Posted: Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:07 am Post subject: Asifa Samji, dynamic Canadian business leaders.
This V-P knows a trick for companies to think more creatively
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Apr. 25, 2016 1:31PM EDT
Profiles of a selection of dynamic Canadian business leaders.
It’s just after 4 p.m. in Vancouver and Asifa Samji’s day is slowly winding down. She’s booked solid for the week, but has carved out a little time to talk about her career path and the steps she took to get into her position as vice-president and regional business leader of Environmental Services at Canadian engineering and design consulting firm Stantec Inc.
“There are no typical days in consulting,” says Ms. Samji, who admits her workdays are unpredictable at best. “It’s all about delivering for clients. There is some flexibility in our work hours, but when duty calls, we are at work.”
Ms. Samji joined Stantec in 2009 after her previous employer, environmental consulting firm Jacques Whitford, was acquired and she now leads a team of more than 750 environmental scientists, engineers, wildlife ecologists and project managers – just to name a few.
It’s Ms. Samji’s job to support all the working parts of a consulting project, put out fires where necessary – also known as “issues management” – and generally assist her team over the finish line.
Her job requires a litany of skills to help manage numerous environmental assessment projects, including contract negotiation, client management and overseeing site assessments and remediation.
But it’s her dedication to diversity and a long history of team building that have brought her to this place.
Diversity for Ms. Samji comes in many forms – the way one thinks, a person’s background, education and personality – and her philosophy is probably best expressed in her advice for other business executives to “surround yourself with people who don’t think like you.”
“You are always going to get the same ideas, same goals [and] same strategies if you hire people that are just like you,” she explains. “But when you have a diverse group and you include that diversity in your decision-making that’s where innovation is born. That’s where you get creativity.”
And this goal of diversity in the workplace goes beyond her daily interactions, as Ms. Samji currently sits on Stantec’s Canadian Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Born in Tanzania, Ms. Samji’s family moved to Vancouver when she was 3 and at the age of 6 her family moved across the water to North Vancouver. It was in these formative years, growing up against B.C.’s mountainous backdrop, that her bent for teamwork developed.
“I grew up doing a lot of volunteer work and I learned very quickly that I really love people. Helping people and being involved with people gives me energy – it drives me,” she explains, adding that this early exposure to charitable groups working toward the goal of helping others developed into a passion for leadership later in her life.
“That kind of pushed me into a career where, in business, you get to be a part of an organization, develop organizations, build teams, set goals, achieve those goals and move forward together.”
Participating in team sports, including developing a love for soccer at an early age, has helped Ms. Samji recognize and hone her own leadership skills both on and off the pitch, and she continues to tell family and friends to enroll their children in sports for the life lessons they instill.
But these days the team player has become the coach as Ms. Samji spends days like today hosting webinars with project leaders from British Columbia to Manitoba to make sure they are getting the support they need to finish the project at hand.
“There are times you want to be Ms. Fix-It, and there are times when you have to be Ms. Delegator and Ms. Mentor and Ms. Coach,” says Ms. Samji. “And sometimes you need to just take a little extra time to process and then make a decision. That’s where patience really has to come into play.”
Patience is a virtue she admits she has not always possessed, but has been something of a personal challenge she has managed to overcome. When she finished her MBA at Royal Roads University in 2008, Ms. Samji says she wanted to go out and set the business world on fire, applying what she had learned in school, both in business and environmental engineering. But with the help of those around her she learned to “walk before I could run and run before I could sprint.”
“I had those mentors and people in place at home and in my work and school life that would just ground me and say, ‘Hang on, stop and smell the roses. Let’s build your skills totally and have some patience’.”
These mentors – coaches on her teams, family members and instructors – have helped mould her into a mentor for others.
For her, “it’s about knowing your audience and being adaptable, knowing your own leadership style and understanding how to apply it to different people, being empathetic, being a very good listener. Those are really key things that have served me well.”
​The 25th of April was a very hectic day for Asifa; it was a day when her mother, Nazneen, was laid to rest. When she came home after the funeral, she received a call from a family friend that the Globe and Mail had published her profile. It was based on a telephone interview that had happened some months back. Asifa had no clue that it was going to published on the day of her mother's funeral.​
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