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Influential Women in Business 2020: Vivian Zalkow

Continuous improvement: CEO of third-generation family business never stops learning
Taymor Industries Inc. CEO and president, Vivian Zalkow, has helmed the company since 1996, but her role with the family business was never a foregone conclusion | Photo: Chung Chow

A typical Vancouverite may never have heard of Taymor Industries Inc., even though it’s been around since 1948, and even though the company’s doorknobs, kitchen faucets or bathroom fixtures have been in long-term use in many homes in the city.

Vancouver residents are more likely to have heard of Outbound – which made tents, backpacks and camping gear – and Norco Bicycles.

All three companies were started by the Zalkow family. The Zalkows sold Outbound – which was later acquired by Canadian Tire Corp. (TSX:CTC) – but still owns 50% of Norco. Representing the Zalkow family’s interests on Norco’s board of directors is just one of the responsibilities of Vivian Zalkow, Taymor’s CEO and president.

It is a role she has held since 1996. But heading the family business was by no means a foregone conclusion. It had always been assumed that her brother would take over the business when her father and uncle retired.

“I was not welcomed with open arms initially,” Zalkow said. “It wasn’t a woman’s place to be part of this business. Very traditional family – Eastern European.”

Taymor was founded as an import business in 1948 by Zalkow’s grandfather. The company designs home fixtures, and has them manufactured – mostly in Taiwan. The company sells mainly to interior designers and builders, although some products are available in hardware stores.

Zalkow graduated from the University of British Columbia with a bachelor of commerce degree, then went to work for KPMG and received her chartered accountant certification. In 2012, she was given a fellowship by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC.

Her father reluctantly gave her a job with the family business in 1993 in product management and development. In 1996, she became president, and in 2008 she bought out her brother, who had run the family’s American division, which had been hit hard by the 2008-09 U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.

“The business was devastated, so we’re rebuilding from there,” she said.

Zalkow said her father was initially concerned that, if she took over the business, her family life would suffer. Zalkow has two daughters, aged 23 and 19. She admits that she sometimes wondered if her dual role of mother and CEO meant doing a “half-assed” job at both.

“I think he feels I have made sacrifices in my personal life because of it, which he probably understood way back when he was encouraging me not to join the business,” Zalkow said. “But I was very naive and driven, and thought I could do it all – and I’m happy I did.”

One of her strengths as a business leader, according to those who know her, is her zeal for continuous learning and self-improvement, something she insists on for herself and encourages in her employees.

“She’s a lifelong learner,” said Jake Chalmers, who has known Zalkow for about 15 years through the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).

“She’s a huge champion of not only learning for herself, but learning for those around her and the organization itself,” Chalmers said. “I think it’s one of the key factors that has allowed for such a long period of sustained growth for the organization.”

Zalkow founded the Taymor Academy, an in-house professional development initiative for Taymor managers and executives. The company employs 138 people, 75 of whom are employed at the company’s head office in Vancouver. The company has sales and distribution offices in Toronto and California.

Zalkow sits on the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade’s board of directors, and administers a family foundation. As part of her commitment to continuous learning, she has participated in the YPO’s Harvard President’s Program for executives for the past eight years.

“It’s changed my view of running this business,” she said.

Many family business owners consider their roles to be “stewards of assets,” Zalkow said. “We play not to lose, rather than play to win, and I think Harvard has really helped me think about how do I actually really play to win, take risks, really grow the business and think strategically.”

Business in Vancouver celebrates the 21st annual Influential Women in Business Awards, March 6 at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. For more information, visit