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Over the past turbulent year, we’ve seen the importance of determined, creative and empathetic leadership. Drawn from hundreds of nominations, this second annual honour roll celebrates the top people working in the C-suite or at the senior and executive vice-president levels. While CEOs often get the credit, these individuals demonstrate that captains of industry don’t succeed without talented lieutenants.

Jorian Charlton/The Globe and Mail

Jane Ngobia

Vice-president, inclusive communities, Sheridan

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No industry was spared from 2020′s overdue reckoning on race relations. With 23,000 students and 3,500 employees, Sheridan College required a concrete diversity strategy to institutionalize inclusivity. Jane Ngobia was up to the task: With an extensive post-secondary background in policy development and education, Ngobia is one of the first people in Canada to hold an executive leadership position in equality, diversity and inclusion. “Equity is not that black and white,” she says. “You’re dealing with beliefs, lived experiences and human beings. Culture does not change because I say so—it changes because you’ve given people the tools to change.”

Jorian Charlton/The Globe and Mail

Ngobia’s work is a master class in matching visionary ideals with practical implementation. So far, she’s launched the first self-identification census for employees, produced mandatory anti-racism training, reviewed hiring practices to make them more equitable, and co-founded a group for senior equity leaders. It’s an inspiring effort for just one year in the job, but Ngobia considers her work “a calling.” Twice a year, she also travels to Northern Kenya to work at a safe house for girls fleeing forced marriage and gender-based violence. In general, she espouses the need for celebrating small wins and, above all, patience. “People are at different points on this journey, and success will be [found] in cultivating a sense of the need to move together.”

Lisa Cameron

Vice-president, finance, Hanson Canada

It’s said that those who can’t do, teach. But in her multipronged role at Hanson Canada, a private education group offering degree and language programs, Lisa Cameron both does and teaches. She has been a key player in the company’s rapid 55% revenue growth over two years while still mentoring Hanson’s business-unit leaders. A CPA with more than two decades of experience in the consumer packaged goods and health-care industries, she’s also built comprehensive internal budgeting and reporting processes. It’s a remarkable list of feats, given she only took on her role a couple of years ago.

Michael Vels

Chief financial officer, Empire Co. and Sobeys Inc.

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It’s no exaggeration to say that, in the past three and a half years, Michael Vels has been a key player in a total financial transformation at Empire. Vels helped revive the retailer’s once-flagging operations, restructuring its finance team to be less siloed and more collaborative, and created Empire’s first strategic sourcing team. Vels also spearheaded Project Sunrise, an ambitious three-year plan to strengthen the retailer’s in-house brands, surpassing initial financial targets by $50 million. Numbers aside, Vels is also well-respected for his soft skills, and often mentors his junior teammates using his expertise in setting—and exceeding—goals.

Steve Filipovic

Chief financial officer, Premier Gold Mines Ltd.

Once solely an Ontario-based exploration outfit, Premier has expanded into a multinational gold producer with satellite operations in Mexico and Nevada. Steve Filipovic has been helping build the company since the beginning. Involved in financing, HR and investor relations, Filipovic is also an acquisitions man, taking the lead on Equinox Gold’s recent (and multifaceted) acquisition of his firm. The real feather in his CFO cap, though, is this one: Premier has never gone over its annual budget.

Barb Harwood

Chief financial officer, Thunderbird Entertainment Group

Barb Harwood’s eagle eye for detail was evident in the first few years of her career—as a second shooter for film productions. She later parlayed that, and her knack for numbers, into earning a CA designation in 2000, before becoming CFO for Thunderbird’s multi-platform entertainment empire in 2005. Harwood’s work in evaluating and funding key transactions—in addition to her contributions to the HR, legal and IT teams—enabled the firm to increase its revenue by 40% in 2020 alone (and stay entirely debt-free throughout). Her stellar financial track record aside, Harwood is also community-minded, having laid the groundwork for B.C.’s first film tax credits program and established a peer-support group for entertainment CFOs in Vancouver.

Kieran Hawe

Executive vice-president and chief operating officer, construction operations, EllisDon Corp.

Kieran Hawe’s 20-year tenure with EllisDon is a lesson in versatility: He has worked on commercial, institutional and residential projects across Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia, and held roles from construction manager all the way up the chain to the C-suite. Now, even as he stickhandles large, multidisciplinary teams for the $5-billion construction operation, he’s turned his focus to diversity—joining EllisDon’s Alliance of Black Employees and Leadership as its executive sponsor and partnering with Build a Dream, a Canadian non-profit that provides young women with an entry point for careers in the skilled trades.

Hal Khouri

Executive vice-president and chief financial officer, Goeasy Ltd.

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Known for his calm on-the-job demeanour, Hal Khouri shepherded Goeasy’s 2,000-person team to surprising success in what might have been a disastrous business year. Joining the team in 2019, Khouri prioritized building the company’s capital resources, decreasing its borrowing costs and increasing liquidity, all of which put Goeasy in a stable position entering the pandemic. In 2020, shareholders saw record earnings, and Khouri led the launch of the organization’s first securitization facility.

Jacquie Pylypiuk

Senior vice-president, people, culture and technology, Capital Power

Keeping the lights on was a concern for most businesses last year, but perhaps none quite as literally as Edmonton’s Capital Power. It was senior vice-president Jacquie Pylypiuk’s job to keep morale high while they did it. A chartered accountant and HR professional with 25 years of experience, Pylypiuk aimed for a holistic model of employee care when coordinating the company’s pandemic response. She even went so far as to arrange private medical services for remote workers and organized at-home mask delivery.

Michele Walkau

Senior vice-president, brand and culture, First Capital REIT

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Real estate is known for its fast-paced, cutthroat climate, but according to her colleagues, Michele Walkau is all about a more mindful approach. Yes, she’s spent the past two years deep-leading a corporate rebrand, developing First Capital’s internal communications strategy and dealing with the small matter of COVID-19. But she never fails to uplift her team: making a point to celebrate worker successes, providing ample development opportunities for future leaders and even writing thank-you notes upon completion of projects.

Synthia Kloot

Senior vice-president, strategy, finance and operations, brokerage, Colliers

No matter the challenge, Synthia Kloot remains undaunted: Having ascended to her current senior role early last year, she quickly took the reins on Colliers’s COVID-19 Task Force, balancing business operations with an ever-evolving set of safety expectations on behalf of more than 2,500 staffers. On the technical side, Colliers’s brokerage business has nearly doubled during Kloot’s tenure, as she led the rollout of a newer, more robust customer relationship management system. Plus, according to colleague Scott Addison, president of brokerage services at Colliers, Kloot is “not afraid to have the difficult conversations and do what is right.” That characteristic is on full display in her role as Colliers’s executive champion for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Cheryl Fraser

Chief talent officer and vice-president, communications, Crombie REIT

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Cheryl Fraser is focused on building a transparent corporate culture. After joining Crombie—one of Canada’s largest real estate investment trusts—as chief talent officer in 2012 following myriad government posts, Fraser set her focus on improving engagement, health and diversity standards. But career development is a major priority too: She regularly works alongside employees to plot their paths to senior leadership positions and finesse the skills they’ll need to get there.

Av Maharaj

Chief administration officer and vice-president, legal, corporate affairs and HR, Kraft Heinz Canada

Av Maharaj has his hands in multiple portfolios at Kraft Heinz, including government relations, corporate social responsibility and crisis management. But he never forgets the gargantuan importance of simple human attention. During the pandemic, Maharaj increased PPE and wellness resources for field workers, and hosted lunch-with-leadership calls for employees and their families. (Yes, kids were allowed at the table.) Maharaj also championed the creation of a brand new Work Like an Owner program, an approach that allows employees to work from wherever (and whenever) they like as long as they meet their objectives.

Chris Campbell

President, Accent Inns Inc.

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Chris Campbell has been able to maintain a vision for Accent Inns’ success beyond surviving the immediate threat of COVID-19. That kind of thinking has allowed him to utterly transform the B.C. hotel chain in seven short years—and one very long one. Under his leadership, six hotels became eight, employee happiness metrics rose to 98% (again, during a pandemic), and Accent outperformed its industry competitors on all financial metrics. “I’m a believer that ego is one of the enemies of good decision making; I have a heart, and I lead with it every day,” says Campbell. He notes the company recently established a Continuous Improvement Department. “I want to be honest about where we stand and also where we’re going,” he says.

Tessla Stuckey/The Globe and Mail

Shenif Visram

Chief financial officer, Aptum Technologies

In the post-COVID-19 economy, the ability to anticipate and respond to risks with creative thinking will be a priority among C-suite leaders, but Aptum’s Shenif Visram was (appropriately) ahead of the curve. Elevated to a CFO role from his post as vice-president of finance in May 2019, Visram was an instrumental part of the divestiture of Cogeco’s clouding computing business, leading to the formation of Aptum Technologies. He was also involved in the successful sale of a piece of the business to Beanfield Technologies amid the pandemic. Charged with setting up a new enterprise resource planning system and project team, while also managing data migration and completing a change management process, Visram says his main goal was to stay nimble while not hindering his reports with “slow decision making.”

“While the natural tendency for a CFO is to rely on what the numbers are saying, making decisions on that basis alone will not lead to organizational buy-in,” he says. Visram’s big-picture thinking is also well-used in his role as part of the Bank of England’s Decision Maker Panel, a congregation of international CFOs meant to offer insight into causes of economic uncertainty (like COVID-19 and Brexit). “The opportunity to gain insight into global economic trends has been critical,” Visram says of the panel’s benefits. “The input from U.K. leaders about challenges—that may not have hit other regions yet—provides an early indicator of what’s to come in other countries.”

Aaron McCarthy

Executive vice-president and chief HR officer, Magna International

The automotive game has rapidly gone from Flintstones to Jetsons, so Magna’s Aaron McCarthy knows something about speed. But he can also juggle: With 160,000 employees in 27 countries, McCarthy found ways to work across the company (and world) on health, safety and human resources when COVID-19 hit—without a whole lot of government oversight. “We wanted to have some level of consistency,” says McCarthy. He worked with American and European automotive agencies as well as suppliers to deploy on-site rapid-testing programs and a 300-page pandemic playbook—which outlined best practices, right down to the preferred type of Plexiglas. “We’ve been up and running for the past three quarters, while protecting our employees at the same time,” he says.

Dave Singh

Chief financial officer, Tucows, Inc.

Dave Singh says he is an “out, proud gay man”—although he admits that, at work, it wasn’t always the case. Now, in addition to watching the company’s numbers, he’s made equality a part of his job, co-founding Tucows’ first LGBTQA resource group in 2016. But after seeing the effect of George Floyd’s death last summer, particularly on his American staff, Singh created another employee resource group for diversity and racial justice—a people-first perspective amid the “war-room” survival mentality brought on by COVID-19. “I, myself, saw the power of people stepping up to create visibility,” says Singh, who led the charge in late 2020 to hike Tucows’s partnerships with minority-owned businesses. “I once said to myself, This is the highest position an accountant can really get to, so I’m not going to take that position for granted.”

Gilles Hamel

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Chief financial officer, Summer Fresh Salads Inc.

According to his co-workers, Gilles Hamel is the kind of thoughtful leader who brings coffee to crossing guards and doughnuts to late-night warehouse staffers. So it’s no surprise that when Summer Fresh was looking to avoid mass layoffs during the pandemic, Hamel’s strategy was “no worker left behind.” Charged with implementing a brand new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Hamel made the move an all-hands affair, connecting with not just his five-person accounting team but also sales and production for the training and procedural overhaul. “Usually, you get resistance because people feel like their worlds are changing,” says Hamel. “But it created a certain buzz and growth factor. It made people feel like, ‘Hey, we’re in this together.’”

Carrie Lysenko

Chief operating officer, Zoocasa

Having spent two decades in senior roles with some of Canada’s most recognizable brands—such as the Weather Network and the Blue Jays—Carrie Lysenko has trusted operational judgment. But when she joined Zoocasa to rebrand its digital presence three months before the COVID-19 shutdown, it was paramount that she gained the trust of her direct reports—some of whom she’d never met in person. “I didn’t have time to build those really strong relationships, and I know trust needs to be earned,” she says. Building bridges came in the form of writing daily updates. In the beginning, Lysenko focused on the news, the company, wellness and equipment needs. As the pandemic wore on, the updates included barbecue recipes and Spotify playlists. “We found a bit of lightness,” she says, noting that her highly motivated group starts every meeting by sharing personal and professional wins. “We’re cameras on, non-muted and engaged, and we like to see each other.”

Melissa Gilbert

Executive vice-president and lead, finance, Beneva

As power moves go, the 2020 merger of Quebec’s La Capitale and SSQ Insurance to form Beneva—now Canada’s largest mutual insurance firm—was a big one. Its success can be credited in large part to the diplomatic savvy of Melissa Gilbert. She calls the merger (cemented during the pandemic, no less) one with “challenges all over it.” Chief among those challenges was the fact that the same merger had been attempted and failed several times before. “I had to convince everyone it was a good fit, that it was feasible, and be a really active listener,” she says. Her next challenge will be “maintaining closeness” with her new team, which has been working from home since July.

Demi Tsioros

Chief financial officer, Reliance Home Comfort LP

Forecasting is a typical habit of finance pros, and Demi Tsioros applied that natural proactiveness to the pandemic. “Reliance bought all of our masks, gloves and hand sanitizers at volume in January 2020, well before the shutdown happened in Canada,” she says. “We had front-line team members going into customer’s homes, and while I had to ensure the business was on solid financial ground, we had to keep the team safe, because we were an essential service.” At the same time, Tsioros was engaging with all manner of colleagues and external stakeholders, including banks, to “navigate all the turmoil in the capital markets.” Tsioros says of her months spent multitasking: “It was like, ‘Ask me anything!’”

Kara MacKillop

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Chief of staff and executive vice-president, people and culture, Canada Goose

Kara MacKillop is mindful that fashion should be good for the world, which is evident from the slew of brand-first initiatives rolled out this year under her direction: the launch of an Inclusion Advisory Council, which MacKillop says promotes the authenticity “that is only possible when employees feel safe and welcomed”; Canada Goose’s first-ever Sustainability Report and Sustainable Impact Strategy, with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2025; and the Canada Goose Response Program, an ambitious if intuitive pivot to PPE manufacturing. “This was a huge source of pride for our teams around the world,” she says, “not to mention a sense of purpose in uncertain times.”

Brittany Forsyth

Chief talent officer, Shopify

Known among colleagues for her unorthodox ideas, Brittany Forsyth’s latest switch-up is a big one: migrating Shopify’s workforce to one that’s digital by default (a.k.a. entirely remote). “For 10 years, I helped build a culture around co-located offices that foster creativity, hallway conversations and personal connections,” she says of her 7,000-strong workforce. “It’s like rebuilding the engine of an aircraft while in flight.” The risky shift—which was intended to future-proof Shopify and attract a more diverse talent pool—appears to have already paid off. In the past year, the company has received nearly 100,000 job applications and hired 1,000 new workers, 70% of whom are based in Canada.

Jim Reid

Chief human resources officer, Rogers Communications

“One of my favourite expressions is that ‘steel gets hardened in a furnace,’” says Jim Reid, who is quickly approaching his 10th year of heading up human resources at Rogers. He’s an expert, to be sure, but even Reid didn’t have a playbook for a crisis of COVID-19′s proportions. Still, he did everything in his power to foster resilience among the company’s 25,000 employees. In addition to his reassuring weekly email dispatches—a 285% increase in frequency year-over-year—Reid led the rollout of a National Wellness Fund and a revamp of Rogers’s existing inclusion and diversity strategy. “It’s the grit you bring to challenges that makes you stronger,” says Reid. “But you can’t be a great company in the long run if you don’t put your people at the heart of your success.”

Shaun Robinson/The Globe and Mail

Carley George

Vice-president, marketing, District Ventures

District Ventures is Arlene Dickinson’s accelerator program, which helps build businesses over five months. Carley George is the marketing woman the Dragons’ Den star chose to create an in-house “ecosystem” to speed the growth of those startups. Having successfully operated her own consulting company, George spent a dozen on-and-off years at Dickinson’s Venture Communications in myriad roles, from event marketing to account management, before being promoted to lead District’s marketing team. “It all came together and was just a natural fit,” says the Calgary-based vice-president.

Few—if any—venture capital funds come with built-in marketing teams, so George had the challenge and freedom to build her operation as she saw fit. Her team of 17 now reps 32 brands in the health and wellness space, from small up-and-comers like organic seed elixir Seeva to household names like Balzac’s Coffee. More important than the brand, she says, is the entrepreneur behind it. “I love working with people without egos. It’s all about finding people who fit with my team,” she says.

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For her own team, George sees herself as something like a coach charged with nurturing her players’ best qualities. “I find that some of the strongest minds are the quietest, and I love emotional intelligence,” she says. “I like to read people, home in on their strengths and fine-tune their unique contribution to the organization.”

Daniel Habashi

General Manager, TikTok

For our profile of Habashi, click here.

Gary Smith

Executive vice-president, Eastern Canadian and Caribbean Operations, Fortis Inc.

Whenever a power line is down—whether by snowstorm or hurricane—it’s Gary Smith’s job to restore service as fast as humanly possible. Recall Hurricane Irma: In September 2017, the Category 5 hurricane hit Turks and Caicos hard, damaging 65% of Fortis’s electrical assets. In just a few days, and despite being hundreds of kilometres away, Smith rallied a team of 250 that began restoring power to the islands. Geography was a small, easily conquered obstacle: “I pride myself on personally checking in with my team every day to make sure we stay close and they have everything they need.” He also leads the Fortis pandemic emergency operations response, which includes operations in five Canadian provinces, 10 U.S. states and three Caribbean countries. Last year alone, he took the helm for nearly 100 pandemic related meetings.

Tony Geheran

Executive vice-president and chief customer officer, Telus

Since 2012, the PureFibre program from Telus has spent $6 billion to bring broadband to two and a half million businesses and households across 137 communities—including remote Indigenous populations as small as 1,500 people. “Everywhere we build, we work hard to look around and extend the network to those who need it,” says Tony Geheran. Before he builds anything, however, Geheran looks to Indigenous team members who serve as a resource group dedicated to accountable development and act as a connection with the communities. “We work closely with them to make sure we’re a fit,” he says.

Nancy Tichbon

Executive vice-president and managing director, Sage

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After years working with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Nancy Tichbon could have let hanging out with big names and flying on swanky planes go to her head. That’s not at all what happened. “Behind everyone that gets recognized in that big way are hard-working people from all walks of life,” says the vice-president of Sage, which provides digital solutions for entrepreneurs. Tichbon’s team won Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Award in January, and Sage was named one of the top 10 places to work in Canada. That was partly thanks to Tichbon’s knack for acknowledging and appreciating what some might call the little people. “For me, they’re the big people,” she says.

Donna Kinoshita

Senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, Symcor

Three years ago, Donna Kinoshita joined payment processor Symcor to build its marketing team with the goal of encouraging certain industries—including banks, government and insurance—to embrace digital transformation. The plan was to go slow and steady, but COVID-19 put business into overdrive. “Everyone recognizes they need to go digital faster than they ever thought possible,” says Kinoshita, whose impressive team stepped up with gusto. “I hire looking for energy, positivity, let’s-just-do-it attitude—and constant reinvention.”

Vivian Chan

Global Head of Digital Sales, NexTech AR Solutions

Instead of shelving its four-day conference this year, Restaurants Canada turned to Vivian Chan at NexTech with this tall task: “Move the event into the digital space—and not just onto Zoom,” says Chan. “We’re imagining and building meaningful ways to interact, network, learn and engage in a digital landscape.” In this case, that meant curated content that included Food Network stars and special guests, virtual floor plans and employing streaming tech to handle interactions with vendors and thousands of guests with confidence and ease.

Edward Shim

Managing director, Studio 1 Labs

Inspired by spending two months in hospital after a chest injury, Edward Shim figured there must be a better way to measure breathing than having a patient huff into a tube and counting manually. A few years later, the innovator introduced what you might call a smart fabric. “We’ve designed what’s essentially a bedsheet monitor that patients lie on to measure vital signs,” explains Shim. Future applications are endless, but Shim is equally focused on the present: Since the pandemic began, Studio 1 Labs has imported 176 tonnes of medical-grade fabric to make four million personal protective gowns.

Iain MacNeil

Chief revenue officer, Appnovation

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Appnovation is a full-service digital consultancy dedicated to solving problems. British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, for example, had this big one: How could the province monitor employee shifts at long-term living facilities to lessen the transmission risk of COVID-19? “We collected information from health-care workers, some of them working in three or four different places, to build a real-time province-wide staffing map,” says Iain MacNeil. With the collaboration of the employees’ unions, the Single-Site Staffing initiative limited unnecessary overlap, dramatically reduced transmission and was so successful it was quickly embraced by two other provinces.

Jason Tasse

President and chief operating officer, Lee Valley Tools, and chief operating officer, Veritas

Jason Tasse is living a career dream come true. “I grew up at Lee Valley, starting as a part-time product picker, and now I’m the president,” he says. It wasn’t quite that easy. “My whole mandate was to work my tail off, and I did.” In 25 years, Tasse helped the mail-order tool catalogue company—which supplies everything from furniture legs to ice cream scoops—modernize and go digital. Where other companies were relegated to the past, Lee Valley Tools actually doubled its customers last year, as lockdown encouraged hobbyists to go back to basics. Binoculars, for example, were a surprise bestseller.

Shlomi Amiga/The Globe and Mail

Jennifer Jackson

Technology and cloud first lead, Accenture Canada

This July, Jennifer Jackson will celebrate 25 years at Accenture. When she started—and still too often today—Jackson was usually the only woman in the room. She hardly even noticed at the time. “I didn’t understand then that I was a unicorn,” she says. “I was just so excited to be there.” But when years passed and nothing changed, Jackson did take note. She committed herself to championing change by fostering a more female-friendly workplace, emphasizing openness, honesty, balance and mental health.

Shlomi Amiga/The Globe and Mail

“I talk a lot about bringing your whole self to work,” she says, and that especially includes herself. In town halls, Jackson has spoken candidly about her life as a cancer survivor, a mother, a person who has experienced loss and an advocate of therapy. “All of that gave me perspective and empathy,” she says. Jackson is now the leader of Cloud First, Accenture’s new multiservice group, and she’s also the executive sponsor of the 350-person-strong Mental Health Employee Group. She built the Mental Health Ally formal training program to raise awareness, reduce stigma and advocate for anyone who needs mental health resources (or just a compassionate ear). Jackson’s built-in empathy is making the field a nicer place to be—for any gender.

Foad Godarzy

Head of IT and OT Canada, ENGIE

Depending on who you ask, ENGIE is either seven or 200 years old. The centuries-old French electric utility company once known as GDF Suez—which constructed the Suez Canal and now operates in 75 countries—rebranded seven years ago. “My role is to oversee ENGIE’s renewable arm, including 15 power plants we own and operate from British Columbia to PEI,” says Foad Godarzy. The best part of his job? “Checking in first thing in the morning with my team, knowing we’re starting a fresh, new day.”

Paul Gartenburg

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Director of international sales, Pliteq

Pliteq was—and is—Paul Gartenburg’s first and only employer. At 31, the engineer had happily landed in what he calls a “super-niche” company that’s also super-cool. “We recycle rubber tires and turn them into sound control materials,” he explains. With two patents to his name, Gartenburg is the reason you can’t hear weights dropping in your building’s gym or your neighbour practising the trumpet. He has watched the company grow from five to 100 employees, which still feels small thanks to ample departmental overlap. “The concept of ‘that’s not my job’ doesn’t exist here,” says Gartenburg, who fills his non-engineering hours with sales, finance and even manufacturing.

Lisa Reid

Country leader, P&G Beauty Canada, Procter & Gamble

For beauty junkies craving soaps and creams, Lisa Reid’s job is downright enviable: She drives brand growth for P&G products like Pantene, Ivory and Olay. “It’s dreamy,” she admits, though she also says it’s not easy. “Beauty is never static and always evolving alongside the rest of society.” Recent successes include Pantene’s #HairHasNoGender Project, intended to include trans and non-binary people, and celebrating eight Black Canadian women embracing their personal hair journeys with the #MyHairMyStory campaign.

Warren Perlman

Executive vice-president and chief digital officer, Ceridian

“In every crisis, there’s opportunity,” explains Warren Perlman. For cloud-based payroll manager Ceridan, the pandemic was no exception. “Businesses had to go remote and pay remotely, reliably and on time.” For those firms, Perlman built Dayforce Wallet, which allows users to request and receive their pay on demand and in real time. Ceridan’s innovative platform moved hundreds of billions of dollars last year into the happy hands of 5,000 companies and over four million end-users.

Louis Adam

Chief marketing officer, EXFO

Fourteen years ago, on a plane somewhere between Chicago and Montreal, Louis Adam started chatting with the stranger beside him. Turns out the man was on the management team of EXFO, an up-and-coming company selling testing instruments to big corporations like Telus and Amazon—and the rest is history. “It wasn’t a direct access to the C-suite,” Adam says of his lucky break. “There was a little bit more work than that.” This year, he quickly switched to digital for EXFO’s annual Sales Kick-Off, leaning into pre-recorded interviews, live-streaming and a multilayered agenda that garnered a 90% satisfaction rating.

Julian Ware

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General manager, Clearpath Robotics

Each year, the U.S. Department of Defense funds the DARPA Grand Challenge, in which organizations from MIT to NASA put their autonomous vehicles to the test. Before building their entry, however, many turn to Waterloo-based Clearpath Robotics for what you might call a base-model robot (along with, as Julian Ware calls it, “other robot stuff”). The company’s flagship is the Husky: a 50-pound 39-inch robot on four sturdy wheels. Customers add their own software depending on the task at hand (remote inspection, autonomous mapping, equipment assessment). “Robotics are about making our lives better and safer,” says Ware.

Hope Bagozzi

Chief marketing officer, Tim Hortons

While other companies halted when faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the ad team at Tim Hortons didn’t hesitate for a moment. “A legacy brand like ours needs to step up and speak directly to Canadians in times like these,” says Hope Bagozzi. She was just two months into her job when all plans—reusable mugs, the annual Roll Up the Rim contest—had to change. Within two weeks, Tim Hortons began airing commercials that directly addressed COVID-19, as well as precautions the company was already taking to keep employees and customers safe. And for anyone who still wasn’t comfortable in the stores, she adds, “we did free delivery to their door.”

Shonezi Noor

Vice-president of operations, Sampler

“The best way to convince a consumer to love a product is to have them experience it,” explains Shonezi Noor, the vice-president of Sampler. Her company delivers new brands—everything from peanut butters to fancy creams—to users’ doors in return for what she describes as “an authentic review” of the product. (“And only if you want,” she adds.) Voted the company’s Most Valuable Player of the past (notoriously difficult) year, Noor spearheaded the launch of Sampler University, a virtual training program that provides connection and cohesion to nearly 50 employees.

Vanessa Eaton

Executive vice-president, Proof Strategies

At 29, Vanessa Eaton was the youngest person to serve as a vice-president in her company’s 27-year history. She initially wanted to study psychology—but public relations and psychology have their similarities. “Both are about understanding someone’s needs and perspective,” she says, referring equally to clients and employees. “A high-performing team is made when everyone feels heard and comfortable to be themselves, even the imperfect bits, which are equally as valuable.”

Jean-Simon Venne

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Chief technology officer and co-founder, BrainBox AI

BrainBox is an unassuming little 12-inch square with the big job of measuring and optimizing energy use of buildings’ heating and cooling systems. For example, a three-million-square-foot mall in Australia was gobbling up energy. “They called us up; we sent them the box,” says Jean-Simon Venne. “It automatically connects to the cloud and gets to work.” BrainBox collects enough data to predict the future, adjusting the HVAC system accordingly. “It knows that the room you’re in will be too hot in 92 minutes and corrects it now.” BrainBox can reduce energy usage by 25% and decrease carbon emissions by 40%.

Faeron Trehearne

Chief legal officer and corporate secretary, Moneris

She initially wanted to be a litigator, but Faeron Trehearne found she much preferred the happier art of deal making. “I just enjoy putting things together now as opposed to disputing them later,” she says. At Moneris, the largest payment processor in Canada, Trehearne oversees a team of 25 with supportive leadership strategies learned from her mentors. “I try to look at the whole person and give them the time and space they need to thrive professionally and personally.”

Xerxes Cooper

General manager, Global Technology Services, IBM Canada

After 110 years, IBM is on the cusp of big change. By the end of 2021, it intends to spin out its managed infrastructure services business into an independent entity, dubbed NewCo. In Canada, where he currently oversees a team of thousands from coast to coast, Xerxes Cooper will take the lead. “We’ll be more agile, faster and efficient, and we’re very excited for what’s ahead, though it’ll be challenging too,” he says. “As they say, we’ll need to keep changing the wheels while the car is running.”

Margaret Stuart

Country manager, Salesforce Canada

Born and raised in Dublin, computer science grad Margaret Stuart moved first to London, and then Philadelphia and, finally, Toronto. Somewhere along the way, Stuart’s passion shifted from computers to business to marketing to sales to people. “To me, success is about being curious and courageous,” she says. For newcomers to Canada like herself, finding a career is admittedly not easy. To help, Stuart championed Salesforce for All, a program designed to help new Canadians get their start. “Totally staffed by Salesforce volunteers, it takes any folks with a tech background through a two-week crash course in making a résumé, how to interview, and how to fit in and be confident.” Hundreds have graduated, and thousands are expected to over the next few years.

Bhushan Ivaturi

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Senior vice-president and chief information officer, Enbridge

“Pipelines are sometimes considered boring—they’re old infrastructure in the ground—but what’s not boring is the opportunity to use technology and innovation to get creative and modernize them,” says Bhushan Ivaturi. Enbridge is currently using robotic process automation, advanced analytics and AI to do some of its work. That effectively frees up time for humans to learn and innovate. “I’m passionate about building a culture of learning to promote reskilling and up-skilling our workforce to optimize critical infrastructure in new ways,” Ivaturi says.

Alex Corneglio

Chief technology officer, EnergyX Solutions

Five years ago, Alex Corneglio and his co-founder were working together in the Netherlands, where the energy industry felt far more advanced and competitive. Inspired to bring the European system to North America, Corneglio launched EnergyX Solutions. “Using advanced machine learning and AI, we virtually conduct audits for utilities companies and governments to run energy-efficiency programs.” EnergyX now operates from Nova Scotia to California and Yukon to Louisiana, and now—oddly—they’re expanding back into Europe, where they started. “I guess the world’s not big enough,” he jokes.

Mona Malone

Chief human resources officer and head, people and culture, BMO Financial Group

Mona Malone has navigated multiple ups and downs in her 25-year career with BMO. So despite the challenges of COVID-19, she still managed to be a steadfast presence for her team. “In any time of crisis, there’s an opportunity and a need for leadership,” Malone says. “The health and safety of our people was of paramount importance.” The bank launched multiple new offerings during the pandemic, including a virtual healthcare app, a daily stipend for workers who had to work from the office, 15 extra lieu days for pandemic-related matters and regular call-in sessions with mental-health experts. Malone says she’s guided by the adage “People will forget what you say or do, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” That was particularly important over the past year. “I know that how we listened was so important, and would be something they would remember long after the pandemic was over,” she says.

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