Angela Merriott (Asia Pacific Management ʼ04), one of MacEwan University’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, is preparing to cross international borders with her company, Switch HR. While currently living in Australia, Merriott remains dedicated to not only her Canadian clients, but to some local Albertan causes as well. Her path to founding Switch HR has taken her around the world, but it started when she decided to study at MacEwan.

“My mom is an alum,” she says. “She’s a single mom who raised three kids and put herself through school. So MacEwan was the school that I knew.”

Choosing her program was similarly straightforward. She consulted the course catalogue and found that the second entry was the Asia Pacific Management program, which reminded her of an exchange to Japan she took in high school.

“I remember thinking when I was getting on the plane to come back home from Japan, that it was very clear to me that I needed to create a life for myself that would allow me to do things like that. To see the world. Because that’s what inspires me.”

When she reached MacEwan’s campus, Merriott got involved quickly. “I participated in student government, I volunteered. I received a lot of awards, scholarships and bursaries, and some of the reasons for that were because I volunteered and did really well academically.”

As a part of her program, Merriott was able to do a placement at a Canadian law firm in Beijing, and returned home with a different frame of mind.

“One of the things that I learned working in China was that employees are treated very differently than they are here. At the time, I thought I was going to live and work over in Asia, but after being there, it didn’t feel right for me. It changed my focus,” she says.

She returned to MacEwan, this time working as an alumni coordinator, and studied in the evenings through the University of Lethbridge to achieve her degree in human resources.

From there, Merriott found herself swiftly moving up the corporate ladder. “I had my first management job a year and a half out of university. I was a vice-president at 34, and then got recruited to Auto Canada at 37. It was like a video game, like levelling up.”

When the COVID pandemic happened, Merriott started to reconsider her priorities. “The one thing about being in human resources that they don’t teach you in school is how incredibly challenging it is to your soul. You have to be the face and the executioner of business decisions that involve people. There are many positives – like hiring people and finding the right fit – but you’re also there for people when it’s the worst day that they’ve had professionally… when you have to tell them that they don’t have a job anymore.”

She arrived at a solution to her frustration by deciding to go out on her own. Once she started Switch HR, she was able to shift to a consulting role. She helps small businesses to be able to find the right team and properly focus in order to meet their goals. Switch HR specializes in team and executive coaching, as well as board governance. Currently, the company serves Canadian clients, but Merriott is looking to expand into Australia in the next year.

Despite living across the world, Merriott is also involved with non-profit organizations here in Alberta. She recently finished a term sitting on the advisory council for Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta, which she has volunteered with throughout her career. “I think it’s pretty spectacular to have an organization that focuses on giving kids the financial and business skills they need to be successful.”

She’s also the chair for the people and safety committee for the board of directors at McDougall House, a treatment facility for women with addictions. “It hits close to home for me because I have a family member that stayed there.”

When she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award this year, Merriott says she was brought to tears by the honour. “It feels like recognition for the life that I’ve lived. And I feel really good about the life that I’ve lived, because it’s been lived with purpose.”

Merriott says that receiving the award reminded her of when she would admire the accomplishments of past nominees during her time at the Alumni office. “It feels like a different hat that I get to wear, to be that role model for someone else and bring it full circle.”

Applications are now open for MacEwan’s Distinguished Alumni and Emerging Leader Award. If you know a MacEwan alum who is making a difference locally or globally, nominate them at MacEwan.ca/AlumniAwards. Nominations close on October 31.

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