Digitalization and globalization have changed the way businesses work. In addition, the pandemic brought in many disruptions along with it. This has put leadership roles to the test in terms of practicing innovation and heading business towards its vision. This dilemma has led to a growing need for individuals who can lead this evolution and drive a positive change.
The team at TELUS has stood tall in driving the change for its communities in these unprecedented times. Among its elite team, Jill Schnarr, Stephanie Franco, and Nimmi Kanji, have set a noteworthy instance of mindful leadership.
TELUS is a dynamic, world-leading communications and information technology company with $16 billion in annual revenue and 16 million customer connections spanning wireless, data, IP, voice, television, entertainment, video and security, healthcare and agriculture. The company has made its way to become both Canada’s leading telecommunication services provider and one of the world’s most philanthropic companies.
“Our mantra is we must make the customer’s life better! If done right, you will win against many long-standing brands who aren’t transforming as they should, especially during this time of major industry and business upheaval.”- Jill Schnarr
Jill Schnarr: An Epitome of Progressive Leadership
Jill Schnarr is the Chief Social Innovation Officer at TELUS.
Being at TELUS for 29 years, Jill has held leadership positions in marketing, communications, product management, customer service, internet services, business development, and human resources. While she was going to university, she started here as a telephone operator working part time and was hired full time as a marketing analyst in mobility marketing. From there, after numerous moves and promotions, she worked her way up to Vice-President, Community Affairs, a position she held for more than 11 years. In 2020, she was elevated into the executive leadership team as Chief Communications Officer, where she leads the company’s Corporate Citizenship & Communications team including corporate communications, media relations, social media, community investment, volunteerism, sponsorships, brand marketing and corporate events.
Jill believes that leaders should exhibit flexibility and decisiveness concurrently. To be respected and trusted, they must learn to be open and adaptable but also to stand by their principles. It’s also really important to elicit feedback from around the table and collect diverse opinions from all levels because leaders don’t always have the right answers. The outstanding leaders listen, collaborate and hear everyone’s voice first, and then thoughtfully make a final decision that benefits stakeholders and the business.
Secondly, Jill is of the opinion that leaders must foster a growth mindset and be open to continuous learning. What worked 20 years ago in business is not necessarily going to be successful today. Things are changing quickly, and we need to be adaptable and resilient. This is why Jill returned to school only 5 years ago to get her MBA. Many people asked her why she went back to get an MBA after achieving an executive role at TELUS. She felt she had an accountability to dedicate the time to continuously learn the latest best practice approaches in the business world.
In her advice to upcoming business leaders aspiring to make an impact on the world, she says, “First, find your purpose and have a voice. Know that you can help solve societal problems and that you have an obligation and expectation to not only do well in business, but to look at leveraging your business to address social issues. If more business leaders had this mindset, we could unite public, private, government and academic industries together to work towards addressing homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment and many other impending social issues facing the world.”
“Also, join a not-for-profit board. You get to sit around a table and learn from incredible business and community leaders, while you all work towards a common social goal. I was so fortunate to learn and grow from just watching others outside of the day-to-day workplace. Plus, you get to drive an incredible social impact for your local community as well,” she adds.
Stephanie Franco: Building Healthier, Safer and More Caring Communities
Stephanie joined TELUS in 2008 as an executive assistant and spent the last 12 years climbing the corporate ladder, inspiring remarkable community impact along the way. Now, as Head of Corporate Giving and Volunteerism, she leads its global giving office, making significant contributions to the advancement of society by building healthier, safer and more caring communities. Under her leadership, TELUS has donated more than 1 million volunteer hours annually for the past four years. Remarkably, in 2020 her team rallied to help the company’s most vulnerable by donating 1.25 million volunteer hours, 1.2 million safe acts of giving and $1.22 million in financial support of COVID-19 relief efforts.
Giving back is core to Stephanie’s nature. She remembers being 11 years old and her mom encouraged her to volunteer as a candy-striper at their local hospital. She spent six years volunteering every week, getting to know patients in palliative care and facilitating interactions with a certified therapy dog.
Stephanie never considered turning her passion for giving into a career until she met Jill Schnarr in 2010 who at the time was TELUS’ Vice-President of Corporate Affairs. Jill was leading a small team dedicated to corporate social responsibility with a greater vision, shared by the company’s CEO, of cultivating TELUS as the corporate leader in giving back to create a stronger, healthier Canada.
Working under Jill, Stephanie has had a direct impact on the communities in Canada, including growing the company’s premier volunteer network, TELUS Community Ambassadors, by chartering new clubs and nearly doubling its membership. Today, TELUS has 23 clubs from coast-to-coast and more than 5,000 team member and retiree volunteers who give back year-round. During COVID-19, the company’s outstanding volunteer network stepped up to hand sew and donate more than 150,000 face masks to keep its most vulnerable safe. Additionally, not only did the company surpass its annual volunteerism benchmark, but Stephanie also led her team to quickly evolve TELUS’s volunteering model into an innovative virtual and safe act of giving program, earning international recognition and accolades.
Stephanie’s way of leading involves being open, authentic, and clear but always kind and empowering. She never fails to add in a little fun. She engages in active listening, purposeful coaching and connecting with her team and her leaders. In her experience, connection, collaboration and genuine compassion for your team equates to a highly engaged and motivated team who will move mountains with you.
According to Stephanie, the upcoming leaders should harness the passion of their people, as it’s more important, now than ever, to show up, connect and harness everyone’s unique perspectives. She advises, “Anyone who knows me can attest that I often remind them ‘you have more power than you think’. Speak up, because your opinion counts. Share your stories, we can all learn for your experiences. And be yourself, because you matter. We all have the power to make positive change.”
Further on striking the right balance between high-tech and high-touch, she says, “Today, it’s easy to conduct business efficiently and at a higher pace through email and digital sharing platforms from the comfort of your home. Yet, doing business exclusively through technology can lead to an alarming loss of human connection and sense of community. We see this amplified by the global pandemic with increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation. We need to be purposeful in connecting with our teams, colleagues, partners and community members. By balancing the use of technology with high-touch forms of communication, together, we can cultivate and protect our sense of community and connection.”
In a time when the world needs hope, Stephanie is even more inspired to leverage TELUS’ leadership in social capitalism to do more good and continue creating remarkable human outcomes where all citizens thrive.
“No great change comes without courage, risk and resiliency to try again.”- Stephanie Franco
Nimmi Kanji: Leading By Example
Nimmi Kanji is the Director of Community Investment at TELUS.
Nimmi started her career at TELUS nearly 22 years ago while attending the University of Calgary. She was looking for a part-time job so she could pay for her books and tuition. She started at TELUS as a telemarketer in the Consumer Solutions department, where her role was to call customers to share information about the company’s home solutions.
Fast forward a few years and after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Nimmi transitioned into a B2B sales role, with the ultimate goal of joining the TELUS Marketing team. By 2004, she joined the Small Business Marketing team and from there journeyed into a series of B2B marketing roles including Enterprise Marketing, Brand Marketing, Vertical Marketing, Marketing Communications, Marketing Operations and Channel Readiness, acquiring invaluable skills, knowledge and B2B marketing experience.
Approximately five years ago, she decided it was time for a new challenge and was eager to get more involved in TELUS’ social purpose initiatives. As a mother of two children, who, like many other kids have an insatiable thirst for screens, Nimmi jumped at the opportunity to take over TELUS’ digital safety and education program, TELUS Wise, in 2017. In 2019, her portfolio expanded to include TELUS’ innovative Connecting for Good portfolio – including Internet for Good, Mobility for Good, Tech for Good, and Health for Good programs – which aim to bridge the digital divide and remove barriers to access for marginalized Canadians. With the COVID-19 pandemic challenging organizations and leaders to step up, these programs could not be more critical and Nimmi is honoured to manage and expand them with her elite team.
For Nimmi, impactful leadership, simply put, is about driving positive change for your team, for your customers and for your community. It’s about leaving the world (or your small part of it, such as your team, department, or organization) better than you found it.
Nimmi finds that it is better to adapt to suit the situation. That said, she consistently leads by example and with EQ (emotional quotient). This means always putting her best foot forward. She is not afraid of hard work and willingly roll up her sleeves to work alongside her team in the face of challenges or obstacles.
Leading with EQ is about making an effort to know team, stakeholders and customers; understanding how they work, what they value, and what motivates them. Nimmi is always respectful and empathetic in her interactions and while she holds others accountable and can have tough conversations when necessary, she finds that it all comes easier when you lead with kindness and focus on driving positive change.
When looking to make an impact, Nimmi believes authenticity is the key. In her advice to aspiring leaders she says, “Select an area of focus that is well-aligned with your core business capabilities and organizational strengths so that you can be most effective with your efforts. Remember as well that while big, bold and audacious goals can help us achieve incredible things, every change effort starts with a single step. Don’t underestimate the power of smaller, time-bound goals to help you achieve your larger and longer-term impact goals.”
Nimmi mentions that her team’s mandate is about addressing socio-economic inequalities, keeping Canadians safe in our digital world, and helping Canadians get connected and reach their full potential. She wants to have played a role in creating a Canada where no one is left behind and everyone has access to the tools and technology they need to thrive in this increasingly digital world. Personally, she wants to use her work to demonstrate to her kids that change is possible and that helping those who are less fortunate is critical work that we all have accountability and responsibility for.
A Year of Immense Growth
Fuelled by its social purpose and the desire to want to help its communities during the pandemic, 2020 has been a year of immense growth for TELUS’ Connecting for Good programs. For instance, in the spring and again in the fall, the company provided expedited access to TELUS Internet for Good through partnerships with school boards and educators, enabling students in need to continue learning from the safety of their homes. Further, it extended Internet for Good to low-income people with disabilities and made its Mobility for Good for youth leaving foster care program available nationally. To conclude the year, it launched Mobility for Good for Seniors, providing in-need and isolated seniors with a critical lifeline during this challenging time.
At a time when Canadians needed it most, TELUS stepped up. The company led the inaugural development of TELUS’ Critter Masks to ensure its 28,000 employees received the reusable face masks they needed to stay safe amidst the pandemic and help keep its communities safe. To date, it has raised $600,000 through the sale of its branded masks in support of COVID-19 relief efforts through the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation. It also donated more than 250,000 masks to community organizations to keep its most vulnerable citizens safe.
Every year, the company brings together more than 44,000 volunteers across nine countries during TELUS Days of Giving (TDOG), its global signature volunteer movement. When COVID-19 first struck, TELUS was two weeks out from launching its 15th annual TDOG. The initial reaction was to cancel with the health and safety of its team and community being its top priority. Jill was agile and quickly led the team to pivot and adapt to safe 100% virtual acts of giving, enabling more than 200 virtual volunteer activities in a few short weeks.
“Successful business leaders are inquisitive yet focused, confident but approachable, and disciplined yet open-minded.”- Nimmi Kanji
Company Name: TELUS