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C-Suite Awards: Teara Fraser, lead executive of Iskwew Air

Between launching an airline and an aero-tech startup, this BC CEO Award winner is taking flight and connecting to what matters
Photo: Teara Fraser

Iskwew Air was founded by Teara Fraser, the first Indigenous woman to launch an airline in Canada.

She is the recipient of a 2022 BC CEO Award in the SME category. Six B.C. business leaders will be recognized by BIV with C-Suite Awards on Feb. 3.

Fraser is the founder of the Indigenous LIFT Collective and the Raven Institute, and is launching an aero-tech company, elibird aero. She is a board director for Aerial Evolution, the Canadian Robotics Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, and has been recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women, a YWCA Woman of Distinction and as the BC Tourism & Hospitality Awards’ Businesswoman of the Year.

Your greatest business or career success to date?

An airline startup is not easy; an airline startup in a global pandemic is next-level hard. At Iskwew Air, we have not just persevered – we brought a second aircraft online, we started our own Aircraft Maintenance Organization and we launched scheduled service between Vancouver and Qualicum Beach. But this isn’t my success – it takes an entire village to bring a business onto its feet and have it take flight.

Your toughest professional or career decision?

Selling a successful business – not because I wanted to or chose to, but because it was the decision that needed to be made when there was no other way. I grieve less as time goes on, but there are still bits of grief that come along and surprise me. I was reminded that things often don’t unfold the way you think or intend, and letting go of something you’ve brought to life is hard.

Best piece of advice received?

A competitor in business who became a very precious friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At our last dinner together, she said to me: “Teara, if I knew this was the last two years of my life, I would never have lived it the way I have.” When she was making her journey to the spirit world, I went to the hospital to see her one last time. I held her hand and softly sang the Warrior Woman song to her. Here, the ‘Faith Test’ was born: If this is my last two years of life, how am I living it? Am I making wise choices? What do I need to do differently?

How do you lead?

I always come back to this essential question at the end of the day: What really matters? I believe that’s what a leader’s job is – to connect people with what really matters. When I reflect on that question, I think about a sense of holistic wellness, the relationships that we share with one another, our collective connection with the land and our responsibility to the seven generations to come. With these in mind, I do my best to lead with a sense of responsibility and connection.

Biggest areas of growth over the past year?

It has been a humbling time. I have learned how hard it is to lead when you are in survival mode. It is heartbreaking when people need more from you, and you simply have nothing more to give. I have failed in my leadership, I have let people down and I have had to learn how to be kind to myself knowing that I was doing the best that I could. 

Join BIV to celebrate three BC CEO Award and three BC CFO Award winners at the C-Suite Awards, Feb. 3 at the Terminal City Club. Tickets and event details are available at the link above.