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Woman of the Week: Leslie Woo

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, approaches everything with curiosity. With an extensive background in both the private and the public sector, Woo is the kind of person who will move to a new position to fill an education gap and learn how everything connects. She calls it design or systematic thinking, something she acquired through her architectural background.

“Every time I twisted and turned in my career, it was because fundamentally, in my work, I identify something that drives me to solve some other underlying problem somewhere else,” she said.

Woo grew up in Trinidad with a middle class family surrounded by poverty, something she says is one of the reasons why she went into architecture and urban planning — to give back to the community. Architecture, Woo said, is an “interesting bridge between community and planning.” Her mother, who was interested in interior design, encouraged Woo in her love of math, art, and language, leading to a study abroad in in Canada.

When she arrived in this country, she found a hostile climate and a foreign landscape. Even the language was difficult, as she had a thick accent. But, Woo pushed through the culture shock, falling in love with environmental studies and city building.

“In reflection, everything in my life and career is about creating roots and being grounded and establishing a place for myself and for my kids and family,” she said. “This interest in urbanity and quality of space and access, that’s where it comes from.”

Woo’s career is extensive. Prior to joining Metrolinx, she worked with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust as well as Waterfront Revitalization, helped shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and acted as strategic policy director for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

At Metrolinx, Woo developed a large and expanding portfolio. She is responsible for the long-term vision of the provincial transit agency, based on The Big Move, a vast plan to create one of the “largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” She is responsible for $31 billion worth of capital public investments and drives corporate sustainability and innovation.

“I don’t know that I have a love for transit planning to be honest,” she said. “I have a love for city building, and you can’t build a city without mobility. This job has changed three, four times as the organization has grown, as we have continuously demonstrated our capabilities and our expertise, and we have been rewarded to be a larger contributor to the success of the region. That energizes me. Transportation planning is part of the puzzle I have spent the last 10 years trying to solve.”

She is currently leading the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan, which will build on the foundations created between 2008 and 2018, and help create a fully integrated transportation system across the province. Woo says her biggest challenge was to separate herself from the original Big Move plan and take an objective view, focusing on fresh ideas. The first round of consultations has just finished.

“The people using the system, municipalities and public, they have real insights that are important,” she said. “Now we are focused on the ‘how’ – we feel like what we’ve got is a strong validation of the ‘what’ – the direction, the vision. The ‘how’ is about who is making the decisions, how will you prioritize, how will you develop the evidence, where is the money going to come from, what is the role of municipalities?”

In addition to her work, Woo is deeply interested in mentoring and building up women. She said she was blinded about the gender divide in her early career, as a woman from a matriarchal family. But then, she took part in The Judy Project, an executive program within the Rotman School of Management in Toronto that helps prepare women for executive and CEO positions. The program really opened her eyes to the challenges women face in business.

For example, she said data showed that when someone was meeting a woman for the first time, they judged them 60 per cent on how they looked, 30 per cent on how they sounded in terms of their voice, and only a small percentage of what they actually said. “That for me was disturbing but really helpful in how I speak with other women,” Woo said. “It’s a great time to be a woman right now, but it is going much to slow.”

She continued her development at Harvard through a custom designed leadership program. As part of this fellowship, she founded She Builds Cities, a website where she showcases female city builders, people she has admires within the profession. She also leads Metrolinx’s network for women in management, which includes a mentorship program.

“I have formally and informally mentored younger women, older women, I have been mentored myself – I’ve been reversed mentored by younger women, which is refreshing,” she said. “Coaching, sponsoring, those are all things that are important. In my career, I had many mentors…men and women!”

Woo celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Metrolinx this week.

 

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Woman of the Week: Lisa Grybowski

Lisa Grybowski is a licensed customs broker and vice president of Hemisphere Freight and Customs Brokerage. Her role is mixed, everything from taking care of the company’s billings and government claims, setting up technology systems, troubleshooting issues with clients, and helping clear shipments for specialized boats and cars.

Hemisphere is a boutique firm with only three licensed brokers, but it prides itself on top quality 24-hour service. They take one-time clients, are fluent in US customs brokerage, and are responsible for a number of temporary imports.

“Our biggest competition is the large carriers like UPS and FEDex. As an in-house brokerage firm, they can do it cheap and increase prices in our freight where we charge per clearance,” she said. “We hold our own. We have five employees set up at home so they can clear shipping. Not 1-800 numbers. Why would I come to you if you are more expensive? You pay for service.”

Hemisphere is a family-run business. It was started when Grybowski was born in 1986 by her mother, Penny Downer. Downer was a secretary for a customs broker and, after a while, she thought she could do it herself.

“Hemisphere was her second attempt,” Grybowski said. “My mom is an incredible story. She started this company as a single mom with three kids, and in this industry, when she started she was one of three women in the entire industry in Canada.”

“She started it on her own and by the time Charles and I took over the company, she had tons of clients. They all ask about her.”

Downer was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and her health deteriorated quickly. Grybowski and her brother were thrust into the business, forced to learn the ropes quickly in order to keep the company afloat.

Grybowski has a background in general finance, so she was able to take on a portion of accounting at Hemisphere, but she had to learn a lot on the job. She eventually completed a course and received her brokerage license. It’s her job to be aware of what is happening internationally with trade agreements and how it affects the Canadian dollar, a challenge with the current political climate.

Now, we just got a free trade agreement with the EU,” She said. “That has increased business for us because there are no more duties between Canada and European countries. A lot of our businesses importing clothing has drastically increased.”

Over half of the employees at Hemisphere are women, something Grybowski is proud of. “My mom was keen on giving women opportunities. I sit at her desk now, and I try to keep that in mind. Trucking and operating is still a manly world.”

Grybowski is a part of the Women Presidents’ Organization, which is made up of women who have ownership of a company or hold the role of President. “We do roundtable discussions each month and that is where we can start generating ideas on how we can help other women,” she said. “We can talk about if we have problems with an employee and everyone gives their two cents; what we give for bonuses or gifts for clients; what do we think of new taxes on small to mid-size companies; a lot of things. My mom never had something like that.”

Grybowski said that while she never hears from a female customs broker, and all of the executives she works with are male, she doesn’t like to think of those barriers. “I think you need to have a voice, show persistence, and not really think of any barriers like the glass ceiling or whether you are the only woman in the room…If I know what I’m talking about and I can do a great job for [these executives], they become loyal business partners.”

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Woman of the Week: Marie Bountrogianni

Marie Bountrogianni is the Dean of G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University as well as a former Ontario parliamentarian. She has a wide variety of passions and a true desire to make a difference in the world, which makes her the ideal candidate for both government and academia.

Dr. Bountrogianni was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2007, representing the riding of Hamilton-Mountain. During that time, she served as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Democratic Renewal, Children and Youth Services, and Citizenship and Immigration. Prior to entering the public life, Bountrogianni was the chief psychologist for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She has a doctorate in Applied Psychology from the University of Toronto and was recognized as one of the top 10 most influential alumni at the University of Waterloo. Last year, she was honoured with the Gabby Award in New York City for her contributions on behalf of refugees, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Bountrogianni reached out to Women’s Post following the Golden Globe’s and Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring speech to discuss women in politics. As an educator, she hopes to inspire young women to be more active in world affairs, and discusses why academics and leadership go hand in hand. 

Question: Do you think Oprah’s speech and presidential campaign rumour will spark an interest in politics in young women? Do you think Oprah should run?

Answer: I am hoping young women – indeed, women of all ages – will consider running. It is very important for a democracy to be truly representative of its citizenry. If Oprah’s speech inspires women to run, then she should make more speeches. As for whether or not Oprah should run, that is really up to her and the American people. The fact that, like Trump, she is a billionaire TV celebrity (similarities stop here) may actually be an obstacle for her. Will the people accept another wealthy celebrity or will they want someone more experienced in governance?

Why do you think more women don’t run for office here in Canada? What are the factors?

As a former parliamentarian I can say it is challenging for women – particularly those with young children – to run for politics, for obvious reasons. My advice to young women is this: do not think of it as a life long career. Think of it as a term of service (or two or three terms), much like a military service to your country. Do it when you can “give everything you’ve got”, then leave. You will not only have made a significant contribution to your community but the benefits of your political experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. You learn how the system works. How it REALLY works. You will be able to assist any organization you work in or volunteer at.

You have a background in psychology and education, what made you run for office?

I ran for office because at the time I was the Chief Psychologist with a large school board and was frustrated by the effects of cut-backs on children’s lives. I was also on a hospital board and was similarly upset at how the cutbacks were affecting patients. I did not hold a party two membership and was never involved in politics before I ran. I had to ask, “How do I run?” I highly recommend the experience.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman?

The challenges I experienced are faced by working mothers every day. The guilt of long hours away from home, combined with balancing work and family life, etc. I did notice that younger male politicians experienced similar challenges related to their familial responsibilities, as it was more practise common for both partners to be in the workforce.

What needs to change?

Society has to once again respect the role of the politician. It is a challenging role when done properly. Politicians need to continue to remember why they entered politics and go back to basics. It was not (or should not be) for the partisan fighting, career and games – it was to represent their constituents. Social media often makes this difficult as everyone is under “a not so always fair“ microscope. We will all be better off if we bring civility back to politics. This takes leadership, however; when a leader takes part in rogue, self-serving and pedantic tweeting, “he/she poisons the well”.

How do we compare here in Canada to the U.S.?

Canada and the U.S have very different histories and political systems. We were born out of compromise and negotiations — the U.S out of revolution. There are pros and cons in each country. I am biased, of course, but I have to say that I am proud of our “just society“. We are a serious country.

As Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, you must witness the interests and drive of many students — do you think more women will run for politics in the future?

I hope more women will run. Ironically, what is happening south of the border has attracted more interest in politics and more chatter everywhere. I do believe, like Oprah, that things are shifting – the strong (finally) response to allegations of sexual aggression is a promising step in the right direction. This may lead to women feeling more empowered to enter fields that are predominantly held by men.

Why return to education after politics?

I don’t think I ever left education entirely when I was in politics and did not entirely leave politics when I went back to education. Politics comes from the Greek word that means “citizen”. We are responsible for each other and we have an obligation to one another. Education is a tool. Political knowledge is another tool. Both are needed to affect change. I have been very lucky to have both in my toolkit.

What advice do you have to women interested in politics?

Do it. Get support from family and friends. Be prepared to exhaust yourself. But I promise you this: it will be an experience like no other. You will potentially impact the lives of thousands of your constituents and if get into cabinet, millions of citizens. It will shock you. Next to being a mother, it is the best decision I have ever made. It was truly an honour.

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Woman of the Week: Janet Zuccarini

Janet Zuccarini is the CEO and owner of Gusto 54, a global restaurant group that encompasses a number of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101, PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, and Gusto 54’s Catering and Commissary Kitchen, among many others. She describes her role in the company as “the visionary”, responsible for finding locations, managing real estate, determining the concept, and assembling teams for each restaurant.

Zuccarini has an intense passion for international cuisine, with a specialization in Italian foods. She is the first Canadian woman to become an AVPN-certified Pizzaiola and was featured as a resident judge in Top Chef Canada’s fifth and sixth season. While her responsibilities now are more business-related, she started in this industry because of her love of food — both cooking and eating it.

Zuccarini has received the RBC Woman of Influence Award in Entrepreneurship and the 2017 Pinnacle Award for Independent Restaurateur of the Year. One of her restaurants is currently under review for consideration as one of Canada’s 100 Best New Restaurants of 2018. Here is what she had to say to Women’s Post in an email conversation during her travels.

Question: You are from Toronto, but you moved away for schooling, why?

Answer: I have a passion for traveling, which began at age 19 when I traveled to Europe on a one-year trip. I spent a few months in Italy on that trip and decided at that time that I needed to find a way to stay in Italy and experience living in that culture, so I found an American University in Rome and completed my undergrad there. When my four years was up and I completed my degree, I felt strongly that I needed to spend more time there, so I searched for another post-grad opportunity. I then found an MBA program at Boston University, which had a campus for a few years in Rome, and stayed in the city for another four years.

Did you always want to be a restauranteur? 

It all started with my father, who loved Italian food and was an incredible cook. We ate very well at home; always whole foods cooked from scratch. Living in Italy for eight years and being a student, I had to learn to really stretch a dollar (or back then it was the Italian lira), so I began cooking for myself and my friends. During that time, my friends would suggest that I open up my own restaurant, but I never thought that would become a reality. After I finished all of my university work, I traveled back home to Toronto for a friend’s wedding and went to Yorkville to get my hair done at Salon Daniel. I was chatting with a stylist there who told me that the corner of Yorkville and Belair was under construction and was set to become an Italian restaurant. I was intrigued, so I walked over and introduced myself to the guys who were opening it. Shortly afterwards they asked me to be a partner and literally overnight I was in the restaurant business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was marrying my two passions: business and food.

What was the first restaurant you opened? 

I opened Trattoria Nervosa (back then it was known as Cafe Nervosa) in 1996 with two partners, which very quickly turned into only one partner. During that period of transition, I had to thoroughly immerse myself in the business to learn its ins and outs. In the early days, I worked every position; six days a week, 17 hours a day. I learned every aspect of the business, which is incredibly important to creating procedures so that you can step away from being a “technician” and put yourself at the top of your company where you can more efficiently and effectively run it. After the four-year mark, I bought out my partner (thankfully, as it was a soul-destroying partnership) and that’s when my life took this extraordinary turn. The business was stable. I had learned every aspect of it. I successfully bought out a toxic partner, and I really started to run my business instead of letting it run me.

How did Gusto 54 come about?

Three years ago when we decided to consciously transition the company from owning three restaurants in Toronto to becoming a global restaurant group. Gusto 54 was created in honour of my father, who opened up the Sidewalk Caffè at the corner of Yonge and College Street in 1954, which at the time featured the very first espresso machine in Canada, as well as the first wood-burning pizza oven and heated patio. My father was a pioneer and I owe any entrepreneurial spirit that I possess to him.

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen is your latest restaurant to open – how is it doing?

Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen opened to Toronto’s King West area in early December and we are busy, which is great considering that we opened our doors during that time of year.

What does it take to run a successful restaurant?

To be successful in the restaurant business you need to deliver on all fronts of the experience, including service, food, location, design and music. You also have to consider what exactly you aim to deliver with your restaurant, as every concept will have different requirements. A destination restaurant will not have the same formula as a restaurant that services a neighbourhood. The restaurant business is arguably the toughest business at which to succeed due in large part to the fact that the margins are so slim. To help mitigate this risk we analyze sales and our numbers every day. All in all, you need to possess a certain level of business acumen, as well as consistently keep your finger on the pulse to deliver what people are looking for in order to truly succeed in this business.

What is the biggest challenge?

This can be a challenging business where you need to keep a very close eye on food and labour costs and keep the operations very tight. Systems, procedures and technology become integral in operating a profitable business that consistently delivers against our mission. Consistency in both food and soulful hospitality can also be a challenge given the number of people we rely on every day to serve over 3,500 customers. This is where training becomes essential in ensuring everyone is set up for success.

How do you make sure the food served is following the newest trends – or even leading the trends?

My job as the visionary is to make sure that my finger is always on the pulse of what’s happening in the world as far as food and industry trends go. I have a passion for dining out and checking out all kinds of restaurants wherever I go in the world.

What advice would you give to a young female business professional with dreams of starting their own empire?

You can do anything if you have grit and don’t let anything stop you.

What’s next for you?

I feel like I’m just getting warmed up in the restaurant business. We’re opening Gusto 501 to Toronto’s Corktown area this year, we are looking to open in New York, and we’re currently working on rolling out two additional concepts.

What do you do to help women?

As a woman operating in a primarily male-dominated industry, supporting and helping to empower women is extremely important to me. Many of the key leadership positions within our company are held by women including chefs, GMs, and our President, Juanita Dickson. In addition to contributing to various local organizations such as Women in Capital Markets, Dr. Roz’s Healing Place, and Dress for Success, I always strive to make time to personally meet with women to provide mentorship or advice.

What do you do when you are not working?

I live in Los Angeles half of the year, so I love taking advantage of the weather there and doing a lot of activities like tennis, hiking and biking. I’m also super passionate about yoga and, whenever possible, I love checking out new restaurants and hosting friends and family at my house for dinner.

I’m currently reading “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” by Timothy Gallwey, as well as “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza.

 

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Woman of the Week: Linda Hung

Linda Hung is a theme park enthusiast. While speaking on the phone with Women’s Post, she talked excitedly about Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The experience, she said, was made unique by the magical landscapes and the transitions from island to island.

And Hung knows what she is talking about. As Senior Director of Theme Parks for FORREC, it is her job to ensure theme parks and resorts are designed in a way that cultivates the best possible guest experience — and the most fun.

FORREC is an international entertainment design agency based in Toronto, responsible for designing some of the world’s most attended and admired theme parks. This includes Canada’s Wonderland, Universal Studios in Florida, and several LEGOLAND properties, among many others.

Hung was always fascinated with design and architecture. “It was the idea of being able to create something with your imagination and then believing you can transform that image into a real place,” she said. “I day dreamed a great deal when I was young. I had an interest in art, design, and drawing, coupled with technical skills in math. I fell into landscape architecture.”

After graduating from the University of Toronto with a bachelor degree in Landscape Architecture, Hung moved to Asia. Employment in Canada was scarce, and in Hong Kong she was able to get a job as a Junior Architect and Intermediate Landscape Architect, while learning more about her family history.

While she loved her work, she loved theme parks and resorts more. Ever since she was young, she visited these attractions as much as possible. When a position opened up at FORREC for a master planner, Hung jumped at the opportunity. That was 19 years ago.

“I often think of how lucky I am and stay engaged and inspired in one place all these years. I’m constantly learning from my peers and clients. Projects are so diverse, I’m never bored.”

Now, she serves as Senior Director of Theme Parks, a role that incorporates her knowledge in design and architecture with business and finance. “I’m not just trying to sell them a theme park. I understand what they need to make their project and development viable, efficient, and compelling to guests. Plus, I love the whole industry, bringing entertainment to projects. We have a unique skill set with FORREC to marry it with our projects to make it stand out.”

With so many options around the world, the theme park industry is highly competitive. Each project needs to be looked at through different lenses and must cater to the client, location, brand, culture, and story. With so many entertainment offerings out there, Hung needs to constantly think about what is going to make their parks unique. How will they capture the free time of their guests?

According to Hung, the key to a successful resort is integration, ensuring guests are entertained and occupied from when they get up in the morning to when they return to their rooms at night. At a theme park, great rides and attractions are absolutely necessary, but Hung says it is about more than that. “The park in itself is also a destination. We look for things that create a whole story or environment so that once you walk in you are entering a different world. You are escaping your world and walking into a fantasy.”

FORREC also helps design smaller, local projects such as a playground at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. The playground included elements of waterplay, handwork, and food, set around a chimney, which acts as a central gathering space. Hung says that working internationally is a thrill, but it is even more rewarding to work in your own backyard.

Hung also helped create Splashworks at Ontario Place, an experience she enjoyed greatly.

“I remember working on that project and bringing the master plan home and my kids were inspired by it and said we have our ideas, and this is what we would love to see in a splash park. And I implemented some of their thoughts. Years later they recognized some of those things in the waterpark. Those are the little moments that make it really special. Creating things in your mind and having it built into a physical place. You can experience it in design.”

Hung has an entrepreneurial spirit, and encourages creativity and adventure within business. “I would encourage a curious mind. If you have a new concept, whether it;s landscape architecture or entrepreneur. You shouldn’t stop there. Always think what could make it better. For women, being sensitive is a good thing. It’s what makes us keen observers, that’s what enables us to explore.”

When Hung isn’t working, she spends a lot of time volunteering. She does work with World Vision, Toronto City Mission, The Scott Mission, and Sketch Toronto.

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Woman of the Week: Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is best known for her role as a “Dragon” on CBC’s hit television show Dragon’s Den. Her passion, tenacity, and knack for numbers has made her a driving force on the show — and an investor everyone wants to have backing their team.

What sets Romanow apart from her co-stars is her focus on the individual. If she is going to invest in a business or a company, she wants to get to know the people behind the project.

“I think as tempting as it is to look at the exact business on hand, I inspect the entrepreneurs themselves,” she said in an interview with Women’s Post. “You are looking for someone with a chip on their shoulder. Someone who needs to win. There are so many pivots and turns when you start a business, you want someone who is going to make it work.”

Beyond the “Den”, Romanow is a tech titan and serial entrepreneur who knows how to spot an opportunity. By her 28th birthday, she had already started three different companies across different industries.

She began her career as a civil engineering student at Queen’s University, a tough program that taught her how to problem solve. Romanow had an interest in math and science, but it wasn’t until she helped launch a sustainable, zero consumer waste café on campus that she realized she had a passion for business. Her goal was to convince the administration that her pitch wasn’t about a food service, but rather a sustainability project important to the development of the school. She raised most of the capital herself and the café — called The Tea Room — remains a fixture on campus to this day.

Since then, Romanow has jumped from project to project, solving problems and building new ventures.

“The power that you have [as an entrepreneur] is enormous,” she said. “I think the fun is in solving problems you don’t want to see in your world.”

Her second business was Evandale Caviar, a fishery based in New Brunswick that distributed high-end, Canadian sturgeon caviar to luxury hotels. Unfortunately, the business fell apart in the 2008 recession.

Since then, Romanow has launched a number of incredibly successful businesses. She is the co-founder of Buytopia.ca, Snap by Groupon, and Clearbanc. Clearbanc is Romanow’s most recent venture — an online financial service that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to get capital to grow their own company.

Romanow also helps craft digital solutions for international brands like P&G, Netflix, Starbucks, and Cirque du Soleil. She was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards; and was a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award global finalist. Romanow is listed as one of the top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and was named as one of the Forbes Top 20 Most Disruptive “Millennials on a Mission”.

You would think she is a person who loves to be busy and have numerous things on the go, but Romanow is passionate about her work and doesn’t like to “be busy for the sake of busy”. She would rather get things done and spend her time on something that matters.

In July of 2017, Romanow partnered with Ruma Bose and Richard Branson to launch the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative. The goal is to showcase Canadian entrepreneurs and offer assistance to those starting out.

“How do we create more Canadian success stories, especially women,” Romanow asked. “Almost half of Canadians can’t name an entrepreneur they look up to.”

Clearbanc is committing $1 million to finance small businesses and help create those success stories.

In addition to all of these projects, Romanow makes time to mentor women and offer advice to young entrepreneurs. Her biggest piece of advice? Just do it!

“Overplanning can be a detriment,” she said. “My first piece of advice to people is that you have to get started now. Most people think about and analyze businesses for a long time, but it’s important to start to move it. The first idea never ends up being the business that works, but the process allows you to get there.”

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Woman of the Week: Kelsey Saunders

Kelsey Saunders is a building scientist with SUSTAINABLE.TO, a collaborative architecture firm that specializes in sustainability. Her role is to help model designs to make sure they perform well in areas of health and energy efficiency, including energy modelling, hygrothermal analysis, and sustainable design consulting. She also provides technical support and helps in research and development into new and existing technologies for residential construction.

Saunders has a Bachelor of Architectural Science from Ryerson University and is concurrently working towards her Master’s of Applied Science in Building Science. In the interview below, Women’s Post learns more about building science, what it means to truly build sustainably, and what needs to change in the industry.

Q: What drew you to architecture as a career?

A: I was always fascinated by architecture and the ability of space to evoke emotion and change perception, even before understanding how or why these spaces could be so moving. I wasn’t one of those people who always knew what they wanted to do and so I didn’t necessarily think that I would become an architect, but I had this special connection with architecture. My initial understanding was that architecture was mostly about aesthetics, because this is often how its portrayed, but when I came to understand that it is mostly about function I was hooked with the concept of shaping how people flow through and use the built environment and the impact it has on everyday life.

Why specialize in building science?

I’ve always done well in math and science, and in fact started out my academic career at the University of Guelph majoring in chemistry and taking calculus and physics courses. I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t see a career path, so I changed lanes and decided to pursue my passion for architecture. I did my undergrad at Ryerson University in the Bachelor of Architectural Science program. In fourth year, students specialize in either Architecture (design), Project Management, or Building Science. In the first three years I did really well in building science courses and found them to be the most meaningful and practical. At this time I still thought I would pursue a career in architecture, but wanted to get a deeper understanding of building science principles to improve my ability to design good buildings.

What exactly is a building scientist?

Building Science is a relatively new discipline that is filling a much needed gap between architecture and engineering (although many building scientists traditionally were engineers, until more recently). Building science is the analysis and control of the physical elements that affect buildings, such as climate, air movement, heat transfer, water, and moisture. Basically, it’s the science behind how we keep buildings dry and warm. The role of building science is to optimize the performance of buildings for improved energy efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, and comfort. There are many roles a building scientist can play. At SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building we do things differently. “Sustainability” is ingrained in the service we offer. It is not an additional service. Building science is integrated directly into the architectural design process to create durable, healthy, energy-efficient buildings for our clients. I’ve been with SUSTAINABLE.TO for nearly four years now. For me, it’s the dream job because my love of architecture and my science-based brain get to play together on a daily basis. We provide energy-modelling during concept design to guide our design decisions, air-tightness testing during construction as quality-assurance. It’s important to us that our buildings perform as well in practice as we intend them to.

Your focus at the moment is on sustainable building – what new developments are out there that our readers should be aware of?

Something that we are trying to focus on more at our office these days is embodied energy, which is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a product, from the time it is mined to when it is installed on the job site. Previously, much of the focus has been placed on how much energy we can save by building an efficient building. So, for example, foam insulation products with high embodied energy have been used extensively to insulate new and existing building to reduce their energy consumption. What we are not realizing is that often, the energy saved over the life of the building doesn’t even cover the energy embodied in that foam insulation. So, if thats the case, what was the point? This is something that needs to be considered when designing truly sustainable buildings. There are some incredible natural building materials (even new innovative ones) with very low embodied energy – straw, clay plaster, cellulose, etc. – that we would love to see become mainstream. They are also safer and healthier choices.

Sometimes people can be overwhelmed when it comes to introducing sustainable options into their home – is there one thing you would suggest everyone doing in order to make a real difference?

The most important “sustainable strategy” is a good building envelope – which is the outside shell of your home, including all exterior walls, roof(s), and basement walls/floor. Investing in a good building envelope will reduce operating costs by improving energy efficiency, comfort, and the overall durability of your home. The best way to achieve this is to insulate, air-seal, and address water in the form of vapour and liquid. If you’re looking to renovate in the near future, insulation and air-tightness can be successfully address in a few different ways depending on how your home is built and the scope of your renovation. As a start, having a blower-door test performed on your home to detect potential air leaks and sealing them up with caulking and/or tape would help. You’d be shocked at the difference this will make to your energy bills. In terms of addressing water, make sure all of your downspouts and roof eaves are clean and directing water away from your home.

How well are Toronto builders doing in terms of sustainability? What more needs to be done?

Honestly, there are a handful of builders in Toronto that are leading the charge in terms of sustainable building. Sadly, it has been the same group of builders for the last 10 years and not much has changed. We attribute this to two things. First, the common “I’ve been building this way for years” mentality. Habits are hard to change, people are strong willed, and they don’t want to hear that they’ve been doing it wrong. Second, building codes are slow to change. As an example, we have been specifying continuous exterior insulation for years, and each year we push how much exterior insulation we use even further and as a result we push our contractors to develop methods of building better buildings. By contrast, the Ontario Building Code only now requires minimal exterior insulation as of 2017, and even then there are options to comply to the energy code without it – by installing more efficient mechanical equipment! It just seems crazy, but its a direct result of push-back from the building industry who thinks that exterior insulation is impossible.

What are you currently working on within Sustainable TO?

As the resident Building Scientist at an architecture firm, I typically get involved in every project in some way. The simplest way I find to describe my role is that I provide technical support to our design team. On some projects, this might be as simple as an intra-office consultation about the best way to insulate and air-seal a building, which windows to select, review mechanical drawings from an HVAC designer, etc. On other projects, I will take on a larger role including energy modelling for building performance optimization, specification of building materials, building envelope detailing (drawings details of how the building should be constructed for optimum efficiency/durability), field reviews during construction, and blower door testing. We also offer these services to projects from clients who have an architect but need a sustainability consultant to optimize energy performance, health, and durability. This can also include consulting and certification for programs like LEED and Passive House.

You are finishing (or are you finished) your Master’s of Applied Science at Ryerson – what are your goals for afterward?

I am completing my Master of Building Science at Ryerson, to graduate in Spring 2018. I’ve been doing it part-time while working at SUSTAINABLE.TO over the past 4 years. Honestly, I don’t see much changing for me one I receive it. I already have the job I want with a company and a team that I am proud to be a part of. As SUSTAINABLE.TO grows, I would like to simultaneously grow the building science department (currently just myself) and broaden the scope of our services.

What do you do when you aren’t working and what are you reading right now?

When I’m not working, I’m typically spending time with my black lab/boxer Odin. I’m very active and love to be outdoors. I’ve recently gained a love and respect for high-intensity training at the gym and supplementing with yoga. I’m a big foodie and have embraced vegetarianism by experimenting with new and interesting foods. I love to travel, but who doesn’t!

I’m currently reading a book called “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” written by Meik Wiking, a researcher at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Its about living a balanced life full of Hygge (translated loosely into “coziness” in a Canadian context). It’s an easy ready, but between work and school it’s a perfect read right now.

 

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Woman of the Week: Meg Davis

Meg Davis loves to witness change in a neighbourhood. It’s her passion — to watch a vibrant community evolve over the years. As Chief Developent Officer of Waterfront Toronto, Davis gets to see this kind of transformation on a daily basis.

Davis has worked for Waterfront Toronto for the last 10 years, and says the change within the neighbourhood is heartwarming.

“When I arrived here we had a couple small parks and wave decks, which were stunning and beautiful and got a lot of attention, but we hadn’t built a building yet,” she said. “In the last 10 years we’ve built an 18-acre park in the West Don lands, Pan Am athletes village, condos in the West Don lands, [and] East Bayfront. People are starting to build down here and one of the things we have started is programming. Cultural events, the sugar shack program, partnering with Luminato — we are really animating the waterfront.”

The waterfront, a 46-kilometre stretch of Harbourfront property along Lake Ontario between Etobicoke and Rouge River, is constantly transforming. Waterfront Toronto is a public advocate and steward of this revitalization process. It was created by all three levels of the Canadian government with the purpose of overseeing and implementing strategies to transform the area.

One of the things Waterfront Toronto stresses is the difference between redevelopment and revitalization. Redevelopment, Davis explains, refers to the selling of land to the highest bidder, regardless of what they plan on doing in the area.

“Revitalization means achieving public policy objectives such as reducing urban sprawl, providing transit, reducing carbon emissions, contributing to economic vibrancy, addressing affordability and providing excellent public realm and architecture by leveraging public land,” she said.

It’s this kind of urban development that Davis is passionate about. Her love of urban planning was encouraged by a geography teacher in high school, whose lesson plans focused on urban affairs. “It really grabbed me. I took as many courses like that as I could,” she said.

Her education is mixed. She has an Honours Bachelor degree from Western University in urban development, a Master’s in business Administration from the University of Toronto, and recently completed an Executive Leadership Program. She started her career as a junior planner with Bramalea Limited, focusing mostly on real estate. From 2005 to 2007, Davis acted as Director of KPMG Canada, focusing on public-private partnership projects, including $1 billion long-term care facilities and the sale of Highway 407.

“I love the physical aspect of it,” she said. “I love to see things come up from the ground and take shape. For me, the use of P3s were a unique opportunity to see how the government and the private sector could come together.”

This is especially true of Toronto’s waterfront, which Davis describes as essentially “one big P3.” Waterfront Toronto is putting a large emphasis on affordable housing within its neighbourhoods, and using that as a foundation for planning.

“You can have affordable housing and expensive condos, [but] if you don’t provide the public spaces, it’s not a place anybody wants to live,” she said. “You can’t squander the opportunities – being by the water is unique in Toronto and you have to make it a complete community.”

As Chief Development Officer, Davis is responsible for leading the development of all lands controlled by Waterfront Toronto. She is particularly proud of the Pan Parapan Am Games Athlete’s Village in the West Don Lands, which was transformed after the games into affordable rental housing, vibrant retail properties, student housing, market condominiums, and public art. Davis says it advanced revitalization of the neighbourhood by over five years.

“We are really animating the waterfront. I think the transformation is huge,” she says.

Davis helps co-chair the Women’s Leadership Initiative ULI Toronto. They are working on a speaking series that will help promote the voices of women in real estate, which she says is still a heavily male-dominated industry.

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Woman of the Week: Linda Stephenson

How often do you look at the ingredients of your beauty products?  It’s not a common practice. Most people are unaware of the chemical names of toxins that linger in popular beauty products. If you’re fairly good at looking at ingredients in the foods you eat, it’s time to become more aware of what you put on your body. That’s where Linda Stephenson comes in. Stephenson is the CEO and the brains behind Mereadesso skincare products, a luxury brand of plant-based products that are targeted to cover a range of skin issues in a one-step approach.

It only took a few minutes of chatting with Stephenson to know she’s a ‘chemically aware’ beauty guru who cares about the health of her skin — and my skin as well. While enrolled at the University of Toronto, Stephenson studied Chemistry and Biology with a minor in Botany. After landing successful positions at Mary-Kay cosmetics and MAC in the mid-90’s, Stephenson moved on to a purely technical position at  Estee Lauder. Stephenson left her corporate roles to work privately with clients and to study brand acquisition, focusing on how beauty products are positioned in the industry.

Stephenson was always on the go and working tirelessly to market well-known beauty products with a reinvented look. When Stephenson started her family and have birth to her son, she barely had time to think. She was used to being the person that was good at branding and helping people, but it became time to do it for herself.

Stephenson loves to travel, and got used to compressing all of her beauty products to fit into her tiny travel bag. As a busy mom. she noticed all her friends had similar lifestyles — working moms, travellers or even guys who are minimalists. That’s why around eight years ago, Stephenson made use of her educational background ,as well as her corporate directory of contacts, to launch Mereadesso, her own skincare line.

“For me it was a natural evolution from a technical background with over 20 years of experience.” said Stephenson “My products are pretty much plant based— I don’t believe in the ‘magic’ ingredient theory. Our skin is an organ, we live and we work, we need vitamins and minerals.”

With this idea in mind, Stephenson set out to nourish the skin by using natural and real ingredients to calm, heal, and soften the skin by supplying the skin with vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, botanical extracts and minerals that our bodies can extract.

Unlike many water-based beauty products, Mereadesso is over 30 per cent aloe based with infused minerals and vitamins. One of the things Stephenson wants customers who shop in the beauty industry to be aware of is the ingredient list of products. Look for paraben-free products with real ingredients that are easy to understand. For instance, if you want more Vitamin A, the chemical name is beta-carotene or retinyl palmitate, so look for that listing in your ingredients lineup. The highest percentages will be listed first eg: water and the lowest ingredient of percentage will be listed last eg: fragrance.

“Look for the selling point, not the label claim. Take awareness to your own skin, look for what you need and what you can manage.” said Stephenson.

One of Mereadesso’s best selling products is the original one-step and all in one moisturizer. This moisturizer is aloe based and is a combination of a day cream, night cream, serum, primer and moisturizer. It is also a product designed for all skin types. As Stephenson said, most clients would come to her saying they have sensitive skin, but what does that mean ? Stephenson says to look for the commonality in the products you use that can cause redness and rash and most often this is linked to fragrance. Mereadesso products are fragrance-free in addition to being free of sulfates or artificial colours. Over all, there are about seven different product categories that users can enjoy with Mereadesso, including another best seller — the face and neck cleanser. This cleanser was designed to come with a gentle exfoliating cloth for easy cleansing.

” People need to exfoliate. Cell renewal rate slows down as we age and by removing the dead layer of skin cells, this prompts our skin to renew.” Stephenson said.

Stephenson pays a lot of attention to packaging. For instance, the travel kit comes with a reusable pouch. This kit was actually one of the selling points for landing Stephenson’s products in luxury retailer, Nordstrom. Most products don’t have a secondary purpose, but Stephenson plans to utilize her packaging.

In fact, Stephenson let me in on another skincare secret — avoid buying anything in a jar. The blanket rule is that the preservative system in a jar is there to kill mould and bacteria from forming on your moisturizer, but after being exposed to air and the constant dipping of your hands, the preservative system has to be more aggressive, which is no use to your skin. Mereadesso uses pressurized products in metered dose pumps to protect the product and keep out bacteria.

As Mereadesso continues to grow, Stephenson keeps her team small, but mighty, as her products are mostly available to order online in the United States; although it is also being featured on The Shopping Channel and is available at Nordstorm.

If you are wondering about the name Mereadesso, it was simple. ‘Mere’ means mother in French and ‘adesso’ means ‘now’ in Italian. When Stephenson became a mother, this was when her life changed and she decided to put all her beauty steps into well-rounded and unisex products for minimalists. Because of this, and more, this name will always be close to her heart.

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Geeta Sankappanavar joins WXN Hall of Fame

Geeta Sankappanavar is Co-Founder, President and CEO of Grafton Asset Management, a Calgary-based energy investment firm. Sankappanavar is responsible for managing $1 billion in capital, focusing on investments in oil and gas. Prior to founding Grafton, she worked with New Vernon Capital, a $3 billion asset management company.

Wednesday, Sankappanavar was inducted into the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Hall of Fame after being named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women numerous times.  This isn’t the first time she has been recognized for her work in emerging markets. She was also named one of Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People, and one of Calgary’s Top 40 under 40.

Question: How does it feel to be inducted into the WXN Hall of Fame?

Answer: Humbled. I have been honoured to be part of the WXN network and have had the opportunity to meet the incredible women leaders who comprise it. I am so honoured to join those amazing trailblazers in the hall of fame.

Do you remember the first time you got on the list of top 100 powerful women?

Of course! I didn’t believe it! I immediately called my family. As immigrants to this country, my family has worked hard to build their lives here, and they have always believed that a focus on constant and continuing education and hard work was critical to success. I live by these beliefs to this day. They have been my strongest supporters my entire life. I was so proud to share this recognition with them, for it was their support that enabled my success. It was a heartfelt moment for us all.

You are speaking at the Leadership Summit Wednesday, with the theme “unbreakable”. Does that theme resonate with you – and how so?

Very much so. I think all leaders face and surmount great challenges to achieve success. I think women in leadership execute those same challenges with significant biases- conscious and unconscious that make their paths even more difficult. Leadership is not easy, and you have to really, really be sure this is the life you want. Leadership is exciting, fulfilling and challenging, but it is not easy and it is not for the faint of heart. I am so proud to be part of the incredible group of women in leadership that WXN is celebrating tomorrow. Sharing our stories, our successes and our challenges, WILL make it more commonplace to be a women in leadership for the next generation.

Why did you help found Grafton Asset Management, especially considering your highly successful career prior?

My business partner and I saw an opportunity to connect Canada’s energy sector to global pools of capital. Canadian energy companies need billions annually to fund their capital programs. This need, however, had not been able to be served domestically in Canada with the traditional sources of capital for this industry. We founded Grafton in late 2010 and quickly grew to ~$1B in capital and have built an incredible team to capture the opportunities we are seeing.

Earlier this year you said that Grafton would be exploring alternative energy sources – is this something you can expand on?

I think our greatest challenge as a resource nation is our need to expand our problem space from a producer of hydrocarbons to a producer of power, fuel and petro products. If we do that, it enables us to understand the greater market forces at play in our industry and invest accordingly, which we at Grafton have done.

What’s next for you professionally and personally?

Continue to build our business and support the great team at Grafton to continue to achieve success. And personally, (besides spending time with my family and our growing list of fur babies (we just got a great pyrenees puppy) it is to passionately support women in business and in leadership in any way I can. It is up to our generation of leaders to support the women in the next generation to achieve their successes. If not us then whom, if not now then when?

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, especially women?

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about having a vision of where you want to go- Its asking yourself why not? -rather than just saying that something is impossible. And then it’s about assembling the team that wants to try and achieve it with you. It’s the willingness to take risks and not listen to naysayers. To ask yourself what is the right thing to do, and then doing it. It’s casting a compelling vision to motivate others while not being afraid to deliver the hard news or harsh feedback. So, I’d share some advice that has worked for me over the years:

1 – Be flexible- business is a rollercoaster, you need to be able to quickly adapt and pivot your business and your people as required to take advantage of opportunities that you identify,

2 -Hone the ability to assemble and rally a great team around your ideas. Build trust with each other in order to create and sustain a great culture- and I don’t mean picking the nicest people- I mean picking the people who have the courage to challenge you so that together you all get better.

3 – Persevere – Be unwavering, and unrelenting. You must have the belief that with the right partners, you can do the impossible.

For first-time winners, what advice would you give them to stay on the list and eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

First of all…Congratulations!!!!! You have achieved great things professionally and Canada is recognizing and appreciating you for it. Secondly, you still need to be the best. You have to be unrelenting in your pursuit of self improvement. You must work twice as hard and twice as long as your male peers. You must be unforgettable. And when you get there, because you will, you will look around and be so humbled and so proud to be part of an incredible group of women leaders who are an inspiration for us all as well as for the next generation of women in leadership.

Featured image courtesy of oilandgascouncil.com