Credit: Courtesy of the BC Chamber of Commerce

Fiona Famulak took the helm of the province’s largest business group after leading the Vancouver Regional Construction Association

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us three things, according to Fiona Famulak.

“Firstly, that we need each other more than perhaps we expected,” says the new president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce. “Secondly, that we need to collaborate and join forces in order to support each other and get things done,” Famulak adds.

“And then thirdly, it’s taught us that we need to do business differently. Because the old way of doing business prior to the pandemic is just not going to work now, given that we can’t come together professionally or recreationally.”

Famulak, who succeeded Val Litwin in March after Dan Baxter took over as interim CEO, steps into the role as this province tries to find a way forward in COVID’s wake. She says she feels responsible for the 125 chambers and commerce and boards of trade in the BC Chamber network—and the 36,000 businesses they represent.

“My priority right now is to make sure that they have access to the funds and resources they need to make it through the pandemic,” says Famulak, who is a chartered accountant by trade. “There’s a long ways to go, and recovery is not a linear path, and every business and every chamber is at a different stage in that path.”

Famulak comes to the BC Chamber from construction, a sector that has fared relatively well during COVID as an essential service. She’s also something of a globetrotter.

Before spending eight years as president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, Famulak lived in Whistler, where she managed a residential construction company and built and sold her own strata management business. Like her predecessor at the BC Chamber, she also served as CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, holding that post during the 2010 Olympics.

For Famulak, who grew up on a farm in northeast Scotland and spent a decade in Hong Kong and Bangkok with KPMG and Deloitte, the Whistler Chamber job was her first foray into nonprofits. “I really understood and appreciated how good it feels to be of service to others,” she recalls. “This position allows me to continue what I like to do, which is being of service now at a provincial level as opposed to a local or regional level.”

At the BC Chamber, Famulak intends to do businesses differently herself. “I’m a change agent by nature,” she says. “I like to constructively challenge the status quo, so there will be changes.”

A road map for the province

In the meantime, she will build on the BC Chamber’s existing efforts. “I inherited the good work that was done by Val and his team around a recovery plan that’s focused on resiliency and recovery,” Famulak says. “And I want to make sure that both the provincial and the federal governments hear the feedback from businesses across the province, and make sure that their needs are heard and that the various resources, financial or otherwise, are made available.”

Under Litwin, the BC Chamber became more data-driven, launching the BCMindReader platform to give it and policy makers a detailed picture of what member businesses throughout the province think, want and need. “We have to know what’s happening at the grassroots in order to be effective as an organization,” Famulak says. “So yes, we’ll continue to build on that.”

Knowing that input from her association and others helps to shape government policy is satisfying, she adds. “The feedback that we’ve been able to provide is beginning to manifest in either new programs or changes to programs that have already been launched,” Famulak says, citing the recent announcement of the $50-million Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant.

The new CEO may be focused on her backyard, but she plans to look far afield for ways to raise the BC Chamber’s game. “I’ve worked in a number of different places around the world, and I have no problem whatsoever reaching back to places and asking how their chambers are doing business. That’s the way that we learn, and it avoids reinventing the wheel.”

Famulak calls her organization’s three-step economic recovery plan, Big Thinking for Small Business, a road map for the province. “It sets out really clearly our vision for the economy post-pandemic,” she says. “We need to come out of this pandemic period more innovative, more competitive from a tax perspective and more inclusive than ever before.”