Small Business

Brenda Halloran CEO Waterloo Innovation Network, Waterloo, Ont.

The pivot-filled career that led the former Waterloo mayor to head Michael Wekerle's Waterloo Innovation Network

Written by As told to Catherine McIntyre

Brenda Halloran’s four-decade career includes jobs in health care, industry, public service and public office (she was mayor of Waterloo from 2006 to 2014). Today, her mission is to advance Waterloo’s tech sector.

FIRST JOB: 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.

WORST JOB: 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.

SCARIEST JOB: 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.

WEIRDEST JOB: 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 that I 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?

BEST MENTOR: 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.

BEST JOB INTERVIEW: 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.

WORST BOSS: 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.

BEST BOSS: I really like myself as the boss.

This article is from the Summer 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!

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