FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mary Moran
July 12, 2016
I’d interviewed the previous holder of her job. Since she was ‘picked from within’ I wondered if she was a ‘rooted in a planning career’ type too. Not so. Mary Moran is CEO of Calgary Economic Development but she doesn’t fit that profile, isn’t cookie-cutter bureaucrat in any form I understand.
Born at the top-end of Yonge Street, in Aurora, Ontario – youngest of five, only girl. Mom was an Irish nurse from the UK, who taught pharmacology at Humber College. Dad, Irish too, architect by training, developer in practice (now in Calgary too). How did she get here? K-12 in Aurora, Seneca College, York University, University of Calgary, Royal Roads (where she got the Tall Poppy award, “hey, I like graphs!”) – that’s a lot of school, stretched over time and mix of full and part-time studies: a B.A, management certificate and an MBA. She’s been an athlete since she started skiing at 3, skating, golf – she loves sports but admits to being a ‘modest student’ and social butterfly. Seems she developed a work ethic too – suggested by a 3.9 grade-point average. She describes it as: “hard work. I’m a collaborator … not a fighter!”
Partnered 20 years (lawyer Bruce Allford), no kids, two dogs (lion killers – Rhodesian Ridgebacks). “Growing up, never thought I wouldn’t have kids … it just never happened.”
She describes her career as “so lucky”. Her marketing career began at Buttonville airport as a charter manager with Wardair, moves to Toronto and Vancouver – that airline was bought by Canadian Airlines. She worked the overseas routes, became known as “the wide-body queen. I had a lot of responsibility for $900 million annually – and I was only 32”. Delta Hotels came calling, opening a hotel in Whistler without much pre-selling – she took to it (oh golly, there was skiing!). Then TELUS called, director of marketing for loyalty programs (her MBA work at Royal Roads cast doubt on the viability of that job), then Pace Marketing (a consulting firm she set up with a friend) which led to contracts in Calgary (City of Calgary among them), time for volunteering, board work at Ronald McDonald House – then VP Marketing & Communications at Calgary Economic Development in 2010, then to the CEO job in 2015 – wow, what a ride!
For starters, she’s accessible, available and willing. Scheduling proved more challenging, but we got it in before Stampede – a chunk of her busy morning allotted. Dynamic, engaging – questions, not just answers. Quick, strong (athlete) handshake – easy demeanor but no time is wasted. Shaker, mover? Persuader. Seller. Storyteller. Hard working, driven – those words fit too. Competitive figure-skater (still, though she says most of her teammates are less than half her age). Smart. Funny. Accomplished. And, since she cut her hair – she’s often mistaken for Rachel Notley, but she seems far better connected to business than her more famous look-alike.
Why are you successful? “Determination. I’ve so often been in the right place at the right time amid people who believe in me. All I can do is try to move forward – I see no choice but to keep moving."
“What has held you back? “Maybe ‘not having a game-plan. There was never a master plan.” …… or, maybe that’s her secret weapon?
She’s someone who strikes me as charming AND tough – in terms of expectations, inspiring those around her. And, how can you argue with someone who keeps lion-killing dogs as pets?
How do you see your business – an economic development organization – going forward over the next quarter?
… we’re going through a cultural change here – becoming more metrics driven. It’s challenging. We’ve got a lot of tools in place. We’re not farming economic development – we’re hunting it!
We aren’t a Silicon Valley, but we have so much talent and great schools – we can be much more than ‘about oil’. We don’t have enough of that ‘culture of innovation’, but we will …
And over the next five years?
… we will be the best economic development agency in this country. We have the can-do spirit and will be recognized as an organization that helped develop Calgary’s economy, that we’ve played a role. We can have an innovative eco-system - a great university + capital!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m a contextual decision maker – I need to know the history. I’m not slow – just a person who values the data. And a lot of that is gut. I’ve got good instincts when it comes to character.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mary Moran, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… the first things people detect is my energy and passion. I’m positive. I can be a good storyteller.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I try to lead by example – performance, integrity, attention to things, action …
… NO! I work 12-16 hour days … but I’ve always been that way.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… this economy keeps me up at night!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my mother – she set the pace, curious mind, smart. Mike, my late brother, ran his first marathon when he was 10, rode his bike around North America at 21 – we ran cross-country together. He taught me to never quit, taught me the difference between tenacity and stupidity.
… lots of hiking. We have a cabin in an obscure place – near Lake Tahoe (18 ski resorts). 5:30AM workouts, a few marathons, skiing, skating. I’m a war buff – love studying/watching films on history.
What do you read?
… in the last five years, mostly business books. I don’t have enough time to read as much as I like – but always four or more on the go. A book on Churchill. The Returned. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.
… I recently sold my Mini (sob!), driving Bruce’s car – 2006 Mercedes Wagon; mostly I walk to work. I have two bikes – a Trek and a cruiser bike.
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