What makes Ridley College exceptional? In our latest blog post, young alumna, Geena Prestia ’21 explores three areas pivotal to Ridley life—spirit, service and student life—and how they contribute to an extraordinary Ridley experience.
By: Geena Prestia ’21
Spirit and service and student life, oh my! Ridley is well-known for the stellar academic curriculum it has to offer; however, there are a vast number of opportunities for students to try new things and develop useful skills outside of the classroom.
This blog will explore three areas pivotal to Ridley life—spirit, service and student life—and how they contribute to an extraordinary Ridley experience.
Go Blacks Go! One of the many beloved Ridley cheers sung at spirit events, where our student body is full of orange and black pride. No matter how athletic or artistic you are, there is always a place where you belong at Ridley. As a tight-knit community, the Tigers always look forward to exciting school events such as Snake Dance and Pep Rally, where school spirit is at the forefront of it all. “Some of my favourite memories from my time at Ridley were spent decked out in orange and black gear with friends; we always had a blast cheering and dancing at spirit events,” said alumna, Geena Prestia ’21. This school spirit will stick with you long after you leave the Ridley campus. Once a tiger, always a tiger!
At Ridley, there are endless opportunities for you to serve our community, as well as those outside of Ridley. From the Santa Claus Parades across the Niagara region to weekend dog walking on campus, or even March Break service trips, Ridley provides several options for students to choose from. “I went on a service trip to Guatemala in grade nine, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” said Geena. We are so fortunate to belong to a safe and welcoming community at Ridley, and this we recognize as we encourage our Tigers to give back to those less fortunate.
Our students bring life to campus. Ridley facilitates an environment beyond just a school; for most, it is a second home. With over half of the Upper School population being made up of boarders from all over the world, the students truly rely on one another for support and fun at their home away from home. “Even as a day student, I always found the students at Ridley, especially the girls I spent most of my time with in G-East, to be like my second family,” said Geena. At Ridley, it doesn’t matter what your favourite sport is, how many instruments you can play or if you know how to spell International Baccalaureate; every student has a place where they can be themselves and share that with their peers. The bonds our students make at Ridley are long-lasting during their time at the school and in the years to come.
When she reflects on her eight years at the school, Geena said, “Ridley is a special place, and I know that I will always have a home there.”
Alumnae, Geena Prestia ’21 and Angela Finn ’22 share their thoughts on the best places to shop, snack and explore in the Niagara Region.
By: Geena Prestia ’22
Calling all Ridley explorers! Ridley is proud to be a part of the bountiful Niagara Region, and we know that when our students want to stretch their paws, they love to explore all that the outside community has to offer. From the plethora of restaurants in the area to the many beautiful sights, like Niagara Falls, there is always something for our Tigers to do when class is not in session. Recent graduates, Geena Prestia ‘21 and Angela Finn ‘22 share the best places to shop, snack and explore in our latest blog post.
When Geena remembers her many years spent at Ridley, there is a collection of fun memories, both on and off campus. Here were some of her favourite things to do in Ridley’s surrounding community:
Clifton Hill & The Falls
As a Niagara Falls native, one of Geena’s number one recommendations for an exciting day trip is visiting Niagara Falls itself at the bottom of the infamous Clifton Hill. “With arcade games, mini golf, haunted houses and the big Sky Wheel, there is so much to explore in such a small area!” she says.
At the very bottom of Clifton Hill is where you can overlook the amazing waterfalls. It’s a view you will not want to miss!
Pen Centre & Landmark Cinemas
When winter rolls around, it can get quite chilly in Niagara, making some outdoor spots a little tricky to visit. If you’re looking for a way to stay warm on a cold day but still have some fun, we suggest you visit the Pen Centre mall and Landmark movie theatre in St. Catharines. Just a short drive from Ridley’s campus, there are plenty of trendy stores for you and your friends to spend the day browsing in. Conveniently built right next door to the mall, Landmark Cinemas always has great movie showings, and you can enjoy the show with a nice buttery bag of popcorn!
Apart from the various places you can visit in Niagara, the region is home to several incredible restaurants for you to try. Angela Finn shares some of her top recommendations for the foodies of Ridley:
Wind Japanese & Thai
If you are a sushi fan, this restaurant will not disappoint! Just a short walk over the Burgoyne Bridge, Wind is the perfect lunch or dinner spot for our Tigers. “My friends and I always loved going to Wind for dinner, they have so many options and the food is delicious!” says Angela. If you do decide to go, we recommend wearing some loose bottoms, because this all-you-can-eat style restaurant will have you stuffed for hours!
Mahtay Café & Lounge
If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, or even a new study space, Mahtay Café is the perfect spot for you. The urban vibe of the restaurant is a hit among our students, and their creative sandwich recipes are to die for! Next time you’re feeling a little restless on a Sunday afternoon in the dorms, bring a good book and an empty tummy down to St. Paul Street for a tasty snack and refreshing iced coffee at Mahtay.
Niagara has so many opportunities for Ridley students to explore new places, try new things and take a break from their busy school schedules every now and then. So, put your explorer hat on and immerse yourself in all the excitement that Niagara has to offer!
With the challenges of the pandemic and the economic-political climate in Hong Kong over the past few years, Victor has focused on quality family time and discovered climbing as a positive way to relieve stress and deepen his connection with his daughter.
The manufacturing business that Victor finds himself dealing with in Hong Kong today is significantly different than the one he knew a few years ago. Several factors have contributed to this.
First, in 2019 during Donald Trump’s term as President of the United States, restrictive trade rules and hefty tariffs on Chinese goods imported to the United States have hurt the manufacturing business throughout China. A new guideline referred to as ‘C+1’ (China plus one other country) mandates that any goods manufactured in China and destined for the United States may not be solely supplied by China. Products can be manufactured in China but must also include a second source of supply from one other country, such as Indonesia or Thailand.
Then, in 2020, the COVID pandemic, with its travel restrictions and lockdowns, struck another blow to business. Without the ability to meet in person with international clients and to go over samples together, production has slowed, and the product development cycle has more than doubled.
Finally, the political situation in Hong Kong has been increasingly tense since 2019, which adds to existing trade tensions and wariness from the western world. Victor’s outlook is one of realism. “We are surviving. We have seen a 20% decrease in sales in the past two years and we are at one-third of production compared to where we were during our best days. It has been a gradual decline though, not a sudden, catastrophic drop.” He sees this impacting all manufacturing companies in China. “More and more U.S. clients are leaving and, with the C+1 mandate, there is a gradual exodus of manufacturing from China to other South Asian countries.”
Victor joined his father’s manufacturing company fourteen years ago. Their company is part of a much larger conglomerate, with factories across China and a new one in Indonesia. The company that Victor manages is in mainland China, about 25 km from Hong Kong. While Keurig coffee machines are one of their main products, they also work with other major brand names such as Hamilton-Beach and Cuisinart.
Beginning in 2010, Victor started to move towards what he calls the ‘localization’ of management of the company. “In the 1980s, the company needed to bring in Hong Kong managers to run the plant as there was not that skill set in the local area. However, we have gradually shifted to utilizing local talent who now have the necessary skill sets and who know the environment better than those living in Hong Kong,” Victor noted. This has proven to be very fortuitous as Victor, who commuted regularly to the plant prior to the pandemic, has not left Hong Kong nor visited the factory since 2020. He manages all his work via daily Zoom calls with the managers on site.
Most of the business can be managed relatively easily via Zoom, but when it comes to the engineering and technical side of production, it is much more complicated. This, in turn, creates a longer development time and adds to the challenges of trying to create and launch new products. Victor sees this drawn-out product life cycle impacting other sectors such as the electronics and automobile industries. He predicts that this, together with the current trade tensions and restrictions, will exasperate shortages that are already being felt around the world.
Many things in Hong Kong have changed over the past few years and, as Victor notes, most of it is not pleasant. But he remains focused on the positives and the future. Due to lockdowns, international travel restrictions and the long quarantine requirements in Hong Kong, he has more quality time with his family. With the exodus of many foreigners from Hong Kong, a number of international schools have had to close, including his daughter’s school. He and his wife Gigi spent time researching options and are happy that their daughter Eunice is now enrolled in a school with a strong history and will be guaranteed a spot in secondary school.
Looking for an outlet to relieve the stress of four lockdowns and the political and economic situation, Victor found a new passion in climbing. He credits his daughter with introducing him to this new sport.
“I trained and was the belayer for Eunice when she started climbing. It got me interested in trying it too.” Now he cherishes their father-daughter time when they go climbing. “Every Sunday afternoon it’s just the two of us. We climb both indoors and outdoors, where it’s great to connect with and appreciate nature. I am so grateful for this time that I have with her as she is growing up quickly.” In addition to his Sunday climbing time, he will go out and climb three to four times a week!
Victor, who attended Ridley from 1995–1998, says that his Ridley experience had a big impact on his life and how he viewed the world. “Ridley felt like a global village. There was so much diversity compared to Hong Kong. I met peers from all over the world. I learned first-hand about tolerance and inclusiveness, values that I think reflect Canada as a country.” Living as a boarder in Leonard House, Victor has fond memories from his time with fellow housemates. “Being a boarder away from one’s own family during the curious and rebellious teenage years, Leonard House became a second family to us. Living under the same roof, we created a real sense of togetherness. Over the past 20 years since I’ve graduated from Ridley, the closest friends/brothers around me are those whom I’ve known at Ridley, specifically my pals from Leonard House. They are the purest and most genuine friendships I have among all my friends.”
The Ridley motto Terar Dum Prosim has resonated with Victor over the years. He said, “It reminds me of Winston Churchill’s words: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’” Victor truly lives by those words and has been a long-time supporter of Ridley. In addition to his annual giving, Victor supplied each residence with new Keurig coffee machines and provided the Cadet Corps with new caps in honour of Ridley’s 125 Campaign and anniversary. He has supported the Chapel Restoration project, provided the funds for new Cadet swords and a mace and he has made a major donation to the Campaign for Ridley. Every time the Headmaster or Ridley Development staff travel to Hong Kong, Victor always finds the time to meet over a meal and is keen to hear news about the school. Ridley is very grateful to this loyal Ridleian for his continued interest and support from afar.
What does the future look like for Victor? He anticipates that his father will retire in a few years and he also plans to retire at that time. His dream is to return to Canada with his family and to have his daughter Eunice attend Ridley. While he thinks of retirement, by no means is he about to stop working! He is keen to pursue new work and adventures that align with his values and passions – perhaps as a climbing coach or perhaps in establishing his own climbing gym. We look forward to following his future path and to welcoming him back home where lots of climbing opportunities are waiting for him!
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2022 issue.
From lessons learned in sport, life experiences, and meaningful relationships, Wendy is flourishing as a highly successful freelance casting director and an accomplished Masters level rowing champion.
Growing up and watching her older brothers, Jamie ’81 and Kevin ’83 at Ridley, in addition to hearing stories from her uncle Doug Dron ’74, Wendy was eager for her turn to become a Ridleian. She spent Grade 9 as a boarder at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and vividly remembers crossing off the days on a calendar until she could join Ridley in Grade 10 (the entry year for girls at that time). Although she lived in Fonthill, she convinced her parents to let her board, so she could soak up the complete Ridley experience. “I just wanted to get involved in as much as possible,” she recalls. She felt supported and encouraged to join in new activities, noting that “Ridley was a safe place to fail. The fact that you can get up afterwards is, in itself, a success.”
While Wendy did not consider herself a natural athlete, she became very involved in rowing. Although she took a short break when she missed the cut for the Junior National team in the summer of 1986, she returned to rowing in her senior year. Over the course of her Ridley career, she won two gold medals in the Women’s Eight, a gold medal in the Women’s Double, and bronze in the Women’s Four at the CSSRA. Rowing for the Ridley Graduate Boat Club, she won gold again in the Intermediate Women’s Pair at the Canadian Henley.
Following her passion for rowing, Wendy attended the University of Washington in Seattle, renowned for its rowing programme. She lettered every year at university and was named captain of the varsity team, spending many hours competing across the United States. She had her hopes set on competing for the Canadian Olympic team in 1992, but with training remotely in the United States, unfortunately, the stars did not align.
In 1992, during the final year of her B.A. where she majored in English with a focus on creative writing, Wendy took an internship with a casting company in Seattle. She always had an interest in dramatic arts, as far back as Grade 9 when she auditioned for a few productions in Toronto. While her interests in dramatic arts had taken a back seat during her competitive sports days at Ridley and university, she now had an opportunity to explore this creative side. She made a conscious decision to take a hiatus from rowing during this early career move.
From her four-month internship, Wendy landed a job in Vancouver, first as an assistant casting director and then as Associate Casting Director for the series The X-Files. She then set out on her own and subsequently cast the TV series, Cold Squad and Highlander. In 1997, loving the creative side of her work, she realized that she would need to move to Los Angeles in order to participate on a larger scale with more exposure and opportunities.
Fast forward to 2021, and Wendy has a highly successful and busy career as a freelance casting director in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.
She returned to row at the highly competitive masters level, training out of three different clubs: California Yacht Club, Long Beach Rowing Association and the Toronto Sculling Club. When she isn’t busy casting for various films and TV series, she is training and competing in rowing regattas across the country. Her list of accomplishments in competition is impressive. At the Head of the Charles Regatta, she has competed in the Women’s Master Eights on countless occasions, winning gold twelve times and setting three-course records, one of which stood for over a decade. This is a race with over 150 competitors, many of them former Olympians, national and/or world champions! In 2017, she won the Royal Henley Masters Regatta, followed by the Masters National Championships in the United States in 2018. Wendy’s focus is on the support and encouragement that comes from the team, noting that “there is always someone better or someone worse than you.” Not surprisingly, Wendy was recognized and inducted into the Ridley Athletic Lives of Distinction at her last class reunion in 2018.
The self-discipline and hard work that comes from being a highly competitive athlete has helped her to juggle the many aspects of her life and enjoy success. As a freelance casting director, Wendy has been involved with multiple companies such as NBC, ABC, HBOMax, FX and Netflix in a wide range of films and TV series over the years. In 2004, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the series Carnivale on HBO. She enjoys helping to shape roles and characters as well as challenging norms in terms of diversity and inclusion. When asked about some of the productions she has worked on that stand out for her, she provided the following observations. Casting for The Way Back (Warner Bros. Pictures) with Ben Affleck required finding balance with the subject matter, which was dark, by finding actors who could naturally infuse some humour, and finding kids who could actually play basketball well and act. She is proud of her work for the TV drama series Sons of Anarchy (FX) which was very challenging and for her work on the TV series Dave with Lil Dicky which was a very complicated casting project. She is enjoying working on the 15th season of the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, noting that, “It’s a really fun series to be involved with.” Other projects have included Mr. Mayor, a sitcom TV series with NBC, Abbott Elementary with ABC, a mockumentary about teachers in a Philadelphia public school, and Mayans MC, a drama TV series where the cast is 95% Latino. She is currently casting the biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Blockbuster, a romantic comedy with Netflix, and a new TV series American Gigolo, based on the original 1980 film.
Freelance work and the world of film, television and casting are not for the faint of heart. Wendy comes across as very grounded, calm and balanced. How does she do it? She credits the support that she has received from her family, team members, former teachers, and lessons learned over the years, be it through sport or life experiences like those at Ridley. “Ridley taught me so much from living and co-existing with others to leadership skills, learning to compromise, and preparing me for life at college.” She went on to say, “When I think back to Ridley, I still have so many ‘aha’ moments, where the lessons taught keep resonating with me, and I am still learning from them. The Ridley teachers who most come to mind for me are Mr. Lewis and Rev. Shantz who provided subtle guidance and a moral compass. The teachers provided 24-hour support and they were visible everywhere — from the classroom and library to the dining hall, dorms and sports fixtures. I would not be who I am today without these experiences.”
If she could give advice to today’s Ridleians, she would tell them to take full advantage of what Ridley has to offer. “Don’t wait — go for it and remember to thank your teachers before you leave.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2022 issue.
Through creativity, innovation and strategic planning, Shaun and his team at Heddle Shipyards are growing and revitalizing shipyards on the Great Lakes.
When it comes to the marine industry, Shaun Padulo ’07 is no stranger and already has a great deal of experience under his belt. Working in and around ships has long been a passion of Shaun’s. He spent his summers in Grade 11 and 12 working as a deckhand on tugboats sailing the Great Lakes. He continued working his way up during his university years, moving to the front office of McKeil Marine Limited in Fleet Operations between 2003 and 2012.
Prior to joining Heddle Shipyards in 2017, Shaun spent five years in the marine and offshore contracting sectors. He lived and worked in the Netherlands, working for the Dutch firms Dockwise Shipping B.V. and Boskalis Offshore B.V. While at Dockwise, Shaun honed his skills and gained experience in logistical management and transportation and installation of offshore production structures. He then moved to Houston, Texas and, working for Boskalis Offshore B.V., he focused on offshore installation projects, decommissioning projects, and subsea inspection, repair and maintenance projects.
Since Shaun joined Heddle Shipyards, the company has seen tremendous growth. He assumed the role of President, a position he currently holds, in 2018. Heddle Shipyards is the largest Canadian ship repair and construction company on the Great Lakes, which are key arteries for the shipping of grain and other important resources destined for other parts of Canada and the world. In the past three years, they have tripled in size, with shipyards in Hamilton, Port Weller in St. Catharines and Thunder Bay. In November 2020, Heddle made headlines with the announcement of a new agreement between Heddle Shipyards in Ontario and Seaspan in Vancouver. The agreement will bring new jobs to the Hamilton, St. Catharines and Thunder Bay shipyards and will create ‘tens of millions of dollars in economic activity in Ontario.’1 In addition, Heddle won a major $12M Coastguard project that will bring additional people onboard and provide long-term employment at the Port Weller Dry Docks. When Heddle took over the Port Weller Dry Docks in 2017, it was a shadow of its former self. After three years of extensive capital expenditures for repairs and reimagining the shipyard, while at the same time completing over twenty successful projects, the Port Weller Dry Docks has a bright future ahead. As Shaun says, “It isn’t a matter of if we will build vessels again in Port Weller, it is a matter of when.”
Shaun credits the unique leadership team at Heddle for its growth and success. A progressive, dynamic and diverse group comprised of veterans and young professionals, they are invested in comprehensive maritime policies and procedures and skill development, including virtual reality training, 3-D mapping and robotics. In order to mitigate or avoid traditional boom-and-bust cycles, the company has focused on multi-year projects and working with the government on long-term recurring projects. This includes work with commercial operators whose ships move grain and other resources up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy. While the current pandemic has certainly had its challenges for large shipyards, Shaun is proud to note that Heddle has remained fully operational throughout, investing significant resources on health and safety measures for its employees.
The company, which was founded in 1987, has become the largest operator of shipyards in Canada. The partnership of entrepreneurs, Rick Heddle and Blair McKeil were instrumental in the early expansion and vision. As philanthropists themselves, they laid the groundwork for much of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. The company offers a matched gift program encouraging employees to volunteer their time in addition to donating funds to charitable activities. Heddle is also committed to helping fund charitable projects related to education, the environment, the military and the communities where Heddle has facilities. As an example, Shaun notes that Heddle proudly sponsors SWIM DRINK FISH, a non-profit organization that focuses on connecting people with the tools to safeguard local waters as ‘everyone has a right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.’2
Shaun attended Ridley from 2002–2007 and is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He holds a Master of Science in Maritime Economics and Logistics.
When Shaun reflects back on his five years at Ridley, he feels that the foundational skills he learned — skills like respect, excellence, service, and professionalism — are ones that he uses every day. He has many fond memories of the teachers and coaches, in particular Mr. Filion, Commanding Officer of the Cadet Corps and Mr. Milligan, his Grade 8 form teacher. As Mr. Filion remembers, ‘Shaun was a great student, involved in so many aspects of school life — football, hockey, rugby and cadets. He was team captain for football and rugby and Regimental Sergeant Major in the Cadet Corps during his senior year.’ Shaun’s best friends are ones that were created during his time at Ridley and many of his business relationships can be linked back to his Ridley connections. He is an active alumnus and volunteer, serving on the Board of Governors Finance, Audit and Human Resource committee since September 2020. Just prior to the pandemic and lockdowns, Shaun was the guest speaker at the Cadet Mess Dinner in January 2020, where he told students to ‘never stop dreaming and to reach for the stars.’
Looking to the future, Shaun is excited that Heddle is focused on future growth, and continued revitalization of shipyards with the vision to build large ships again in Ontario. We look forward to following the growth and development of shipbuilding right here in our own backyard.
1 The Hamilton Spectator, November 12, 2020, article by Kate McCullough.
But with so many new books in the marketplace, how do you know what to read? We can help with that!
Each summer, as part of Ridley’s ongoing commitment to flourishing and personal growth, our stalwart leader, Headmaster Kidd, curates his aptly titled Headmaster’s Reading List—a short programme of transformative texts that captivate and inspire while also supporting our flourishing and wellbeing initiatives.
This year, Headmaster Kidd solicited suggestions from members across the Ridley community and narrowed the list down to these five electrifying titles:
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
In her latest masterpiece, Susan Cain, author of the bestselling phenomenon, Quiet, reveals the power of a bittersweet, melancholic outlook on life, and why our culture has been so blind to its value. Here, Cain employs her signature mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to explore why we experience sorrow and longing, and the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality, and love.
As an accompaniment, Cain has also included a special Book Club Kit, which includes a letter from the author, discussion questions, writing prompts, a list of takeaways, and a Bittersweet playlist!
Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion by Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from everyday, low-level, non-clinical anxiety. Popular science suggests that this persistent anxiety is detrimental to our health, performance, and wellbeing. But what if our preoccupation with avoiding anxiety is costing us something? What if we could learn how to harness the brain activation underlying our anxiety and make it work for us, turning it into superpowers?
In Good Anxiety, Dr. Wendy Suzuki unpacks the cutting-edge science that will help readers channel their anxiety for positive outcomes—accelerating focus and productivity, boosting performance, creating compassion, and fostering creativity—transforming our understanding and experience of everyday anxiety forever in the process.
How People Matter: Why It Affects Health, Happiness, Love, Work, and Society by Isaac Prilleltensky and Ora Prilleltensky
Mattering, which is about feeling valued and adding value, is essential for health, happiness, love, work, and social well-being. We all need to feel valued by, and add value to, ourselves, others, co-workers, and community members.
How People Matter shows not only the signs, significance, and sources of mattering, but also presents the strategies to achieve mattering in our personal and professional lives. Using research-based methods of change to help people achieve a higher sense of purpose and a deeper sense of meaning, this book equips therapists, managers, teachers, parents, and healthcare professionals with the tools needed to optimize personal and collective well-being and productivity and explains how promoting mattering within communities fosters wellness and fairness in equal measure.
Rest, Refocus, Recharge: A Guide for Optimizing Your Life by Greg Wells, PhD
In a 24/7 world, it can be a real challenge to get proper rest and give your mind and body the opportunity to fully recharge.
In this new book, Dr. Greg Wells outlines how small changes in the way you rest, refocus and recharge can help you improve your mental health, prevent illness and deliver optimal results, offering simple and practical techniques that you can easily incorporate into your existing routine.
Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn by Barbara Oakley, PhD, Beth Rogowsky, EdD, and Terrence J. Sejnowski, PhD
Neuroscientists have made enormous strides in understanding the brain and how we learn, but little of that insight has filtered down to the way teachers teach. Uncommon Sense Teaching applies this research to the classroom for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in improving education. Topics include:
Strategies for keeping students motivated and engaged, especially with online learning
Helping students remember information long-term, so it isn’t immediately forgotten after a test
How to teach inclusively in a diverse classroom where students have a wide range of abilities
Drawing on research findings as well as the authors’ combined decades of experience in the classroom, Uncommon Sense Teaching equips readers with the tools to enhance their teaching, whether they’re seasoned professionals or parents trying to offer extra support for their children’s education.
Great teachers see themselves as great learners—and they see learning through the eyes of their students. That’s why our dedicated faculty and staff are thrilled to dive into this list, so we can model curiosity, intellectual humility, and a zest for lifelong learning for our students. But also, because reading is great fun!
We encourage all in our community to read along with us, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on these fascinating titles!
Retired VP Sales at RIM Don McMurtry ’82 knows playing in the tech industry is a full contact sport—and players need to be quick on their feet. Now, the Ridley Board member offers his take on the competitive sector and shares how strong communication and giving back have been fundamental aspects of his life.
If during the early 2000s you found yourself scanning the room for a flashing notification light, tapping happily on a tiny keyboard, or feeling phantom alerts in your pocket for the first (but not the last) time, chances are you’d jumped on the BlackBerry train—and we’d garner a guess you quickly became addicted to BB Messenger too.
The wildly popular device that dominated the market (and infiltrated our culture) had been in the works since researchers at wireless data tech developer Research In Motion (RIM) found a way to not only receive messages on a pager, but to send them back. From there, it was only a matter of time before RIM launched the first BlackBerry, a wireless handheld computer capable of email, browsing and paging—and addictive enough to soon earn it the nickname, “Crackberry.”
And if you’re unfamiliar, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t born in Silicon Valley; RIM was based in nearby Waterloo, Ontario—and Ridleian, Don McMurtry ’82 was its Vice President of Sales, joining the company in 1993 just as the wireless data market was emerging.
As we chat earlier this summer, Don comes across as thoughtful, down-to-earth and distinctly outdoorsy—he canoes and kayaks and it would seem he’s happiest pitching a tent in the most remote parts of Canada. On dry land, Don’s also passionate about running, occasionally still nostalgic for his days on Ridley’s track and harriers teams and running down the country roads near campus.
Originally from Fort Erie, Don followed his brother John ’78 to Ridley in 1979 when their parents decided he should improve his university prospects. Soon after settling into Gooderham House, Don discovered the computer lab, and he laughs that being viewed as a computer nerd minimized competition for a scarce resource; at that time, only three other students had any interest. When he returned for Grade 12, Don brought along his own computer; by then, learning to programme had become an obsession—one which led him to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York.
Don started classes at RPI a bit early, taking the opportunity to dabble broadly in introductions to philosophy, medical ethics and metaphysics, and he was soon on the lookout for a research project. “I had a broad interest in science from a young age,” he says, “and almost everyone at Rensselaer was studying either engineering or science. There were endless opportunities to explore new ideas and technologies.” The next summer, Don was hired as a database developer by a professor in the chemistry department. The research work would last throughout his time at the school.
When he returned to Canada, Don moved to Waterloo, where he spent three years working as a Product Manager before accepting a job running sales and marketing for a nearby communications manufacture. But as his new ‘early-stage’ employer struggled to put additional financing in place, they kept delaying his start date, and Don took matters into his own hands. He contacted a few of the Waterloo-based companies listed in the local technology guide, and soon found himself deep in conversation with RIM founder, Mike Lazaridis. Don walked out with a job offer.
“I hope the pandemic will encourage more kids to build a deep appreciation and fascination for the methods and tools of science and engineering. Regardless of what career path someone takes, this is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how science and engineering are woven into all of our lives.”
It really was a no-brainer. Inspired by the exciting potential of wireless data, Don quickly dropped the other—higher-paying—offer and started working for co-CEO Jim Balsillie as RIM’s first salesperson. “You gotta skate with your head up,” Jim warned; the tech industry was highly competitive and required its players to be agile and to relentlessly innovate—those who slowed, suffered defeat. Within a few years, Don became VP Sales and helped the company launch the BlackBerry in 1999. It would create an entirely new category of product for network operators; until that point, the market had been dominated by Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia (at times referred to as ‘The MEN’).
“That first year, we didn’t spend a dollar on advertising,” Don remembers, “but we had a very active PR campaign and gave out a lot of free demonstrations, making it easy for customers to test our product. Initially, we didn’t have ‘sales’ people; we had ‘wireless email evangelists.’ Wireless email revolutionized how people could conduct business and manage their lives.”
As the BlackBerry took off, Don marvelled at how the small device changed users’ day-to-day routines: the senior executive who slept with it under his pillow so he could wake in the middle of the night and reply to emails from his colleagues in Japan; or the CIO of a Fortune 100 company who could be at her child’s Little League game while attending to corporate responsibilities—and that was before you could browse the web or make phone calls. During the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the portions of the U.S. government that had deployed BlackBerry were more resilient and productive, results that substantially accelerated its adoption in many government organizations.
“BlackBerry wasn’t the first wireless email solution,” explains Don, “but it was the first that connected you to your existing company email address and it was transformational because we made it very easy to adopt—we could gain users without working with the IT department, which became a common strategy for all of the cloud-based software platforms that have emerged in the last twenty years.”
The initial wireless network had limited coverage compared to what we now enjoy, but BlackBerry used it efficiently, and battery life was nearly two weeks. As they expanded onto cellular networks around the world, RIM helped operators to retain or acquire new customers. From the start, the company had known it would need an enormous scale of distribution and plenty of strategic planning went into making those powerful partnerships.
Don retired from RIM in 2006, but a year later, armed with millions of subscribers and an agreement to distribute BlackBerry smartphones in China, the company was worth a whopping $68 billion, making it the most valuable in Canada. Users hopped cheerfully from the Curve to Bold model (a resolution jump that matched Apple’s iPhone), and subscriptions kept on rising.
Over the next few years, however, Google and Apple made headway fast. Google was building its own platform and operating system and Apple had learned to play hardball after it had lost the PC battle to Microsoft—and it sure wasn’t about to repeat the mistake in the smartphone wars. And though RIM tried valiantly to pivot, purchasing new software systems and rolling out stores, models, apps, and tablets—even changing the company name to BlackBerry in 2013—things never did bounce back. Hindsight points to hasty engineering choices and the competition dumping billions into technology that RIM was slow to match. Leaders stepped down, staff was cut by the thousands and BlackBerry eventually exited the phone-manufacturing business altogether.
“Momentum is a really important thing,” Don remarks wryly. “The computer industry has always been a fascinating place to play. But it’s a full contact sport; everyone is trying to put everyone else out of business. And when the whole industry plays by those rules, it moves incredibly quickly—because if you don’t, you get crushed.”
Today, BlackBerry is competing for the software systems that run the current and next generation of cars—which are themselves becoming ever more mobile communication devices.
Don still lives in Waterloo with his partner, Andrea, his time spent in nature and working as a self-proclaimed ‘voluntrepreneur’ (a term he coined to describe his entrepreneurial approach to volunteer work).
Conservation is a large part of his focus. Don has served on the boards of Ontario Nature and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “I once heard it said that there are three causes for acting unsustainably: greed, ignorance and desperation,” he says. “For most people, our unsustainable behaviour comes from a lack of understanding or from lacking the capacity to monitor how the countless things that we depend upon impact our natural world. I think of conservation organizations as businesses that I pay to make sure our local, provincial and federal governments are meeting the ecological needs of the plants and animals that cannot speak for themselves.”
He has also served on the Ridley’s Board of Governors since 2016 and has been Chair of the Advancement Committee since 2020. When asked where his penchant for service comes from, Don recalls his grandparents and parents always volunteered their time and resources to community service organizations, and his university education was paid for largely by an endowed scholarship. In turn, he created a scholarship at RPI which helps undergrads conduct research each year. Don has a system in place to keep track of organizations who are doing good work, and looks to fellow members of Ridley’s board who inspire him as they seek to fill in society’s gaps—like Ridley’s Scott Paterson ’82, who’s not-for-profit, ComKids provides underserved children with computers and teaches digital literacy.
“Being a volunteer is a good way to expand your compassion for others in society and to increase the number of communities you are involved with,” Don suggests. “The best not-for-profit organizations help their supporters participate in something of substantial value—they create a sense of community.”
“Exploring what is interesting and important to you beyond your career leads to many opportunities to contribute in your communities—and I say communities in the plural because we all develop a diversity of associations which are each a unique community. Helping those communities flourish by volunteering your skills, your time and your financial resources will expose you to even more communities that will enrich your life and others.”
Since 2007, Don has also been volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), which was founded by two engineers who’d graduated from the University of Waterloo and sought to solve complex, system-wide challenges. Right away Don knew they were doing something big. “I liked their approach to helping young people (especially engineers) develop their capacity to make substantial changes to public policies that were perpetuating poverty in the world,” he explains, positing that EWB has delivered the biggest return on investment of any charitable donation he’s made. The organization has shaped several impactful changes to Canadian public policy, unlocking millions of dollars per year that help businesses around the world build their local economies, and has mentored a long list of social entrepreneurs along the way.
“Two words,” Don replies when asked what advice he can offer fellow science enthusiasts and voluntrepreneurs. “Study people. Studying how people communicate and make decisions is as essential as air—if you can’t do it then your career will suffocate.”
That focus on communication really is key—no matter your sector. “When I was young, I naively though I only needed to have the best or most innovative idea but being able to communicate well with others is absolutely essential,” Don advises. “The computer industry encompasses a huge breadth of careers now. Technical innovation and scientific discoveries almost exclusively rest on collaboration with colleagues. Managers will fail if their teams aren’t working together to create great products and deliver valuable services. And entrepreneurs will never see their ideas prosper if they can’t influence the opinions and desires of customers and investors.”
After the past year-and-a-half, which brought with it both stories of inspiration and harsh societal lessons, Don is more determined than ever to support the initiatives that will help move society forward. “The most simple and profound marvels in our lives are due to an enormously interconnected network of ideas and innovations,” Don says, hoping the pandemic will encourage students to build a deep appreciation for the methods and tools of science and engineering. “This is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how these are woven into all of our lives.”
And as the world shifts shape into something new, whether he’s paddling through Canadian landscapes or working with the causes he hopes will protect them, you can be sure Don is thinking of ways to keep reaching out. Communication, ever widening, only increases our ability to understand the complex issues facing our world, making global outreach possible, strengthening our relationships and organizing our day to day lives. It’s a good thing, and one he’s watched happen before.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing at Google Hong Kong, globe-trotter Nancy Ting ’94 knows innovation and new technologies really can make the world a better place—and she’s focused on bringing them to market. We checked in with the impressive alumna to see what’s next in tech and ask what advice she has for those who want in.
Whether you’re checking in on Gmail, down a virtual rabbit hole, or asking your Google Home to convert ounces to grams, there are few of us whose lives haven’t been touched by the online powerhouse. More than 3.5 billion searches are conducted on Google each day—that’s 40,000 per second—and it accounts for over 92 per cent of all global internet searches. Somewhere along the way, Google even co-opted our language, switching silkily from noun to verb. “Google it,” has become a go-to phrase, regardless of which search engine you’re on.
“Climb the mountain not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”
So after a year where we spent more time on screens than ever before, we spoke with alumna Nancy Ting ’94, Google’s Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing in Hong Kong, who works for the company that, literally, has all the answers.
Nancy started with Google after moving to Hong Kong in 2010 where she now lives with her seven-year-old daughter. Though her role keeps her busy, Nancy makes sure to prioritize their time together, playing tennis and golf and, most recently, picking up skateboarding.
The alumna graduated from Ridley in 1994, alongside her brother Newton. Their parents had sent them to Ridley to broaden their perspectives; Newton lived in Merritt South and Nancy moved into Gooderham House West. Though it was her first time living away from home, Nancy quickly settled in, recalling fond memories of learning Caribbean dancing from her roommate Philice Davis ’94, her mentor, Mrs. Williams—the first female pilot in St. Catharines—and gathering with the rest of the GWest girls at the home of their House mother, Mrs. Close, she called her ‘second home.’ Nancy still keeps in touch with classmates via social media and catches up with some of them right in Hong Kong.
“I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree. I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years! So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”
After graduation, Nancy attended Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, where she studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree,” she explains. “I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years. So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”
Nancy may not have known exactly what the end goal was at the time, but accruing a strong, transferrable skillset enabled her to work toward what she did know she wanted: to make a difference and be able to travel.
“Having a background in science and maths helped me land jobs and projects in different parts of the world,” she says. For Nancy, living in new places is an exciting way to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures, and it enables her to appreciate different points of view. She’s lived so far in Toronto, London, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and Beijing.
“The challenging part is that one needs to re-establish one’s social circle,” she responds when asked how she settles into a new spot. “But I’ve found that if you follow your own interest, be it music, yoga or sports, you’ll be able to establish new circles pretty easily.”
The key, she adds, is to be willing to try something new. For example, when she was living in New York, Nancy was drawn to comedy, so she joined improv classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It was an opportunity to meet people outside her work environment—and to have a good laugh while she did it.
That willingness to explore and try new things served Nancy well as she built her career, which has taken several unexpected turns along the way. Nancy’s first job was in Toronto as an eCommerce programmer at IBM, where she programmed internet applications from eCommerce websites to mobile apps to internet banking. Two years later, wanting to learn more about business, she moved to New York and worked for Deloitte Consulting as a strategy and management consultant. She also pursued an MBA at MIT, gaining skills in areas like accounting, finance and marketing and switched industries, becoming an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Next, Nancy started her own company, Mode Republic, a user-generated magazine which showcased international fashionistas’ daily outfits. The magazine offered a ‘Shop This Look’ feature so you could shop for similar items from online stores.
But it was after moving to Hong Kong that Nancy was offered a position on Google’s marketing team, and she started out doing working for the Ads business in Greater China. “Working for years in different industries and functions, only reinforced my passion to use technology to make the world a better place,” she says. “Google is a company that’s constantly innovating, and it encourages employees to explore new positions and geographies every few years.”
Two years ago, she switched to B2C marketing, and now looks after products like YouTube, Google Play, Google Classroom, Android, and more. “Marketing is a great mixture of arts and science,” she remarks. “We focus on quantitative data analysis as well as identifying true user insight—then we come up with creative campaign ideas and bring them to market.”
The pandemic certainly affected how consumers and businesses alike use technology—a steady progression toward online options was sped up out of necessity, and traditional businesses recognized an urgent need for digitization. As foot traffic was reduced, small businesses were forced to build websites, up their social media game, and figure out digital ads so they could still be found. And, what’s more, they needed to deliver their products and services via those online channels.
“Wellbeing has different definitions for people. It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”
And it wasn’t only commerce that was affected; day-to-day life still relies on digital tools, be they for work, remote learning or entertainment which, as Nancy notes, brings with it tremendous opportunities in all areas.
Those opportunities mean that roles like Nancy’s are incredibly busy, so of course we have to ask how she manages her time and keeps on top of her own wellbeing—juggling motherhood, managing marketing for a company that’s constantly churning out new products, and tackling the year’s tougher realities like remote work and school.
“Wellbeing has different definitions for people,” she replies. “It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”
For Nancy, it’s important that she keeps healthy and spends quality time with those who matter. The pandemic was an opportunity to get in shape and keep her immune system strong, and she’s worked over the past months to focus on eating well and exercising. “I turned my biological age back to 25-years-old!” she laughs.
With days filled with meetings, she also sets aside time where she turns off and just focuses on her work, and makes it clear to her colleagues that being there for her daughter—particularly in important moments—is her ‘non-negotiable.’
“It certainly helps that I love what I do for work,” Nancy says. “Even when I have some spare time, I’d be reading about the tech industry or the latest innovations. I’d recommend young Ridleians strive to land a job in a field that aligns with their passion as soon as they can. When your work is something that you enjoy, the wellbeing challenge is significantly reduced.”
“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before. Equipping yourself with strong foundational skills in math, science and coding will better prepare you for exciting new job options.”
As students look ahead to their own careers, many of them considering jobs in the tech industry, Nancy recommends they equip themselves with strong foundational skills—like math, science and coding—that will give them plenty of room to pivot when required and to move around.
“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before,” she advises. “Those foundational skills will prepare you for exciting new options. And don’t worry if you aren’t good at these things now. I failed Maths and Physics in Junior High. The turning point for me was at Ridley when I had amazing teachers who helped me understand how things work. Seeking great mentors and information will help you to master the latest knowledge—you just need to be inquisitive and invest the time and effort.”
It’s sound advice. As opportunities expand, and with them, our ability to connect with and impact others across the globe, Nancy is the perfect example of someone who has approached her career with a strategically open mind and adventurously open arms. And as we conclude our conversation, each a world away from the other, connected only by a few of clicks, she leaves off with the words she’s always lived by: “Climb the mountain, not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Ridley students and employees spent the past year connecting largely via Microsoft Teams, so we just had to sit down with longtime MS expert, Jeff Bell ’88 to talk tech. Now, the alumnus shares his take on the future of work—and how Microsoft kept us clicking during a global pandemic.
Jeff takes our call from his home office in Seattle, Washington. “Well, it wasn’t a home office until a year ago,” he explains practically, looking out at the Olympic Mountains, “it was our guest bedroom. But that’s the way the world has changed.” Like many of us, Jeff, too, has been working from home during the pandemic.
Back in 1991, the numbers minded Ridleian took on a summer internship at Microsoft. At the time, Jeff was working on an adaptation kit for companies to put MS-DOS 5.0 in their handheld devices (which he nods to as an essentially early ancestor of the iPhone). His officemates were busy working on Windows 3.1 and employees one door over were tackling applications. Jeff returned to Princeton University that fall to finish up his senior year, then moved out to Seattle as a fulltime Microsoft employee.
“There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now we’ve all been that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”
He’s worked there ever since, challenging the ‘Bay Area stereotype’ that people in tech tend to hop from company to company. Over the years, Jeff’s been able to move within the organization and dive deep into a variety of projects that speak to his skills and interests, including type and typography; digital rights management; digital payments and wallets; tools for early e-commerce; and eBooks and ePub standards. And if, like us, you love the ‘Save as PDF’ functionality in Office Suite, you can thank Jeff—he led the small team that worked with Adobe to add it as a built-in feature.
Today, Microsoft employs more than 175,000 people worldwide, and Jeff is an expert on Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The quick pace of technology means they’re always rolling out new features and waiting for customers to renew can be a real drag—for creators and consumers alike. But with people now automating everything from music to razors to poultry, a simple subscription ensures users will always get their mouse on the most current iteration.
“Think of Netflix as an example,” Jeff explains. “If I were to buy a hard disk or a chip with all the shows on it, but it doesn’t update itself with anything, how exciting is that? People producing a new show would have to wait for viewers to upgrade their Netflix or buy a new TV.”
“In the software world, we’ve long had this challenge—we’d build all these great new features we really like, but our customers were still using this thing from five years ago that they’d buy new only when they’d buy a new PC. We want to get the updates to everyone faster, and if we can help make that easy, we can give everyone a better experience and a better product.”
“There are a whole lot of paths to being successful. There are smart people everywhere and it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people across the board—to deliver products in tech.”
Since March 2020, discussions of secure, collaborative products and ‘work-from-home ergonomics’ have taken on new life as employees perch at kitchen counters, occupy dining room chairs and hunch over coffee tables.
Though we may have had to keep an eye on our steps, many of us were undeniably lucky to be able to work remotely during a time when the world, in large measure, shut down. Technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet kept us connecting, celebrating, and producing.
MS Teams saw a huge uptick in users over the pandemic, and was one of the fastest growing apps, adding a whopping 95 million users in 2020. More than 500,000 organizations worldwide now use it as their default messaging platform, including over 183,000 educational institutions.
Though he may be working from home these days, for Jeff, connecting virtually is old hat. “At some level, that’s how my old world was. I spent two years where my manager and immediate team actually sat in Dublin, Ireland,” he recalls. “And Microsoft is a decent-sized campus. When I’m working with the commerce team or the payments team and they’re a 10-to-20-minute shuttle ride or walk away, you meet with them on Teams. So much of my work was done on Teams and via email already.”
Microsoft has been thinking about the future of hybrid work for years. One of the projects Jeff worked on, now nearly a decade ago, was meeting technology and hybrid meetings, with the team considering such things as collaborative notetaking. “We didn’t end up solving the problem at the time, but we made a little headway,” he muses, “and the world moved on. But there’s certainly an interest in watching how things played out once everyone had to go virtual.”
And in many ways, Jeff’s been in on the experiment, as his own family learned to operate remotely this past year—which included everything from the logistics of virtual orchestra to scrambling to find a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Jeff lives in Seattle with his son, Andrew, who’s going into Grade 12, and daughter, Elizabeth, who will be entering Grade 10. His wife, Anna, a lawyer by training and a former JAG officer, is a romance writer. Though there was certainly some trial and error in the day-to-day, the pace slowed for everyone; a smaller stride meant more frequent video calls with Jeff’s Ottawa-based parents, his extended family in Alberta, and his sister, alumna Jensa Morris ’90, who’s now a doctor based in Connecticut.
He’s also continued to keep active in his downtime, golfing throughout Seattle’s long season and still serious about running—he’s run 20 marathons to date, a passion which goes back to his days as a harrier at Ridley.
Jeff came to the Lower School over Christmas in Grade 7, having started French immersion earlier that year and wanting a different kind of education. A conversation with family connection Reverend Hunt soon led the young whiz to Ridley—and, once there, Jeff never looked back. He spent the next seven years as a day student. In Lower School, he played cricket, soccer, squash, tennis, and hockey. When he transitioned to Upper School, now a student of Merritt South, he focused on playing hockey and competing both as a harrier and on the tennis courts. He was a Cadet sergeant, a House Prefect, and received both the TR Merritt Matriculation Gold Medal and the Governor General’s Medal.
Jeff’s impressive skills in mathematics were known widely, so it was of little surprise that he sought a future career in engineering. “There are lots of domains in which you can solve problems, but I was strong in maths and sciences,” he remembers. “Engineering just felt like a place where there are always fun problems to solve and good tools for doing it.”
It was simply a question of where. Jeff was in Grade 12 and applying to Ontario programmes when his teacher, Brian Martin approached him and asked if he’d considered any American schools. He hadn’t, thinking those kinds of plans were years in the making. But it was a late decision which paid off; Jeff got in his applications just under the deadline and was accepted to the engineering programme at Princeton University.
“It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”
What comes across as he talks about his work, however, is that it’s clearly about more than math alone (though he certainly spends his time deep in the numbers): Jeff is essentially a storyteller, contextualizing the data and using it as a tool to gain insight into what consumers are doing (or aren’t), how the business is working (or isn’t), and what’s going to be good for both. What impact are we having? Are we touching people at scale? How can we build the right thing?
“That fluency is almost more valuable than code,” he agrees, “It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”
And after the past year-and-a-half, the data has a lot to say. Today, Microsoft’s signature problem-solving efforts continue as a workforce contemplates its return to the office. How do workers use the chat function? How do things function when half the meeting’s attendees are remote? Is the chat channel more visible to those who are remote—and is it then ignored by those in the room? As we all inch closer to a new working model, mock-up solutions are popping up across the Microsoft campus. Their teams have been busy learning from what we’ve been doing these past months—and envisioning what a hybrid future might look like.
“I think we’ll get to a place where we have more of a recognition of those who are remote,” Jeff predicts. “There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now that we’ve allbeen that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”
“I have a lot of appreciation for the data scientists; the best ones are artists who understand the numbers and do a great job of storytelling and making sense of the world, making sense of the work we do.”
And, notably, these changes bring with them important conversations about diversity, accessibility, and opportunities to broaden the hiring pool. “While Redmond and Seattle are lovely places, we don’t need to move the whole world here,” Jeff points out practically, citing his organization’s recent hires who will be staying put. “There are smart people everywhere and tons of opportunity. In tech, it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people—to deliver products.”
Speaking with Jeff, you can’t help but be excited by what’s to come, knowing these technologies will only expand our reach across both office and globe. And though we’ve each had to pivot over the course of this pandemic, to park our cars and watch our work clothes hang in our closets like question marks—we are the lucky ones. There’s plenty of promise in the ‘new normal,’ status unknown, even as it’s still coming into focus.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.
Alumna, Alex Clark talks good policy, giving back—and how she’s bringing opportunity to a new generation of entrepreneurs.
If you spent a good part of the past year seeking small business gems on social, listening for the comforting sound of the delivery truck, or contemplating the items in your virtual cart, you’re in good company. With consumers bereft of their bricks-and-mortar go-tos, online shopping hit an all-time high during the pandemic—and it looks like it’s here to stay.
“Consumers over the pandemic embraced online shopping, wanted to support local businesses, and cared about the ‘about us’ stories more than ever before. My hope is that this continues. More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few … we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating.”
“More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few—we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating,” she explains earlier this summer. “If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship, we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”
It seems Alex has always been keen to bring fresh talent to the table—and that means fighting for good policies; finding innovative ways to expand reach; and providing opportunity to those who, historically, were often overlooked.
“If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship—bringing them to the table and addressing the real barriers—we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”
“Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door,” she shares. “It’s an advantage to have one of those, let alone all three, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”
It’s a community mindset she comes by honestly. Her grandfather, Old Ridleian Ian Reid ’44 and grandmother, Margot instilled its importance in their family; both received the Order of Canada in recognition of their community service.
Alex is part of a long line of Ridleians: her grandfather, Ian; uncles, Tim ’78 and Ross Reid ’71; aunt, Sarah Cameron ’84; and sister, Jillian Clark ’03 all attended Ridley. When she was 16, Alex decided to turn her focus from competitive tennis and considered where to spend one final, adventurous year—and, having listened to plenty of Ridley stories around the dinner table, Alex knew the school would check the right boxes. She enrolled for the 2005-06 academic year.
“Some of this [service mindset] comes from self-awareness of opportunities I’ve had that are not available to everyone. Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door. It’s an advantage to have one of those—let alone all three—as you go through life and your early career, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”
And from the moment she arrived on campus, she made the most of it, serving as captain of the First Girls Rugby team, House captain of Gooderham West (she’s held on proudly to her House ring), and assistant captain of the then newly formed JV Girls Hockey team, which she helped create. “It was a bunch of us that had never played hockey—most of us had never learned how to stop on skates. The boards absorbed a lot of our momentum!” she remembers. “But by the end of the season, we were a dream team. I was surrounded by these badass women who just wanted to have fun and compete.”
The arts soon came calling, too. Alex played Béline, Aragon’s fortune-hunting second wife in the Upper School production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire). “A special dedication to my grandfather,” Alex wrote in her sunny Acta entry later that year, “without him blazing the Ridley trail, I worry I would have missed this influential year … Thank you, Ridley for opening your doors to me and welcoming me into the family.”
Though Alex left after graduation to pursue a degree in Political Science (first at University of British Columbia and then Carleton University), she kept in touch with her peers in the years that followed—and the Ridley family afforded her some new connections along the way.
These days, Alex lives in Ottawa with her husband, Jarett and their eight-year-old dog, Boomer. When we spoke in June, she and Jarett were expecting their first child and predicting life would soon be busier than ever—and that’s certainly saying something. The proud alumna currently sits on the leadership board of the Women’s Training Camp with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and is on the Board of Directors for Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women and helps them to re-enter the workforce. And as Shopify’s VP of Strategic Initiatives, her day job keeps things hopping as well.
Knocking down barriers to success seems to have always been at the core of her career, which from the start has followed an impressive path. Alex started out in politics, working for the Liberals when they were the official Opposition under Michael Ignatieff. Following that, she took what she learned and applied it to helping businesses navigate the system. She spent the next five years working with global clients across all sectors, developing their strategic communications and stakeholder plans, and lobbying on their behalf.
But in helping these companies, it never did feel quite like herwin, and she wanted to have more of a direct impact. Alex transitioned in-house at Microsoft as their Director of Corporate Affairs, dividing her time between Vancouver and the company’s headquarters in Seattle—and ultimately working with the B.C. government to build the Centre of Excellence.
“Failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”
That’s when Shopify came calling. “It was a no brainer for me,” she laughs good-naturedly. “A Canadian company supporting small businesses and they have a slide in the office?!”
Though an admittedly excellent selling feature, the company sure boasts more than a slide. If you’re still unfamiliar with the popular online platform, Shopify provides independent business owners with ecommerce and point of sale features to help them start, run and grow their business. More than two million merchants from over 175 countries use it—and they’ve created 3.6 million jobs and contributed $307+ billion in global economy impact.
In 2016, Alex joined Shopify’s team as Director of Policy and Government Affairs, creating the company’s first Global Affairs team and advocating for policy ensuring governments around the world remove barriers for entrepreneurs to be successful.
“It was a unique time for tech and government,” she recalls. “Government is accustomed to a dynamic with the private sector that’s based around value exchange. But if you were like Shopify five years ago, you historically had never needed government—but quickly they were showing up in your backyard making crucial policy decisions, while not always fully understanding the unintended consequences of those decisions.”
As ‘innovation’ became the new buzz word across the country, with solutions being drawn up around everything from attracting talent to supporting young businesses, it became clear that Shopify needed a seat at the table. “That’s what I came to solve,” Alex explains. “It was less about lobbying and more about education.”
From that role, Alex was asked to become Chief of Staff to CEO, Tobias Lütke. She moved deeper into the business, working alongside the Executive team as Shopify went through an exciting period of hypergrowth. Their workforce doubled each year, global expansion took off and their merchant base now sits at over two million. This past year, Alex took on her current VP role, which covers Shopify’s Corporate Development and the SHOP app; she’s also advisor to the Executive team and CEO.
But her passion for small business doesn’t end at their office door. In recent months, Alex co-launched Backbone Angels, a collective of ten active angel investors who invest in women and non-binary founders. These angels—all women who bring years of experience in everything from legal to UX to marketing—prioritize investments in Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour led companies who deserve the capital and support to build the companies of the future. Alex is a founding partner.
“We realized our collective experience was incredibly powerful and by launching ‘Backbone’ we’ll be able to support more companies. We’ve spent most of our careers on the front line of entrepreneurship,” Alex says. “We know the story of the journey and the individual matters just as much as the final product.”
“The future is for the makers.”
More people are choosing entrepreneurship, she posits—and it’s paying off. In the past months they’ve reviewed hundreds of decks, met with founders and have invested in some exciting companies. But though there’s plenty of hope for a new generation of entrepreneurs, there’s work to be done; the pandemic shone a spotlight on the vulnerabilities we have as an economy.
“Canada can sometimes be referred to as ‘laggards’ when it comes to technological adoption,” explains Alex, “and some of that became painfully obvious when we didn’t have the right systems in place to address the needs of individuals and businesses through this pandemic. Businesses that survived were those that quickly shifted to online because now you could no longer depend on your brick-and-mortar store for foot traffic, and you needed to expand to a larger or global market.”
“The silver lining of this is that we’re seeing small businesses doing really well because they removed the dependency of in-person,” she adds.
Now, it’s all about using that momentum to bring those entrepreneurs to the table to address what are some very real barriers. It’s only through inclusive conversations and good policies that the country will move forward and live up to its potential—and Alex is hopeful. One way to bring about change? People need to get involved.
“Getting involved in politics was once seen as this honourable way to serve your country, and now I think it’s seen as this thankless, dirty job that no one wants. We really need to change that narrative,” she says. “We need people shaping this country that embrace the potential of the future and understand where we’re heading—and we need women.”
As we wrap up our conversation, it seems like the perfect opportunity to ask Alex if she has any advice for Ridley’s young entrepreneurs. “It’s really hard,” she replies. “Expect to fail…a lot. But recognize that failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”
So, good reader, following a year filled with uncertainty but lined with the silvery promise of something new, go forth and find your passion—whatever that may be—and go for it. And while you’re deciding, hit ‘buy’ on that shopping cart.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.