Shannon Bowen-Smed isn’t shy to say she was asked to leave university. She truly believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without that happening.
“I believe life is not a series of coincidences. If it wasn’t for the invitation to leave university I wouldn’t be here today. I have loved it for 36 years,” says Bowen-Smed, CEO of BOWEN Group.
Joining the organization without any intention of having a career, Bowen-Smed learned through doing or shadowing every job that exists at BOWEN. Eventually leading the organization - established by her mother, Laverne Kruger, in 1974 - meant overcoming the perception of being ‘Laverne’s daughter’ as well as not having any experience in running a company.
Now 25 years retired, Laverne remains a sounding board for her daughter, just as she was when Bowen-Smed was learning the ropes.
Learning how to run a successful organization
“It’s been a combination of making sure I have the right people around me, and trial and error about making good and bad decisions,” Bowen-Smed explains of her success.
“It’s capitalizing on the good decisions and not repeating the bad ones.”
Bowen-Smed relies on a group of advisors and who have been integral to the direction of the organization, “an extension of our strategic direction.”
Respect is most important
She also has kept respect front of mind when learning how the business works and looking for opportunities to improve.
“Two things were important to me when building the business. One was respecting who was training me in the role and acknowledging their expertise for what they had done and when they had done it,” Bowen-Smed says.
“Two, was to not to get too bogged down and being able to see the opportunities to improve, and making sure people were involved in the change.”
It’s a fine balance she calls far from perfect, but Bowen-Smed says she does her very best each and every time.
A powerful circle of support in Calgary
When Bowen-Smed feels like she hasn’t been her most authentic, she relies on what she calls an “amazing group of women in this city constantly raising each other up.” She argues that this runs beyond her close group who call themselves Women of Power and Passion, but to a whole ecosystem lead by women innovators.
With so many women-led initiatives, she sees the next step as consolidating those groups to identify any gaps and see where women can take a role with the most impact.
“The economy has been really tough on everyone, not just women alone,” says Bowen-Smed.
“But we have seen a real coming together as a community. Women are exceptional at nurturing and bringing community together. We know we’re going to be okay.”
When this interview took place, in early March, Covid-19 had not yet become a global pandemic. Since these events, Shannon Bowen-Smed has moved her entire organization to a home office operation.
“Our first priority has been and remains that we keep our colleagues and our community safe. In spite of being defined as an essential service we moved everyone home immediately and remain intent on keeping our colleagues there well in to the fall,” Bowen-Smed says.
“We have successfully adapted to the new norms of work and frankly we are all enjoying the flexibility and family time it has created.”
She explains that although working from home isn’t the ideal way to do certain aspects of their business (interview applicants, perform sales calls), it has challenged her team to think well outside of the box of possibility.
“We are in many ways are far more efficient firm as a result of the pandemic and the cross training and team support has been awe inspiring.”
Shannon Bowen-Smed’s advice for those looking to succeed
1. Know why you want to moveup. Do you enjoy the added responsibilities and pressure? Do you understand the sacrifices? Life is too short not to understand the choices we make and the jobs we are in.
2. Genuinely love what you do. It’s rare that our lives stop at 5 pm. We need to bring ourselves to all that we do. Genuine excitement and authentic leadership invites everyone around you to show up and be who they are.