CEO of LifeLabs on compassion and integrity in the work place

Sep 26, 2014

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Health care in Canada is changing rapidly, requiring businesses to be more efficient, effective, and agile, and if you aren’t you are yesterday’s news. This was one of the many observations President and CEO of LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services, Sue Paish, shared during the fall 2014 series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives”.

The event is part of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University and Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to deliver leadership and business advice from some of Canada’s top business leaders to the Segal Graduate School.

LifeLabs originated in Ontario and expanded to BC to better serve the Canadian population, now providing over 100 million laboratory tests for more than 19 million patients annually.

Chief Executives host Simi Sara inquired about Paish’s career that began as a successful lawyer and managing partner of BC’s largest law firm, and the transition from her career in law to her current role where she is responsible for 5,400 employees.

Paish was quick to interject that her first job was not as a lawyer but as a camp cook and practicing wrangler at age 14 in Northern BC, noting that there is something to learn from any job one does – though at the time she didn’t appreciate how the job ruined her jeans.

Now as President and CEO, Paish splits her time between three residences. “I have an apartment in Toronto, a family home in Vancouver, and my third home is on Air Canada”, her response prompting the first of many rounds of laughter from the audience.

With LifeLabs’ strong presence in Ontario, her decision to be a dual citizen of Vancouver and Toronto was in order to maintain face-to-face contact with her employees and clients. “I am a firm believer that as a leader you have to be close to your people, the customers, and the business. There is nothing like human interaction”.

This is particularly important for LifeLabs as they serve over 19 million patients annually, offering a lot of opportunities to interact with people when they are in a vulnerable state. Accordingly, Paish looks for employees that demonstrate compassion and integrity – often looking to past performance as an indicator of future behaviour.

Paish expanded to describe the three things an employer must provide to an employee. The employee has to bring value to an organization, and it is the employers’ responsibility to ensure they understand the organizations strategies and goals. They need to feel valued and appreciated, as this will create a supportive work environment. Lastly, to have fun. “Fun is underrated. If you are not enjoying what you are doing then why are you doing it?”.

Prior to her role at LifeLabs, Paish was a successful lawyer for 25 years and was eventually elected managing partner, but decided to take a leap and pursue other career opportunities. “I didn’t want to wake up at fifty and not know what it was like to be in another role”.

Paish continued to describe the challenges she faced as a female advancing in the corporate world. She recalled attending a conference, where upon her arrival the men were disappointed as they were no longer able to swear since a lady was present. Paish admits her response to the men could not be said on air. “But I showed them that I had a fairly broad vocabulary”, eliciting laughter from the audience.

However, Paish also said that it’s important to think and speak thoughtfully. “Reputations and bridges are build over decades, and destroyed in a minute with the wrong sentence”.

Paish advises her three daughters – who are also her mentors – to do the same, and is optimistic for their future, and their children’s future. “My hope is that my daughters’ children will not have a demographic marker in front of their achievements”.

Paish acknowledges the time it will take for change to occur but is committed to making progress. “I take it as a mission to bring an appreciation that ones ability to contribute to an organization or community is not defined by ones gender, race, or ethnicity, but by ones values, determination, integrity, and work ethic”.

The next CEO to be interviewed as part of the CKNW Chief Executives Series will be Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV Corp.

To register for an upcoming CKNW Chief Executive Series visit:

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