Sandra Wear is currently building a new TEC CEO group in Vancouver. She built one of Canada’s greatest exits, The DocSpace Company, and currently designs and implements scalable growth strategies to maximize shareholder value. Sandra spoke with TEC Exchange about her experiences as a woman leader in Canadian business, and shared some advice for other women working to improve their business success.
Why did you become a Chair?
I am passionate about building a stronger economy in Canada and believe this can only happen through innovation and growth. And great leadership fuels innovation and growth. As a TEC Chair I can enable the growth of leaders and their businesses by bringing together a group of like-minded peers to help solve each other’s problems as well as hold each other accountable to improving processes and execution.
As someone who has previously been involved with peer-mentoring, I know not only how valuable it is to have a peer group in growing one’s business but also how challenging it is when you don’t have a trusted peer group. It’s hard to find all the right answers or even know if your solutions consider all the factors when you’re alone in your office.
Which components of your experience and expertise do you think will contribute most to your members’ growth?
I feel that it’s about the group, not me. It’s about how I build the best group and how I facilitate the best dialogue that provides the strongest value for my members. That’s both within the group and with each member individually.
I have witnessed first-hand how amazing it can be when you bring like-minded peers together. So I’m very conscious about making sure that like-minded executives can come together in my group. Everyone has a unique voice, but a shared philosophy alongside the overriding TEC philosophy of life-long learning can make the overall experience much richer and rewarding.
I’ve built teams and companies before and have seen what happens when things go well – and when things don’t go so well. So I know how important relationship-building is to a strong team along with fostering a healthy team dynamic. My aim is to enable the members to be engaged and active, contributing members.
In addition, I have pretty broad business side from leading significant financing and sales transactions to developing new products, markets and channels. I’ve lead companies through various stages in their life-cycle – from starting up, growing, shutting down, pivoting or switching direction. I think those are common issues across all industries and are helpful for understanding what a member is going through and being able to facilitate discussion around that.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing business leaders as individuals?
The issue that stands out a lot for me is that nobody else knows what you’re going through unless they’ve gone through it, or unless they’re also running a company with similar types of issues . And if you can’t have conversations and dialogue with peers, others who understand what you’re going through, it’s extremely challenging to assess how well you’re doing.
Our members strive to become better, to be better leaders, run better companies, live better lives. This is one of the things I love about TEC, it attracts CEOs who strive to be better, who aim for a meritocracy. By bringing these individuals together we help raise the bar for business in Canada and build momentum. Members together can have a much greater impact rather than being the lone voice in the crowd.
What about women as business leaders?
Women face two key challenges as I see it. The first is that you can’t find enough of us out there. So the adage of “you can’t be what you don’t see” comes to mind. The second are the systemic biases that occur. It’s tough to overcome hurdles when you’re slotted into a category. At the end of the day, it’s an economic decision. If you’re only getting leaders from 50 percent of the potential pool how can we become a meritocracy?
Drawing on your experience as a successful businesswoman, what is the main action you feel that women leaders can take starting today to increase their success?
First, stop worrying about challenges and problems and instead focus on your goals and how you’re going to achieve them. It is harder for women to obtain leadership roles. But we’re not going to change that unless we change what the picture looks like. So we have to focus on each of our goals.
Second, you need to interact, network and connect with women AND men. Why would you cut yourself off from 50 percent of the population? Just like women need to be recognized as a strong 50 percent of where leaders come from, men need to be recognized as the other half of the solution.
If your goal is to be the best manufacturer in the world, and you define ‘best’ with a set of criteria , look around to other industries – or your own – to see who else has met those criteria already. Work with them, associate yourself with them, and don’t worry so much again about how difficult it’s going to be. Focus on the goal, not the problem.
How do you keep work-life balance? How do you spend your ‘life’ time?
I think this is an important question, and I acknowledge that I’m not the best at it and I’ve been working hard on this over the last few years. Although on the grand scale I’m far from balanced, I’m now more balanced than I was!
I’m very goal-oriented, so I set myself goals about social interactions, or doing something new each month. Perhaps instead of working through the whole weekend, I’ll plan to only spend a certain amount of time on work then I’ll do something else.
I work exercise into my day in a way that becomes an unobtrusive habit rather than setting aside time. I walk everywhere, and will buffer around my appointments to give me time to walk to them instead of drive. It makes it into a mechanism for me to get there, rather a task that I have to complete.
Having said that, I really do love work. I love all the discussions and interactions that come out of work, so I often don’t classify it as work. If I go to a board meeting and I’m enjoying it, I might have to leave but it will be unwillingly!