Kevin. Career Synopsis, Major Changes and Transitions

posted January 12th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

This story is a little different from the others I have told. I wanted to tell Kevin’s story because I have long admired her and in particular admired the significant transitions she has made throughout her career.


The first thing I asked Kevin to do was to provide me with a brief synopsis of her career, highlighting the major changes or transitions she has made.


She said: “Starting at the very beginning, I began my career as a dancer and worked my way through university dancing professionally. Once I finished university, I got married, had two kids and went back to school to do a Masters Degree in Urban Planning after falling in love with Jane Jacobs and her ideas.  That led first of all, to a run for City Councillor mostly because the guy who was in my ward stepped down at the very last minute about two months before the election.  There was a lot of scrambling around to find someone to run and when they got to the very, very bottom of the list they grabbed me.  I was the most frightened Council candidate you can possibly imagine.  I nearly fainted when I had to make my first speech, I was so scared. Anyway, the good news is that I lost that election.  Another woman and I split the vote and another candidate got in.  I lost by 300 votes.  So I thankfully didn’t embark on a political career at City Council.” 


She says she was then hired by an architectural firm, the two principals of which were in the middle of a very, very messy breakup of their partnership.  She was hired to start a planning practice because she had just finished her degree in Urban Planning. Given the split between the original partners, she ended up after a number of years becoming a partner in the firm, running the planning business. She was there for about 12 years and says she did lots of interesting work mostly in small towns in Ontario and in the United States.  They did a huge study for a major US city and a lot of other interesting work but she says: “I slowly came to the recognition that the planning studies which we did with huge enthusiasm and idealism mostly ended up sitting gathering dust on the shelf of the client and nothing actually got done and I really wanted to make a difference and get things done and looking around, I could see that if I wanted to change the way cities were built I needed to work for a developer.  So I embarked on a long quest to find a developer who would hire me which was not easy because consultants are not that well regarded in the development community.”


Kevin says she finally ended up landing a job at a major development company just as they were embarking on getting a major development approved in downtown Toronto and her job was to sheppard it through the very complicated re-zoning process at city hall and get the development approved — the developer was looking to gain huge extra density — as quickly as possible because a competing development was also breaking ground and only one of them was going to get built.  So she started out with a mission to get it done fast and the strategy to do that was to take everything the City asked for and, as best they could, do it and not fight whereas the competing team did exactly the opposite.  “They did what developers normally do and they said to the city ‘are you crazy what you’re asking for is completely unreasonable’.”  So Kevin’s development got built and the other development has only been finished in the last year which she finds interesting, to say the least.


She says: “I was with this developer until the real estate meltdown. I was Vice-President of Planning and Design for the Eastern Region of the company until the real estate meltdown resulted in the company’s demise.  Thankfully, I was then recruited by an individual who had been at another major development company and had recently joined one of the banks during an era when the bank wanted to get into the commercial real estate business.  So, he hired me and we had a small team of really keen entrepreneurial guys who set about doing a major development on Yonge Street for the bank and basically looking for development opportunities using the bank’s real estate as a strategic asset to try and make some money.”


Kevin says when the leadership at the bank changed, this strategy fell out of favour and she ended up becoming Senior Vice-President of Corporate Real Estate which meant that she was responsible for the branch network and all of the office space that the bank held across Canada. She and her team had the job of essentially telling people what they didn’t want to hear, which was that they had to conform to the standards of office space that the bank had decreed which were much more efficient than the more lavish lifestyle they’d been used to – this was particularly a challenge with the bank owned investment banking arm — and so she says they became pretty much the most hated department in the bank. In addition, she says they introduced some really good design standards for branches and for the redesign of ABM’s which she has been interested to see many of the other banks have now followed.


She says: “I stayed with the bank until the third or fourth time that a team of young management consultants had come through to reorganize us and I had been asked to basically dismantle my team, or been asked why this was a core business, or why we were doing what we were doing. I became aware that the person who was managing the opera company had left and that they were on the verge of being able to finally realize their dream of building an opera house and they needed somebody with real estate skills.  So, I put up my hand and within three weeks — they were just about to start a search for this person — I got the job.   I left the bank, took at least a 50% cut in pay, and went to join the Canadian Opera Company. One of the best things about it was that suddenly I didn’t have anybody reporting to me, no staff at all, half a secretary, and no performance reviews to complete.  It was just wonderful and I actually had a real project to work on.  I was at the opera company for four years, which was a very tumultuous time. At one point, the provincial government took the land on which the new opera house was to be built away from the company and then we had a long, long negotiation with a real estate development company who were going to build an office tower on top of the opera house. At the very last minute with all the agreements signed and ready to go, their board cancelled the deal.  Then I got into a similar negotiation with another real estate development company who were going to put a courthouse and office building on top of the opera house, all of which came to nothing and in the end, thank goodness, we built a really beautiful opera house.”


Throughout her entire career, Kevin had been a ballet lover. She was on the board of the National Ballet of Canada when the woman who was the executive director of the ballet resigned.  A search committee was set up.  Kevin was on the search committee and after two meetings of the search committee she thought to herself: “I really want this job.  So over the weekend, I called the head hunter and asked if it would really be a conflict if I said I wanted the job and she said, no, I was just going to call you.  I’ve been the Executive Director of the National Ballet of Canada now for eight years and I love it.”


In the next segments of her story, I ask Kevin questions about what prompted her to make the changes she made in her career and where she turned for support when she made them. Stay tuned!!


What Strikes Me?


Our passionate interests offer great opportunities and interesting possibilities, if we are courageous enough to reach out and pursue them


We often pursue the passions and interests of our youth later in our lives


Having the wisdom and courage to follow our interests yields wonderful results


The resounding impact of an original thinker  like Jane Jacobs


What Strikes You?


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