Shannon Gorman is a woman bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Her personality is warm, outgoing and infectious and she is immediately likeable. I had noticed her at the elevator at TELUS House, prior to realizing it was her, and was drawn to her enthusiasm and approachability. I liked her even more after I heard her story and learned more about her life. It is no surprise she is a highly influential and well respected woman.
What is your role at TELUS?
As the National Director, Community Affairs for TELUS I oversee 11 community boards across Canada and 3 International boards (Manila, Guatemala, El Salvador). I am also responsible for many of the national charitable partnerships TELUS gets involved in which includes Free the Children, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Prostate Cancer Canada and Junior Achievement.
What does “Community Affairs” mean exactly?
Corporate philanthropy. This is how TELUS gives back. We have a national strategy that is tailored locally. We give back to the communities where our team members live.
Each of the communities we are active in have a Board, made up of wonderful, influential and valuable people who live in those communities and who decide which programs TELUS should support. We have Anne Murray and General Rick Hillier on a Board in the East, Ken King (President of the Calgary Flames) in Alberta and Mike Allen (President, United Way), Police Chief Vern White and Arnie Vered in Ottawa. Our TELUS Community Board members really have their finger to the pulse of their local communities and are able to make funding decisions that truly have the greatest impact on the lives of youth in those communities.
I honestly think I have the best job in the world. I wake up some days and wonder how I got here
How did you get here?
It was a fluke I have to be honest (laughs). I can honestly say it was through the connections and relationships I formed throughout my life that lead to me to great opportunities.
I started off on an unconventional path. I was pregnant as a teenager, single and only had a high school diploma. I raised my son alone, without any support, with the exception of my wonderful family. I was raised by a single mother as my police officer father passed away from a brain tumor when I was three.
There were definite challenges. But I always believed that good things will happen if you’re a good person and work hard
How did you get started at the Cancer Centre?
I worked at the Cancer Centre for 23 years in various roles. I went to Algonquin and participated in a “futures” program that offered career placement. At 19 I was placed at the Cancer Centre as a chart runner for four months and I loved it. It was a low paying job but I worked really, really hard. And I honestly believe that if you work hard, are energetic and optimistic and come in with high energy to everything you do there will always be a place for you.
And you started moving up in the organization:
They hired me following my four month placement and after one year I was promoted. I continued to be promoted approximately every two years into new roles. At one time I was responsible for the Centre’s Physician Training program which was a program run by Dr. Bill Evans (CEO at the time) who believed in me. I don’t know what he saw, but he believed in me and gave me many opportunities for training and advancement.
If something is important to you, you will make time for it
You then moved onto the Cancer Foundation:
Yes, I realized after my time at the Cancer Centre that unless I got a medical or nursing degree I wouldn’t be able to move any further in the organization. So I joined the Cancer Foundation where I spent 13 amazing years in a number of roles: Special Events Coordinator, Operations Manager, Director of Communications and then eventually Executive Vice President.
And you didn’t have a degree or diploma.
I believe if you work hard, have ambition, are reliable, and take initiative you can move forward in your career. I definitely believe that this coupled with a degree helps you get where you want to go faster. There is a point you get to in a job where you can’t go any further if your education doesn’t match your role. You have an obligation to yourself, and the organization you are with, to catch up.
Is that why you got your MBA?
That’s why I got my MBA! The Cancer Foundation was phenomenal in supporting me in getting my MBA. I did the International Program with Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa and was able to travel (to India).
I highly recommend the program. I loved it. The people I met and the connections I made I will have forever. It’s where I met Janet Yale (former Executive Vice President of TELUS) and Penny Colonnette. Penny was my professor and she brought Janet in to talk about Corporate Ethics. I immediately liked Janet and invited her to get involved in the Cancer Foundation and she eventually joined the Board.
How did you get to TELUS?
After completing my MBA I called Janet to talk, not necessarily about a job, but just about what I wanted to do and how I could get there. We met in November and I asked her for advice on how I could expand my fundraising role to have a National scope. She reiterated that fundraising success was based on your network and the people you know. I was considering a possible move to Toronto. Janet told me “you’re not valuable in Toronto.” And it was true; I didn’t have a network there. But I wanted to become National and not just focus on fundraising in Ottawa.
In January I met up with Janet again and she said “I think TELUS might have something for you.” I applied, I interviewed, did a number of presentations and I got the job as Senior Manager in Community Affairs at TELUS.
This was initially a lateral move for me. I was again looking after Ottawa only and it was not my dream of going national. Also the salary was the same, so why would I take it? But I find the most difficult decisions are the easiest to make. And I knew this opportunity at TELUS would provide me with an opportunity for growth. And it did.
Within the first six months I volunteered to spearhead a special project on top of my regular responsibilities. The project went well and I was promoted to Senior Manager of Eastern Canada. Six months after that I got the national job I wanted – National Director of Community Affairs. The risk paid off.
1) I can’t cook
2) I am a cancer survivor – 10 years cancer free!
3) I pay for a gym membership that I don’t use (and have for 6 years) – I plan to start in 2012!
Your job is fascinating because it allows you to directly help people and make a difference.
I am blessed. Coming from a fundraising environment where I was incredibly passionate about the cause and philanthropy I could never work for an organization that didn’t share my values. The people I get to meet and the stories I get to hear about how we change people’s lives are amazing.
Even as a young mother working full time I wanted to take an active role in my son’s life and make a difference. So I volunteered to be on the board of our Little League and eventually became the President of the Little League for 5 years! I am one of those people that has always wanted to get involved and take on new things.
How did you do it? Working, single mom...all of it?
I call it “work / life integration” versus work/life balance. I honestly believe you make time for the things that are important in your life. And this changes at various points in your life. When my son was young he was my focus and my priority. There was nothing more important. I always worked hard but I put my son first.
As he got older I spent more time on my career. But then my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my life took a turn; she became my priority. My son and I moved in with her for three years in order to care for her. It was the best and worst time of my life. I was able to spend valuable time with my mother, some great times, but it was also devastating to watch someone you love slip away memory by memory. Alzheimer’s is such a terrible disease.
We eventually had to place her in a long term care facility and she passed away seven years ago. That’s when I decided to do my MBA because I had the time. I changed my focus.
Tell me about your son.
With a 19 year age difference we are very close. He still lives with me which is helpful since I travel quite a bit with work. He has the same energy as I do; he is very upbeat and happy. He works in a trade and also loves his job. I am very lucky.
It’s the people that are looking up to you that are important to take care of
Tell me about your mom.
My mom was the definition of a strong independent woman. She had three girls under the age of 6 when my father passed away from a brain tumor and she suddenly became a single mom. My mom did incredibly well. She put my sister through law school, kept an incredibly clean home and found time to golf. She was a great golfer!
Tell me about your sisters.
I have one sister, Erin who works in Accounting at the Canadian Bank Note Company and is the mother of my only nephew - Benjamin. He is four and I love spending time with him. My oldest sister Kelly is a judge. Kelly was one the youngest women ever appointed (at the age of 44). She knew she wanted to be a lawyer when she was just 4 years old! I had no idea what I wanted to do. My earliest memory was that I wanted to be a cashier.
Do you have a circle of friends?
I have great circle of friends, many of whom I met through work. I have been blessed to have had great women mentors through my career and many have transitioned from mentors to friends. Allison Neill (Communications at The Ottawa Hospital) is one as well as Linda Eagen (President, Cancer Foundation) who is one of the most inspirational people I know. I have learned so much from her.
Janet Yale and I are also great friends as well as Deb O’Brien (community volunteer), Lynne Clarke and Shannon Bain. We have a lot in common; I believe you attract like people. All of these women are involved in the community, want to be the best they can from a career standpoint, and all of them inspire me.
I am also very fortunate to have an amazing supportive boss at TELUS in Jill Schnarr. Jill has an amazing ability to motivate, inspire and communicate all the way from Vancouver.
Do you have hobbies?
I love to golf and I have recently taken up Nordic pole walking. I like to work out in the morning before I head into the office.
I don’t know! I want to stay fresh and believe that TELUS will keep my interest for years to come. It’s an amazing company to work for and continues to challenge me every day. I just recently obtained my Certification as a Fundraising Executive (CFRE) to stay current and to better understand the challenges faced by fundraisers and charities today.