You could say that right from the start of her life, Connie Fair has played a central role in a big organization.
She was born in 1958 in Hazelton, B.C., and raised in Ladysmith in the middle of a family with seven kids, including five girls and two boys.
Happily for Fair, who now serves as president and CEO of the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia (LTSA), she was on a long leash during her childhood, with the freedom to follow whatever passion interested her. Both her parents worked full time. Fair’s father was a carpenter who built single-family homes; her mother was a nurse at the Chemainus hospital and often worked nights.
“As one of seven children with both parents working, especially with my mother working shifts, you’re pretty independent,” Fair said.
“And you were always trying to keep up. Especially when we were all so close in age, so it was competitive, but in a healthy way.”
The drive of sibling rivalry, tempered by the desire for family harmony, made for an upbringing that has helped her in various leadership roles to this day.
LTSA board chairwoman Janice Comeau, who has known Fair for two years, said the CEO’s personality is very “even keel,” something that is a must for a chief executive.
“You would never see anger in her; she’s just very calm, and just has a very firm but effective approach,” Comeau said.
The LTSA is a statutory corporation that handles all the land titles and survey systems across the province. Created in 2005, it has 152 employees and looks after all land title registrations, land survey standards and approvals and Crown grant issuances for B.C., processing about 4.2 million searches and filings a year.
Fair is responsible for the executive oversight of the company, reporting directly to the board. She also oversees four offices across the province: Kamloops, Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster.
Her road to her role at the helm of one of the province’s most important agencies has been colourful and varied, and marked by unexpected turns.
After graduating from high school in Nanaimo in 1976, she wasn’t quite sure what route to take; she knew she liked school but had yet to find her passion.
“I was your typical confused 17-year-old when I graduated and really had no clue what I wanted to do.”
Fair connected with a teacher who had a relative who owned a small chain of clothing stores and was looking for a manager at its Nanaimo location. The store was called House of Britches and sold jeans to the 20-something crowd.
“And then I was a 17-year-old managing a small clothing store with about five staff,” she said. “Most of my career the people who have reported to me have been older than me.”
Fair loved the business side of running the store and the “exercise of organizing things.” She was also taking classes at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in first-year arts, but it was the economics course that really piqued her interest.
“I was never keen on the numbers side of things,” she said. “But as soon as you put a dollar sign in front of it, it started to make a lot of sense.”
In 1978 Fair headed off to the University of British Columbia (UBC), moving to Vancouver to take her bachelor of commerce degree. Relocating away from her family and off the Island was a big step.
“I literally loaded up my little Volkswagen Beetle and headed over on the ferry to Vancouver from Nanaimo, and wasn’t even really sure where the university was, and I ran into someone I knew and had to ask, ‘Where is this university, anyways?’”
By 1984 she had finished her undergraduate degree, just after the Canadian real estate crash of the 1980s. Fair, who had majored in real estate and finance, was offered a job with the real estate division at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. Fair also decided to complete her master of business administration. She said her interest in real estate initially came from her father, who spent his career building homes.
“I spent a lot of time in my childhood in these homes that were half-constructed, and we had lots of building plans spread out over the table. So I think I had an interest because of that.”
In 1988 Fair decided to leave academia, and then the phone started ringing for contract work. She said she’d never planned on taking the self-employed route, but the jobs and projects kept coming from an array of clients including UBC, which asked her to teach a few undergraduate business classes.
“Before I knew it I was full-time consulting. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just curious and interested in things.” People were happy with her work, and the word got around, she said.
When UBC created a two-year program in 1990 for property assessment workers, it asked Fair to spearhead setting up the program. Fair moved to Victoria with her husband around this time, starting a family and continuing to work on various projects including consulting jobs for the British Columbia Assessment Authority.
In 1993, BC Assessment posted a job for director of policy audit and legal services. Fair got the position, and over the next 15 years moved all the way up to the role of president and chief executive of BC Assessment.
By 2016, it was time for a change, she said.
“I think you get to a point in a position as the CEO where you really need to move on, not just for yourself but also for the organization. When you come in, you’re definitely making some changes, but after a while the changes that are required are some of the changes that you changed.”
In February 2016, Fair began work as president and CEO for the LTSA, replacing the outgoing CEO, who was retiring. Fair said she took on the role instead of calling it a career because she still loves the work.
“I didn’t want to retire. I like being the CEO, and I like having the opportunity to make things work better.” •