Like a Boss: Monica Murray
This week we had the pleasure of sitting down with entrepreneur, community builder, and all around dynamo Monica Murray in her Kitsilano home. As if Monica’s unconventional career path and track record of advocating for women weren’t a big enough draw for us: we spot a marine chart on her kitchen table and discover that she’s currently learning how to sail and navigate the Howe Sound and Georgia Strait. We fell in love with Monica and her story and hope you will, too.
Tell us how would you describe yourself and your career story?
“I like to describe myself as a right leaning, left brain, multipotentialite. For me, what that means is that I’m curious about many things and have done a lot of things on my journey, as well. The left leaning is my accounting, linear, and logical thinking. The right leaning is about the creative side, working with people and making connections. This [people thread] has been a common thread throughout all of my jobs.”
Where did your career story start?
“The first dozen years [of my career] were based on finance and accounting. I obtained my CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I had exposure first to mid-sized and then large organizations here in Vancouver. Soon after designating, I left private practice and joined a small drum manufacturing company. I was their Controller and called myself their ‘OFO’ or ‘Only Financial Officer’ as well as the only female in the office too - it was me and 24 musicians passionate about drums!”
Monica tells us she spent her time at this organization with the strategic intent to get hands-on experience in a small business but after a while was ready to get back into big business. She landed at 360networks while they were about to go public. “There was constant change and growth going on,” she recalls. Fourteen months later, the company filed for CCAA creditor protection and shifted gears to restructure the organization. This big business experience plus being in the throngs of a major change was a great learning experience. During this time, Monica’s personal life was blessed with a baby girl. While she was on maternity leave, she saw an opportunity to do something radical.
Where did you get the idea for founding your business?
“I think a lot of entrepreneurs start their businesses because of their own experiences seeing a gap in the market. For me, as a client using search firms and as a candidate using search firms, at that time the typical recruiter did not have a professional accounting designation servicing accountants. I felt that the technical aspect was an important piece to helping organizations find the right person and also, from a coaching perspective for my candidates. You get them and can help them understand their journey.”
She tells us she incorporated her business a few days before her daughter’s first birthday (#LikeABoss) and ran the business successfully for seven years. “I call it my seven year MBA. There was a team of 5 of us and we worked with companies all over the Lower Mainland. We had some great values that we really lived by and we met some amazing people here in the city.”
The recession of 2008 hit and she made the decision to wind up the company. “Life is fluid,” she told us. “Sometimes I felt like a failure but people around me remind me it was the circumstances of the situation. Having supporters helps to remember the successes and learn from the journey!”
What came next in your career story?
Following her many curiosities, Monica embarked on a few paths. From consulting work, being a part-time CFO for a privately held small business, to working for a high-end book publishing company -- she became the multipotentialite sitting in front of us today. “I worked for a high-end book publishing company producing corporate and family histories for large organizations and high net worth individuals. As the VP, Client Relations, this work involved speaking with people who were extremely passionate about their own stories which in turn inspired her, too.
Tell us about your involvement with gender issues?
“I’ve always been involved and interested in the gender equity space and been fortunate to volunteer my time with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, CPA Canada Women’s Leadership Council, and the Association of Women in Finance. Through my work with CPA Canada Women’s Leadership Council, I had an opportunity to join CPA Canada as their Principal of Diversity & Inclusion on a one-year contract.” This contract was a dream as she tells it, to get paid doing what she loves. Whether it’s supporting diversity and equality issues in the workplace or consulting with small business, the common theme she tells us is that she’s gravitated towards the people side of business and what she describes as partnering with leaders to help them make better decisions for the business.
In your opinion, what will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
“It’s going to be interesting to see how things continue to shift. How organizations recruit with respect to diversity and inclusion, how people are promoted, how job descriptions are written, how performance reviews are handled. I think people are doing the right thing and are trying to make some changes but it’s so systemic and it’s unfortunately it’s going to be a slow process. It’s not impossible but it’s going to take a long time.”
Monica tells us that gender equality, diversity, and inclusion are in the waiting room of big change. She believes that people have been doing things for so long - not just men - that it will take time and huge effort for people to truly shift their mindsets about these issues. “It’s going to be a big challenge for young men, too, to feel a part of it and try to get through this time without feeling like a win-lose proposition.”
What can you tell our readers who want to advance their careers?
“Be strategic… If you want to work in a particular industry, then focus on ideas, projects, customers, regions that would expose you to that industry. Think about how what you are doing now and how that will advance you to the next step after that. Next, have mentors but also have sponsors. Mentors can be internal or external advisors but they don’t have any skin in the game. Sponsors are people who will recommend you for a promotion, a job, a project. They are putting their own reputation on the line by introducing you.”
Any closing thoughts for our Beaconites?
“You asked me who I think is a great leader. I believe great leaders are everywhere, and whether they’re regular people that I know or superstars or celebrities or leaders of industry, no one has it all figured out - even them.
“Life is fluid. Be okay with that. Know that there will be different things that will come up and [then things will] change. Through all this change, finding your focus is important. Everybody has to cut themselves some slack and stop trying to be perfect and know that it’s all going to figure itself out and it’s all going to be okay. You are where you need to be in this moment.”