As a Chartered Accountant, Susan Smith is accustomed to dealing in big numbers. But there is one figure that looms large in her mind: the 1.6 million Canadian families who have inadequate housing. Smith is the Chief Operating Officer of Habitat for Humanity Canada.
“Although we have made affordable home ownership possible for over 2,700 families in Canada since 1985, we have barely scratched the surface of the number required,” says the Business alumna from the Class of 1981.
Far from being at arms-length from Habitat’s efforts on the ground, Smith has a hands-on operational role in the charity. She works closely with 56 affiliates across Canada which act as independent, charitable organizations under the umbrella of the national office, visiting various affiliates throughout the year. These affiliates, along with community partners and over 70,000 volunteers, help build the more than 200 houses a year that aim to break the cycle of poverty.
Today, I can say that every aspect of my work is challenging and meaningful.
“This job brings together everything I’ve ever done over the past 25 years,” says Smith a 1981 Business program graduate who went on to earn her professional accounting designation. “It reminds me of my consulting practice where I had numerous clients all at different stages of growth which required different skills at different times.”
Smith joined Habitat in 2014 after selling her successful management consultancy. “I wanted to work with clients on future opportunities rather than reporting on past activities. Plus, I believe that a balanced life should include work that is outreach- and volunteer-focused. Today, I can say that every aspect of my work is challenging and meaningful.”
Part of her work expands beyond Canada’s borders. Susan also oversees Habitat for Humanity Canada’s Global Village Program. Teams from Habitat for Humanity Canada’s Global Village program join others to help build homes in communities all over the world, explains Smith.
Watch this video to find out how Habitat for Humanity works:
Closer to home, Smith will visit Habitat for Humanity Canada affiliates in the East Coast over the summer and recently finished a visit to the western affiliates.
A seasoned traveler, Smith is also an avid motorcycle rider who is looking forward to taking to the road later this summer on her Honda Shadow 750. It’s a pursuit which Smith finds fuels her performance on the job. For those who miss the connection between leadership and motorcycle riding, Smith explains: “Stay focused, move forward purposefully, and don’t lose your clarity. Those are words that a great biker lives by. They are also what separates a good leader from a great one. Successful leaders quickly learn to identify thoughts which will propel them forward, and discard thoughts which will only distract them.”
“And as every biker knows….Always dress for a fall even while you are enjoying the ride!”
Click here for more about Habitat for Humanity Canada