Alona Puehse

Forty under 40 winner 2018; Chief operating officer, Open Door Group, Age 38

Chung Chow

When you’re a big dreamer, it’s hard to be buttoned down to the quintessential 21st-
century job. 

At least that’s the position Alona Puehse found herself in. Now chief operating officer of the non-profit Open Door Group, Puehse had been working in the private sector with local economic development groups from around the globe when she saw an opportunity to have a larger impact on the world. 

While working with newly settled refugees and immigrants in Australia, Puehse learned the critical importance of employment in people’s lives. To improve the economic development of a community, those living in the community had to become meaningful participants in that economy. 

“What I decided when I moved back to Canada was that I was going to leave the private sector and work in non-profit – which was not well supported by my mom,” Puehse said.

Puehse’s mom may have been concerned that her daughter’s work in the non-profit sector would conform to stereotypes about instability and lower pay. However, Puehse hopes to abolish those stereotypes by leading through example and showing others that working in the non-profit sector can that offer rewards beyond monetary gain. 

Puehse confesses, however, switching from a prosperous career in the private sector was the most difficult decision of her professional life. It was particularly difficult when on the day she was offered an entry-level position at Open Door Group she was also offered a sales position with another organization that paid three times as much.

But she knows she made the right decision, she said. 

Her successes at plugging the holes within the system are a reoccurring theme throughout her career and helped propel her to the chief operating officer’s desk at Open Door Group in 2013, four years after joining the organization on its front lines. 

There is no question that hard work and determination are necessary ingredients for success, but Puehse’s driving force is her passion for what she does. 

 “I’m very motivated every day to do what I do. It’s not a 9-to-5 job; it’s something that I live.”

Birthplace: Vernon

Where you live now: Burnaby

Highest level of education: MBA

Currently reading: What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff 

Currently listening to: Crime podcast

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Horseback rider

Profession you would most like to try: Car-share driver

Toughest business or professional decision: Going after a new opportunity – be it a new contract or a major project

Advice you would give the younger you: Don’t worry so much

What’s left to do: Whether it’s workplace or community, there’s a long way to go in terms of inclusion

Join us to celebrate the 2018 Forty under under 40 Awards January 24, 2019, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For tickets and event info visit