2020 Women of the Year Awards: Leader

Our first annual Women of the Year Awards.

Winner: Pauline Stevenson

Founder and president, Excel Career College

When Pauline Stevenson hears employers say they can’t find skilled labour, she sees an opportunity: “How can we find them the people who could be their next employees?”

Since 1989, Stevenson has run Excel Career College, an accredited school in Courtenay offering full diploma programs, shorter courses and personalized training for businesses and other organizations. The college evolved out of night classes she offered in the 1980s, helping people learn to use computers.

Born in Port Alberni, Stevenson got her foot in the door of the education sector after high school. She approached an accounting firm in Courtenay and offered them free labour in exchange for any skills they would teach her. “They provided me with management and computer training, and promoted me to be their manager,” she explains. Soon in her seven-year tenure, she began showing colleagues how to improve their computer skills. As demand grew, she saw she had the makings of a school.

At first, Stevenson’s college, then called Computer Training 2000, focused on accounting software and basic tech skills. The provincial government contracted her to do group training, first for its own clients and then skills development for the unemployed. The school, which now delivers programs across the province, has always been about “connecting people to jobs,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a labour market challenge where people need to upgrade skills, or it’s employers looking for employees with certain skill sets.”

Excel is small enough to be nimble. It offers a vast array of programs—finance or health-care assistant, business management, aquaculture technician—and can add new ones quickly to meet demand. Stevenson gives the example of setting up custom training in a First Nations community, prompted by an employer who was motivated to hire from within it. Six weeks later, her school had “a class of participants getting trained for that specific need of that company,” she recalls.

Excel welcomes an average of 100 full-time-equivalent students a year. In 2022, Stevenson will move the school onto a new campus with a custom-built facility. “I’ve always had a passion for mentorship and coaching, for seeing people move forward in their roles,” she says of her 30 years in business. “I’m in a very meaningful part of my career, and I’m certainly not done.”

Finalist: Susannah Pierce

Director, corporate affairs, LNG Canada Development 

Since 2013, Susannah Pierce has led corporate affairs for LNG Canada, a $40-billion liquefied natural gas joint venture with five global participants. Vancouver-based Pierce and her team of 12 work on the social engineering side of the Kitimat-based project, she explains, “helping to develop projects that can have the support and participation of Indigenous communities as well as governments and communities.”

The Calgary native, who has a master’s degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University, has held senior energy sector positions in Canada, the U.S. and The Hague, where she was VP of international and external affairs for Royal Dutch Shell. Pierce says her role gives her the opportunity to find a way to build major infrastructure projects while keeping societal interests in mind. “How do you ensure the right level of engagement, consultation and partnership with Indigenous communities and First Nations?”

Finalist: Anita Huberman

CEO, Surrey Board of Trade

In 14 years, Anita Huberman leapfrogged to the top of the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT), going from summer student while completing her communications degree at SFU to executive assistant to manager, and finally to chief executive in 2006, at 32. She was the “first South Asian woman to be CEO of any board of trade or chamber of commerce in the country at the time,” says Huberman, who moved to Surrey from Prince George in high school.

With her at the helm, SBOT‘s membership has risen from 1,000 businesses to 3,000. Huberman has repositioned the organization, expanding its capacity as a go-to place for global business connections and increasing its government advocacy work so “Surrey is the place to invest for both the provincial and federal government.

Finalist: Juggy Sihota

Vice-president, Telus Consumer Health

Her mother’s heart attack prompted Juggy Sihota to re-evaluate her career. She was VP of customer experience at Telus Corp., having worked for the telecom giant in several roles since joining the sales team while studying political science at SFU.

Sihota considered becoming a doctor or changing policy as a public servant; her third option was to move into Telus’s health division, working on technology like Babylon, which lets people see a doctor on their smartphone, and services like Health for Good, mobile health clinics for the homeless.

Born in the Lower Mainland, Sihota, who has an MBA from Queen’s University, believed she could have the most influence by staying at company HQ in Vancouver. Landing a vice-president position with Telus Health in 2013, she focused on strategy and customer experience; in 2017, she moved into her current role as VP of consumer health, leading a team of 50.

“I’m excited about the opportunity and privilege I have to change health care for Canadians and make it better and more accessible for all of us,” Sihota says.

Finalist: Vivian Smith

Executive director, Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation 

After securing a multimillion-dollar donation for the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation (LMHF) in 2018, Vivian Smith told the Fraser Health Authority: “This gift is restricted to building a new emergency department. If you don’t approve it, I will send the donation back.” The emergency department was built.

Since taking over as executive director in 2013, Smith has moved the foundation into a leadership role. Instead of reacting to funding requests from the hospital, LMHF identifies community needs and works to bring those projects to fruition.

Smith, who was born in Ontario, worked as a copywriter for radio and TV before spending a decade as executive director of the Maple Ridge Hospital Foundation and consulting to the charitable sector for 17 years.

Under her leadership, LMHF has grown its staff from 3.5 to 10 and quadrupled its revenue. “Just like investors in a corporation, donors want to know…where are you going next?” she says. “When I ask people for a gift, I ask them to walk alongside me and invest in what we’re doing in our community.