Startup Canada chair Brenda Halloran on her best job ever

“Running for mayor of Waterloo, talking to people to get their trust, was the most incredible job interview I’ve ever had.”

Waterloo Innovation Network CEO Brenda Halloran.

Waterloo Innovation Network CEO Brenda Halloran.

This article has been updated.

Being mayor of Waterloo, Ont. is Brenda Halloran’s best known job, but the chair of Startup Canada has a wealth of experience across multiple fields. Halloran’s four-decade career includes jobs in health care, industry, public service and public office. Today, her mission is to advance Canada’s tech sector. She tells us about the best, worst and strangest gigs she’s done:


“When I was 13, I started working at Dairy Queen in Waterloo, Ont. We didn’t have calculators, so we had to add up everything in our head. It was really a great learning experience. I learned how to add quickly, how to make the perfect cone and how to deal with people.”


“Between graduating from nursing school and finding work as a nurse, I took a job working part time at the old Electrohome factory in Kitchener, Ont., fixing faulty dehumidifiers in the basement. They offered me a permanent job that paid $3.77 an hour. I wasn’t going to make that much nursing, so I considered taking it. Instead, I moved to Florida to work as a nurse. It was the right decision.”


“You see pretty awful stuff in the intensive care unit. That’s why I ended up leaving nursing. I was caring for a patient, then I went to the front desk to do some charting. When I came back a few minutes later, the patient had died, all alone. I just thought, I need a change.”


“After leaving nursing, I worked as a carny at the Canadian National Exhibition. I did it for three weeks and it was such a great experience! My parents were horrified thatI went from being a respected nurse to being a carny. But for me, it’s always been about the experience. Why not try something different?”


“I started working in customer service at Revenue Canada, and the assistant commissioner, Ruby Howard, drew me out of the pack and started coaching me. This was the early ’90s, and there were very few women who had reached her level of seniority in the federal government. She took me on and guided me.”


“While I was running for mayor of Waterloo, going door-to-door and talking to people to get their trust was the most incredible job interview I’ve ever had. I had never been in politics and didn’t know what to expect. And then when I won, to know that thousands of people actually voted for me—that’s something you don’t forget.”


“In the early ’80s, I worked at an airfreight forwarding company and had a boss who sexually harassed the women in the company. Whenever he called you into his office, you’d get a sick feeling. In those days,there were no regulations around sexism, sexual assault or equal pay in the workplace. I was in sales and bringing in a lot of clients, and I wanted to become a sales manager. But my boss wouldn’t promote me. Instead, he got a guy, totally unqualified, out of the warehouse, gave him the job and made me train him.”


“I really like myself as the boss.”

Updated, July 15, 2016 to reflect Ms. Halloran’s new post as chair of Startup Canada.