Already one-third of Surrey’s residents are of South Asian descent, and the Surrey Board of Trade’s (SBOT) CEO said the city’s immigrant population is increasing by 1,000 people each month.
Anita Huberman is herself a second-generation Indo-Canadian.
She’s also the first South Asian woman to head a Canadian municipality’s board of trade.
Huberman said Surrey’s diversity is one of the reasons it will play a key role in developing the province’s competitive edge.
“Immigrants are very entrepreneurial,” she said.
“They bring with them a different skill set, a different mindset, a different work ethic, which is very, very valuable to the future of our local economy.”
Spend any time at the SBOT office and it will be impossible to miss the fact that Huberman works closely with her seven staff members, who she says do the work of 20.
For example, she helps carry boxes of supplies, makes sure to greet all guests personally and helps organize logistics for the board’s 96 annual events.
Huberman said being visible to businesses, government and staff is vital for her and the board.
“A CEO can’t just sit in an office talking to other CEOs. You need to be on the ground. You also need to talk to people that are at your level, but sometimes you lose perspective by only doing that.”
Huberman, 39, sees her employees, most of whom are under 30, as her family. For example, she makes a point of introducing them to her clients as colleagues.
The board’s culture, according to Huberman, was different under her predecessors. Having worked for the board for two decades, she experienced the previous culture first-hand.
Prior to taking the helm as CEO seven years ago, she worked her way up from a position with the board’s Tourism Information Council (now a separate entity) while putting herself through university to complete a degree in communications.
Huberman’s role grew steadily, as did her visibility among all levels of government, and she continues to make it a priority to maintain Surrey’s “brand,” which she said is essential to bringing business into the city.
When travelling to other Canadian cities, Huberman said she often finds the visibility of local boards of trade and chambers of commerce to be quite low.
“The onus is on the local chambers to really brand themselves. We need to ensure that that brand is kept top-of-mind with government and business leaders.”
Huberman added that Surrey’s board has been a leader in social policy issues, which is unusual for a board of trade or a chamber of commerce. It was involved in lobbying the government for an increase in the minimum wage and a provincial and national poverty reduction strategy. One of its other goals is to establish a national child-care policy.
“When you’re compromising the quality of family life, which is the foundation of what you bring to the workplace … you bring that stress to work, you’re not going to be able to be productive for your business, and that’s going to cost the business money.
“It’s something hidden that not everybody talks about, and the board is able to bring these type of hidden issues to the forefront.”
On a larger stage, Huberman wants Surrey to be a recognized leader in international trade and is working to build an international trade centre housed within the board of trade with resources to help local businesses build global connections.
The board has signed memos of understanding with several countries and has conducted trade missions to China and India. It’s planning another to Brazil.
Huberman has never been one to sit silently on the sidelines. She believes strongly in the value of visibility. In high school, she was driven to be involved in activities ranging from tennis and jazz choir to track and field.
She took charge of promoting her school’s graduation and fundraisers, which involved public speaking and creating commercials.
“In school, it was very important for me to be recognized not only from an academic perspective, but also to be involved,” she said. “Now you see the latter part of my life, and I’m involved in my community and trying to make a difference.”
Surrey city councillor Linda Hepner is an SBOT director. In both her political life and in her previous role as Surrey’s manager of economic development, she has worked with Huberman for more than 15 years.
“She’s a really broad policy thinker. She can take an idea or a topic of interest to the board of trade and expand it into policy action that is really quite admirable. She has gained a real reputation with both boards of trade and chambers of commerce for being an action-oriented CEO.
“She’s done significant growing, and she’s become a force to be reckoned with within the board of trade movement.”
Huberman said the SBOT has always been a part of her life; she even met her husband, Ron, through networking in her role there.
While she recognizes that it’s unusual these days to be in the same place for so long, Huberman has no immediate plans for long-term changes in her career.
Her vision for the board is much clearer.
“I want us to do everything we possibly can to be seen and to demonstrate that we have the ability to attract business to our city and that we are recognized as such by all levels of government and the business community.
“I want to make sure the board of trade is the best organization that it possibly can be [and] that the trade centre is in place.
“That’s the legacy that I want to leave.”