Allard Chair Simon O’Byrne is finding ways to build a better city—and to share his pride of the great one we already have
Simon O’Byrne is writing a love story. It’s about the relationship between a century-old winter city and its citizens. The Stantec vice-president wants to share his own love of Edmonton and its wintry delights with his neighbours, and he is in a fine position to do so as an award-winning urban planner and designer.
When MacEwan University named Simon its Dr. Charles Allard Chair in Business for 2015, he immediately knew it was the perfect platform to connect with students and discuss the business of vibrant communities—and how Edmonton has something to offer everyone.
“We can create our own unique style and aesthetic here in Edmonton, and be authentic to who we are,” says Simon. “We’re a winter city, so let’s embrace it, let’s have fun with it and let’s realize it’s something that makes us unique and special.”
What do you love about Edmonton?
SO: Edmonton is the only city that I’m aware of that has over a million people in a region that basically has no private schools. The overwhelming majority of the population has access to publicly funded education. It creates more of an egalitarian feel in the city—you have equal access to education whether you’re privileged or not.
San Francisco’s chief economist commented a couple of years ago that he had done some studies and discovered that Edmonton had the largest middle class population of any city on the planet. When you put that together with our public education system, our quality of health care and relative affordability, Edmonton is a phenomenal place to live.
Add that to what’s happening in the downtown and with the LRT, and it’s really exciting. I travel a lot as part of my job with Stantec and I can’t think of any city I’ve been to recently where people are as optimistic about the future as they are in Edmonton. Everyone in Edmonton feels that tomorrow will be even better than today.
How do you define success?
SO: To me, success in my career means that I’ve mentored and trained others; that I’ve enabled somebody I work with to become as successful or more successful than me—whether that’s in the community or at Stantec.
What inspires you?
SO: I’m inspired when I see people who are able to overcome enormous obstacles and who don’t let the world or their personal issues defeat them. They can dig out a vision of who they are and where they want to be, and they want to be an agent of change. They may not have the resources, the social capital, the name or a family with tremendous wealth and privilege, but they will their success into existence because they really care and are willing work hard and make it happen.
As Allard Chair, what advice do you wish to impart to students?
SO: The education will get you the job interview, but who you are will get you the job. Get into the community, be part of the change that’s happening, work with others, volunteer—it will make an enormous difference and will also expand your network so you’ll be more successful in business when you graduate.
On March 25, Simon O’Byrne will be speaking at the Dr. Charles Allard Chair in Business Luncheon at the Westin Edmonton. Tickets are available online.
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