"I applaud the bravery of these Extra(ordinary) Executives in sharing their stories. We should embrace empathy and the willingness to be vulnerable. Empathy allows us to connect on a deeper level and fuels productive conversations. Once we gain the courage to be honest with ourselves, our journeys (both professional and personal) become easier to share. With confidence, we can then explore paths that lead to self-awareness; attracting people and experiences that leave us with significant memorable impact." - Reena Khullar Sharma
October 1, 2020
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we are honored to share the influential journey of Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, M.O.M., Mst (CANTAB), an Extra(ordinary) Executive we are privileged to address as our very own Chief of Police in Calgary, Alberta.
Chief Neufeld opened his doors without reservation, welcoming us into his home-away-from-home. We took a photo of the plaque that hangs outside Chief Neufeld’s office door, noting the care and attention given to ensuring its pristine condition. Led by the values of respect, honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, and courage, Chief Neufeld started sharing and we started writing. One hour turned to four as we spent the afternoon learning about his ambitious journey; and the leadership characteristics of perception and instinct that he very naturally developed along the way. With humility, he took us through his childhood, his upbringing, his role models, his struggles, and the decisions that keep him resilient in a career committed to serving and protecting humanity.
Chief Neufeld grew up in Ryley, Alberta, a small town of 500 people. “We had no stoplights in town, and the train went through every hour. I guess the good part about that was it was a wholesome upbringing with lots of great people. It was a very personal upbringing I think because you knew everybody in town. And as a result, you had relationships with everybody. I think just that degree of familiarity is what made growing up there very personal.” At a very young age, Chief Neufeld had a high degree of responsibility. His mother passed away when he was just months old and he was raised by his father. “My father owned a store so I had a lot of responsibility growing up in terms of helping my father out with the business. I was also quite involved in the community. Very involved in sports,” he recalls. “I experienced a normal childhood I suppose from that standpoint. I couldn’t get away with too much because my dad was always in the store, so he was quite accessible to people”, he laughs light-heartedly. “So, my teachers and others knew right where to find my dad if I was getting into mischief in the community.”
The youngest of three siblings, Chief Neufeld has two sisters. “Growing up with one parent was normal to me, unlike my sisters, who would have known my mom because they were older when she passed away. They would have had many more years with her. But for me, it was really all I knew.” He continues, “Ryley had its own school that went from kindergarten to Grade 12. In my class, there was about two dozen students. I started there in grade two and graduated with mostly the same kids,” he fondly recalls. “Families were pretty established in the area; many were farm families so there wasn’t too much movement.”
Chief Neufeld had several influencers at a young age, and throughout his upbringing. “In the early stages of my life, my influencers were primarily teachers and coaches. I had a baseball coach named Bruce who was a fantastic role model. He was such an encouraging mentor. Adolescence can be a tough time for kids and having positive role models like Bruce was really important.” He elaborates, “Bruce worked out of the province each summer and I remember he would send me handwritten letters of encouragement while he was away. Believe it or not, I have those letters to this day! I think it speaks to the power of those trusted individuals who are positive in your life; and things that might seem insignificant can be anything but. Writing offers encouragement in ways that are very personal. I have shared these letters with my children”, he notes.
Upon graduation from high school, Chief Neufeld went to work for the local municipality. Before long he was fortunate to receive a leadership opportunity as a foreman on a brushing crew (cutting trees). “They had enough trust in me to give me a leadership opportunity, perhaps before I had really earned it”, he remembers. “During that period, my boss, Carol, encouraged me to pursue a post-secondary education. I had had some interest in becoming a Fish & Wildlife officer and there was a good program in Lethbridge. I don’t know if it was fate, but her brother was enrolled in the law enforcement program at the Lethbridge College. Carol said, ‘her brother and a couple of his friends had rented the whole house in Lethbridge and they had an extra room – all I had to do was apply to the program and I had a place to stay. She was unbelievably supportive.” This moment changed Chief Neufeld’s path, as he took Carol’s advice and moved to Lethbridge. Living with three law enforcement students is what ultimately sparked his interest in policing. “This move sent me down roads I had not anticipated. When I think of influencers, I think of Carol; when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, she gave me opportunities to continue working while simultaneously pushing me to think about my future, and to consider going to school.”
A year later, Carol received a promotion and recommended Chief Neufeld to replace her as Director of Agriculture for the municipality. “Honestly, I’m not sure what she saw in 20-year old me that made her think I could perform in that role. I thought long and hard about the opportunity because I was enjoying college in Lethbridge. But I always knew I could return to school so I took a leap of faith and accepted the role.” Chief Neufeld proudly stayed in this role for five years, grateful to Carol, his co-workers, and his community who showed confidence in him and helped develop his leadership. “My employees and supervisors treated me really, really well. I learned so much from them. I recall being thankful for the trust people had shown in me and felt a strong responsibility to deliver on my responsibilities and commitments. Again, I think it helped that I had grown up in the community and had such strong relationships. Everyone would have known me from my earliest years.”
To continue his interest in law enforcement, Chief Neufeld began volunteering for the RCMP in Tofield. “These were the days before there were signs on roads in rural Alberta – and Google Maps wasn’t yet a thing!” he smiles. “Because of my role with the municipality, I knew the county like the back of my hand. There were RCMP officers posted to Tofield Detachment from other provinces who, understandably, had no familiarity with the area. So, I brought a lot of value because I knew almost everyone in the county and where everything was. I received a lot of support from the members there – Randy, Sheila, and Jerry. It was as a result of their encouragement and support that I decided to make application to the RCMP. I guess this cemented my interest in policing as a career.”
“The RCMP recruitment process was quite competitive at that time. I completed my application requirements and then waited some time for results. Thinking about influencers, the detachment commander (Sergeant Syd), had fully supported my application. When things were not progressing, he encouraged me to consider other options. I recall him telling me ‘not to be worried about the colour of the shirt I would be wearing’, but rather I should consider other options and focus on getting into a police service now. I could move around later if I choose to.” Chief Neufeld, a sponge for sage advice, decided to look more broadly.
While taking evening courses at Grant MacEwan College, Chief Neufeld became intrigued by a Vancouver Police Department recruitment. Ambitious, curious and free-spirited, Chief Neufeld chose to apply. “After writing the test in Edmonton with a good friend of mine, I headed to Vancouver a few times to participate in the recruitment process. I remember being down in Vancouver – a city I’d never been to before - thinking to myself, ‘I could never move down here.’, I came from a town of 500 people!’” he reminisces. “I took a Greyhound bus the first time; I left my bags in a locker at the bus depot to go look around. Unwittingly, I ended up walking through the Downtown Eastside where I kept thinking, ‘this is not for me!’” He decided to continue through the recruitment process as a learning opportunity for when the RCMP finally called. “Something changes though when you receive a call congratulating you on being successful; and I remember thinking that if I don’t accept this position, I could really regret this?” Chief Neufeld took the plunge, left the stability of his current role, and moved to Vancouver with his family. “This was a big move! I remember during training, we were told to look left and right and that, statistically, one in three candidates would not successfully complete basic training!” he laughs again light-heartedly. “I had left my home province, my job, and I had a child on the way. Not being successful was not an option for me! I did graduate with so many other great cops. I ended up being posted to the same Downtown East Side I had walked through all those months earlier – and loved every minute of it.”
Chief Neufeld felt very fortunate to have met so many great people in Vancouver. This included supervisors, trainers, and co-workers. “You’re somewhat vulnerable when you pack up, leave your home, take a risk and put everything on the line”, he admits. “The people were phenomenal though. I did not know a lot about policing when I began. My time as an Auxiliary Constable with the RCMP definitely helped. Fortunately for me, the people I worked with were patient and compassionate. I was allowed to make mistakes and learn in a fun and supportive environment.” Chief Neufeld was a member of the Vancouver Police Department for less than two years. Unfortunately, his father had become ill and there was a strong pull to return to Alberta to help out. “By the time we moved back to Alberta, we had grown accustomed to Vancouver and developed a circle of good friends. Though moving to the big city hadn’t been an easy adjustment, we were sad to leave Vancouver. I was fortunate to be able to join the Edmonton Police Service which prompted a move back to Edmonton.”
After repeating recruit training, Chief Neufeld was assigned Edmonton’s Downtown Division. “There were myriad social issues to contend with, but not to the same extent as downtown Vancouver. I loved front line police work and serving the community. I stayed in Downtown Division for ten years. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to ‘walk the beat’, which meant I was responsible for a small geographic area which I patrolled without the barrier of the car. I got to know everyone in the area – literally - and it was kind of like living in a small town. I enjoyed building relationships with the community and this was a reoccurring theme that was presenting for me. I was able to have personal relationships with the business owners, and the apartment owners, and even the people who were struggling and on the wrong side of the law.” Chief Neufeld developed these relationships by choice, feeling comfortable in this beat; knowing the support he had from the community in the area. “Treat people with respect; be open-minded; and help out where you can. It goes a long way. The investment you make in relationships generally pays off in spades.”
Ultimately, Chief Neufeld was promoted to sergeant, a goal achieved with pride and perseverance. “I wanted to expand my influence further and support good officers doing good work in communities.” He then moved to Internal Affairs, which is the Professional Standards unit today. “This was unexpected as I had been pursuing an assignment in undercover operations. I was nevertheless humbled to have been chosen for this important role”, he says. “Phil was my boss; and here is where I learned about the importance of management. Phil was a leader that understood systems and could turn ideas into reality. He was a stickler for doing things right and taking care of the details. He made me better...” Chief Neufeld indicated one of the highlights of his time in Internal Affairs was a ‘best and leading practices’ trip to Ontario, British Columbia, and California. “We were asked to visit a number of agencies and to bring back recommendations regarding best-practices that could be implemented by EPS. One of the things we came up with was the idea of an independent investigative agency for investigating police-involved incidents in Alberta. This ended up being the impetus for what would, some years later, become ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team).”
When ASIRT was first launched in Alberta, Chief Neufeld successfully applied for a secondment to the province’s Justice & Solicitor General Ministry, becoming the first police officer to join and lead this team. “We started with a budget code and a business plan and, with that, we did everything from securing office space, equipment, people, a strategic plan, processes, you name it…” It was here that he met Clif, who became a close friend. “I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of what became a very cohesive team and to have had an opportunity to play a small part in the launch of this important venture”.
We continue to write, recognizing that we’re unveiling a theme…Chief Neufeld uses instinct, some faith, and his ambition to move outside of his comfort zone. Courageous curiosity!
Thereafter, Chief Neufeld rejoined the Edmonton Police Service and was placed in charge of Professional Standards Branch. “Had I not been selected to join this unit earlier in my career as a detective, I don’t think I would have been selected for the secondment to ASIRT. And if I had not gained the experiences I had in ASIRT, I don’t think I would have ended up back there as the Inspector. The ASIRT experience was very instrumental in me going back as the Inspector in charge of Professional Standards in Edmonton”, he concludes. “Realistically, my experiences with ASIRT were somewhat unique among police leaders in Alberta and even Canada. These experiences probably contributed being selected to my current role as Chief Constable here in Calgary.”
During his career, Chief Neufeld transferred positions often, generally every few years; which expanded his experience and skill sets while offering him opportunities for self-awareness and personal development. “There are so many interesting things to do in policing. And so much opportunity to do good for others and to have a positive impact on your community. This career has been extremely rewarding in that respect.” After Professional Standards, Chief Neufeld moved into a Duty Officer role. “As the most senior police officer on duty, you are ultimately responsible for everything; in essence, you are the ‘Chief’ at night and on weekends. This assignment reconnected me with the front line and operational policing, which I always enjoyed. This was really good for me.”
For a period of time following this role, Chief Neufeld returned to ASIRT as the Director of Investigations and filled in as Executive Director for a time. “It was nice to be asked back after having been involved in the original development of the unit. It was interesting to come back to be able to address things that needed a bit of fine tuning. I was able to hit the ground running in this assignment because I knew the people and I understood the business. The ASIRT team has always been, and continues to be, an amazing collection of people. This team does difficult work and they make it look easy. They do not receive the appreciation they deserve for the important contribution they make toward enhancing public confidence in Alberta’s police.”
Chief Neufeld returned to the Edmonton Police Service and was placed in charge of all Major and Serious Crimes. “This was an interesting role, with a very wide scope of crime falling within this unit. Once again, I had a great mentor and role model in Deputy Chief Brian Simpson. He was very experienced and supportive. We went through a lot of things during this time – the loss of our colleague who was killed on duty; the worst domestic mass murder in Edmonton’s history; a complicated, inter-provincial homicide investigation, and national security investigations. We lost an officer to suicide at this time as well, which was very hard on all of us.” Chief Neufeld becomes quiet as he recalls his interactions with the family. “I don’t think I appreciated the combined weight of all of those situations over time until after I transferred back to operations in Southwest Division. It becomes ‘your normal’. I found the move back to operations rejuvenating at that time. They say that sometimes a change is as good as a rest.”
Over the years, Chief Neufeld has been a strong promoter of mental health supports and police officer wellness. “Over my career, seeing really great officers struggle with trauma and PTSD has been difficult. It’s so important to be supportive of our officers and to reduce stigma around asking for help or receiving supports. Policing is a demanding career and leaders need to support their people in this critical area.” Chief Neufeld gets his strength from remaining grounded, and his family. He can’t say enough positive things about his partner, Lynn, and their four children. “It’s also of course been important for me to remain active and physically healthy to meet the demands of this job.”
In 2017, Chief Neufeld ventured to Camrose to challenge himself in a new role as Chief of Police. “If someone would have told me I would be leaving the Edmonton Police Service in 2017, I would never have believed it! Again, opportunities sometimes present themselves at what seem like inopportune moments. But these are the moments when taking a chance can result in great experiences”, he recalls. “Camrose is a smaller city in Central Alberta which has an excellent police service. I really enjoyed this role. I found myself close to the community and close to the outstanding women and men delivering the services to the community. I got to witness, first hand, how the challenges of policing were impacting the members. Getting close to the people – both the community and the police officers – is important to me.” He continues, “I work hard to remember people’s names and what is important to them because they really matter to me. I make time to answer emails, phone people back. I spend a lot of time in the workplace with people and my team. My family and I enjoyed every minute of our time in Camrose. We still have many friends in the community. ”
Chief Neufeld’s fate had our hometown calling for his leadership. “During my time with both EPS and ASIRT, I had worked with the Calgary Police Service. I always knew CPS was an industry leader and for me, it was an honour to join the service and to move to this beautiful city. The people in the service and community have been extremely welcoming to Lynn and I.” Chief Neufeld’s first year in Calgary has been a challenging one. “We have faced difficulties associated with the pandemic, the economy, and more recently, global (and local) protests and demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Through it all, I have been inspired by the great people who comprise CPS. We have a strong team and strong leaders who are fully committed to working together to meet these challenges. I’m proud to be a member of CPS and I’m honored to work with the team to serve and support Calgarians.”
Chief Neufeld’s police career has offered him some unique opportunities over the years. He has traveled internationally to the United Kingdom and Spain to research cybercrime as part of the CACP Executive Global Studies program. “I have also traveled to Hong Kong on two occasions as part of the Canadian Police College’s International Executive Development of Policing Program. This program is delivered in partnership with the Hong Kong Police Force. On the first occasion, I was a candidate on the program. On the second occasion, I was fortunate to have been invited back to participate as a member of the faculty/instructional team.” He smiles as he takes us back with him in memory: “Most recently, I was able to attend Cambridge University and earn a Master’s Degree, living in the UK for twelve weeks during 2017-2018. This was one of the most amazing educational and cultural experiences of my life. I frequently reflect on some of these experiences with a deep sense of appreciation…”
“How do I measure success? I like to see people and organizations achieve big things. I love setting the vision for an organization, identifying priorities and outcomes – and then working with others to achieve results.”
Chief Neufeld personifies the values that have guided him through his journey. He honors the communities that continue to support the shared vision of an inclusive, safe world. And, he dedicates himself to the mission of ensuring public safety...in every step; in every thought; in every role.
The values listed on the plaque at the entrance of Chief Neufeld’s office echo in his leadership. The impact of these words and their significance show through his actions; they show through his expressions; and, they show through his quiet demeanour. As we listened, we allowed our own intuition to elaborate on these values...and we heard what Chief Neufeld didn’t need to say:
RESPECT: for his family; for his colleagues; for his friends; for his community; for the public; and, most importantly, for himself.
HONESTY: in being transparent; in being vulnerable; in being brave for displaying authenticity behind the uniform.
INTEGRITY: in holding pride in his principles; in holding strength in his morals; in holding humility in his actions and leadership.
FAIRNESS: in guiding a light for transparency; in guiding the need for equality; in guiding a voice toward inclusiveness for all communities.
COMPASSION: for those who are hurting; for those who are misguided; for those who are unable to share their stories…but need to in order to heal.
COURAGE: the instinct he uses in his decisions; the instinct that challenges his purpose; the instinct that is leading him to “serve and protect not only the community, but also those who commit themselves to serving and protecting the community.”
“Every job I’ve ever had was the best job I’ve ever had. I just want to help. If people are happy and contributing, then I’m doing a good job. It’s helpful to hear from people that things are really good. At a time when things are really challenging in policing and in our organization in particular, to go around and have people say ‘we’re doing okay’…that makes me feel good."
Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, M.O.M., Mst (CANTAB)
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
September 1, 2020
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” – Brené Brown
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. We share an ambitious Extra(ordinary) Executive’s journey with you this month; highlighting not only a driven individual’s courageous efforts to success, but also a team that inspires collaboration beyond borders; and beyond Hollywood’s fame. These down-to-earth Executives are eager to use creativity to impact people around the world; with friendships so humble, we gain an appreciation for the varying degrees of Hollywood’s stardom.
We go behind the scenes with Chris Kneeland, Co-Founder and COO of Communo, a Calgary owned and founded company with an innovative platform that helped launch John Krasinski’s Some Good News. Chris made a move to Calgary from Dallas, Texas, in 2010 to pursue ownership of a small advertising agency. A
series of events led Chris to meet and partner with Ryan Gill, Co-Founder and CEO of Communo. Referring to their partnership as “Yin and Yang”, Chris and Ryan’s complementary skill sets launched Cult Collective, a leading North American marketing engagement agency, which helps brands win a sustainable competitive advantage by focusing on eight proven principles that drive customer and employee engagement and forge fanatical loyalty. This venture birthed a creative, world class conference called The Gathering, voted by Forbes Magazine as the “Top Business Conference in North America”.
Chris admits he is not a naturally programmed entrepreneur. His journey to learn about entrepreneurship was very intentional and continues to this day. “Entrepreneurship is very stress inducing for me, I don’t have the stomach for it most of the time”, he states light-heartedly. With his experience and background consistent with new business ventures, Chris enjoys exploring and exploiting unmet needs. Having been afforded many opportunities to explore big brands and their success strategies, Chris and Ryan launched Communo. “Ryan and I agree that some of the best services are solutions you create for yourself. So we built Communo as an on-demand talent platform for our firm, which was facing an increasing volatile marketplace with quick turn projects and a hyper need for speed and expertise. I couldn’t attract the best and the brightest in the world to Calgary fast enough; so, we had to think differently about talent management and how to balance full-time
versus contingent workers. Communo was born to solve that problem – first for us, and now for thousands of creative, digital and marketing firms like us.”
Chris is humble in taking us through Communo’s creation: “I didn’t realize while doing it how exceptional our approach to sourcing talent was. I just thought it was what agencies did to solve the disruption of their industry. But in talking to peers of mid-sized agencies, I realized we had something significantly better in the way that we were operating.” Communo grew first as a small start-up business for themselves; but in 2018 Chris and Ryan spun it off, incorporated, and raised third party capital. Cult Collective remains a power user, and have some shared leadership and shareholders.
Some Good News united people around the world in a significantly short period of time during COVID-19’s initial quarantine. It was Communo’s team who was successful in launching this series for John Krasinski. “Communo started with Ryan’s human connection. I call it his super-power. He doesn’t network, but rather builds mutually beneficial relationships of trust.” Chris continues, “Ryan is very good at having a sincere connection with people. He enters every relationship with a ‘what can I give versus what can I get’ mentality.” Several years ago Ryan met Mike Germano, and eventually convinced Mike to join the company in August 2019. “Mike was our most expensive resource,” Chris explains. “It was terrifying, but we had to put our money where your mouth is. We wanted to pursue bigger ambitions and faster growth, so we had to fund that. With Mike, we now had boots on the ground in New York, and had entered a hot new market. The best leaders hire people smarter than themselves; Mike had run bigger companies, played in bigger games; he was a unique asset.”
Chris is proud as he recalls the moment: “We took a huge risk! But if you don’t take exceptional risks, don’t expect something exceptional to happen.” He challenges. They placed a bet on talent, having no idea what would bear fruit from that relationship. What they were confident in was Mike’s ability to take the business in a trajectory they weren’t currently enjoying. “Mike had a personal relationship with John Krasinski,” Chris elaborates. “Back in March, John was in New York to film Saturday Night Live; it happened to be the week of the government shut down due to COVID-19. This was a very personal blow and disappointment for John in not being able to move forward with Saturday Night Live.” We learn that the Jack Ryan star had several goals on his bucket list; dreams that were indefinitely postponed, which included work he was pursuing with Amazon and Marvel. “John’s genuinely a nice person with a huge heart. He said he had this crazy idea for years that maybe one day in downtime he should do something about this idea, which was Some Good News. He was self-aware enough to know what he didn’t know; so John called Mike and asked if he would be willing to help him. Mike said yes, and the rest is history.”
John faced obstacles in selling his Some Good News idea. “The first few phone calls made to industry insiders were filled with pessimism”, Chris explains. “John was receiving advice and guidance that was discouraging by telling him to not proceed with his idea. ‘It’s not good for your career, John; this is not what A-List actors do, John; what are you doing making a web series, John; no one will watch it’.” Chris recalls. “John received a lot of negativity; but it was Mike who was positive. Mike understood John’s passion and his vision. Mike had a lot of resources that John didn’t have.”
Mike’s relationship with Communo enabled him to find experts within hours, and his experience with understanding the different parts of the process awarded Communo an advantage. “When you’re in something so deep, you can’t see the forest because of the trees; all you see are the rules,” Chris says. “When you don’t know what you’re doing, there are no rules! You don’t know what you’re breaking; you don’t know how reckless it is; you don’t know how responsible you’re being. The big production companies and big agencies all said that this couldn’t be done, and that nobody would watch. It was the smaller agencies and freelancers that wanted to be a part of something cool; gave themselves permission to create without worrying about what rules they were breaking”.
Although John completed a tremendous amount of the work personally, he required support and subject matter experts. “John didn’t know how to submit online content, edit video, promote video, solicit sponsors, or write contracts. It took an army of people to pull off what looks like a one-man band. John was super human in what he pulled off with Some Good News, but the entire cast of Communo supported and promoted him”, Chris explains.
We learn that the Jack Ryan star is humble, down to earth, and hardworking. “There is a huge misunderstanding between humility, ego and ambition,” Chris highlights. “The opposite of humble is not small or meek – you can have big dreams and still be humble. Humility is how you deal with people, how you express gratitude, and display graciousness.”
Some Good News offered two opportunities for success. “John was never placing his career on a permanent hold to run Some Good News,” Chris reminds us. “He did it as an opportunity due to the COVID-19 environment. He never thought it would be indefinite. The fact that it went viral and was as popular as it became was a pleasant surprise. Due to John’s good nature and humility, he never viewed himself as the critical component of the show’s success.” Chris continues, “John thought it was user generated content anyway. He would have felt selfish if he thought he had to stay at the centre of this. Today, Some Good News continues to be watched and is still very popular; but the success for this show is to now see what is going to happen in the next iteration with John as Producer.”
Some Good News also changed false paradigms that small cities are unable to partake in and become successful in doing big things. “It wasn’t a network; this wasn’t Netflix, it wasn’t Apple, and it wasn’t HBO that made Some Good News work,” Chris says. “It was a team of freelancers and small agencies from all over North America, but predominantly here in Calgary that did something that hundreds of millions of people are now craving. We have amazing talent all over Calgary, we just need to know how to access them; aggregate them; and this is what the Communo platform is trying to do – talent is judged by competence and portfolio.”
Communo’s success story with Some Good News offered Chris insight into a measure of success he considers imperative for him to continue his journey: “Freedom!” He smiles. “It’s the freedom to make choices; the freedom to have options; the freedom to do more of the stuff you want to do; and less of the stuff you don’t want to do.” We learn Chris has chosen not to retire; a refreshing perspective that connects personal and professional passion. “I won’t wait until I’m 65 to be happy. I will live the life I would like to live today, and work at it forever! I’m okay with this because I’m creating a job I would never want to quit; an intellectual job I enjoy and would like to do as long as I have the mental faculties to do it”.
Chris deals with realities by playing the cards he’s been dealt, and sharing his knowledge with others. “The most powerful viruses on earth are optimism or pessimism. If optimistic, you always learn more than the student. The mere act of learning something well enough to teach it means onus by default. Follow your own practices and be a role model.”
A large part of Chris’ journey has been to embrace a mindset of stoicism. He has chosen the path of a perpetual state of learning from the best practices of others; whether it’s helping clients by modelling best brands in the world, or through relationships he’s fostered at The Gathering. “There has to be something in our DNA; wiring, training, rewiring in our brains that says regardless of these external situations, I am going to succeed. And this must be driven internally.” Chris encourages us to question what and who we surround ourselves with. “We need to overcome the affinity score of what other people think. If your goal is to be popular, you will likely settle for something well below your means. Be courageous and tune negativity out so that you are not dragged down.”
We’re impressed with Chris’ candour. He is intuitive and reads the silence in his interactions; unafraid of offering advice to explore his intuition. His words will resonate for entrepreneurs seeking “a-ha” moments, as his spirit goes beyond defining a brand, a title or an organization. Chris drives his ambition toward possibilities others may not see; he highlights a person…he goes raw. But, this isn’t Chris’ secret sauce in discovering talent. There is more to Chris and the team at Communo that leads the competition in brand awareness and creativity.
It’s confidence. Impulsivity within parameters.
It’s risk. Liquid courage.
It’s placing a bet with your eyes closed. Eager for the PRIZE that awaits.
“If we expect external factors to increase or decrease our confidence, then we are going to be victims our whole lives. Stop apologizing for who you are. Be the person you want to be. Spend your calories on where you’re going; and worry less about where you’ve been. Because where you’ve been will hold you down.”
Some [more] Good News…? YOU are the prize.
COMMUNO – Chris Kneeland, Co-Founder & COO
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
August 1, 2020
“You are something specific to a special few.” – Sasha Strauss
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. We are eager to share an inspiring Extra(ordinary) Executive’s journey with you this month; an individual so thoughtful, she carefully crafts others’ journeys quietly behind the scenes, allowing them to take the spotlight while reaping the rewards of success as a result of her humble efforts.
“I help leaders craft their stories to communicate and connect better.” - Amy Blaschka
Amy Blaschka is a social media ghostwriter and personal brand strategist for leaders and one of the most positive and popular storytellers on social media. Her engaging communication style, which uses both video and text-based posts, has earned an enthusiastic following on LinkedIn, Thrive Global, and Medium, where she aspires to inspire transformation. Amy covers “personal transformation and its impact on career growth” for Forbes.com. She is the co-author with Bruce Kasanoff of I Am: Escape Distractions, Unlock Your Imagination & Unleash Your Potential.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Amy’s parents (both originally from New York) moved to California when she was three years old. The San Francisco Bay Area became Amy’s permanent home. “Growing up, my sisters and I learned that family came first and always to treat people with respect, regardless of position or title; everyone one had something to teach us. Our parents didn’t grow up with much money (and neither did we), but they always found a way to make things work and for us to feel loved and valued.”
Amy values the strong work ethic her parents instilled in her, which encouraged her to believe that she could achieve anything once she put her mind and heart into it. “This wasn’t just lip service; they modeled it,” she proudly recalls. “My dad, who had been a record-setting salesman (his frequent promotions were why my family kept moving West), decided that he really wanted to be an attorney, so he worked during the day and went to law school at night. During this time, my mom was pregnant with my little sister, and home with my big sister and me. After graduation, my dad passed the bar exam and established a partnership with a friend from law school, and my mom went to work with my dad in his law office.”
Though her parents recently retired from that successful law practice, Amy proudly shares her admiration toward the influencers, who were the pillars supporting her confidence as she embarked on her own personal career journey. “I’ve always loved the idea of bringing a story to life through written and visual means. As a child, I was the quiet kid in the corner, constantly drawing and writing,” she says. A naturally curious and expressive person, Amy enjoys working with people to create something tangible. She knew she wanted to obtain a degree in the creative arts. “Though I vacillated between my major and minor, I ultimately earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film & Media from the University of California, San Diego with a minor in Communications with dreams of becoming a filmmaker.” Amy ultimately placed her talents to their highest and best use by helping leaders craft their stories to communicate and connect better.
Amy shares that she had somewhat of an “accidental career” in that it’s been anything but linear. Not afraid of challenges, Amy persevered through obstacles to explore new and interesting opportunities when they presented themselves. “Before founding my strategic writing practice, I spent a decade in the marketing and communications industry, beginning my career at Young & Rubicam Advertising and culminating as a branding consultant for international firms Landor Associates and Enterprise IG. During this time, I partnered with my clients to help them create, renew, and strengthen their brands. I then applied my branding expertise to the world of travel and tourism, where for over fifteen years, I led and advised destination marketing organizations in California.”
Today, Amy offers strategic writing services to help leaders craft their stories to communicate and connect better, which builds their personal brands and reputations as thought leaders. “Think of it as ‘stories as a service,’” she shares excitedly. “Though my career spans several decades and industries, my goal has always been the same: to help my clients identify and communicate their strengths in a creative and highly appealing manner.” Not only does Amy create compelling and engaging content, but she also helps her clients find and establish their “online voice” to humanize their messaging and position themselves for success.
For Amy, “writing isn’t about writing; it’s about listening.” This is central to her creative being and a skill Amy says she cultivated early in life. “I’ve always been in the middle. It’s the best place to connect, and it’s where I do my best work. From a very young age (and as a middle kid), I had to learn to be an excellent communicator. Observer. Facilitator. Collaborative and creative leader. This skill set has served me well.”
Amy’s favorite thing to do as a child was to create, and it remains so today. “I find inspiration in the everyday moments of life, connecting seemingly disparate things to create something new and wonderful.” She says she adores positive transformation in any form, especially when helping someone present their best self.
A highly curious person who considers herself a lifelong learner, Amy enjoys traveling the world and discovering new favorite places, learning new things from interesting people she encounters, and always seeing the possibilities.
Also at the top of her list? “Witty banter with clever people, eating chips and guacamole, and water (in any form). I also enjoy Peet’s ® almond milk lattes with cinnamon steamed into the milk daily (dubbed ‘The Amy’ by my local Peet’s ®).” A fan of office supplies, Amy counts Post-it® notes, whiteboards, Pilot® G-2 .07 blue pens, and pads for taking handwritten notes as her must-haves.
We’re enamored with Amy’s spark, and her energy is contagious, so it’s hard to imagine anything that might detract from it. However, Amy does have a few pet peeves: “Closed-minded thinking (‘we’ve always done it this way’); pepperoni (sorry, not a fan); trying to be all things to all people; event planning (please don’t make me – it’s like you’re punishing me!); doing the same thing, day after day, week after week; clowns (they’re evil); and settling for good enough!”
When Amy considers measures of success, what resonates for her are her “big three: CLARITY, CONSISTENCY, DISCIPLINE.” Amy defines ‘clarity’ as being crystal clear on her goals and what she wants, including making it easier for others to understand who she is, the value she brings, how she’s different, who she serves, and how she can help others. Being ‘consistent’ means that Amy maintains her voice, look, and feel in all of her communications, and creates and shares content regularly. Being ‘disciplined’ refers to commitment and ensuring that she sticks with those few areas where she has expertise.
Regularly publishing her ideas helps to position Amy as an expert, draws others to her, and makes clear what she stands for and her distinct point of view. “Success, to me, is all about making a positive impact. My goal is to use my words to positively impact the lives of millions, and that’s accomplished one person at a time. I’ve learned that someone’s always listening, reading, and watching and that sharing your story helps others embrace theirs. The highest compliment I could receive is someone telling me that something I wrote spoke to them in a profoundly meaningful way.”
Amy reminds us that we all have a story to share, and we already know the power of a great story. Her generosity inspires us as she quietly applauds her clients’ achievements from the sidelines, unknown to others that Amy brought these leaders’ tales to life.
We’re also reminded how wonderful it feels to discuss achievements earned along our career paths, which we often forget to shine a spotlight on. Everyone has a story inside them to share, but it generally takes someone like Amy to find it and articulate it in a truly compelling way.
“This is what I do: weave engaging, original, and authentic career stories for my clients,” Amy says. “Because once you have your story, it changes everything, including how others perceive, pay, and promote you”.
Today, it was time to share Amy’s story. Humbled, gracious, and surprised, Amy handed over her Pilot® G-2 .07 blue pen and pad…and we started writing.
…as the spotlight continued to shine.
“...I'm fascinated to learn what makes people tick. I find the spark in each person's presence and shine a spotlight on it so that others are drawn - like me - to their presence.”
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
July 1, 2020
“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” – Hippocrates
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. We are privileged to share the heartwarming journey of an Extra(ordinary) Executive, Dr. Joseph Vayalumkal, BSc, MD, FRCPC, Paediatric Infectious Diseases' Specialist at the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. Dr. Vayalumkal, also a Clinical Associate Professor in the department of Paediatrics, takes us through his upbringing, his influences, his medical journey, and the core values which continue to reflect his decisions today.
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Dr. Vayalumkal, is the eldest son of parents who immigrated to Canada from Kerala, India in the early 1970’s. Raised by a large, connected family, which was led by his parents, Dr. Vayalumkal moved to Hamilton, Ontario, as a very young child and enjoyed the “single child” attention from his parents, aunt, uncle and paternal grandparents for several years until his siblings were born. His paternal grandmother became a major influence in Dr. Vayalumkal’s life. Recalling her presence in his life as “inspirational”, Dr. Vayalumkal’s grandmother helped him gain perspective; and became an example of resilience, endurance and courage. “My grandmother was the ultimate matriarch. She was one of my superheroes. I am privileged to be brought up by strong, courageous and independent women – including my mother who stressed the importance of education and displayed a no-nonsense, practical approach to life’s problems. I am also heavily influenced by my kind, hardworking and devoted father. My father was a doctor in India and upon immigrating to Canada, faced challenges before his credentials and training were eventually recognized. He recently retired after a long career as a physician in Ontario; he was my primary physician role model”.
Dr. Vayalumkal refers to his early childhood years as “foundational”; he cherishes the memories with his family and recalls being surrounded by unconditional love. “We take for granted what we have, people around us, people who love us, and people who sacrifice for us”. Through his high school years, Dr. Vayalumkal volunteered in a paediatric ward at St. Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton, gaining an appreciation for some of the challenges children face when they are hospitalized. Upon graduation, Dr. Vayalumkal pursued an undergraduate degree at McMaster University, and continued his education there to obtain his medical degree. The medical school was well known for its revolutionary and self-directed problem-based learning model, a unique approach to medical education which made McMaster world renowned since the 1960’s. Dr. Vayalumkal reflects: “I feel very lucky to have attended medical school there”.
Dr. Vayalumkal moved to Calgary in 2000 to pursue post graduate training in paediatrics. “I was always interested in the field of paediatrics”, he shares thoughtfully. “But, it’s not for everyone. Each day, seeing children suffer is not pleasant, and it’s not easy to be around children in that state, especially when they pass. The death of a child is painful as a parent and as a physician. You don’t get immune to it; you don’t get numb to it; it’s very hard to take.”
Dr. Vayalumkal shares that although moving to Calgary was a surprise decision for him, it was the connections, the collegial spirit and the great impressions that made this decision feel like the right fit. “The interviews in Calgary made a very good impression on me; it was a solid program for residency where I felt I could excel. Plus, working with good people who were established in providing a good working and learning environment was important to me”.
Wishing to specialize in a certain field versus choosing a generalist route, Dr. Vayalumkal became interested in infectious diseases, a dynamic field focused on diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. This interest began during medical school and was further developed during residency. After completing his residency in paediatrics, he completed a two-year Fellowship in Infectious Diseases. “This is an exciting field to be a part of because it’s not concentrated in one specific organ system, it encompasses the entire body”, he educates. “There are so many very interesting environmental and cultural factors that affect how infectious diseases are transmitted”.
Dr. Vayalumkal is grateful to the mentors who encouraged him to pursue infectious diseases as a specialty. Following the completion of his Fellowship, Dr. Vayalumkal and his wife, Joyce, traveled to India to work in Andhra Pradesh with a non-profit organization, supporting a local clinic and health outreach program in rural villages affected by poverty and inequality. “This became a profound experience in itself”, he remembers. “The biggest learning point and take-home message from this experience was to keep an open mind about how things are done in different parts of the world, and hold off on passing judgement based on the way things are done in your part of the world. It is very easy to go to a different province, country, or hospital and question the way they practice or live. If you place yourself in a different circumstance, people will not be doing things the way that you did things back home. We need to be open to doing things in a different way that fits with the local context. This was my most important lesson.” Dr. Vayalumkal states that it is critical for people to be aware of the phenomenon that practices may differ in different jobs, cultures or countries, and one way is not necessarily better than another. “Our way is not always the best way. There was so much learning for me from this experience. The biggest challenge for me was the difficulty in adapting to what we would consider injustices or practices we would never support; but, we need to recognize the culture and what is culturally ingrained as well. It’s important to give yourself time to adapt and help to initiate changes that may be beneficial and accepted over time”.
Dr. Vayalumkal’s adventures then took him to Ottawa, where he spent two years working as a field epidemiologist on outbreak investigations for the Public Health Agency of Canada. He returned to Calgary thereafter, settling into a full-time role in the department of paediatrics at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. We learn that infectious diseases are very common in young children. Dr. Vayalumkal and his colleagues see many different infections due to spread in daycares and schools, which are breeding grounds (especially for viruses) caused by the close interactions within their environment. “We see a lot of different viral infections in children; and we become involved as infectious diseases specialists in diseases that often mimic other
conditions or become complicated in some way. It is hard to figure out sometimes, and children occasionally present with unusual findings that are not commonly or typically seen”, he shares. “We get involved in a lot of complicated bacterial infections, which can be very severe such as sepsis and septic shock”. Dr. Vayalumkal educates us on different types of bacteria that cause illnesses in children, such as strep throat bacteria, which causes many other types of different issues, not just strep throat alone. “We see a lot of common and uncommon things: fungi, parasites, and viruses; all germs that invade humans and can cause critical illnesses. This is also due to immigration pattern changes. We see a lot of tropical and travel related conditions that we didn't see as commonly twenty years ago: malaria, dengue, and some parasitic diseases are imported from other parts of the world and reflect our diverse population”.
Within the field of infectious diseases, Dr. Vayalumkal specializes in infection control and hospital epidemiology. Dr. Vayalumkal’s research focuses on infections that are acquired while a patient is admitted to hospital and preventive strategies employed to reduce these infections. Dr. Vayalumkal reminds us how pandemics are a part of human history. “It’s not if but when a pandemic is going to happen”, he says. “We never know which virus would cause a pandemic”. As COVID-19’s pandemic paralyzes countries and forces the world to embrace unprecedented quarantines, Dr. Vayalumkal shares research and information on the ease with which this disease spread among humans. He also provides insight into the due diligence and proactive planning that began in January with him and his colleagues. “The genetic code was shared quickly so that tests were already being developed across the world. We released an interim infection control plan for our hospital on January 24th (based on World Health Organization guidance) so we could start thinking about what we needed to do. Over time, more information came out, and the World Health Organization declared an official pandemic in early March. Social media and the news created a lot of fear, which added another level of complexity as our team worked to provide everyone with facts and a plan to move forward. It will be years before we have a complete understanding about this virus. The first wave may be over, but the second wave may arrive in the coming months, and we need to be prepared”.
There is still a lot of information that is being gathered, and how COVID-19 manifests in children; the after effects; and the long term effects. He continues, “Currently, we work on understanding COVID-19, and our biggest challenge is how children are affected. How contagious are children? Could they be super-spreaders? It seems unlikely, but we don’t know for certain yet. We know for sure they are not affected the same as adults. Kawasaki disease, for example, is a very specific syndrome usually seen in children aged three to six years, with higher incidence in Asian countries, but still seen all over the world”. Several weeks following COVID-19 infection, a small minority of children are exhibiting symptoms very similar to Kawasaki disease and another syndrome known as toxic shock syndrome, which leads to uncontrolled inflammation in the body. “Research is underway to further understand this phenomenon. Approximately one thousand children in Alberta had COVID-19 infections in the first wave, but none of them had severe infections, not one single child”, he shares. “Children’s symptoms were extremely mild, and most children were recovering at home. There is the acute process to be aware of, but understanding the long term effects and complications are still to be realized”.
Dr. Vayalumkal becomes pensive, and reveals the top motivator in his career and his role: “Making a difference in a family’s life; making a positive difference in the life of a child and their family is my greatest motivator. There are different problems for different families, and diverse circumstances which require empathy, patience and a calm approach. My Catholic faith is a large part of my life, and prayer life is important to me; starting my day by praying for the strength to do well for my patients”. Dr. Vayalumkal also appreciates the camaraderie of his colleagues, and the people he works with. “Helping others to be better in a collegial environment, and helping kids and families through providing information, alleviating their fears, and reassuring them is a main driver as well”. Dr. Vayalumkal chooses to focus on making a meaningful impact in the lives of others. “A lot of time, you may not know what your success has been, only others can experience this”, he highlights. “If others think back to positive experiences people have had with me, then I would say that I was successful. We all have our roles and our duties. Often times, things come up outside of those normal roles that are unexpected, and we may not realize our impact on other people’s lives by what we do”.
Dr. Vayalumkal shares a story of a high school math teacher: “Mr. Kersley would say ‘look around! Ten, twenty, thirty years from now you won’t remember what you learned in math class, but you will remember the relationships you built with the people around you’. Those relationships I cherish. This hit home for me, because with anything we do it's true that the time we spend with people and the interactions are what we really remember”. When considering impact and the individuals we meet by chance, Dr. Vayalumkal recalls operating room technician, Douglas Martin, who he met in 1999, in the locker room of the hospital surgery department, where a simple chat about basketball led to a profound core value that Dr. Vayalumkal carries with him today. “Douglas said to me, ‘there are three A’s to being a great physician: Ability, Affability, Availability’. This really resonated with me. As you go through training and meet different mentors, and experience different collegial relationships, you begin to see that these three A’s are truly evident; all important; and they really help shape you to become someone you aspire to be”.
Today, Dr. Vayalumkal tries to achieve and emulate the three A’s consistently. A work and life balance is very important to him; he pursues goals in all aspects of his life. Dr. Vayalumkal enjoys keeping things simple, and focuses on having a balanced approach. “What is the most important role I have in this world? Being a husband and a father. I am blessed to have a loving, supportive wife and three wonderful children. Fundamentally, it comes down to priority: family, faith and professional life. I want my wife, children and the rest of my family to be proud of me, and to learn from me. I would like to give my children the gift of wisdom. There are thousands of infectious diseases specialists in the world, but as a father to my children, I have a unique role. No one can replace this position”. Dr. Vayalumkal is reflective, and pays homage and respect to the past. Ancestors who have paved the path for generations today are critically important to him. “Remembering where we came from helps us clarify our future and it’s something I truly cherish. This includes the privilege of knowing the Malayalam language and the culture from which our parents and grandparents originated”.
We admire Dr. Vayalumkal’s tenacity and compassion in his commitment to clinical work; and applaud the selfless dedication toward protecting humanity from the ambiguous world of infectious diseases.
For Dr. Vayalumkal, this is not a role he has been titled; it is a title that is awarded through a role society is dependent upon for knowledge, growth and wellbeing. A role so Extra(ordinary), we are struck with reverence as Dr. Vayalumkal adjusts his mask and prepares for another unprecedented day at the hospital…waving us a gracious “thank you”, along with a hidden smile communicated through his humble eyes.
“The three A’s are truly evident; all important; and they really help shape you to become someone you aspire to be”. – Dr. Joseph Vayalumkal, BSc, MD, FRCPC
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
June 1, 2020
“The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” – Simon Sinek
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we share an inspirational journey of a fearless, Extra(ordinary) Executive, Aaron Renert, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., BEd., Founder and Principal of Renert School. Known for his gift in mathematics pedagogy, Aaron requires little introduction. The name “Renert” became synonymous with the delivery of top notch education. Renert School, an accredited private school established in September 2013, was founded on Renert’s reputation as a premier provider of academic support and exam preparation services for students across Calgary. Embracing the diverse range of human knowledge, Renert School allows its students to discover and appreciate the richness of the world through its model of SERIOUS FUN. To explore Aaron’s journey, we chose to go beyond the Renert School philosophy; beyond the website; and beyond the school’s multitude of challenging electives. We chose to explore emotion and character, and learn about the real Aaron Renert…beyond his credential; and beyond his successes as an educational innovator and entrepreneur.
Aaron immigrated with his parents to Canada from his native Israel at the age of thirteen: “the worst possible age to try and uproot your child and plant them across the world”, according to Aaron. After months of struggling with the culture, climate and adapting to the Canadian teenage normality, he made a firm decision. Fiercely independent with unwavering obstinacy, Aaron returned to Israel and spent 4 years in high school, followed by 3 additional years of mandatory military service away from his nuclear family. “These were some of the best, and most formative years of my life”, he recalls. “I have learned the value of hard work and what it takes to be independent. I learned that marching to your own beat comes at a cost, and you have to be willing to pay this cost”.
Complacent? Not this Extra(ordinary) Executive.
Aaron attended Israel’s four-year high school program, which positioned him for future academic success. “The public education I received back then was rigorous and worked very well for me. When my brother and I founded Renert School, I already had a very good model in mind, and we improved on it”. Spending his days at school, and the afternoons and evenings working 3 to 4 jobs at any given time, Aaron developed a solid work ethic and honed his entrepreneurial skills. Following his military service, Aaron returned to Canada, a young adult determined to explore education and everything Canada had to offer. The University of Calgary welcomed Aaron into its science faculty, where he double-majored in pure mathematics and statistics. Simultaneously, he completed a master’s degree in statistics, all while commencing a new venture, “Renert Tutorials”, one of Canada’s fastest growing tutoring companies. He takes us through the memory: “I slept very little in those years. I’d be taking 6 or 7 courses of my own, and had to learn how to ace exams with limited preparation. English was my second language, which made it trickier. All the while, I grew the tutoring business, supporting U of C students and preparing them for their calculus midterms and finals; first in groups of 2 to 3, then in rooms of 40 to 60. Before I knew it, I would pack the largest theatres on campus”.
Renert Tutorials gained momentum quickly, all through word of mouth. Instantaneously, Aaron’s brother, Dr. Moshe, joined him in this venture and together, they continued to persevere with the successful and popular tutoring business. The writing was on the wall: a demand for high quality academic support stripped supply by a huge margin. “We ran those mega review sessions for calculus, linear algebra, statistics…and welcomed thousands of U of C students in attendance every year. The growth was natural and organic,” Aaron shares proudly. “We branched out to offer diploma review courses to grade-12 students; we launched LSAT, MCAT and GMAT prep courses for students applying to law school, medical school or an MBA. There is something absolutely intoxicating about starting a new successful venture and seeing it succeeding. It is twice as rewarding when you love and believe in the product”.
Aaron was onto something. His natural intellect and developing confidence encouraged him to not be afraid of taking calculated risks. “Entrepreneurship is the art of common sense and of taking calculated risk. For me, the question is never ‘can I afford to take this risk?’, but rather ‘can I afford not to?’”. For over 30 years, Aaron and Dr. Moshe have kept their organization ahead of the curve and the competition. “You have to envision what the market would want tomorrow, and be very willing to let go of courses and products that were your bread-and-butter but fell out of favour. This is hard for people to do, because we are sentimental and nostalgic beings”. Agile and nimble, Aaron was willing to redefine his strategy with market needs, and continued to reinvent his business objectives, dissolving what no longer worked.
And repeat. And pivot.
Following years of teaching the Alberta Law School Admission Test (LSAT) course, Aaron decided to pursue legal education: “I had to conquer my own demons and pursue the degree that scared me the most due to English being my second language,” he reminisces. “It was a great challenge. It provided me with more fantastic education, and an invaluable tool that has served me well since. I am a huge believer in education. It is the great social equalizer: the road from Forest Lawn to Springbank so often passes through the Haskayne School of Business or the Schulich School of Engineering”.
Upon obtaining his LL.B., Aaron joined a top-tier law firm, where he articled and practiced for a few years. The unique combination of legal and statistical backgrounds positioned him uniquely to serve as the lead quantitative analyst for the Assembly of First Nations in the historic Indian Residential School settlement, the largest out-of-court settlement in Canadian history. “It was an experience of a lifetime, and I spent half of 2006 in Ottawa working on something I believed in, that was both historic and socially just; spending time with the highest levels of Canadian government, and seeing how politics is made up close and personal,” he proudly shares. “None of this would have been possible without obtaining the outstanding education I received at the University of Calgary”. This education also led Aaron to serve as a highly sought-after expert witness in major commercial disputes involving statistical and actuarial matters.
Aaron later returned to the University of Calgary and obtained an Education degree; including dedicating two additional years to a Ph.D. level research in mathematics education. This was all in preparation toward his dream project: Renert School. “My brother and I realized that there is only so much you can do as a tutoring company. If you really want to educate a child, you have to do it right. We knew that opening a school was the next logical step. The undertaking, however, was so enormous, compared to all we did for the first 20 years…the stars had to be all aligned”.
In 2013, the stars aligned; and Renert School opened its doors. “The school is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and the legacy we will leave behind,” he attests. “It is making the lives of hundreds of children much more joyful and meaningful. Of the many careers I have had, nothing beats education, or even comes close to it”.
Recognizing our limitations and the importance of humility, the strength of synergies and connections, and the value of hands-on leadership, Aaron and Dr. Moshe created a culture of appreciation as the pillar of the school. The desire for knowledge and respect are cultivated in students, teachers, and parents. Dedicated to remaining agile and proactive, Aaron is aware his leadership and decisions impact a community he now calls family. He remains bold, but reasonable; determined to protect the needs of what is most valuable to him: his students. From analyzing COVID-19 statistics and leading the province with his decision to close his school prior to others; to establishing a seamless, full day RENERTHERE online school program within a week, Aaron and Dr. Moshe remain grounded and reflective before following the herd.
Fondly known to his students as “Master Aaron”, we are touched by the reactions to his surprise visits into their Zoom classrooms. Students scramble to impress, answering mental math equations at the speed of light. With his students, Aaron does not shy away from sharing feedback, unfiltered and raw…yet, so authentic and with the intent to encourage. Students appreciate Aaron’s intuition, and his ability to recognize their strengths and weaknesses within a very short period of knowing them. “In education, experience counts for so much. I worked with countless children, so I have a very good feel as to how to achieve the most from them, and the best for them. My business is one of maximizing potential. This is what I promise to the parent, and this is what I owe the child”. Parents are encouraged to experience Renert School’s top tier educational system through their children’s eyes. Eventually, recognizing that their parenting role is changing as they place their trust with Aaron; who, in his class of mathematics, is adamant in discovering the “gift” within each student.
It is impossible to predict what the next step might be for Aaron. He is constantly thinking ahead about what the future may hold, both in possibilities and challenges. “We need to prepare our children for a future of constant change. The one thing we know for certain is that the future will keep on becoming less and less certain. I do not envy my students, as they will all have to navigate their ways in a complex workforce that no one can even predict. I do know, however, that the qualities that served me so well in my own life will still be in great demand: intrinsic motivation, grit and determination, common sense, humility, and the ability to see the best in our fellow humans. This is what we teach the children daily”.
We conclude our interview with Aaron, in admiration of his “gift” that cannot be mimicked, nor replicated. Aaron loves what he does. It’s his strongest motivator. It’s what keeps him going.
Our prediction? Generation Alpha will ace the LSAT by age ten. With humility. Courtesy of:
B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., BEd. ABCD…Z
We persisted. We listened. We peeled back the layers. We welcomed the vulnerability.
The result? We discovered sincerity, compassion and integrity. We were gifted with an appreciation for an Extra(ordinary) Executive who chooses to see the world though the accomplishments of “his children”…
…one graduate at a time.
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
May 1, 2020
“You don’t inspire your teammates by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire them by showing them how amazing they are.” – Robyn Benincasa
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. We launch our Executive article series with a humbling story of an Extra(ordinary) Executive (“EE”), who persevered through challenges and obstacles many of us have only read about. This EE’s personal and professional journey illustrates intuition, resilience and agility; traits we often neglect to showcase to our colleagues, our clients, and ourselves. Sometimes, humility prevents us from highlighting an exceptional skill or talent to others. In the case of our EE, the opportunities to highlight his talents to achieve rewarding career opportunities were far and few. But, he chose patience and character over competition…and won playing the long game.
Our EE immigrated to Canada in 1970, leaving the comfort of a large family and an inherited opportunity to run a successful family business. Canada called, and he took a risk to embark on a journey that would offer him professional growth and personal achievements far beyond what he ever intended to explore. Gifted in mathematics, our EE enjoyed multiplying triple digits in his mind, with a timer to challenge himself. During the days, he pursued a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Alberta, while washing dishes overnight at local restaurants, earning his rent and saving what was left for tuition. Ultimately, life had other plans for our EE, who had to leave University prior to graduation, with a mere four courses short of completing his computer sciences degree.
Nonetheless, our EE challenged himself in a full-time role delivering exquisite China dishes to local shops across Edmonton. He prided himself on establishing credibility and trusting relationships with his clients quickly. Enjoying his role, our EE spent his free time memorizing inventory numbers to keep his mental math skills at its peak. It was sadly short-lived, as our EE was delivered the sad news of the organization’s closure. He was aggressive in his search for new employment, and his down-to-earth personality and natural intellect secured him a role with a starter energy company in payroll, notwithstanding the initial request for a University degree. Our EE was in his element for years, completing tasks well ahead of requested deadlines. It was at this time our EE chose to pursue building a dream home for his family, rewarding his tenacity in achieving a career goal. He spent his free time at his home site, hour after hour walking through a house he envisioned back in 1970 that he would one day own.
Unfortunately, and within three months of moving into his new home, our EE was given the sad news of his position abolishment; leaving a role of janitorial services available for him to consider. Our EE did not waste time in securing new employment; accepting and working three different roles with three different organizations, back-to-back, over 24 hours. Working twenty hours a day to ensure security for his family, and a commitment to remaining in the home he had prided himself in building, this was our EE’s reality for several years.
Opportunity then came knocking for our EE to tap into his entrepreneurial spirit. He took a risk and purchased two gas stations, which he successfully owned and managed for ten years, taking him to retirement. But, our EE insisted there was more for him to accomplish and learn. He decided to enjoy his days at home, while working at nights with a not-for-profit organization, supporting an addiction treatment center. Tapping into his natural ability to connect with people, he became a role model and a coach for clients and peers at the center. He shared knowledge, enthusiasm and optimism to encourage a mind-set of positivity and accomplishments. Our EE had developed thought leadership through his journey, with a humble recognition that his obstacles developed his character, and strengthened his resilience.
Two years ago, an unfortunate slip on ice resulted in a minor concussion for our EE. He has thankfully recovered, and is now challenging himself with online learning opportunities during his retirement. This year, our EE celebrates 50 years in Canada. As he tracks and memorizes COVID-19 statistics globally, he feels privileged to be a part of a united society. We watch him offer virtual and unconditional support to individuals he has never met, encouraging them to find the strength to persevere.
This Extra(ordinary) Executive is my father. Subhash C. Khullar, Retired (but not tired).
An Executive is present within all of us, irrelevant of status, title or pay grade. Let’s continue to learn from each other’s journeys; commit to being agile in circumstances beyond our control; and find the ordinary in our extraordinary.
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO