FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Michèle Stanners
September 26, 2017
Friend/previous interviewee Frances Wright set this up – many thanks Frances - for considerable bragging-up your friend.
I’d heard about Michèle Stannersbut we’d never met. Well, now we have, and I have stories to tell …
She describes herself, “I design solutions by using artistic process”. And she quickly adds, “storytelling, community strategist, emotional appeal to a brand, importance of finance … creative catalyst, educator” in rapid fire unwavering confident fashion. She’s been described to me as a force-of-nature, extraordinary, fun, bright, fast-brain. I second that. Seriously, who could forget meeting this dynamo!
Her time at Making Treaty 7 began as a consultant/advisor to it’s creators Michael Green and Narcisse Blood. When they were both killed in a winter storm car crash, Michèle was asked to take on the role of Interim Executive Director and then stayed on. In our conversations she indicated her time there is drawing to a close soon and transition to new leadership will give fresh eyes and fresh legs to the organization. She’ll stay on in an advisory capacity in a consulting role during a transition period …
So, let’s back up – begin where here story began – born in St. Boniface, Manitoba; her mother, a social worker/francophone from St. Agathe, MB, her father an optometrist. She’s the middle child, has an older brother (educator), a younger sister (lawyer) – happy summers, still, at the lake, Lake Manitoba. She did K-12 here, high school at St. Boniface College (a Jesuit school) - all in French. Good student, sports, leader/student council, piano, fun. “I learned to make a difference”. University of Alberta, B.A., English major, LLB/MBA, lawyer (Fenerty Robertson et al. – now Dentons), one short marriage, no kids. Since 1988 mostly a non-practicing lawyer.
Her career is hard to track from my notes – less like a resume than it is a portfolio of good works; practice law for five years, founded and was executive director of Canadian Unity Council – a 10 yr. stint, took it national, “nation building – art is a public good”; executive director of Alberta Ballet – rebranding, from leader to leader-fixer; recruited by Ed Stelmach to develop cultural policy; International Honens Festival, along the path became a Liberal/active politically, “I’m a lifer”, fellowship at Harvard, Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs for two years but loved Boston, did a Masters degree in Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School; back to arts leadership at ACAD – at age 40 resumed the piano seriously (grades 8,9,10 conservatory), fundraising/volunteer for Honens, leader in many other ‘gathering people to do good work’ projects; then an aboriginal advisory role at the invitation of Michael Green – working on Creating Treaty 7. “Nobody knew much about Treaty 7. When Michael was killed I was asked to step in as interim CEO, later CEO, and I stayed on, until now”.
Birth to now – in an hour, I was exhausted listening and could barely keep up with my notes. Along the way she organized a few Prime Minister’s dinners and a host of other Liberal party things … and made a reputation in Calgary, indeed all of Canada … for bringing people together around ideas, around art, solving problems and inspiring teams – or so I’ve been told by everyone I asked.
She says, I’ll pause … see where the next five years takes me, then muttered something about ‘finally doing a book’ … should be an exciting read.
Why are you successful?
“Being successful is doing what you love and being good at it. Work, family, spiritual life - so important”.
What has held you back?
“I can’t think of anything that has held me back. Nothing is a failure if I learn something”.
How do you see your business – as a not-for-profit organizer – going forward over the next quarter?
… we’re doing really well compared to our peers. Nothing wrong with being well reviewed, making money, and having a ‘change-reputation’ …
And over the next five years?
… lots; social media, social entrepreneurship, different models for doing public work – and possibly not enough not-for-profits to fill the need. Technology is pushing how not-for-profits do everything …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I ask myself “what would my funders/stakeholders think of this decision”. Relationships are key. Personally, I try not to accumulate things. If I buy something it has to be beautiful AND be of benefit.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Michèle Stanners, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… reputation and drive. And a significant body of experience and innovation – “she gets things done”.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I try to bring diverse voices to the table – identifying what most needs to be done and bringing resources together …
… I think I do.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about my mother, she’s 91. I try not to worry much. Job things mostly …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
... meeting Sheldon Chumir in 1986; I’d never been involved in politics before – and suddenly I was on his constituency board, became an uber-Liberal … very active; getting involved with Honens, meeting/working with Jenny Belzberg – this got me back into piano and the arts; going to Harvard was a huge influence on me, still …
… playing the piano, yoga, meditation, cultural events – family, summers at the cottage.
What do you read?
… I love good writing, smart fiction. Historical fiction. “All the light we can’t see”. I like reading books in their original language – Spanish, French.
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