By Bev Stuart
From strong roots
I grew up in Winnipeg’s Weston neighbourhood. Some folks might know this area more for the CP rail yards or for being a tougher area of the city. No matter, though, it was my home, and I have always been proud of where my journey began.
I grew up in a family with working parents who made enough to give us a good life, but there wasn’t any extra. My dad was a self-employed entrepreneur, and while he owned a couple of different businesses, they weren’t runaway successes. My mom worked in management in the restaurant and hospitality field and was a fantastic leader. I learned a lot watching her manage people from a place of genuine care and compassion.
At a very young age, I learned that if there was anything I wanted, I’d have to work for it (and work hard!). Like other kids at that time, I had flyer routes and paper routes to earn my money, and I babysat for neighbours around us. I had my first part-time job at 15 and was a supervisor by the time I was 17. Early indicators
Looking back on my time in school, it’s almost funny how no one talked to us about what might lay beyond high school. Post-secondary was barely mentioned, and any talk about ‘careers’ was minimal at best. Because I was so passionate about sports, the perpetual career advice I received was (of course) to become a Phys. Ed teacher.
Sport for me was life-giving. It was engaging for both my body and my mind. It was freeing in many ways, but I’d never felt more ‘part’ of something than being on a team playing toward a common goal. It was more than just a pastime; it was exactly where I wanted to be!
For me, it didn’t matter if I was a team captain or just another player. I was always taking on some sort of leadership role regardless of my position, and I was always cheering on my teammates and trying to lift them up if a play didn’t go as planned. I played both team- and individual sports but loved the team dynamics.
The strategizing and the review of the game that had just happened was second nature for me. I would analyze what I could have done differently and how the game might have turned out had my team and I done something differently. I was always asking ‘how can we make it better for next time.’ Naturally, I loved to win, but as long we played well and tried our best, I was ok with losing – because we’d get them next time.
I was a visualizer when it came to playing sports. In baseball, for example, I would imagine the ball coming toward me on second base, and I would run the double play through my mind with multiple scenarios – second base to first, or second base to third, or second base to home plate. I can still feel the exhilaration of making a double play.
It wasn’t ‘til later in life I realized this skill was crucial to my career. All of this was leadership, just in a bit of disguise: building teams, developing a shared vision, aligning around shared values, strategic planning, and finding joy and passion in meaningful work.
That’s something that my mother taught me as I was growing up. Find something you love to do, and you’ll never really ‘work’ a day in your life. If I’m not able to find the fun in what I’m doing or where I’m doing it, it’s a sign that I need to move along.
Forward and back
After high school, despite what might have been expected of me, I headed to university, but I had to leave my degree program early. It was a tough decision, to say the least, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. My mom suggested that I look into careers in IT, as she said, “I think computers are really catching on.” Well, she was undoubtedly correct, and while taking Information Systems Management courses at night, I landed an incredible job with a progressive company that valued and supported continuous learning and education. Although computer programming wasn’t for me, computer operations and network administration were. After just a few years working in the field, my leadership abilities were acknowledged, and I was placed into a management position.
I was very fortunate to be with a company that believed in the value of education and supported me in my educational journey. Even though I had to leave university when I was younger, I ended up getting a much more well-rounded learning experience through part-time study while working full time. I ended up completing credentials in administrative management, human resources, and adult and continuing education.
Working in management, I discovered I had a knack for spotting and uncovering great people who would be a good fit on my team. Back then, there really wasn’t much formal education for computer operations or network administration, so people weren’t formally trained for the roles; they’d typically learn on the job. So, I would spot internal talent in other business areas, have a ‘career conversation’ with them, and encourage them to apply for opportunities within my department – and, of course, hire them.
I loved everything about my role and the organization, so I was torn apart when the company announced that it was moving to Alberta. Leaving Manitoba was not something I wanted to do at that time in my life.
When one door closes…
When the company moved away, and I didn’t, it was a perfect opportunity for a shift in my career. I transitioned into the field of career and workforce development because I realized that this was something that came very naturally to me as a leader.
My purpose-driven journey led me to the Manitoba Institute of Trades & Technology (MITT), where I have worked in numerous roles; the latest as Vice President, Business and Organizational Development. It’s a position that combines the best of all my career and learning experiences with my passion for serving as a leader. Last year, our president asked me to step into an acting role as the Vice President, Academic. I’m going to be honest, I thought he was losing his mind, but he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself; what a wonderful feeling to be on the receiving end of someone seeing your strengths and capabilities that you haven’t – yet. My term in the role was rewarding and I learned so much more about the organization and myself.
For my next act…
I’m in a different stage of life, and I’ve got plenty for which to be grateful: my family, including my now-grown children, my challenging career, wonderful friends, and more! Now, though, I’ve got some time and new energy to spend on myself to keep growing as a leader. It’s my love of learning and desire to be a better leader that’s got me pursuing my master’s degree in leadership. Like the rest of my education, the part-time program I’m taking is very much applied and experiential learning, so it really feels like home.
For those who know me well, it’s not a surprise that I’ve taken on this latest challenge. It’s been something I’ve just done all my life. My daughters – one of whom actually just graduated from MITT – have never asked me why I’m doing this; they know why and they are as proud of me as I am of them.
Finale? Far from it!
What’s next for me?
I genuinely love what I do and am grateful to work with such an amazing team of people. Working as part of the executive team at MITT, I get to be creative, innovative, and strategic. I am honoured to coach and mentor rising stars across the organization, and as a leader, I am still learning and stretching myself every day. I am making a difference, and for me, this personal and professional value is deep-seated.
I enjoy sharing with others the insights I’ve gained through my life, and I want to, in a way, pay it forward to the others, like me, who are out there making a go of it, regardless of their backgrounds or origins. I’m empowered and encouraged by where I’ve come from. I Started There to Get Here, and I’m not slowing down one bit! After all, when you rise to any challenge, you’re just taking yourself to the ‘next level me!’
Bev Stuart is Associate Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Initiatives at MITT. She has over 30 years of experience in organizational leadership, career and workforce development, and strategic human resource planning and development. Her experience includes working in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, designing, developing, and implementing initiatives and strategies for developing Manitoba’s workforce.