gauge her interest, she couldn’t think of a reason to stay. The broadcaster’s licence had been renewed. The Olympic broadcast rights had been secured. Cuts had been made and the restructuring was largely done. The upcoming challenge would be negotiating a new deal for Hockey Night In Canada. She decided she could live without going through those negotiations.

“It all happened very, very fast,” she says. “They reached out looking for people in Canada and got to me. Let’s face it, anybody in a position like I was in gets approached a lot. Usually I didn’t think too much about those opportunities, because they always came at busy times. I loved Twitter’s culture and expansive attitude – they are all about reaching every person on the planet and defending individual voices.”

That simple explanation has left many skeptical. CBC critics latched onto her departure as a sign the broadcaster is in deep trouble, after undergoing a $115-million cut to its federal-government allocation. Others preferred to frame it as her bailing on the public broadcaster to get away from chief executive officer Hubert Lacroix.

She insists she didn’t leave out of frustration, but rather to seize a rare opportunity. (She laughs awkwardly and changes the subject when asked how much money she’d make if the company went public.)

“I think people questioned why this would happen and treated it with a lot of suspicion,” she says. “I think the idea was my job was one that you held until you retired. There are people who are always looking for an indictment of the CBC. How many opportunities come up to join a company like Twitter at this stage in their development?”

Twitter is a relatively small company, given its valuation and global profile. It has about 1,500 employees worldwide, and its Canadian staff will likely number in the dozens. Initially, the company is hiring sales staff. Eventually, it intends to hire workers who can help teach companies and governments how to harness the service.

Twitter has about 200 million users, a fraction of Facebook’s billion or so. But they are highly engaged – tweeting about everything from cupcakes to revolutions. While the service is popular in this country, she says its adoption is in its infancy.

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