My CEOx1Day experience at Canadian Blood Services
As an incoming graduate, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in Odgers Berndtson’s CEOx1Day. This is a national program that matches third and fourth-year university students with CEOs across Canada for a day of mentorship.
Given my academic concentrations in health and social sciences, I worried that my non-business background would be a hindrance during the selection process. To my surprise, there was a participating CEO and organization that aligned with my academic and professional interests, Dr. Graham Sher from Canadian Blood Services.
My mentorship day with Graham
My day began at Canadian Blood Services headquarters in Ottawa with a breakfast meeting in Graham’s office. We discussed our plans and my expectations for the day.
Wasting no time, we finished our coffees and breakfast sandwiches, then jumped into our first official meeting, a two-and-a-half-hour session with the executive management team. I was impressed by how collaborative the roundtable was with many of the executives providing their opinion throughout. This reinforced for me something Graham had mentioned earlier in the day: that CEOs don’t need to lead with an iron fist. Fostering collaboration is much more valuable. Enabling a spirit of collaboration among his teams was something Graham clearly cared a lot about and managed with ease.
Next, we visited employees from different divisions such as information technology, employee experience and research. I was struck by how future oriented everyone was. Whether they were brainstorming about the use of artificial intelligence in IT or looking at employee satisfaction surveys to ensure Canadian Blood Services is meeting needs in a post-pandemic world. It’s evident that Canadian Blood Services adapts to the times with a forward-looking mindset. In these conversations Graham encouraged curiosity. He reinforced that employees don’t need to have every answer to every question. Because Canadian Blood Services is an organization that is constantly evolving, trying new things and improving in how we work becomes more important than always knowing what’s next.
As an example of constant improvement, I was given a tour of some construction underway at their head office. This soon-to-be modernized workspace will be for employees who are now coming back into the office more regularly as COVID protocols have eased. Graham was quick to admit that the office space was overdue for a re-design and he has ambitious visions, so I’m sure it will be a great result when completed.
After lunch, we attended a plasma meeting with social and medical scientists. I got to hear a lot about how the work on the ground is taking place and what challenges people were facing. There was a fine balance in this conversation between idealism and pragmatism on Graham’s part. I could tell he was constantly balancing how to prioritize the immediate needs of his teams with bigger goals for the future of the organization. No doubt an ongoing challenge for most CEOs.
Our final one-on-one meeting with Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Yasmin Razack, gave a well-rounded end to the workday. Yasmin is full of ideas — so much so that the hour-long meeting wasn’t nearly enough time! Currently, she’s working on employing Canadian Blood Services’ first Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy and aims to present her ideas at an upcoming annual event for senior leaders in the organization.
Being Canadian Blood Services’ CEO for a day far exceeded my expectations. I got a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into a day in the life of a high-level executive, I was also gifted the chance to participate in important discussions and to learn about the organization’s inner workings. I learned one big take-away from Graham: that being a CEO is not a popularity contest (although he did seem to have a great rapport with employees throughout the organization). Instead, he is motivated to show compassion and empathy while holding people accountable and mobilizing change. I’ll definitely be taking this advice into my career.
I extend a sincere thank you to Odgers Berndtson and the CEOx1Day team for selecting me as a finalist. I would also like to thank the employees and executives at Canadian Blood Services for providing an enriching experience. And finally, I express my gratitude to Graham for sharing his passion, wisdom and expertise that will continue to provide inspiration long past my participation in the CEOx1Day program.
I look forward to staying connected and following the important work happening at Canadian Blood Services!
Angelique Jeanty, University of Ottawa
For more on Angelique’s experience, including a video diary of her day spent with Dr. Graham Sher, visit blood.ca.