A career driven by purpose, guided by business fundamentals

Posted 2019-11-22
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Though she’s built an impressive career, UBC Sauder alum Connie Fair insists that her trajectory hasn’t been the result of strategic decisions. The President and CEO of the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (LTSA) says she simply pursued opportunities that looked interesting and challenging.

As the winner of the 2019 BC CEO Award in the Public Services Category, it’s safe to say that Fair’s open-minded approach has served her well. She’s currently at the helm of a publicly-accountable corporation that is responsible for administering land title and survey systems across BC. The LTSA is fulfilling its far-reaching mandate with a 97% customer satisfaction rating and has earned recognition as one of the province’s top employers.

Prior to joining the LTSA, Fair served as President and CEO of BC Assessment for eight years. As a business school graduate, she didn’t set out to build a high-ranking career in public service, but Fair says that she’s drawn to the natural synergy that exists between doing work in the public interest and feeling a sense of purpose.

“Ultimately everything within the public sector, in one way, shape or form, is there to benefit the citizens of the province. There is a wonderful attraction because of that higher-level purpose.”

A family connection to real estate

Fair’s affinity for real estate is rooted in family. Her father owned a residential construction company that built single-family homes. Growing up on Vancouver Island in the small town of Ladysmith, Fair says she spent much of her childhood looking at plans spread over the dining room table. Whenever she stopped by one of her father’s builds, he would take the time to walk her through the property.

“So much of what you do in business is not very tangible,” says Fair. “Real estate has the financial piece, which really appealed to me, but it also applies to something that is actually going to be built, that people will live or work in, something that you can touch.”

Today, having served in a variety of complex roles in the real estate industry, Fair has an even stronger appreciation for the critical role it plays in society. 

“Having a great land title system where you have title that you can rely on, title that is efficient and relatively inexpensive, and really good taxation systems that raise funds to provide services like schools to people in their communities, those things are incredibly important for a well-functioning economy.”

From student to teacher at UBC Sauder

Fair’s connection to UBC Sauder runs strong, having completed both her Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees at the school. She later returned as Associate Director of the UBC Sauder Real Estate Division, a role she held from 1984 to 1988.

When it comes to her education, Fair says both the BCom and the MBA offered value. The BCom provided training in business fundamentals and gave her access to world-class professors who were leaders in their fields. A highlight of the MBA, on the other hand, was the quality of the fellow students in the room. Fair also notes that the graduate program equipped her with problem-solving skills, confidence with numbers and analytical work, and a strong appreciation for the ‘people’ side of business.

For Fair, teaching was the most rewarding part of her experience at UBC Sauder when she took on the role of Associate Director in the school’s Real Estate Division.

“What I liked most about the teaching was finding ways to present material that allowed students to make a breakthrough in their understanding,” says Fair “It’s not about telling people what the answers are, but setting them up to get to the right conclusion.”

Fair continues to maintain a strong relationship with her alma mater. Despite her busy schedule, she still makes time to give back to the university community by serving as the co-chair of the alumni UBC Advisory Council.

Keeping up with the rapid pace of change

Though BC’s real estate industry is changing rapidly, Fair notes that all businesses, no matter the industry, are being forced to adapt quickly in today’s world. She says every organization is trying to determine how to chart its course and navigate through any surprises that come around the corner.

As for how she fosters this adaptability across her organization and among her employees, Fair emphasizes the importance of uniting around a common strategy, “I always start with a strategic plan, I really need to understand where the organization is going and everything flows out of that.”

Business grads’ value in the public sector

As someone who has used her business acumen to succeed in publicly-accountable organizations, Fair offers a unique perspective on the value business school graduates can offer in public service. 

“Policy work is very important in the public sector, but any organization or any manager worth their salt always has an eye on the business fundamentals,” says Fair. “We all develop business cases for big decisions, we all balance budgets, we’re all serving customers and trying to ensure we have an inspired and engaged workforce, and none of that is unique to the public or private sector.”

Given the unplanned course of her career, it’s not surprising that Fair’s advice to students and young graduates starts with keeping an open mind: say yes to opportunities and pursue areas you find engaging and interesting. The next step is to have confidence in your abilities, even if you don’t have all the answers.

“The way I always thought through opportunities was, ‘Okay, I don’t know everything I need to know to pursue the opportunity, but I know enough and I’ll figure out the rest.’”