FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Areni Kelleppan
July 14, 2015
“I do a good job of leading people. I’m very much about quality of life.” Her opening remarks seemed to run through our conversation. I sat down recently with Areni Kelleppan, Executive Director at Green Calgary. I’ve known the organization for a long while (I’ve represented them negotiating leases) having dealt with some of her predecessors, but this was my first ‘quality time’ with Areni. It was a serious discussion punctuated with much laughter – she’s fun. And pretty happy in my assessment.
Her story began in Vancouver – born there. Her parents were both from Fiji, but met in Vancouver. First born of four children, she attended school and watched her mother work hard after her father left. She excelled in school, volunteered, was active in sports and went on to University of British Columbia where she earned her B.A. but ‘deferred’ her entrance to law school. The intervening event was pregnancy, single-mom and work. Most of her career has been in the world of environment – in the forest products industry. Progressively important roles in sales, management, sales-management with firms where sustainable forest management was the work language. Employers like Canadian Plywood Association, Tolko, Broad Leaf and Alberta Woodworks dot her resume. She’s been involved in community garden programs and has a great grounding on both sides of the philosophical fence. She now calls Green Calgary home and it seems to suit her well, as she seems to be a pretty good fit for the organization …
What has contributed most to your success? “Determination to prove everyone wrong! Family expectations, desire to never be poor again.”
What has held you back? “Loyalty and ethics. I’ve refused to step on people to climb the ladder…”
Editor's note: Green Calgary is MUCH more than a Rain Barrel program - but if you need a rain barrel, this year's RAIN BARREL DAY is July 18th - pick yours up at the Green Calgary ECOStore
I asked Areni how she sees her business “urban environmental charity”; how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?”
… very similar to the oil & gas industry – hurting! Our plans are being constrained due to reduced funding. Government funding has dropped in recent years. Industry is an important source of funding. We compete with a lot of other worthy causes …
And over the next five years?
… significant change. More pressure on the oil & gas sector, citizen & stakeholder pressure to do more – so I expect a lot more diversity in our work …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m not an easy sale. Relationships, people who are genuinely out to help. Fair minded people, ethical. Loyal to people who share my values. Loyalty and good customer service are important.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Areni Kelleppan and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… expertise. A deserved reputation, the ability to deliver. We are efficient and we deliver. I’m a builder.
How would you describe your management style?
… I’ve learned my management style from working for bad managers – trying to do the opposite! I don’t belittle people, try not to focus on the negative but rather focus on a solution. Mentor. Coach. I have six direct reports of our staff of thirteen.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the planet. My son. [She talks about – beams with pride about her organization, the great work of Green Calgary – but those words pale compared to the praise of her son, his accomplishments in life, in soccer and volleyball, who never found his footing in school because he didn’t test well, but who is a great debater, a great negotiator – and, if appears, a great son … and, in words of his mother, ‘a very good welder’]
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… parents. I learned not to be submissive from seeing my mother being submissive and abused, my father threatening me – their marriage breakdown, and how much better that was for our family; though that has influenced my relationships with men. Being a single parent – instinct to survive.
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… absolutely, not. It’s never worked for me. I love to work, so it is important that I love the work I do.
What do you do for fun?
… I used to play lots of volleyball and water sports. I look forward to the summer festivals. I like live theatre, CPO.
What do you read?
… everything from Austen to George Martin. The Economist, lots of news on line. I prefer books to Kindle.
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