FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Darby Young
December 11, 2018
When I was young I thought Top 40 referred to popular music.
Perhaps it still does, but these day I hear that term more often in regard to the ‘Top 40 under 40’ recognition of remarkable career achievement early …
In the case of Darby Young, she’s been achieving against overwhelming challenging odds her entire life. She founded her own enterprise, Level Playing Field, transforming what she’d been doing for free as a community volunteer into a for-profit enterprise – consulting to the buildings industry and to companies, removing both physical and systemic barriers. And this past year she’s also been recognized as one of 150 daring women by the YWCA.
Our interview took place at her offices at the Kahanoff Centre, where so many not-for-profit organizations hang out is a cheery place where high ideals, laughter and friendly faces mean serious business. Darby tells me, “we are the only for-profit business in the building”.
Born and raised in Calgary – Darby’s mom is Greenery’s founder Joanne Young, her dad is Earl Young, retired from Hockey Canada. She has two older sisters. Being born into a dynamic family is a great start, being born with cerebral palsy might severely limit most people in terms of their potential. In Darby’s case, it was a temporary set-back. Her mild cerebral palsy meant she didn’t walk till she was three. She’s had numerous surgeries, walks and talks and engages with a big smile and generous handshake like everyone else. She drives her car without special controls – drives a scooter, drives a wheelchair too. Disabled ski club, extreme sports fan, community volunteer, community activist … you get the picture. Important business. Independent owner. Strong. Engaging. Stubborn. She knows a lot of people and doesn’t hesitate to use her connections. She gets things done.
Darby’s childhood was different than most. Montesorri school for K-3, Elbow Park, back to Montessori for 4-6, the balance of her schooling at Calgary Academy, then off to Lethbridge College where she studied Business Administration. Intermittent jobs, stints at ‘mom’s company’ and ski-racing consumed her time; she’s been around the block in the world in pursuit of Olympics and in support of Paralympians. She worked in event services at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and has worked as a tireless volunteer and advocate on code compliance and barrier free accessibility for the City of Calgary. Her work as volunteer caught the attention of several members of council and staff who encouraged her to start her own firm which she did in 2015. Level Playing Field Inc.’s staff of consultants 3-5, full/part-time are working hard – consulting with building owners and managers and large corporations in terms of creating useful, functional and barrier free environments where everyone can thrive.
Why are you successful? “because people believe in us, believe in me. I have a network of friends and family who’ve helped me AND hold me accountable”.
What has held you back? “financing and under-capitalized business”.
How do you see your business, “a lived experience accessibility consulting firm”, going forward over the next quarter?
… we have some big projects on the go, but we’d like to be busier. We have a few projects in the pipeline, but it never looks like it will be enough. We are writing accessibility guidelines for the TAZA/Canderel project on Tsuu T’ina lands.
And over the next five years?
… I expect we’ll be busier and more integral to the industry – that Canada’s Accessibility Act will be a driver for change, particularly regarding planning and design and that will impact firms like ours becoming a more important resource for designers, architects and developers.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I like to deal with people I like who are respectful. Quality, energy, attitude – and while price is always important to some extent, I like to work with people who can fit in …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Darby Young and Level Playing Field, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… We’re knowledgeable and friendly. I tent to ‘not take no for an answer’. Brett Wilson was quotes as saying, “her ability to invoke change is remarkable” – and I think that describes me.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I would describe myself as trying to be open and fair, but pushing for people to be accountable. I want a warm and friendly work place.
… oh yeah! … I work hard and play hard …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… this business. I worry about its future, the work we are doing and being able to continue providing work for our staff.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Mr. Rodgers! Friends and family have been massively supportive, friends have taught me to never be afraid to ask for help – because together we are stronger. City councillors Brian Pincott and Joe Ceci influenced me and supported me in founding my business. Everybody I work with influences me, makes me better, makes me stronger …
… I’m a huge Flames fan, sports of all kinds – love hockey and football, volunteer for Hockey Canada.
What do you read?
… nothing! I’m not a book person. I spend so much of my time reading building plans, specifications and building codes – and I’m too busy!
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