Ms. Avison Goes to Ottawa

What a Vancouver millennial has learned in our nation's capital.

by Kirsten Avison

Kirsten Avison doing her best to keep warm in snowy Ottawa.

Kirsten Avison doing her best to keep warm in snowy Ottawa.

Five weeks ago, the Wazuku partners sent me to Ottawa with a laundry list of tasks: set up and help staff the new office, build brand awareness and drive some business opportunities Wazuku’s way.

No biggie, right?

Actually, I welcomed these challenges as a chance to advance my burgeoning career. It’s no secret that I am working towards becoming an associate at the firm. The (temporary) move to Ottawa is a chance to gain invaluable experience in areas outside my comfort zone as well as to make connections beyond my current networks.

I was also flattered. Brad Zubyk and Stephen Kukucha put faith in my ability to professionally and effectively tell their story and to represent the Wazuku brand and services. I had no intention of letting them down.

I must admit I wasn’t all bravado when I left home—the thought of cold calling a bunch of politically savvy government types was pretty intimidating, and networking is not exactly my strong suit (yet!). Regardless, I was determined to do my best. I grabbed my mittens and wool long johns and headed to Ottawa.

So, what can a millennial West Coaster learn in Ottawa in a month? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Observation no. 1

It’s cold here! I don’t mean grab-a-hat-and-mittens cold. I mean bundle-up-everything-except-your-eyeballs-and-stop-at-every-coffee-shop-you-can-until-you-finally-make-it-the-10-blocks-to-the-office cold. (Did I mention I’ve lived in Vancouver most of my life?) Even at -30°C people still dutifully make it into the office (albeit with stylish Sorels to complement their business suits).

On a day like last Tuesday, when it’s a relatively balmy -4°C, nobody except me goes to work because it’s threatening to snow 40 cm. I braved my way to the office (the empty streets should have been my first clue) only to open my computer and discover that every single one of my meetings had been cancelled. Then, our talented and experienced Associate here, Curtis O’Nyon, who also happens to be an Ottawa native, called to tell me I better head home before the snow started to fly.

As a Vancouverite who will take rain over snow any day, I’m not sure I’ll ever completely get the hang of the weather protocol in this most Canadian of Canadian cities, where the Mounties wear fur hats.

Observation no. 2

People are friendly in Ottawa! Our numerous Wazuku connections have been really helpful, and I’ve made new connections through the chambers of commerce and by cold calling organizations in the various industry groups where we have specialties. I even landed a lead through someone who shared my table at Bridgehead!

My impression is that in this cold, cold city, people are exceptionally warm and welcoming. I’m not sure if this is indicative of the culture surrounding the new, young government, or whether it’s always been like this in Ottawa. What I know is that, for the most part, people have been enthusiastic about meeting with me, offering advice, helping me make connections and even opening up about their business challenges.

Observation no. 3

In the process, I’ve learned something else—I know a lot more than I thought I did. It turns out that after years of working with the likes of Mike, Brad and Stephen, my skills and level of expertise are deeper than I thought. I am able to walk into corporations and organizations, listen to their stories, analyze their situations and come up with effective strategies that leverage Wazuku’s diverse set of services. What’s more, I’m finding my own unique voice, one that feels authentic and gives me the confidence to pick up the phone and make that next cold call.

It’s working. In this town full of lobbyists dining on steaks at Metropolitan Brasserie and glued to the Hill Times in the same way Vancouverites depend on the Georgia Straight, I’m hearing that Wazuku’s refreshing brand of government relations is a welcome addition.

Looks like things are warming up on this side of the country.


Kirsten Avison is a Senior Business Analyst at Wazuku Advisory Group and a key member of the strategic advisory team where she manages projects, conducts thorough strategic analyses and develops strong and lasting relationships with clients. She recently invested in her first pair of Sorels.