Influential Women in Business Awards: Shahrzad Rafati

Q&A: Chair and CEO, BBTV

This year is going to be a big year for BBTV, says company chair and CEO Shahrzad Rafati | Submitted

BIV is pleased to recognize five outstanding leaders with 2022 Influential Women in Business (IWIB) Awards.

This year’s recipients have achieved remarkable success in their respective careers. They are recognized by their peers for their contributions to community, and they are advocates and champions of women in business. Recipients will be celebrated on March 8 at the Terminal City Club. The event will be livestreamed at biv.com. 

Shahrzad Rafati is CEO and chair of BBTV, the largest Toronto Stock Exchange-listed firm with a sole female founder and CEO at its helm. She is vice-chair of Invest in Canada and co-chair of G20 Empower. 

What career highlight are you most proud of?

My goal has always been to build a quadruple bottom line business, in which the company measures success not just based on financial performance but also through people, social and environmental key performance indicators. I’m incredibly proud that BBTV is exactly that. We’ve had a 0% pay gap over the past five years, we have 40% female-identifying employees and managers across the business and we operate a fully carbon neutral business. Not enough companies in our space can say that.

Your toughest professional challenge as a woman in business?

When I look back to when I first started BBTV, I feel as though I had to really prove myself, especially when we were looking for early investment. Our business is very technical and I think a lot of the discussions we had in the earlier days highlighted the need for me to really highlight my expertise.

The advice I give all young entrepreneurs, whether male or female, is to work harder than everyone else and show that you understand your space and the business opportunity inside out. If you show the commitment and the level of intelligence needed to get ahead, people can’t ignore you. I want young women to think: “She’s done it, so I can do it too.”

Greatest advice ever received?

One piece of advice that stands out to me is: always do the right thing — personally and professionally, it may not be easy, but you will never regret it. I use that at all levels of the business, and it’s helped guide many of my decisions over the years.

What do you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

I wish I knew better that when you do things for the first time, you need to be open to failure, but you need to fail fast and you need to learn from your mistakes quickly. That’s why our mantra at BBTV has been quick failures. Even now, 17 years later, the space has so much room to grow and it’s still evolving very quickly. Quick failures are such a core part of our DNA, and have helped us achieve market leadership and so many amazing milestones.

What does it take to be a leader in 2022?

Someone who is passionate, has a vision and perseverance, and puts in hard work. A great leader or entrepreneur won’t succeed if they don’t have a passion for what they do. Perseverance is important as there will be bumps and roadblocks and times that a leader needs to push through when times get tough. They also need to constantly think about the long-term vision and not lose it. I think the best leaders avoid “shiny object syndrome” — they don’t get distracted by short-term gains.

Your top takeaway from leading during the pandemic?

Empathy is really one thing that the best leaders have in common. Great leadership is at the heart of positive change in the world, from accountability to equality and justice. The solutions to the world’s problems still lie in great leadership.

What is your best habit?

I take the time to exercise five times per week. 

A book you would recommend?

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

A surprising or improbable fact about yourself?

I represent Canada as co-chair of G20 Empower, which advocates for the advancement of women’s representation in leadership around the world.

What are you looking forward to personally and professionally this year?

This is going to be a big year for us, not only because there’s so much ahead for us, but because it’s set to be a transformative year for the way people interact and engage in the digital world. We are really at the onset of something monumental. BBTV is uniquely positioned to drive the creator economy into Web3, from creators themselves to the fans they captivate. It’s incredibly exciting! •