FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Joanne Young
January 30, 2018
Once a week I get an e-mail from LinkedIn – it summarizes appointments and anniversaries of people I am linked-to; recently my weekly list included something we don’t see often anymore: congratulations on 41st anniversary of employment. What? 41 yrs? I’d been linked to her for a long time but we’d never really connected, had not met – so my invitation for this interview began with ‘Congrats on your 41 yrs.’, and went on to explain that I interview interesting Calgarians, “Are you interesting?”. Her reply, “U bet I am!” [editor's note: very!]
I knew of Joanne Young, she’s a household name in the Calgary office marketplace, I knew of her Greenery business … but that’s just superficial stuff anyone can glean with a few mouse-clicks of research. Seriously, 41 years? I needed to know more:
Born in Windsor, ON, at age two her family moved to Burlington where she grew up. Mom was a ‘stay-at-home’ one, dad was a factory manager for Ford. Joanne was the middle child of five, the eldest girl. She graduated from Nelson High School, an average student, “I was bored, not challenged”, spent her grade 13 year majoring in Euchre and Bridge, languages and geography. And she did all the sports …
Her ambition to be a flight attendant was tempered by her dad’s advice that she should get a teaching certificate – something to fall back on. She attended Hamilton Teacher’s College – and went on to a budding career of teaching excellence in physical education and home-room for grades five and six in MIssissauga. She’s still in touch with some of her students. She relocated to London, ON, took courses between school terms at Western, honing her skills in teaching and achieving success coaching gymnastics.
What caused her to leave teaching, to come west, to come to Calgary in 1975? “A teaching colleague I much admired moved to Calgary and invited me to explore the opportunities. I sold my Triumph Spitfire, got on a train, had no job. And haven’t looked back. I arrived on a Wednesday. That Friday we went camping at Invermere. A fellow helped us with tent set up. His name was Earl Young – he was Controller at Murphy Oil. He’s retired now. We’ve been married 41 years!” (they have three daughters and five grandchildren).
She met lots of people, tried several jobs and then things changed; “it happened at a 1977 Stampede Party – I said, I need a job”. Someone told her about an opportunity at Calgary Rent A Plant – she got the job, worked hard. That business had 30 clients, but the partners had a falling out. She bought half. On a ski trip someone was telling her about a restaurant called the Creamery. She thought “Greenery” …. and the ‘Greenery’ name has born.
The business has focused on doing more, not doing different. Operating in Calgary and Canmore the obvious expansion opportunities – into retail, to multiple markets etc. didn’t happen. Why? “Very busy with family commitments …”.
Joanne is modest, but shouldn't be, about her numerous community involvement and achievements; City of Calgary 2016 Achievement Award, long standing involvement with Cerebral Palsy organizations as volunteer and board member, the Junior League, co-founder of the Chick-wagon …
Why are you successful? “I have hired good people who help me. I’m intuitive, learning always, I’m in a cool industry – and I have peers who inspire me.”
What has held you back? “Knowing my limitations, keeping work/life balance.”
How do you see your business – supplying and maintaining plants/plant management – going forward over the next quarter?
… business is great. Moss walls are really big right now! Clients better understanding the value of green/mature environments – well-being; studies prove people are far more productive and happy. We are state of the art, we create environments people want to be in. When times have been tough, one of our best sales tools has always been – we are a Calgary company!
And over the next five years?
… technology will carry us forward. Already we are managing work, logging work and communicating – all our field staff – on devices which give us improved effectiveness. Going forward ‘every office will understand’ they need greenery in their offices and people will work better.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… loyalty, quality – dealing with people I know, like and trust. I need to find the best, from the best – I’m in the service business. Nothing incenses me more than people who think this business is only about plants …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Joanne Young/Greenery, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… superior staff! I, we, built this business by calling on clients who didn’t have plants – showing them how important plants can be to their work environment and employee happiness. Our website communicates our culture and values – we can show people the kind of company we are; in short, we do great work and we have great people. I believe that if you trust your employees they will be happy – they take good care of the plants and the customers will be happy.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I would say ‘kind and caring’, I like to lead by example – to empower people, encouraging them to learn. I’m a life-long learner and I like to impart that thinking to everybody in our business. A social conscience …
… I feel like I do; I work hard, spend part of the winter in Palm Desert. These days with technology you can work from anywhere.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about Calgary and the economy – I’m not happy about any of our politicians/governments right now. I worry about my daughter Darby – she’s really thriving now in her business … in universal design, in her life, but I still worry.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my teacher friend I wanted so much to emulate, she persuaded me to come to Calgary, an industry colleague Connie Honn from Nashville – her viewpoint on life, on business – with whom I’ve formed a peer group (Pinnacle V), and we help each other.
… golf, pickle ball, cycling, bridge – I love to play games, love to laugh.
What do you read?
… books friends suggest, mysteries, business books on leadership, historical fiction – books about empowering people. Cool stories!
… Audi A4 convertible for summer! I drive my husband’s Lexus in the winter.