Bridgitte Anderson is just seven days into her role as president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) when she visits Business in Vancouver’s offices.
She’s come from moderating a panel at the Business Council of British Columbia’s annual business summit. The day before, she addressed some of her organization’s 5,500 members at her first official GVBOT event.
Learning the complexity of the 132-year-old organization will be, she says, her greatest challenge. Her top priority: regional competitiveness – and she is well versed on the issue.
“We need to get beyond thinking that we are silos,” said Anderson. “We have to think beyond where we are as a city and think as a region about how we’re going to be regionally competitive and then globally competitive. There is so much divisiveness within Canada.”
To that end, how to increase advocacy and deepen engagement are also among Anderson’s top priorities as she navigates her first weeks in a complex organization that advocates and engages on a number of deeply complex issues.
Among them: taxation, affordability, talent attraction and retention, inclusion, diversity.
On the last item, Anderson makes history as the GVBOT’s first female chief executive since the organization’s inception in 1887. Beyond gender equity – the board has been gender equal since 2015 – Anderson cites engagement with Indigenous and millennial business leaders as two areas of opportunity for progress in diversity.
“With more diverse opinion, you’re going to have better decisions,” she explained. “We are evolving to that point as a community, as a society, and I think that this is where the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade has some opportunity to evolve in that way as well.”
Anderson is a communicator. She spent part of her career in journalism as a local and national news anchor. She served as press secretary to former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell. She led corporate communications as general manager of Edelman’s Vancouver office.
As the region evolves, Anderson sees a great opportunity to shape – and then communicate – a new narrative for Greater Vancouver and British Columbia.
“Who do we want to be as a region and how can we unify and pull people together? I’m not sure that we have actually developed that narrative to the strength that it could be. I also think there’s a way to further leverage the Canada brand,” she told BIV in her first interview as CEO.
B.C.’s history around resources has changed, she said. Technology and creative industries have grown into dominant regional and provincial economic forces. The latter groups have not necessarily been well represented in GVBOT membership, and Anderson says she will be looking to deepen engagement in those areas.
“For me it’s about evolving the organization as society is evolving,” says Anderson. That will include discussion around sustainability, around the future of work and around ensuring the right voices are around the table.
“It is going to take a lot of diverse opinion and a lot of collaboration to solve these problems. And so that would be my biggest priority, is how do we do that? How do we get the smartest people around the table to solve these problems?”
There were a lot of applicants for Anderson’s position. Her passion, she believes, set her apart. She recalls telling friends a couple of years ago that the one job in Vancouver she would really like – her dream job – would be the one she now holds.
And she has assumed that job at what feels like a critical time – when B.C. is represented by minority governments provincially and federally, when climate-related protests take centre stage on Vancouver streets, when companies are on downturn watch and when acute affordability issues complicate businesses’ bottom lines.
Anderson expects her leadership could involve adopting a higher profile as she pursues her priorities. She’s also keen to listen, and to focus her attention on the needs and concerns of Greater Vancouver businesses.
“This is something I feel so strongly about – about business taking the lead, about evolving the business community to think broadly about some of these really challenging issues,” she said.
“To have the opportunity and the honour to lead that, it really is … a dream come true.”
Listen to Bridgitte Anderson speak with BIV editor-in-chief Kirk LaPointe and reporter Hayley Woodin on BIV Today at biv.com/audio.