May 1, 2022
"Share stories about your brand, talk authentically about your brand, and get people who love your brand to share their own stories. That's how you build a lasting company."
- Michele Romanow
We travel to Alberta to share the Extra(ordinary) journey of Agilis Executive Consulting’s Founder & CEO, Reena Khullar. Surrounded by views of the Rocky Mountains on the outskirts of Calgary in the community of [Rocky View County], Reena welcomes us into her home. We’re eager to meet the Canadian entrepreneur that has kept a quiet profile, carrying the same humility as the extraordinary leaders she has written about. Agilis Executive Consulting launched at the onset of the pandemic, attracting people across the globe to be a part of its vision to explore the everyday and ordinary executive’s measure of success. Reena’s pursuit resulted in the growth of her firm to 10 countries and 6 continents in just under 1 year; her brand became recognized across the globe for its creative play on the word ‘extra(ordinary)’, and the associated catch phrase ‘How Do You Measure Success?’. Reena realized her entrepreneurial dream and now has a portfolio of work that includes features on celebrity clients and executives representing global brands - she is a sought-after consultant and a strategic partnerships expert, and we want to know her secret!
We listen and write with the same purpose and enthusiasm that Reena has captured in the voices of the extra(ordinary) executives, who she says have been foundational to her successful start-up in Canada. She takes us through her upbringing in hometown Edmonton; her perspective on the future of roles in organizations across the globe; her ambitious pursuit to develop a brand that would expand beyond borders; and the relationships that guided her decisions when measuring success.
“I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta,” she begins sharing. “I have fond memories of my childhood with my maternal grandmother, who lived with us for many years. My grandmother was born in 1918, eventually becoming the matriarch of her large family with children that lived in different countries around the world. So, she traveled often between their homes, enriching our lives with her worldly wisdom. My grandmother was healthy in mind, spirit, and physical strength, so she made the most of the opportunity to live in several homes, connecting her grandchildren across the globe by sharing stories of their upbringing with one another, long before email ever existed.” She smiles and continues, “There is something special about a bond with grandparents. I credit my grandmother to instilling the values that I was able to carry forward to my own children. The memories of my upbringing with her are vivid, from walking to and from Kindergarten, hanging on tight to her hand so that she wouldn’t trip on her sari; to helping her braid her hair into her signature bun. I can still remember the sadness I felt each time she had to leave Canada for her next home. I would hang onto her hand at the airport, hoping she would somehow sneak me past security with her so that I didn’t have to say goodbye. She couldn’t read or speak English, so I learned to write Hindi and began mailing her letters for many years, keeping her updated on her Canadian family. A few years before she passed away, I had the chance to speak with her on the phone, and she was 90 years old at the time, but she knew it was me…she taught me how to connect with people on a deep level. I’ll never forget her impact.”
We discuss role models, and Reena shares that her entrepreneurial ambition is attributed to her Father. "My father is my biggest role model. He has natural leadership characteristics, the only difference is that he carried no title. Agilis launched as a tribute to my Father's professional journey, which he led with a driven and commendable work ethic that spanned 50 years. His persistence to succeed in every role that he fought for offered his family nothing short of the utmost respect for his work ethic and perseverance. This, too, at a time where we weren’t always advocating to advance the employment equity groups or bonafide expectations in Canada. Our collective efforts to promote a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment didn’t have the voice back then that it does today. My father’s hardships may have challenged his confidence, but they certainly didn't prevent him from losing determination to measure his success. He used his voice to create his armor, supported by the relationships with his family and community; this kept him motivated. His passion to represent Canada and be a part of the Canadian journey was not lost on anyone. So, his hardships became his adventures. He mapped out his own path to success, which he used as a guide to keep going."
Forbes recently published an article that highlighted Reena’s career. She shares that she took a risk when launching her firm, but that her instincts led her there. “Second chances are a gift...people, opportunities, and life shouldn't be taken for granted. I had one chance to get this right: Agilis Executive Consulting is the result of a well-developed strategy and an entrepreneurial pursuit that would either succeed well or fail with grace. There was no room for error, and I had little time to leave an impression. What I realized in doing so was that the secret to anyone’s success is themselves. The ability to be transparent and lead yourself with integrity when making big decisions is what solidifies relationships – both personal and professional. But it starts with you and how honest you are with yourself, and who you choose to want to include as a part of your journey. Although I have made quick decisions in the short term, uncertain if these would benefit Agilis and life overall in the long term, I don't carry regrets on my actions. If anything, I look back and may regret what I didn't do versus what I did.”
Reena moved to Calgary in 2001, eventually celebrating 20 years as an HR Executive known today for her ability to design people strategies for organizations, while coaching leaders to build cultures that offer high levels of empathy. “You need to build relationships with the goal of offering a return in the value of that connection. There is no social media platform or any app that can do this for you in a raw, authentic way. What sells are stories. Your voice - that sells! Clients need to connect with the person producing their solution. We have witnessed the power of storytelling, and leaders are adopting this initiative by becoming more vulnerable and brave in showing authenticity through openly sharing their own journeys. This strengthens their connection to their team, leading to stronger relationships.” She continues, “So, organizations today are redesigning their workforce strategies to focus on the value found in relationships. Roles that have traditionally been compartmentalized into titled labels with predetermined core competencies are no longer developed with the intent to seek the right incumbent. Instead, we are working to create roles for employees that we recognize will help lead the organization to success. It’s a winning engagement strategy, and organizations are opening the door for longevity and commitment because employees are witnessing their direct impact, which is exactly what leadership teams are striving for - to foster that entrepreneurial spirit in each team member, and challenge the cultural norms of their company in order to weave diverse ideas and create a new culture of belonging.”
We move the discussion to unforeseen challenges, and the power of potential that, if developed and supported early, can help anyone lead a life of fulfillment and self-assurance even from a young age. “My daughter is an incredible young lady who has overcome challenges with her sight since the age of one. She was born with strabismus - exotropia in her left eye and hypertropia in her right eye - a genetic condition that causes the eyes to turn in directions that are different from one another. This year, she completes 14 years as a patient at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, where she has overcome the need for surgery to either eye, all due to her own determination to understand her condition at such a young age. We’ve had the blessing of scheduled 6 month visits with the team at the hospital over these years, and it never ceases to amaze me the strength [daughter] has in correcting her alignment, without the support of surgical intervention. This is an incredible feat for her; she had to work quickly to learn how to read, write and understand the science related to her condition at a young preschool age. But she gave it her all, learning every exercise that could promote her chances for another surgery-free year. She was bright; she understood how to get there so she could earn the freedom to see what she chose to see, eventually overcoming the challenges she was enduring with her sight, from a lack of depth perception to double or blocked vision.”
We’re moved by the emotion, and we witness the softness we’ve seen in her writing. She continues, “It’s never easy for a parent to see their child struggle to be in charge of outcomes that are dependent on many factors outside of anyone’s control, such as genetics. I’ve always wanted my children to experience the world in a way that was guided by their own curiosity and intuition; and I couldn’t feel more honored to experience the world through my daughter’s eyes instead. She helped me develop that level of empathy that would support her in building relentless confidence in herself. Not too long ago, an MRI detected a tortuosity on [daughter]’s optic nerve, which is unrelated to her strabismus. Detection is so important to bring forward and openly discuss; it gives her the strength to build awareness, because there is no stronger support that can develop her resilience than herself. Resiliency gives you power. [Daughter] is transparent about her journey with her peers at [school], or when supporting other young patients at the hospital…now there’s a gift we don’t speak about at length - how genuine connections and collaboration aren’t just an organization's measures of success for their teams; these are in fact measures of success for humanity.”
Reena shares how building confidence is a non-negotiable for entrepreneurs that is often overlooked. “How can anything be more rewarding than to see yourself overcome or accomplish something you thought you couldn't? I’ve learned through my daughter that if I attempt to face challenges with curiosity, this will slowly develop both confidence and courage to pursue any goal, without focusing on the achievement of it; but rather, enjoying the journey while realizing the rewards of the experience and growth along the way. It’s easy to become discouraged when we hear ‘No’, but I have learned that ‘No’ doesn't mean never; it may just not be the right time. I encourage my clients who are seeking personal or professional change to strategize at least three scenarios that will force them to turn their obstacles into opportunities. This really all starts with your own mindset and drive. Confidence can only grow with the number of times something didn't work or turn out the way you thought it would; and this sounds contradictory to success, but it’s actually the root of success. We just need to figure out how to get out of our own way in order to clear the path for ourselves to reach another level, another milestone, another skill.” She continues, “It takes courage to be curious about the impact our personal choices could have on our professional journeys. I was driving from the back seat for so long; I knew I had to make decisions that would force me out of complacency...I had so many roles, I began to fear failure. I didn’t want to disappoint the people in my life that mattered the most to me; who were relying on me. But, we can only wear so many hats before we realize that we may no longer know ourselves anymore. It’s a strong reminder that a purposeful life is guided by you, and only you; and sometimes this requires a reset of who you are, who you choose to be, where you choose to go, and how you choose to get there. Once I recognized that I was the only person responsible for driving myself to my destination, that’s when I chose to never take a back seat again."
During the pandemic, Reena didn’t just spend her creative energy to launch her firm; she took on a personal homebuilding project that she says was instrumental in expanding her learning and development, which she credits to the people she met through the project. “When I think of professional services and the world of consulting, I consider the value of my time, which is the service I’m selling to clients. My product isn’t tangible, which makes my personal brand even more important to highlight; and it’s impossible to do this without developing relationships with my clients and their teams - they need to know who I am beyond my bio. When embarking on large projects with clients, it’s easy to get lost in the details, and the structure, and the process, and the timing, etc. What we sometimes forget to highlight that will likely lead any project successfully are the relationships with the team responsible for producing the result. There is a level of commitment and understanding in the outcome that becomes table stakes with every signed contract; but, if we recognize that collaborating with the client and their team is necessary to secure the finality of the project, clients are rewarded with more than just the outcome - they have a long-term relationship with people that they will choose to engage with again.” She continues, “I built a house. It was a long-term goal that took unwavering dedication over 20 years. No one expected COVID-19, and of course it played a major role in the evolution of my home project. My home became known as [address], in which many members of the build team carry memories of, and possibly some frustration! But, all with a common goal, there was nothing that was going to stop this team from succeeding.”
Reena discusses the importance of a client engaging directly with the team they have hired for a project. “[Builder] had this beautiful boardroom table built to host clients in his office; and it was during one of our weekly meetings at this table where I realized that I hadn’t been in a position often where I wore the ‘client’ hat. I wasn’t sure how to be a client! I wanted to engage in and be a part of the holistic, bigger picture strategy with this personal project - we were in this together, and a client label can sometimes paralyze projects like this due to a client’s expectations alone. I chose to have an intimate understanding and experience of my home project, and not only the brick and mortar, but with the people who were dedicating so much additional time and energy to deliver during the pandemic. So, I moved to the other side of the table. I visited my site daily; I had genuine curiosity about the team and their journeys; and I learned so much about these wonderful people, which also enriched my own personal journey:
The role of a client can really help determine the outcome of a project in a significant way. I would encourage anyone to take the time to develop these important relationships in order to gain a true understanding of the intricacies involved in a project you have hired a team for. Weave your own experience into your own project, and it may just change your views on how a client’s role should participate.”
Reena takes us on a tour of her home. The open floor plan has natural light pouring through the floor to ceiling windows, and the architectural design boasts of symmetrical lines and monochromatic colors, with an angled staircase that surrounds the sophisticated design. The minimalist look is complimented by a painting done by [carpenter], blending a mix of warm colors that Reena says represent people that remind her of the sunset. The design experience became the anchor that kept her motivated in this personal venture. “I met [architect] and knew within moments that I wanted to engage him and his organization to design my home. [Architect] reminded me of myself in many ways, especially how I retain information and execute solutions for clients. His ability to process information quickly and then produce a succinct write up of our discussion from memory alone highlighted a level of concentration that I could appreciate because it’s how I practice. Teaming with [architect] and watching him tackle tasks with such ease made the design process itself feel so seamless. I learned to visualize the product through [architect], which was a significant learning opportunity for me. It opened the door to creative thinking and innovation with my own work. A creative strategy for consultants like myself requires imagination, which I learned to tap into in a very different way, thanks to [architect] showing me how to evolve this important skill. I can still recall the moment when [architect] rolled out the initial rendering of my home and walked me through the floor plan; I could clearly envision the final product, which I thought I couldn't do without a tangible structure to see with the naked eye. So, when I refer to an anchor in this project, the anchor was [architect] because he not only supported developing my skill to envision outcomes in a different way, he anchored my home with his presence from initial meeting to possession. This includes the little things along the way, such as carving an Aum into the framing of my office; or, joining me in selection meetings to support my learning in the industry; or, just simply being so dedicated to the outcome of the project. It can take years to develop a connection with people you meet that become a part of either your personal or professional journey, or both; but [architect]’s ability to understand me immediately as a person was an anomaly. And because I chose to build these relationships, I was rewarded with immense self-awareness that helped guide many decisions for me.”
We follow Reena to the area of her home where she finds her inspiration to write. “This patio captures the beauty of [community] south acreages; the unobstructed sunrise to the east; and the unobstructed sunset to the west. Together, it offers unlimited hours of inspiration for my writing. Not too long after I moved into my home, it began to rain…and this roof-top shows off that it can also become a romantic setting,” she smiles. “I’ve learned that despite any challenges, we need to take time to appreciate each moment before its gone; including the people that we were lucky to create special memories with. Decisions can be life-changing; people we meet can be life-changing; and learning about yourself again after becoming lost in the chaos of routine and roles is also life-changing…there is absolutely nothing more challenging than to look inward and recognize what isn't working, and then believe in yourself to such a degree that any decisions you make are celebrated and honored by you, yourself, first and foremost. It’s brave to pursue what we really want, as long as we know when it’s time to let go of what we cannot have. I've learned that your inside voice will keep offering you compromises: ‘what if I tried this...’ or, ‘maybe one day…’. It’s time to make a decision when you’re honest with yourself about what’s no longer working, and that's when you know you need to make room for what’s waiting to reach you. It’s not easy, but the universe can’t shower a blessing without a loss or a lesson."
We discuss change and the pandemic’s effects on decisions. Reena pauses for the first time in our conversation, reflecting. She offers us a brief look beyond her bio: “Today, I’m a single woman, a co-parent, a mother, a daughter, an entrepreneur....the labels we wear to identify ourselves also carry a subliminal message, which is that we must fit within these roles as defined by societal norms, or within predetermined standards of a functioning relationship. This feels like a disservice to what humanity is pursuing as the ultimate euphoria - a life led authentically through our values, emotions and behaviors. What the pandemic brought to light for many leaders in organizations is that roles can no longer be defined as they once were. Similarly, there may not be a label in a book that can define every relationship we have in our lives, or choose to build, either; but it shouldn’t matter. If we remove the labels, we become the most authentic and raw version of ourselves – this is where we can find our highest performance and truest identities. And, how we belong in one another’s lives can then remain our own decisions.”
It’s our turn to pause. We reflect on the journey this extra(ordinary) executive and woman has travelled, particularly these last few years. We determine that Reena is unaware, almost naïve, of her relatability to others; and how she draws interest from people who want to work with her and join her on her journey. We reflect on all the moments she chose courage, authenticity, and vulnerability above all – which is when she found her own path. She accepted loss along the way, but she didn’t give up hope in achieving her goal to create the personal brand she figured out would reflect her truest, authentic self.
Her secret is her.
“It’s fair to suggest that your brand will not resonate or connect with everyone. Not everyone will understand you, but the people that do are the ones that will never forget you. This is how your personal brand grows, and this is how your corporate brand identity is recognized. I know I'm not for everyone, but I do believe that who I am for, I will be for in a significant way. Today, I shared my journey in the same, purposeful manner in which my extra(ordinary) executive clients shared with me. They trusted my vision and gifted me the chance to journal their stories and spotlight their executive identity. This created my brand and the successful platform for Agilis Executive Consulting. So, if I were asked how do I measure success? I would say through the eyes of a person that I have had an impact on who is measuring the value of their success… instead of success measuring the value of that person. It seems pretty simple to me.”
Reena Khullar, SHRM-SCP CPHR
How do you measure success?
-Written by Sarah Lange, SHRM-SCP CPHR
BEYOND THE BIO:
DISCOVERING YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
Building a Personal Brand is a transformational journey
that requires an immense amount of
self-reflection and self-awareness.
To support you with your discovery,
Agilis Executive Consulting goes Beyond The Bio
with Executive Leaders across the globe to reveal the
pillars of their success journeys:
Who, What, Where, When, Why…HOW?