Academically, I actually started out in the sciences. I have family in healthcare, and I thought I would go down the path to becoming a doctor, but I came to realize that my career path was missing the creativity I needed to thrive in my career. I studied kinesiology in my undergrad, and after taking classes in sport management and sports sponsorship, I decided to change my focus and pursue a career in business. I got an internship with a company specializing in sponsorship, which became my first full-time role. It turned out to be an amazing training ground that offered me unparalleled experiences that were both professionally rewarding and personally memorable.
It was a dream job early in my career, but while I really enjoyed the business of sponsorship, I didn’t like the aspect that was just going out and trying to hard sell a company to make a revenue target. The assets and opportunities we were able to offer didn’t necessarily align with the needs and objectives of the brand. Almost intuitively, I started down a path of trying to uncover the businesses’ objectives so that I could go away and come up with ways of creating value for businesses while also solving some of the clients’ core needs beyond revenue. That is what led me down the path of strategic partnerships.
I had a few career stops along the way, but I eventually came back to consulting with an exciting opportunity to help Metrolinx build a first-of-its-kind partnership program structure. That project was being subcontracted through Level5, and I had the opportunity to work closely with David Kincaid. We were able to prove the concept of delivering on the brand promise through aligned strategic partnerships. Later, I had the opportunity to start my own firm, and I worked closely with Level5 on several other projects.
In 2020 I was re-assessing my path. I had launched and run a company for five years that was focused on partnership strategy and execution. Over this period, I recognized that partnerships as an enabler to an organization’s strategy need to be baked into the strategic plan, and I decided that it was time to broaden my own focus, which is what brought me to Level5.
As somebody who has been an entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial nature and spirit of Level5 were very attractive. As a boutique firm, every single member of the organization has the opportunity to make a significant impact. The entrepreneurial ethos is infused into Level5’s culture from the most senior levels down through to Analysts who are joining the firm, and I was thrilled to join a company where every member of the team thinks and acts like an owner.
Then there’s the people and culture. You can find smart people in many firms, but it’s the way that this team interacts with one another and supports each other that is unique. We are a very horizontal company that seeks to leverage the strengths of every individual while cultivating growth. Great ideas come from everywhere, and we recognize and celebrate the contributions of every single member of the Level5 team.
The third thing that attracted me to Level5 was the personal opportunities for growth. The expertise I brought to the firm, as well as my desired areas of growth, were embraced and celebrated by the leadership team at Level5. I’ve been provided tremendous opportunities, along with tools and support to grow my areas of experience and impact. That has been a real gift. In terms of what I had envisioned my life to look like at Level5, it has certainly exceeded my expectations in those areas.
It starts with the strategic plan and what an organization is trying to accomplish. I start with a client by saying, “What are your goals, and what do you need to make that happen?” You don’t necessarily need to look internally for the competencies and resources needed to accomplish your goals. Sometimes another organization will be better suited to bring those capabilities to the table.
When we have a partnership mandate, it starts with “what are you trying to do, and what do you need to get there?” Then we look at, “who can help you to do the things that will help you accomplish your goals?” When you think about who can help you get there, we work with the client to identify what value they can bring to that perspective partner. So, we start by articulating the skeleton of two-way value exchange and packaging up the ideas and the benefits of doing this. We help our clients to craft their narrative around the value proposition and then go to market and support with prospective partner outreach, opportunity articulation, and negotiations.
It absolutely is becoming more diverse. There are different ways that organizations are going about increasing diversity. Some I’m more aligned with than others. Some organizations promote people because they are part of an equity deserving group, using this as the first lens of decision-making for advancement. I’m not aligned with that as an approach to increasing diversity because it really reinforces tokenism.
From my perspective, the increase in diversity at the top is not a problem with an overnight solution. It’s really reliant on ensuring talent pools are diverse, which means ensuring that there are paths into academics and then into occupations for diverse talent. From an organizational perspective, once you have a diverse pool of talent in your door, it’s about retention and creating environments where all individuals can thrive. This means organizations need to focus on removing the barriers, not simply promoting because someone is from an equity deserving group.
Reflecting on one of my very early career experiences, I remember walking into a hotel lobby for a meeting during the NHL All-Star Game hosted in Montreal about 15 years ago. I remember just looking around and thinking, “I am the only woman here.” My perspective on this topic is formed by those and other early experiences in that I actually saw it as a huge opportunity. I was the only woman, so I stood out. I was automatically going to be identified, and I had something different about me that I could use to my advantage in terms of having a voice, being recognized, and advancing my career. So, I do have a unique perspective on that topic, formed from the benefits I saw in being able to leverage my differences to stand out and advance my career.
Say yes to opportunities and advocate for yourself regarding the experiences you want to have early in your career. You only get one chance to be early in your career. I often say to people that there are no dumb questions early on. It’s the one time that you’re not expected to know everything, let alone much about the industry or the service offering that you’re delivering. So take advantage of that and ask a lot of questions!
I also think it’s important to advocate for the experiences that you want to accumulate in your early career years. Advocate for the diversity of experience. I may be biased because of the type of firm that Level5 is; we offer people the potential to work in a huge breadth of industries and service offerings as early-stage professionals. I do think that you will become a much better consultant if you have diversity in the types of experiences that you’ve accumulated.