FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Samara Felesky-Hunt
June 6, 2017
At first blush, it seems like she’s not strayed far from home.
Raised in Kelvin Grove (her husband was raised in Mayfair), graduate of Henry Wise Wood High – long term resident of Britannia, playing tennis and coaching at the Glencoe Club and counselling in nutrition at The Downtown Sports Clinics, she might be viewed as having not strayed far from her Elbow Drive roots, but those are just a few facets of a more complex and intriguing story.
She was (still plays) an avid junior tennis player – very competitive ‘top five’ age-grouper, with ambitions to be a doctor. First born child of a quintessential Calgary power-couple, her path seemed well ordered and she was on her way …
But something happened – it was on that family vacation to Africa (Egypt and Israel too); the Africa portion of the trip changed everything – opened her eyes to poverty and malnutrition and a new career avenue. She’s been strident in her pursuit of all things nutrition and diet ever since …
This story begins in Edmonton – where Samara (named aftger her paternal grandfather’s home town) Felesky-Hunt was born to parents Brian and Stephanie Felesky. Dad’s career, articling in law, brought the family to Calgary. Two younger brothers followed, as did babysitting. As did a strong focus on math and science and her quest to be a doctor. She did her pre-med degree, exploring all things biochemistry – earned her B.Sc. at University of Western Ontario. Then the trip to Africa happened. She returned, not to attend medical school but to do a second B.Sc. (Hons.) as a Dietitian. She began her career at the Hamilton General Hospital but she missed our mountains and blue sky, and she hated traffic – so after a return to Calgary without a job … then work as a ‘relief dietition’ at Foothills Hospital in hopes of full time work. But her desire to run her own show directed her path. “I was seeing all those patients in the ‘smoking rooms’ – made me realize I needed to be more active in the community, in prevention. And, I realized I had no business experience”. She found her way into pharmaceutical sales – with Wyeth, marketing baby and pre-natal nutritional products, her territory was Calgary and southern Alberta. During this time she met her then jobless husband-to-be (investment advisor David Hunt) on a blind date. Seems he was visiting en-route to Vancouver job hunting, but once he met Samara he remained here. They married in 1995, have two teenage daughters and a Portuguese water dog living in their home chosen for proximity to the dog park … but I digress.
Samara started her own business, Nutrition Consulting Samara Felesky-Hunt Inc. in 1997. She’s been ‘doing the same stuff’ for 20 years, wrote a syndicated column on nutrition for seven years. She's written books, appeared in media and teaches nutrition workshops with the Prostate Cancer Centre as well as to corporate Calgary. Her focus is mostly on ordinary folk (I met her at a presentation to our Fifty Fat Flames Fans group - her advice has been very helpful), some elite athletes (about 20% of her clients) - and anyone interested in healthy eating. She tells me she does the cooking at her house and professes to be vegetarian until dinner time. Along the way she’s run a few marathons, done her share of TV appearances and you can find her on YouTube talking nutrition.
Her clients think she’s outstanding, and so do her peers: she’s an award winner – for 2017, chosen by Dietitians of Canada, ‘Leadership and Innovation Award’ recipient.
Why are you successful? “I’m helping people every day – achieving optimum health and wellness. Relationships – it’s all about relationships! Empathy. I understand my clients’ life, how difficult it is to manage their lifestyle and diet.”
What has held you back? “Choices – like kids. They take time - and wanting to be a good mom, I have two jobs. My second one starts at 3:30 and goes till 10:30. So, I’ve made choices that may have limited my business. But there will be a next chapter – soon, I’m ‘thinking about it’ on some different elements of my business …”
Seems like there is more calm in her life, and new things cooking. I was sent away with a pamphlet on Nutrigenomix – a genetic testing tool to determine our genetic makeup as it relates to food and optimizing athletic performance … very cool stuff.
How do you see your business – dietitian / nutrition consulting – going forward over the next quarter?
… baby boomers are keen to make changes, wanting a healthy retirement, better health for continuing with sports and fitness. Overall business is good – but corporate spending for workshops and seminars is down, a byproduct of the economic downturn. People are becoming more active, and many need help dealing with stress.
And over the next five years?
… less face-to-face work, more use of internet resources, virtual tools. Wearables are growing in popularity but the science is still in its infancy – just giving us the tip of the iceberg in terms of underlying body chemistry and health. People are becoming more interested in and concerned with the biodiversity of the food they eat.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… it’s simple. It’s all about location. Time is money – and relationships that are near and dear with good people and reliable businesses, and convenience to Britannia and the dog park are important …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Samara Felesky-Hunt, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I believe it is my ability to really understand my clients. I design nutritional programs for my clients – I spend time to understand people and their lifestyles, developing strategies rather than handing them printed material. I coach people to be the CEO of their health.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… Difficult to answer because I don’t have a staff. Currently I’m a one-woman show, though I have had dietitians working with me in the past – I’m self-managed, which means I do my own advertising and marketing, accounting etc. etc.
… yes I think so.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… kids. Making sure there are happy. Sometimes a busy taxi service – they are very busy in acting and singing.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… tennis guided me to do well, junior high school teachers who made math and science fun and intriguing for me, my parents set strong examples for achievement.
… dog walking, I’ve done a couple of marathons (sidelined with a foot injury at the moment), cycling, spin classes, gardening, tennis. We spend a lot of time at our place at Baynes Lake near Fernie, water skiing in the summer, downhill skiing in the winter.
What do you read?
… biographies, a lot of nutrition and diet books – I like to check out what my clients are reading!
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