Life Lessons: Kirby Brown, Sea to Sky Gondola

Set aside your ego and learn to communicate

Kirby Brown, general manager, Sea to Sky Gondola

Kirby Brown has worked in tourism since he was 14. In 1993 he moved from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, got a business degree and found work at Whistler. 

His first job at the ski resort was as a janitor, but he quickly moved up the ladder to become director of human resources, responsible for everything from training to compensation.

In that job, Brown noticed a pattern in the employees who weren’t performing their jobs adequately.

“The one thing people were getting fired for was an inability to ask for help,” he said. 

“It dawned on me what a huge part ego plays. They weren’t seeking out the advice and mentorship they should have.”

As general manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola, a tourist attraction in Squamish, Brown has incorporated asking for help into his management style. 

He and his staff use consensus-based decision-making and have built a company culture guided by the principle of not trying to go it alone.

Starting with a team meeting every morning, Brown is also a fan of fostering a lot of communication with and among staff.

The result, Brown said, is a more flexible and creative team whose members are prepared to step outside their job boundaries if necessary. 

That’s important in a cyclical, weather-based business.

That approach has led to a new initiative this winter to try to get customers out on bad weather days – an effort that involves live music, children’s activities and a marketing push.

The emphasis on collaboration also has been helpful in getting new summer hires on board quickly. 

“We need to be able to take a whole bunch of new people and quickly incorporate them into our values,” he said.

On working outside the box | “Our conversation [at work] is about people wandering around the office and bouncing ideas off each other. Someone who works in finance or human resources might be working with revenue and sales. It’s stepping way outside our boundaries – it’s our way of doing business.”

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