Published Thursday December 2nd, 2010Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal
Dave Veale interviews Roxanne Fairweather, President & CEO, Innovatia, as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
I find it hard to believe that the enthusiastic, energetic, and inspiring woman sitting across from me during this interview was slated to retire from her 30 year profession in September 2010. That retirement never happened.
Instead, Roxanne Fairweather (with Dave Grebenc) made a bold move and purchased Innovatia, the company she had been leading for over 10 years.
Just one year after this purchase Innovatia earned a place among New Brunswick’s fastest growing ICT companies. In early 2010 a new project expanded the employee base by over 30%, adding over 100 jobs to the New Brunswick economy. Innovatia has had 20% year over year growth since Roxanne and Dave purchased the business and they are on a trajectory to have 30% growth in 2011. With offices in Canada, the United States, and India, Innovatia is one of North America’s largest documentation and training outsourcers.
In May 2010 Innovatia was named Best Export Services Company by the New Brunswick Knowledge Industry Recognition Awards (KIRA) and in June it was recognized with three NB Awards of Excellence for operational achievement in the contact center industry.
Described as a confident visionary, Roxanne, now president and CEO of Innovatia, has a simple business philosophy – customers and employees first. With over 30 successful years in the telecommunications and knowledge industry, she is recognized as one of Atlantic Canada’s most accomplished business executives.
I began our conversation by asking Roxanne what helped her decide to ‘take the leap’ and buy Innovatia.
A: The opportunity unfolded and both Dave and I had such a powerful belief in what we do and how we can add value in the knowledge management space. We also felt very strongly about having a head office in New Brunswick and being part of growing the capacity of people here in the province. In New Brunswick we have intellectual capital that we can engage and excite. That was really important for us, for this company to stick here, because New Brunswick has a lot of opportunity and promise.
Q: So a big part of the decision to purchase Innovatia is the fact that you want to help build capacity in New Brunswick?
A: I have 13 grandchildren here – it’s important to give back and to make sure that this province has a stable economic and social fiber that my children and my grandchildren – and hopefully their children – will want to stay and thrive in.
At Innovatia we want to attract the best and brightest and keep them here in New Brunswick. People can have lives that are sustainable, they can make a good living and they can have a good life here.
Q: I’m really curious about employee engagement at Innovatia. How do you ensure that you have an engaged workforce?
A: I believe that you need to ‘inspect what you expect’. We do an engagement survey every year. There are things you have control over and there are things that you don’t. The things that you have control over like engagement are the things you can move the meter on.
Q: What is an example of something you have control over?
A: People want to understand what we expect from them. Not in jargon or in some clinical data-like way, but with things that are meaningful to the success of our business. People want to know how to implement our strategic goals and our vision. I believe people need to see themselves in our vision and to see that their performance goals are attached to the goals that we are creating for the organization.
Q: So you are very purposeful in creating meaningful goals for employees?
A: We establish goals for people and establish them in a way that they can see that they are attached to the vision of the company and they are a part of the success of the company. We won’t get anywhere, and we can’t go out and sell anything, unless we have good people doing a good job that we can reference.
Q: What do you mean by a ‘job that you can reference’?
A: Recently we asked a great client ‘would you mind coming in and talking with a potential new client about us? We’ll leave the room so they can ask you any question and you can answer honestly about our skills and capability.’ We ended up acquiring a big new client by doing this.
Q: Wow – that takes immense confidence.
A: It is confidence in our people and what they do, because we know we deliver results.
Q: You talked about “lessons learned” in your career, have there been some really important lessons you’ve learned along the way that you would be willing to share?
A: [laughing] “What you do when you don’t have to determines who you will be when you can’t help it.”
Q: Can you tell me more about this philosophy?
A: The little things that we do every day make up who we are. To execute on the promises that we make, we have to deliver on our promises every day and it will determine those every day moments. It’s who you are, every day and in every moment, that adds up to who you are at this moment.
Q: Being a leader takes courage and means being open to feedback. Have you received feedback that was surprising to you and also helped you grow as a leader?
A: Yeah, it was devastating. The feedback was “you don’t care about other people, you only care about getting to your goal.” It was contrary to everything that I believed about myself but it encouraged me to look deeply at myself and see how I was affecting people. At first, I thought “they are crazy, I do really care about people, that is just not so”. And I do really care about people but, you know, I really had to stop and think. I am a very driven person and sometimes it is the goal first. So I learned that I have to be very, very conscious and aware that it is people first, because you can’t get anywhere without making sure that you’ve got your team and your people with you.
Q: Who inspires you, Roxanne?
A: A lot of people inspire me. The people in this province do – they are as smart as anyone I’ve seen all over this planet, and I’ve been all over the planet. The will, the desire, the creativity, the innovation, the commitment, it all exists here. We can do anything we want. When we are knocking on a door at a huge company like Microsoft, RIM or Cisco, and we are saying “Hi, I’m from New Brunswick”, we can say it with pride because we can do anything we put our mind to.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>