VBOT’s Iain Black wins Canadian Chamber Executive of the Year award

When Iain Black took the helm of the Vancouver Board of Trade in 2011, the organization was struggling with...

Iain Black | Vancouver Board of Trade

When Iain Black took the helm of the Vancouver Board of Trade (VBOT) in 2011, the organization was struggling with a $1.6 million deficit and its membership had fallen.

After he was with the organization 90 days, he took a restructuring plan to the board. The plan would turn things around, he said, completely restructure the organization and eliminate its deficit within five years.

Under Black’s leadership, the board managed to do it in two.

This is one of the achievements that led to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Executives of Canada (CCEC) awarding Black with the CCEC Executive of the Year award October 16.

The CCEC was also impressed with Black’s reinvention of four Signature programs that targeted small business, women in business, young professionals and a Leaders of Tomorrow mentorship program.

In addition, the Canadian Chamber looked at Black’s role in leading several policy initiatives critical for economic growth in the region, such as the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, CCEC executive director Shelley Morris told Business in Vancouver.

“It’s evident that Iain’s energy and enthusiasm have earned him the acclaim of his board, staff and peers, and he has definitely positioned the VBOT as a progressive and dynamic organization leading the business community,” Morris said.

Black is quick to point out that his achievements were the result of a team effort.

“We had seemed to have lost our way, lost our relevance, lost our audience and ultimately lost our appeal,” Black said.

“For the first 18 months, all of the efforts of our board – who I have to emphasize are just absolutely remarkable individuals who invested in turning the place around along with the team here at 999 Canada Place – were on our survival.”

He said one of the highlights of all of the board’s accomplishments is the fact that VBOT is now one of the largest events businesses in Canada.

“We did 143 events last year for a total audience of about 23,000 people.”

He is also proud of completing the financial restoration program well ahead of schedule.

“We’ve had the two highest financial years in the organization’s 128-year history,” he said.

VBOT has also restored the organization’s membership to where it was in 2008 and improved membership renewal rates.

“We seem to have now restored our relevance in the eyes of our members, the media and government stakeholders.”

The event that most stands out in Black’s mind as being his biggest undertaking is the one at which VBOT hosted Hillary Clinton, who he feels strongly will be the next President of the United States.

“It was an enormous undertaking. It took a year to pull it off. It started out being an hour or two a week for me about a year before the event and in the last 60 days, it was fully four days a week of my time, never mind my entire events team.

“It was the largest event in our history, 2,850 [attendees], and we fully sold out the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.”

Black said he was overwhelmed at the CCEC awards ceremony when he learned he had won the award.

“There’s no higher praise than that which comes from your peers,” Black said.

“I was aware that I had been nominated but I hadn’t really heard anything about it since the nomination process three or four months early.”

He said the biggest surprise of the evening was right before dinner was served, however, when he found out his wife and 80-year-old father had secretly been flown in for the event.

“I was quite taken aback and very emotional.”

As for the future of the Vancouver Board of trade, Black said they are just getting started.

“The future of this organization has really started to evolve around our new membership base,” he said.

At one of VBOT’s latest membership drives, Black said, 45% of all potential members were under 35 and 60% were women.

“You’re seeing a real shift in the identity of who we are, our attraction to a younger audience – a more gender-balanced audience,” he said, pointing to the fact VBOT was the first business organization of any kind in North America to have more women than men on its board.

“We have our eye on the future,” Black said. “We are no longer looking behind us, and we are no longer looking around us.

“We’re looking forward.”

Iain Black is a past Business in Vancouver Forty Under 40 winner (1997).

- With files from Timothy Renshaw