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Women in business: Leadership, millennial-style

Meet 3 millennial leaders who are managing people and companies on their own terms
Maili Wong

Maili Wong, portfolio manager and author

Maili Wong was working on the fifth floor of New York City’s World Financial Center on September 11, 2001, when the two planes struck.

“Our tower was connected to the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, the whole building shook,” says Wong, first vice-president and portfolio manager of the Wong Group at CIBC Wood Gundy.

The events of 9/11 might have destroyed her sense of security, but it would come to shape her vision of leadership. “Before that happened, I would take the safe path,” says Wong, who is also the bestselling author of Smart Risk: Invest Like the Wealthy to Achieve a Work-Optional Life. “Today, when things get chaotic, I’m the stabilizing force. I’m calm, cool and collected in the face of risk.”

Now highly successful with her own wealth management practice, Wong practises a “Don’t tell people what to do; empower them” approach to leading her team of nine. “Sometimes mistakes are made, but rather than place blame, we focus on: what is the corrective action and what can we learn from our errors?” she says. “I help lead others through a deep-rooted sense of safety, by encouraging diversity of thought, as I believe it creates a constant state of evolution and empowerment.”

Although 9/11 defined Wong in many ways, mentors also played a pivotal role, most notably her father, Terrence Wong. “Dad taught me to share credit and take credit when due,” Wong says. “He also told me, ‘Let go of ego and lead with the right intentions.’ I celebrate the synergy of harmony, independence and collective success.… I value freedom of expression and independent thought.”

Genesa Greening, president and CEO, BC Women's Hospital and Health Centre Foundation

Genesa Greening believes in a collaborative work environment.  She values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives. “I describe my leadership style as transparent, communicative and engaging.”

Before becoming CEO at the BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation in October 2016, Greening served as executive director of First United Church Community Ministry Society. Over the years, she made a name for herself raising money for non-profit organizations.

Her biggest ally was the late Virginia Greene, one of B.C.’s most successful business and community leaders. Greene was responsible for marketing Expo 86, and was deputy minister with the Province of British Columbia and a successful business entrepreneur. Early on in her career, Greening says Greene took her under her wing, introducing her to some of the city’s most influential women. “Virginia was everything I wanted to be … authentic, transparent and true to who she was,” Greening says. “She was also opinionated, strong-willed, gifted and yet graceful, passionate and wholly female.”

Greening’s other mentor was Krista Thompson, executive director at Covenant House.  “From Krista, I learned about the complexities of a political environment,” Greening says. “I owe a lot to both as they taught me to believe in myself, trust in my decisions and be unapologetic about leading others.” 

From former bosses, Greening understood early on that the old-school ways of micromanaging don’t work in today’s workplace. Today, Greening has a team of 26 “exceptionally dedicated people” working for her.“I’m not afraid to hire gifted women who are braver, smarter and more capable than me, because then the organization can only thrive.”

Ravy Minhas-Mehroke, co-founder and CEO, Bombay Brow Bar Inc.

There was a time, a few years back, when Ravy Minhas-Mehroke looked in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw: it was the eyebrows, to be exact. “It was that complete frustration that I couldn’t find anywhere in downtown Vancouver to get my eyebrows threaded,” she says.

It was that discontentment, and trouble finding work during the 2008-09 global recession, that led her to launch Bombay Brow Bar in 2009, alongside her sister, Amy Minhas. “I was already thinking about opening my own business … I just didn’t know what,” says Minhas-Mehroke.

Today, Minhas-Mehroke is co-founder and CEO of the Bombay Brow Bar Inc., which has three locations in the Lower Mainland, as well as the Bombay Beauty Bar. The company has grown to more than 40 “team members,” up from five when they started.

At Bombay Brow Bar, Minhas-Mehroke promotes a collaborative environment where team members can see the impact of their work, understand their value and are recognized for their efforts. “My team is part of every decision we make. We share feedback all the time and everything is done as a team,” Minhas-Mehroke says. “I can’t be successful without my team. My role might be different, but we are all on the same team, sharing the same vision.”

Minhas-Mehroke credits serial entrepreneur and long-time mentor Judy Brooks, co-founder of the successful Blo Blow Dry Bar franchise, for teaching her how to become a better leader and business owner. “Judy taught me to think outside the box, that execution is everything and to look through the client’s lens.”

Brooks says Minhas-Mehroke’s open and collaborative leadership approach is a hallmark of the millennial generation. “Millennials view organizations much less hierarchically than previous generations.” Brooks says millennials, perhaps more than previous generations, want to inspire others, make a difference in the world and lead companies that care about more than the bottom line.

They’re also less afraid to seek help; in fact they “actively seek out mentorships,” Brooks says. “The young women I mentor are brave, courageous, bold and not afraid to ask questions. These millennials possess self-confidence, lots of energy and they multi-task efficiently. They believe in doing well by doing good.”