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Forty Under 40 Award winner Q&A: James Docherty

This year’s cohort of recipients will be celebrated at an event Feb. 7, 2024

BIV is recognizing James Docherty, executive director of Vancouver Firefighter Charities, and 39 other exceptional business leaders as part of the 2023 Forty Under 40 Awards cohort.

Longer Q&As with each recipient are included in BIV's annual Forty Under 40 Magazine (out in print Dec. 11). Award winners will be celebrated at an awards gala Feb. 7, 2024.

This profile may have been edited for length and clarity.

What career highlight are you most proud of?

In the early days of the pandemic, amidst restaurant closures and business shutdowns, a fellow firefighter and I made cold calls to local restaurants. Recognizing the potential for significant food waste, we saw an opportunity to redirect surplus food to those in need, particularly marginalized individuals who faced barriers in accessing grocery stores and buying supplies. As our efforts gained traction, we tapped into our community connections. Ultimately, our team successfully distributed dozens of hampers to older adults, families benefiting from our Snacks for Kids program, as well as burn survivors and veterans, providing crucial support during a challenging period.

What was your toughest business or professional decision?

Having been promoted to captain of recruitment at Vancouver Fire Rescue Services at a young age, I am now entrusted with the pivotal task of selecting firefighters who meet and enhance our standards. I believe the human aspect is imperative to our fire service's success. This crucial role, under constant scrutiny, involves choosing individuals committed to compassionate care, courageous rescues and maintaining the high quality of our city's fire service. The awareness of their long-term commitment to our community, about 25 years, imparts a deep sense of duty and purpose in me; moreover, daily, these decisions weigh heavy on me.

How do you lead?

Throughout my professional career, I have witnessed both exemplary and disappointing leadership examples that have enriched my growth. Notably, I've seen leaders inspire the ultimate – extraordinary acts of bravery. These experiences have taught me that leadership transcends rank or title. It entails building positive relationships, setting the team's cultural tone, supporting and empowering colleagues, and sharing their burdens. I view leadership as a holistic commitment to guide and inspire others toward collective goals.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned in business?

The right decision isn’t always the easiest decision.

Best piece of advice ever received?

Take care of your people, and your people will take care of you.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

At 20, I embarked on an extraordinary journey, preparing for deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. That year was consumed by my preparations for the impending challenges. During this time, I harboured a grim outlook on my future, viewing survival during deployment as living on bonus time. This perspective served as a coping mechanism, allowing me to disconnect from the harsh reality. Looking back, though it was necessary then, I wish I'd also focused on deconditioning. After deployment, I felt adrift without purpose until I discovered a new mission: Firefighting, which restored my sense of purpose.

What's left to accomplish?

I'm looking at a long career in public safety ahead of me, and on this journey, my goal is to keep a strong sense of purpose beyond just what's good for me. I want to be part of something bigger, something that's about helping people and making things safer for everyone. It's not just about my ambitions; it's about doing something good for the community.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or acknowledge?

I am deeply honoured and humbled. This recognition is not just a testament to my individual efforts, but moreover, a reflection of the collective support and dedication of my family, team, mentors and peers. I am grateful for the opportunities that have shaped my career and for the challenges that have pushed me to excel. This award inspires me to continue striving for excellence in my field and to contribute positively to our community.

Read Q&As with all 40 award recipients here. Tickets to the 2023 Forty Under 40 Awards gala on Feb. 7 are now available.