Sandra Miles, Miles Employment Group

2018 Influential Women in Business Awards Honouree

I’m a skier, and a mentor said to me: “Always do your black diamonds first.” You always have black diamonds in the day. You don’t want to do them. That really stuck with me as a good lesson to get things done, and move on. Because once you’ve done your black diamond, everything else is easy.

I grew up in North Vancouver by Grouse Mountain. I skied and I spent a lot of time on the mountains. My first job was working at Grouse Mountain in the gift shop, and I loved being up there.

I always kind of did entrepreneurial things growing up. We had a boat so I started this little boat-cleaning business called Deck Swabbers. Sounds ridiculous now. I did a housecleaning thing too. I just loved all of the bits and pieces that went along with doing your own thing. I think it was kind of in my blood a little bit.

I left Grouse and I went into sales because somebody told me I should do sales. I was working in the staffing industry. I really wanted to create my own thing. And so I did. I worked with a partner and we created everything from scratch. We interviewed everybody, finding out what they liked about working with the staffing industry and what they didn’t like, interviewing not only potential clients, but also candidates looking for work. Everybody forgets about that piece. It’s really important to have that empathy and that was something we really wanted to bridge into the company.

I had had a business for 15 years that I sold, and then I started my current business. The Olympics were coming to Vancouver, and I love the Olympics. I’m a bit of an Olympic junkie. The request for proposal came across my desk, and I had written so many proposals that had been rejected that when this one came in, I threw it in the recycling bin. I just couldn’t take another rejection.

Even though the deck was stacked against us, I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t tried. It’s better to be in the game and roll up your sleeves than to bail. The night before it was due, I pulled it out. I put the coffee on and I pulled an all-nighter. And we won. We won the proposal to work for VANOC [Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games] supplying their corporate staff for five years. That was a huge time for us. That led to Olympic contracts.

One of the biggest challenges was managing through the recession. It came hard, fast, deep and steep, and it hit labour specifically hard. The reception area was full of people that had just been laid off from big companies. That was the beginning of a wave of daily people coming in. I didn’t know how to manage through that. It was a humongous challenge. Companies weren’t coming to the Olympics now or they weren’t doing as big of an event. That was in September. In December, we got all these phone calls saying, “We’ve changed our minds.” We sourced, placed, had to security clear over 2,170 people within a month. We broke our payroll, because it was never designed for over 2,000 people.

There were a million challenges but they were all opportunities and it was all super exciting. It’s all about your attitude. You can look at each roadblock and hurdle as a mountain, or you can just drive over them.

Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2018 Influential Women in Business Awards on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/iwib.