Sue Paish, LifeLabs - Lifetime Achievement Award

2018 Influential Women in Business Awards Honouree

I grew up in small-town British Columbia, in environments surrounded by people who were very, very different from me and my family. My parents were immigrant teachers from England. They were assigned work with some of the province’s most disadvantaged populations. At that time, it was the communities of the Doukhobors and Sons of Freedom, people who were very marginalized in society.

For a long time in my senior high school years, I didn’t have a vision. I took an aptitude test and I was told that I would be a very good bedside nurse, which I thought was not the right answer.

In second-year university, I was on an assignment working at General Motors. I had the opportunity to attend a labour arbitration and I watched how the lawyers worked. I thought it was fascinating. I liked how they dealt with problems and brought parties together.

Being the shy, retiring type, I decided to make a phone call to the general counsel of General Motors. I look back on that now and wonder, “What was I thinking?” What was even more surprising was he answered the phone. It was the result of that conversation that I decided to go to law school. My first job out of law school really was articling at what was then Russell & DuMoulin, one of Vancouver’s largest and oldest law firms.

I was with Russell & DuMoulin for 25 years. I was the first woman and the youngest managing partner the firm had. I was in my early 40s so wasn’t quite ready to retire. I decided one day that I didn’t want to wake up when I was 50 and wonder what it would be like to do something other than practise law. So I decided that I was going to leave the law firm, and I didn’t have anything to do. It was a scary moment.

I was approached by Pharmasave; I sat on the board at the time. There was a CEO search going on and the then-chair of the board came up to me and said: “Would you think about putting your name in for that role?” I looked at him and said: “I can’t do that. I’m not a pharmacist. I don’t know about retail, marketing, franchising. I don’t know how to run a national franchise with hundreds of outlets.” I still remember his reaction quite quickly was: “We’ve got pharmacists, retailers, franchising, marketing experts. We need somebody who has vision, strategy and leadership skills. Will you put your name in the ring, please?” And so I did. That started me down a path of business leadership that I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed.

My association with LifeLabs goes back to 1985, when I got to know Don Rix, who was the founder of an organization that then became LifeLabs. He saw in me things that I never saw in myself. He encouraged me to seek out a CEO position. I didn’t think I had what it took. And Don did. Having that kind of inspiration has stuck with me forever.

I really think I helped LifeLabs position itself for growth and for doing things that were perhaps a little bit ahead of their time. Building a genetics lab and really putting a marker in the ground in genetics. Building LifeLabs to be one of the health technology leaders in Canada.

I only stay in CEO jobs five years. I did six years as managing partner at Russell & DuMoulin (now Fasken), five and a half at Pharmasave, and five and a half years at LifeLabs. I left LifeLabs in December.

Growing up, my dad taught me that there’s no such thing as impossible. I hope I can continue to take on roles and responsibilities in a leadership way that have a certain level of impossibility to 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.