A day in the life of Chantal Sturk Nadeau

"I remember saying to my mom ‘I'm so proud to be Canadian’"

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, executive director of business events at Destination Canada chats to Holly Patrick about the value of building genuine relationships, the realities of elitism and her sense of national pride that has accompanied her on her career journey...

Where did your career journey begin?

I did my first degree in 17th to 20th century French Literature. When I graduated, I was like, ‘now what the hell am I gonna do?’ I never wanted to be a professor but I wanted to do my first degree in things I enjoy doing and that was reading and writing.

But I know that I always wanted to deal with people. I'm a people person. I'm an extrovert. I like learning about things, I like to learn about people. So after a few years, I went back to school and got my international business degree.

So you’ve got two degrees? Wow!

I ended up in Santiago, Chile for four months to study international business. By then I was married, but I said to my husband, ‘I gotta go do this’. So, I left for four months, and I did an international feasibility marketing study for a sport entertainment company.

What was living in Santiago like?

I learned a lot about elitism. As a white woman I was put in housing that was in a certain neighbourhood with other white people that were European. I was there in the early 90s, when there was a lot of controversy and a lot of political uneasiness between Chile and the US.

Everywhere I went, they thought I was American. I had doors slammed on me and had people shouting at me or spitting at me because they thought I was American.

But one day I went into a postal shop to send a package back home and the guy working there asked me if I was Canadian and I said, yes. He then told me he’d lived in Canada, in Winnipeg, in fact, which is where I'm from. He sort of adopted me into his friendship group and so I was able to get to know that community a little bit more and to learn more of the history of why they were so upset with the US.

That sounds like quite an experience!

I remember saying to my mom at the time, ‘I'm so proud to be Canadian’.

The reason I'm telling you this, is because now I actually work for Destination Canada, and that sense of pride has taken me from my mid-20s to 50.

I still have that curiosity and that openness to other countries and other people that I continue wanting to learn.

"I was always realistic and leaned into my strengths."

From Winnipeg to Santiago to Destination Canada…

I was introduced to tourism when I came back to Canada. I produced the World Junior Hockey Championships so I was in sports and did that for four years before I applied to work for Tourism Winnipeg.

It was a hard job because Winnipeg is this destination in the middle of the country with a small team and a small budget. We weren’t a Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver which has staffs of 50 or more- and $30 million-dollar budgets.

But I was always realistic and leaned into my strengths. I made sure I had a good team around me too. I've had marketing people that are amazing at budgets. I've had salespeople that are really good at PowerPoint.

Also, I'm not a hierarchical person. I don't think the quarterback is the main person in a team because they can throw as many balls as they like, but if you don't have a good catcher, it doesn't matter.

I’ve been with Destination Canada for seven years now and that journey started with someone I worked on an advisory board with saying to me, ‘There’s an opening, why don’t you apply?’. So I did, and here I am.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My kids say, ‘Mom, how come you get paid to just sit and talk to people all day’.

When I'm in the office, which is my home office, I am on about six hours of zoom a day, and that consists of dealing with everybody from industry, strategic partners and media to checking in with my team.

What’s your leadership style?

I get to know my team very well. I know what makes them tick, I know what kind of juice they like to drink and I make sure I find ways to have fun with them all.

I have one to ones with them every week or every second week where we talk personal and then we get into the work stuff.

What do you most enjoy about your role?

It's the connection with people and the depth of relationships I get to build with them. What I don't do is have superficial relationships.

I'm not someone who would want to stand at a booth and just say 'hi' all day. If I only have 10 minutes with them, I want to get to know them as best as I can. And so, because I'm like that, I love being on the road because it enables me to meet new people.

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