The Hub Q&A with Sandip Lalli, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce: Inspiring a business community and breaking barriers

Q&A with Sandip Lalli, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce: Inspiring a business community and breaking barriers

Even today, becoming a female leader in business is no easy feat. According to Statistics Canada, less than one-fifth of all leadership roles are held by women.

Although Canada sees the highest number of female director and officer representation in comparison to other large countries (21 per cent), that number is still staggeringly low.

One Athabasca University (AU) alumna, Dr. Sandip Lalli, has broken down barriers and provided a voice to business communities as the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce since 2018.

We sat down with Lalli to chat about her career, her experience at AU and to learn more about what it means to be the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce—especially as a female leader in business.

Learn more about the Master of Business Administration or visit the Calgary Chamber of Commerce for more information.

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You have a really broad spectrum of experience. Can you tell me a little bit about your previous roles and how they contributed to where you are today?

I’m in the middle of a very privileged career and consider myself lucky to have worked with the people I got to work with, the locations I worked in and the type of work I got to do. I have worked in operations, capital markets, integration, and enterprise risk management in Brazil, United States, Russia, United Kingdom, most of Europe, and Asia.

All that experience contributed to where I am today because it taught me that we are more similar than we are different. We must focus on the similarities that we have, rather than the differences. That perspective is always front and centre for me, and the type of work that we do at the Calgary Chamber. It helps me be a better leader, having had that hands-on experience in those different countries.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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As a proud AU Alumna, why did you choose to study with AU?

I am absolutely a proud AU alum. AU provided me with international experience before I was in an international career. It wasn’t daunting for me to go out into remote locations, or anywhere that was not a western set-up, because of the experiences I had at AU. The residency pushed us out of our own comfort zones and taught us to listen to local leaders.

I did my MBA residency in the UK and I also studied in Guadalajara, which was offered through the AU program. I remember going to Cambridge as part of the class work and we went to see Kodak at the time. Getting to that global perspective was so unique.

I would recommend to anyone to put themselves into a situation that’s out of their comfort zone, but more importantly, outside the business environment and cultural norms that they’re used to. It’s accelerated learning and it’s completely rewarding. I chose AU because I was moving to the US with Cargill and I wanted to have a Canadian MBA.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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How did your MBA experience help you in the corporate world?

An MBA provides a mixture of design thinking, systems thinking, and critical thinking that is essential to success and impact in the corporate world.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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As the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, what is the most meaningful work you accomplish?

At the Chamber, we’re the voice of Calgary’s business community. I feel that my role at the Chamber is a privileged one, where we get to amplify and help businesses with their challenges and recognize them for their successes and contributions. I strongly believe that vibrant business leads to vibrant communities, and those two goals are fundamentally connected. I am proud that our business leaders and our small, mid-size, and enterprise companies contribute to a vibrant community. Our work at the Chamber is deeply meaningful because it leads to stronger policy for business and community growth.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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AU’s mission is “Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities.” Since the Chamber is a business connector, how have you helped to build a business community with your role?

I joined the Chamber in 2018 and our purpose is to Nourish, Power and Inspire our business community so that they can in turn, go and nourish, power, and inspire the world.

We think globally and act locally. Being able to connect our business community into global, national, or local customer bases, means that they’re able to nourish, power, and inspire to grow their businesses.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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What does a day in the life of the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce look like?

The only thing that’s different is the scenery because we’re working from home, but when it comes to our purpose and work, nothing else has changed. We’ve been supporting our business community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by sharing knowledge, providing resources, and advocating with all levels of government.

I spend one-third of my time listening and communicating with the business leaders in the community, ensuring I am in touch with our customers every day. I do that on purpose and by design. The other parts of the day I spend with my team, which ranges from working on policy, communications, or furthering our membership engagement. The other part of my day is spent on strategy development and media relations so we are consistently and actively being the voice of the business community.

We spend a good amount of time connecting with other Chambers across the country so that we are in sync. If the Chambers are in sync, it helps move policy forward a lot quicker. Because of the career I’ve had, I feel that this role is a great way to give back to the business community. Helping people solve their problems is incredibly rewarding.

Dr. Sandip Lalli

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Do you have any advice for aspiring women in business?

The lens that I look at things in is “get up and go.” You have just got to get to first base and keep moving forward. There will be so many brick walls, and it is up to you to move them. Sometimes you will be able to barrel through them, and sometimes you’ll have to move them brick-by-brick. People will put up hurdles in front of you. I’m inspired by the words of Randy Pausch and his book, The Last Lecture. I have one of his quotes in my planner, so I see it every day.

You have to know yourself, in order to gain any traction or momentum. I’m very much a person who looks to myself and my role first. Sometimes things will go your way, and sometimes they won’t. I always look to myself and evaluate what my role in it was. I always want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, “I did alright.”

Dr. Sandip Lalli

Published:
  • June 11, 2020