Compassionate leadership and the powerful connection between business and community

Photo of Arnold, Kyle and Suzanne

Arnold Leung (left), Suzanne Siemens (bottom right) and Kyle Norrington (top right).

Posted 2020-06-11
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Provincial economies are reopening three months after Canadians were told to stay home and stay safe amid the spread of COVID-19. Business leaders who have been working flat out to protect their companies and teams are cautiously planning for the future while trying to gauge the nation’s fiscal health. 

Three UBC Sauder alumni have not only piloted their companies through the health crisis, but they have also addressed the needs of vulnerable populations hardest hit by the virus. Motivated by a sense of responsibility to their communities, these inspiring leaders want to ensure no one is left behind.

Hitting the streets

Photo of Kyle Norrington

Kyle Norrington (BCom ’98), President of Labatt Breweries of Canada.

Labatt Breweries of Canada is a brand normally associated with socializing and celebration, but when COVID-19 began sending people to hospital, the company activated its national disaster relief program. 

“We have a long history of using our capabilities and our reach to serve and support communities in need,” says President Kyle Norrington (BCom, ’98), who is based in Toronto.

That support included donating $500,000 to the Canadian Red Cross to address high-priority needs such as emergency supplies, personal protective equipment, safety training and mental health support for frontline personnel. 

Norrington and his team didn’t stop there. They responded to a callout for drinking water from the Toronto Drop-In Network and donated over 223,000 cans of water that were distributed to vulnerable and at-risk citizens in the Greater Toronto Area.

After learning of the shortage of hand sanitizers for essential service workers, Labatt also began producing alcohol-based hand sanitizer at its brewing facilities across the country. Over 100,000 bottles were donated to Food Banks Canada and other front-line organizations such as restaurants that remained open to provide takeout food service for healthcare workers.

Through its Stella Artois brand, the company also launched a national gift card program – Rally for Restaurants – which is providing financial relief for restaurant owners. Customers purchase a gift card from their favourite restaurant in denomination of $25 or $50, and Labatt donates $10. The restaurant receives the funds immediately.

“In my 20 years at Labatt, I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of creativity,” says Norrington. “There is no playbook for a global pandemic. A good idea can come from anyone anywhere, which is why it is so important that you empower your teams to make decisions and deliver results.”

Providing protection

Photo of Suzanne Siemens

Suzanne Siemens (BCom ’88), co-founder and CEO of Aisle International.

In Vancouver, the team at Aisle International (formerly Lunapads) is also working closely with partners in the local community to answer their most urgent needs.

Back in March, company co-founder and CEO Suzanne Siemens (BCom, ’88) learned of a shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline staff and volunteers who provide social services in the city’s Downtown East Side. Worried that the lack of safety equipment could disrupt services for area residents who are already battling mental illness, substance addiction and homelessness, Siemens felt compelled to act.

“Our suppliers, lenders, customers and business colleagues all stepped up to support us in manufacturing and distributing over 2,000 face masks,” says Siemens.

Image of Aisle Mask

Aisle International is sewing fabric face masks for frontline workers in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.

The washable, reusable masks are made of high-quality, breathable fabrics and are sewn locally with strict safety procedures in place to ensure the health and safety of workers. In essence, the colourful face coverings represent Aisle’s commitment to balancing profits with social purpose.

Siemens and her team are also tapping into the public’s desire to support their communities in crisis by offering online sales of masks though a buy one, donate one model.

Reflecting on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on low-income neighbourhoods and marginalized citizens, Siemens says, “This health crisis has exposed how fragile and broken our systems are and how the old normal is not something we should go back to. We need a next normal; one that takes care of everyone.”

Championing better care for seniors 

Image of Arnold Leung

Arnold Leung (BCom ’07), founder and CEO of Appnovation Technologies.

Appnovation Technologies is striving to do just that – take care of everyone – by creating a digital solution that better protects patients and healthcare workers in senior care facilities.

Arnold Leung launched the full-service digital consultancy when he graduated from UBC Sauder Commerce in 2007. He has steadily guided the company to become a global leader and innovator in all things digital, including strategy, experience, deployment and maintenance.

When health authorities in B.C. identified the problem of COVID-19 transmission via healthcare workers who were employed in more than one provincial long-term care facility or private hospital, they called on Apppnovation to build a digital solution that would support the province’s single site staffing initiative.

According to Leung, “This project focused on the development of business processes, digital systems and real-time collaboration to allow health employers to make decisions about provincial healthcare resourcing.”

In a matter of days, Leung and his team were able to design and deliver a secure data pipeline, hosted in Canada, that collects staffing data for over 100,000 healthcare workers from 1,200 facilities. The encrypted data is used to create visualization models of staffing and staffing needs across the province. To ensure workers have a say in the process, Appnovation created a mobile-enabled website that allows staff to list their preferred employment site.

“Our solution is providing so many insights into how long-term care facilities are staffed and managed,” says Leung. “It’s exciting to be making a positive difference in terms of contributing to better management of senior care homes in the long term,” adds Leung.

Appnovation’s data solution has been so successful, the company is working with two other provinces to create similar single site staffing initiatives.

Supporting better health outcomes for fellow Canadians 

These three business leaders, while managing significant challenges associated with COVID-19, also answered the call for help from local communities in distress. It is through their actions, and the actions of other socially-minded leaders in government, business and the non-profit sector, that Canadian communities have found the strength to stand up to the health crisis.

In the words of Suzanne Siemens, “What will sustain us into the future are resilient leaders and businesses who choose to value a more just and equitable society.”