On February 21st, the Shaw Conference Centre announced the appointment of Lisanne Lewis in the role of General Manager. Meet the woman leading Edmonton’s conference centre.
Tell us about how you came to be here, in Edmonton & a part of our team?
I grew up in Montreal, began my career in Winnipeg and in 1995 moved to Alberta. My career in public assembly facilities began at Edmonton Northlands as their Media Sponsorship Manager. From there, I moved to Red Deer to be the Marketing and Sponsorship Manager at Westerner Park. It was in Red Deer that I received a huge education on the operations side of managing and running a building. I was able to gain hands-on experience in everything from Rodeo events to on-ice advertising and setting up rooms. I came back to Edmonton and wound up working for Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) as their Communications Manager. It was at this time that I acquired so much valuable knowledge on how each division of EEDC operates (Edmonton Tourism, the Research Park and Economic Development). My favourite part of the job was when I was seconded to come over to SCC and launch their first real marketing efforts. At that time the position was not full time, but I always knew if they ever needed someone to build their business development opportunities, I would jump at the chance. That happened about four years later. I’ve been here now since 2011.
You’ve worked with EEDC and SCC for a number of years. What about this organization has enticed you to stay all these years?
EEDC’s leadership and goals have evolved as the city has evolved. I’ve worked under four or five different EEDC presidents and senior leadership teams and they’ve all been effective in doing what’s best for the city. I’ve been fortunate to have my job affected by positive change, and to have grown and changed with EEDC.
What are some of your most memorable career accomplishments?
My most memorable accomplishments revolve around starting something, or finding a solution to something. In the past 10 years, there have been some conference start-ups that were first ever major events. When I was with the Government of Alberta, I worked with a team that produced the first Aboriginal Economic Development Summit. With a conservation association, we produced a stakeholder event with academics and employees in that field. These firsts that continue on as legacies today feel really good.
The creation of a digital marketing platform at SCC was a lot of work. We were leading the way in convention centres, so the ability to rally people to understand the benefits and costs was a huge win.
How would you describe your leadership style? Who has mentored you throughout your career?
Consultative and collaborative by nature, my approach revolves around exactly that: successfully building teams, stakeholder partnerships, community investment and delivering value for customers. I am solutions-oriented and passionate about continuous improvement from both the business perspective and the customer experience.
I am most interested in leading people. Rather than finding the best solution, I enjoy leading others to discover it.
One of my mentors was Pat Stevens, the Promotions Director at the Winnipeg Sun. She taught me what it was like to be a young woman leading a department, and was one of my first strong female mentors from the industry. John Harms at Westerner Park in Red Deer also had a huge influence on me. He gave me a chance to get serious experience in the operations of a building and gave me his full trust in decision making. Assistant Deputy Minister Maria David-Evans taught me indirectly about managing mass amounts of information and managing large scale teams of people. Cliff Higuchi, former General Manager of SCC, taught me that there needs to be a balance between a vision for community and a focus on operational excellence.
Who are some great Edmonton leaders you admire?
Ralph Young, CEO of Melcor, and Chancellor of the University of Alberta Senate Committee made a huge impression on me when I volunteered there. I also admire people in senior administration roles who are usually behind the scenes. People like Kate Gunn at the City of Edmonton Community Services Department, or Margo Long at Incite Marketing are quietly facilitating great things in the city.
My heroes are the people that are actually making things happen – becoming catalysts that are pulling people together; the quiet leaders. Stephan Petasky is another great Edmonton leader, showing what entrepreneurial success from an Edmonton base looks like on a global scale, but still caring enough to consistently give back to the community. Susan Mcgee, Executive Director of Homeward Trust is executing the City’s 10 year plan to end homelessness and sharing our success with other cities right across Canada.
You’ve played a prominent role in the Edmonton community, including serving on boards such as: Homeless Connect, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, Jubilee Board, Suit Yourself Edmonton, and University of Alberta Senate. Why do you feel it’s important to be involved in such initiatives?
The type of jobs we have in the public assembly world give us access to a huge demographic. We naturally become connectors, and it’s our responsibility to help people unite and find resources to grow. If it’s a personal passion, it’s even better.
We’re operating in a changing economic climate. What impact can meetings, conventions and events have on our economy?
In Canada right now, commodity prices are falling, the Canadian dollar has dipped to record lows and consumer debt is on the rise. Now more than ever, the governments or authorities that we report to are demanding demonstrated efficiencies and higher returns on investment.
It has become increasingly important that public assembly management professionals demonstrate that we are operating at the highest standards with core fundamentals in place. This includes a common code of ethics, and standardized programs of education and testing that result in the highest levels of facility, event and hospitality management best practices. There are a lot of things out of our control during downturns in the economy, but we can leverage and try to optimize some outcomes of that. A low Canadian dollar brings opportunities in getting some U.S. business here. Business travel becomes a potential area we can focus on during down times.
What are you looking forward to most in this new role?
My answer is two-fold. On the business side, ensuring we have the right systems and processes in place to bring in money and also deliver our product in the best possible way. The flip side is ensuring that as we go through changes and become even better at what we do, our staff continue to have the opportunity to grow. I want to make sure the staff understand and benefit from change.
You’re currently serving on the board of governors for the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and are very close to receiving the prestigious Certified Facility Executive designation. What are the benefits of being an IAVM member?
Connecting the Shaw Conference Centre into IAVM means we are now connected to a North American industry of venue management professionals. The benefits of this are huge. Not only do we receive the technical training we need through that industry, we now have access to libraries, databases and research reports that help us do our business. More importantly, we are able to connect with colleagues who are doing exactly what we do every day, and often have the answers or solutions we are looking for. Our participation, and hopefully, leadership at IAVM is helping to raise awareness of Edmonton as a destination and as a best practices leader in the industry.
What can Edmonton expect from you and SCC in the next few weeks, months & years?
We’re paying special attention to this 33 year old building. People are going to see and feel a difference when they move through our centre. A new guest experience plan is in the works that will contribute to a more interactive experience for those moving through the building. We want this centre to be more than just a place to hold events.
This is also a year where we will re-engage with our surrounding community. We will continue our local stakeholder engagement, and work with other EEDC divisions to help support the urban economy by connecting delegates to downtown Edmonton while they’re here.
Last year you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. What’s next on your bucket list?
After Africa, I am interested in more destination experiences instead of endurance based adventures. I’m looking into a hike with the Gorillas in Uganda – maybe that’s next!
Finally, how do you answer the question, “Why Edmonton?”
For the business traveller – because of the collaborative way this entire city comes together, we have a unique ability to make things happen and help you achieve your goals while you’re here. We have the ability to connect you to what’s important to you. Whether it’s post-secondary education, the entrepreneurial ecosystem, or the arts and culture scene, we can connect you with experts. We do this by throwing down competitive barriers and asking how we can help! Edmonton, all in.
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