FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Shannon Bowen-Smed
May 14, 2019
It is uncommon to find someone who ________.
Remarkable people fit that line, don’t they?
Sometimes the person is exceptional, sometimes their deeds – sometimes the accomplishments of their business. But there is more, it seems, when the combination of ‘only ever worked for one company’, transformation and competitive landscape round out that equation. Enter Shannon Bowen-Smed, CEO at Bowen Group. What is Bowen Group? Who is Shannon? I set out to answer these questions and found the answer to be complex and a work in progress, a story of survival and innovation.
Yes, it is uncommon to find someone who has spent their entire career in one place.
Born in Edmonton, Shannon’s mother worked for McLean Personnel. Dad was Sales Manager for Ed-Con contractors. Mom got transferred to Calgary to open a McLean Personnel office but declined to move back to Edmonton later when asked – then striking out on her own to start the first Bowen business in 1974.
School days for Shannon began near Edmonton in Ardrossan. Public school and horses. The move to Calgary involved horses (Spruce Meadows) and Strathcona-Tweedsmuir private school. University of Calgary was next, but her attempt at a B.A. thwarted when her GPA went from 3.4 to 1.8. Shannon recalls boys, bars and beer were her demise. First job, “mom hired me”. She’s been there ever since, rising from receptionist to CEO, though she did return to U of C to obtain a certificate in Personnel Administration along her way. Why, aside from being the boss’s daughter, did you stay in one place so long? “I fell in love with the candidates coming through the door”.
Life and the business has been good for Shannon. She and 2nd husband Peter Smed have two adopted children (horses and private school) and life is good – but not without its bumps, twists and working through the volatility and cycles in the Calgary economy.
Shannon’s younger brother Jeffrey Bowen (VP at Bowen Group) and her mother are the other shareholders in a business that has grown in both diversification (recruiting, contracts, affiliate solutions) and from Alberta to Canada-wide.
Why are you successful? “Because I’ve defined success for me. I live every day to the fullest, I’m going to make the day better, and make the year better. It’s not about money or the size of the house. It’s about ‘the dash’ in our life, and who you will be when you are done.”
What has held you back? “Not much comes to mind. Maybe not being in fight-mode, fighting for business, because I’m more interested in getting things done than in fighting. Technology perhaps, but it’s been as much a friend as a foe.”
How do you see your business – the people recruiting and contract management industry – going forward over the next quarter?
… we have a staff of 42, but we issue T4s for over 3,000 people who we manage for or provide to our customers. Business is very good right now. 2010-2014 were our best years. 2015-2017 were our toughest years – and that difficult time led us to broaden our business by business sector and geography. We are now in 10 provinces and one territory, working with five-times as many people. We used to be largely oil & gas and now we are across many other fields.
And over the next five years?
… as an industry I think we’ll stop trying to undercut each other. There will be more use of robotics and A.I. on the front end. We’ll become far more efficient.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… my age and time here allow me to make careful choices about how I spend time and money and particularly about people we engage with and do business with. Honesty. I’m loyal. Do they work toward a win-win? I’m a convenience shopper more than a price shopper.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Shannon/Bowen, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… the execution of my word. I do what I say. People trust me, trust us, to go above and beyond. It’s one thing to earn trust, it’s another to keep it. I’m a community networker and I like to help people.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I used to have three direct reports as Pres. & CEO, but now we have a President Debbie Werschler, so I have just one direct report. But we’re a big team. I desire to inspire them to be the best they can be. I walk the talk about 93% of the time. Under great stress I shift in to ‘command and control’ mode about 7% of the time – militant and directive would describe me then.
… I’ve got so much of it! And I’ve started another business on the side – an online jewelry consignment business we’ve recently launched. I’m involved on a variety of board and committees with the Calgary Zoo, Calgary Economic Development and the YWCA.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… many things ~ from kid things, planning a birthday party, launch of Canary, STARS Rescue in the Rockies initiatives – and executing on my word.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… the most significant – when Peter and I lost our son Scott; he was stillborn in 2000. We talked about what we could do in his memory – and took an action. We’ve raised money ($1.5 million) through golf tournaments to fund ‘Scott Smed rooms’ in hospitals to support families in the maternity wards, for people experiencing what we did. That work has led to other charity projects we’ve gotten involved with. And the other huge influence, we’ve adopted our two children who have changed every element of our world.
… we are avid travellers, golf (Priddis Greens), skiing and snowboarding with our kids (19 & 12).
What do you read?
… my taste is wide ranging – intrigue, autobiographies, business books. Books rather than devices. Online things too. I like GapMinder.
FACILITYCalgarynewsletters may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, re-disseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without prior written permission. All rights reserved. PLANDflex Corporation - http://plandflex.com