Barb McGrath 0:01
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Mary Weimer 1:42
Well, thanks for having me, Barb. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today. So I guess yeah, like a little bit about myself. I grew up in Regina, I’ve lived here my whole life. After finishing my degree at the U of R, I got a job working for the original owners of the assiniboine Gallery. So john and Monica Kurtz, also a long, long time, Regina family and worked for them for about a year and then talk to them about taking their business over and buying their business at that time. My husband and I were not yet married, but we ended up getting married a few weeks later. So we actually always celebrate the anniversary of the gallery. And then right after the adverse our wedding anniversary,
Barb McGrath 2:28
Your wedding anniversary. Always interesting. Most times you see you know, somebody will get married and then they go into business together. Yes. But you guys went into business together and then still actually got married. It doesn’t work too well.
Mary Weimer 2:42
I always sort of think like we met. We both worked at the Y so our, our jobs, you know as high school and university students. We were lifeguards at swimming instructors at the YMCA. So I’ve always just kind of talked, you know, chalked it up to we started our relationship as co workers. That’s great. So that so that was just like a natural thing for us. And so we worked together, running the gallery well today. But since about 2010. I have worked at Hilberg and Burke, and then now at conexus. So it’s been about 10 years where my day job so to speak has not been in the gallery.
Barb McGrath 3:24
Yes. So was there an impetus for you that made you think you know, I want to do something a little bit different that led you to hillberg and burke led you to connects us? What was that driving force?
Mary Weimer 3:35
Yeah you know, my connection to Rachel Melky at Hilberg and Burke really started right around the time that I first owned the gallery, one of the first things that I did in early 1999, was get a membership with women entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan. And at the time, Rachel was a university student, and she worked part time in the office. And so it was early on in when I was first a member and I have a very distinct memory of being invited to an awards dinner. I don’t remember which one it was. But Deborah Needham, also from women entrepreneurs at the time, invited me to come and sit at this table, and Rachel was there and a few other people. And that was the first time we met. And then just over the years, watched as she did her business kind of from the you know, kitchen table, and then really started to grow it and then I distinctly remember when she left her full time job at women entrepreneurs, and went into business full time for herself and the whole Dragon’s Den, and I just kind of was watching that and then as it would happen, our businesses physically are located really close our galleries on Smith, her original sort of yellow houses on McIntyre. So you know, we’d see each other at things and Just always kind of like they would come to openings. And I just kind of followed along with the the journey and I have always been just really interested in business in general. The Art Gallery business is a wonderful business to be in. Because it’s you deal with great customers, you deal with interesting people who are artists,
Barb McGrath 5:23
And passionate people
Mary Weimer 5:25
That are so passionate about what they do exactly like on both ends of it buyers and makers. And really like hilberg and Burke is very similar.
Barb McGrath 5:36
Mary Weimer 5:37
It’s all, you know, the design aspect and the creation. But I definitely just had this desire, I knew the gallery, the gallery is not a business that’s necessarily like a scalable business, we’re not going to have multiple locations across the country, we’re not, you know, it’s it’s a very good local business. But that was really not the case for for H and B. And I always thought, you know, if I ever go and work for someone else, I feel like it’s got to be kind of like another small business. Right. And so that’s sort of how that came to be.
Barb McGrath 6:14
And that small business became very big. Yes, when you then join connexus. So, so tell me a little bit about that transition. Because to go from the gallery where you know, there was yourself, your husband, and maybe a few staff. And then you know, we’ll leap over hillberg and park up to conexus. Now you’re dealing with, I don’t know, what do you guys have now? 750? employees?
Mary Weimer 6:35
Yeah, it’s about 960. Okay,
Unknown Speaker 6:37
Barb McGrath 6:38
So you’re dealing with a huge number of people. And everyone knows you. And I just knowing a little bit that I do know about you, I know, you tried to get to know as many people personally as possible, but you can’t know all 950. So how did you make that transition?
Mary Weimer 6:55
Um, that was a, I would say like, in hindsight, it was actually harder than I think I thought, or I realized it would be. And it’s interesting. And I and I think you just, it’s almost like when you have a new baby, you forget, right? That’s why cuz you forget, oh, yeah, that’s how this is. So if I, if I think about when I went to HMV, you know, when I went over there, I don’t know, if there was maybe 10 of us, or 15 of us with the one store. You know, doing wholesale? I do remember, even at that time feeling like, okay, people don’t know me, like Rachel knows me. But actually, nobody else knows me. I I have to, like build relationships. And, and, and there’s that process of building trust, where in the beginning, people will give you the benefit of the doubt, right? Oh, she seems nice and Oh, look at her.
Mary Weimer 7:55
But like, eventually, you have to do what you say you’re going to do. And you have to, you know, produce results. And otherwise, all of a sudden, like, you start to erode that trust. So went through that whole process at HMV. And then, of course, as we grew, and we, when I left, there was probably about 200 employees. Now, the beauty of a small business is error, that sort of startup trajectories, you’re I was involved in, in many of the hires. So certainly from the head office point of view, I knew everyone.
Mary Weimer 8:31
But then of course, as we added stores, it became increasingly difficult to personally no every person, but then, you know, going to connexus it was like a whole other level of because now there’s people all over the province and people from an industry, right? Whereas I was not like a lifelong banker or credit union person. So it’s not like I knew so and so from a conference, you know, five years ago or whatever, like I exactly, anyone I knew, actually a few people, simply because they were customers of the gallery, okay, with sort of a connection and a few people as well, who I got to know through HMV because we’re also customers, right?
Mary Weimer 9:17
So yeah, it was, again starting over. And what made me successful at hillberg and Burke, some of it translated to connexus, but not all of it, because it’s just it’s like, leading enterprise, you know, like a much larger Exactly. Maybe we’re at hilberg and Burke, I could still be super hands on. And actually, you know, when you’re not able to do that you sort of realize, Oh, actually I actually really like getting in there. But at at a at a level of say executive at connexus like you will not
Barb McGrath 9:57
If you find my micromanage it won’t happen.
Mary Weimer 10:03
Or nor has is not what you’ve been hired to do. Oh, absolutely. I heard that. And it was it wasn’t always easy, but amazing supportive environment. It’s a, I always say, like, connects us reminds me have you know, people talk about teaching hospitals? Yes. Nexus is like a teaching organization. Right. Certainly this interest in evolving you as a person as a leader, lots of support. So I feel like I had a ton of support on that journey. Yeah. Which ended up you know, making all the difference. If I hadn’t had that I probably would have floundered and not being successful. Mm hmm. Oh, absolutely. You would, you would have drowned in paperwork and emails and text.
Barb McGrath 10:51
Right, like, there would be no Mary standing. Absolutely. Absolutely. So let’s talk about that, then you can’t micromanage. And yet your portfolio, your your the future, the forward looking portfolio for connexus is customer experience? And how do you help implement that experience from from the executive suite through to, you know, grandma taking money out of the bank machine, because we’re not doing as much in person anymore. And I was in a branch last week, actually. And, you know, you try to avoid the branches. So I was like, shoot, I actually have to go in. But I give you guys credit, you’ve got all the arrows and the signs and the ropes and the indoor and the outdoor, like everything is in place. But how do you make that happen? From the executive level? How do you impact that customer experience?
Mary Weimer 11:48
So when, when I first started at conexus, so that was the summer of 2018. So just over 10 years ago, now. We talked about, you know, connexus is undergoing a transformation. And we need to imagine, you know, what is the future of banking for our members? What does that look like? And my observation, right, from the very beginning was, I looked around and I thought, Okay, well, there’s a lot of people that I’m responsible for that are doing things. But I realized that what they were doing was was very operational, super important. But just things that like the engine that keeps the business moving forward.
Mary Weimer 12:34
So at that time, the teams were like the marketing team and the PR team and the community investment. Well, those are people that are just like, day in and day out, like making work happen. So I thought, Okay, well, we can do we can do this other work, but who’s gonna do it? You know, and not necessarily just, oh, well, let’s just go out and hire a bunch of people. Like, that’s not really an option either.
Mary Weimer 12:58
And so in the fall of 2018, cultivator was just getting going. So the business incubator was getting a lot of interest. And we had lots of businesses in there. And we did this really cool event called the 24 hour startup, yeah, remember, like over a weekend, and it’s like, Hey, if you’re a techie person, a design person, a business person, whatever, and you’re interested, come, we’ll put groups together, we’ll pick the best few ideas and then spend the weekend Can you develop like a minimum viable product, and then have culminate this in a pitch night, rather than the winner gets, you know, $1,000 or something.
Mary Weimer 13:42
And I just remember watching that event and walking away from that and thinking, Okay, we need to capture that energy, enthusiasm, that kind of quick and dirty without making something perfect. We’re just like, trying something. And and then we’re immediately getting customer feedback. And it reminded me so much of how we did things that hilberg and Burke, okay, not even describing it that way, but it was all around experimenting, trying something and then oh, okay, well, that doesn’t quit, let’s fix this, or what are the customer saying, okay, with constant feedback, you know, just always, like, iterating on how we were doing things. And so, came back and with some of my colleagues, we worked on an idea of how could we start to embed some of this into connexus. So in the beginning, we very purposely created you know, we looked at Lean Startup methodology, design, thinking and agile.
Mary Weimer 14:48
And I kind of took all of those and kind of made our own connexus version of it and right, yeah, we named it we called it connects us to Novus. We we recruited for these Office teams internally, and we recruited in a completely different way than a normal recruitment process where he they had to come and do a present like a pitch, basically, we did 10 minutes, they pitched we asked them questions. And we cycled through probably about 60 people that applied.
Mary Weimer 15:18
Okay, we created three teams. And then on our way, and the whole thing over the course of a year was just basically one big experiment. Absolutely. And, and the whole idea was delivering small slices of value every two weeks on a demo cycle, which is very much an agile kind of process. And then just as we we went along, you know, embedding this, like Human Centered Design. And, and the thing that was very cool is, you know, involving members in the process involving other staff that weren’t necessarily on one of these teams. And just really getting people to think about, you know, when you’re, when you’re trying to solve a problem, you’re trying to solve it for people. So what does that mean? It means you have to actually talk to people who are talking to.
Mary Weimer 16:18
People, which doesn’t sound like earth shattering, but it actually kind of is, yes, in most environments, back office teams spend six months working on something, and then they deliver it to the front office, you know, like, tada, here you go, here’s your new customer service, you know, experience manual or Exactly, yes, exactly. You get a document out of it. And then right away, it’s like, oh, well, that doesn’t work. Well, this doesn’t work. Well, that doesn’t work. And so it was like, No, this is not how we do it, we just, you know, are constantly trying things and getting feedback, and then creating this this loop. And so what was super interesting is when we were we were hit with COVID. So now it’s March, we had to quickly, you know, stop and change everything, right?
Mary Weimer 17:16
We had to figure out how can we safely have employees working? How can we serve members? And what was super exciting is just starting to see like, Human Centered Design, collaboration across teams, this idea of, let’s try this, let’s do it. And let’s see what happens. And then, you know, continually improving on things, which with the way COVID was like, there’s no other way to do that. We didn’t, you know, yet go sit in an office for six months and craft our, you know, COVID response, like, exactly, you had six minutes in a meeting.
Mary Weimer 17:57
Yeah, exactly. So that was really, we said, we sort of stepped sit back and went, Okay, like, without us even necessarily doing anything, these concepts are starting to really be embedded throughout the organization. And across. So I started earlier talking about like, operational teams, maybe versus teams that are doing like r&d or innovation. actually seeing those teams really coming together. Yes. So that’s been the experience over the last couple of years kind of the journey.
Barb McGrath 18:31
Isn’t it interesting how often in a larger business, you know, we’ve got competing priorities and things seem to take so long, but COVID hit, and organizations had to have a response. Within hours, maybe you had a day or two, if you were lucky, depending on your organization, you needed information posted, it became the priority. We got in we did what we needed to do. And then we got back to figuring out how to do our business. And it’s unfortunate that we don’t put ourselves in that situation, not that we need more COVID put ourselves in that situation more often, where we just get in and get done. Create the feedback loop, right? collect the information we need, because otherwise things Dray go forever. And that uses huge resources in an organization. So how did your internal teams respond to that? Now there’s, is it Novus? Did you call it? Okay, so now you have these internal teams, how is the organization responding to this more entrepreneurial type culture in a large organization?
Mary Weimer 19:35
I’d see you know, lots of people really embrace it. You know, most people I think, I think the reality of the workplace today is that things change quickly, and plans need to be iterative. Everything that we do, we don’t have that same kind of long runway like I think Gone are the days where you You set your course for the next three years and then just start, you know, ticking the boxes.
Mary Weimer 20:07
This is just, you know, there’s that the term vuca, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. That is the world that we live in today, a vuca. world? Yes, absolutely. It used to be that, you know, we were constantly faced with things that you could maybe describe as complicated problems, like, hard work, but maybe you know, when you started, you knew what it was gonna look like at the end.
Barb McGrath 20:33
Mary Weimer 20:34
Well, not today, it’s like every problem is complex, because you start, and you really have no idea.
Mary Weimer 20:44
How are you going to get there? I’m not really sure. What is it going to look like when you get there? Well, that I’m also not really sure. And how will you know you’re successful? Well, you know, can I let you know, as I, you know, start to do some of this work. And that is, that’s very hard, then that sort of more on an individual level, like How comfortable are you with uncertainty, and maybe not knowing where you’re headed? Exactly. That is, that can be challenging, but that’s where I, I’d say in a big organization like connexus. There’s lots of ways we can wrap our arms around people and bring them training and bring them along the journey because you can’t, you know, drag people along.
Barb McGrath 21:26
Mary Weimer 21:27
You got to inspire them to go like, Okay, this isn’t too scary. I can learn some new skills so that I can manage this level of uncertainty. Exactly.
Barb McGrath 21:37
Yeah. Mary, believe it or not, we’re just about out of time. We’ve only got about two minutes left. I know it’s the fastest 30 minutes of my life. The cultivator. So tell me how, how are things going at the cultivator? And can people still work together? Because again, that that experience of being together is such an important part of being a startup entrepreneur? How’s that working?
Mary Weimer 22:00
So cultivator within the new building at connexus, same protocols is connexus. So the teams are having just you know, half their team at a time. Again, they’re liking, you know, having a little bit of time face to face with people. But we were able to pivot to full virtual delivery of all of our programs. And one of the really positive things is we’ve been able to extend our reach, like across the globe. So where in the past maybe, could we get this person to come to Regina speaker event? You know, the costs? Can you get the schedule to work? Well, now it’s like, do you have time for a zoom call.
Barb McGrath 22:42
Mary Weimer 22:43
At whatever time works for you. And so that’s been super, I bet. Yeah. And the opportunity that presents because the stickers that you’d be able to bring in a whole new level? Absolutely. Definitely. Yeah. So some, so cultivator would be, like, an example of the rest of the economy and that some businesses COVID is accelerating their growth because of what they’re happened to be doing. And some businesses are having to take a look at their industry, because maybe it’s not relevant anymore, or there aren’t the opportunities that there was literally in February. Exactly. But I think, you know, we’ve we’ve got lots of supports in place to support people on that journey. And it’s, it’s a going concern. Absolutely.
Barb McGrath 23:34
Okay. Excellent. So normally, at this point in the show, I asked folks to share sort of their contact information, but I don’t think you want your email out there. And of course, everyone knows connexus. So how would you like entrepreneurs to reach out to connexus? If they’re looking for any support?
Mary Weimer 23:55
Probably the best way would be through LinkedIn.
Barb McGrath 23:59
Mary Weimer 24:00
If if people just went like Mary Weimer, LinkedIn, like I, I do a lot of, I would say communication with business people and entrepreneurs through that. So it kind of helps keep it out of just like the mess. Messy inbox. Exactly. It’s sort of a filter. So that would be great.
Barb McGrath 24:22
Okay, perfect. And of course, conexus here in Saskatchewan. You guys were at one point about the seventh largest credit union in Canada. Is that still anywhere near our
Mary Weimer 24:32
I actually think it’s, I think it’s six largest, I think, okay, is the number. Yeah, largest in Saskatchewan, and then I believe six largest in Canada.
Barb McGrath 24:40
Excellent. All right. Well, Mary, thank you very much for joining me today.
Barb McGrath 24:45
We weren’t exactly sure how this was gonna work out with COVID and everything else. But you know, what I’m hearing in the work that you’re doing is you’re adapting, right? You’re adapting within the organization. People are adapting and you’re thriving. So that’s really exciting to hear. If you would like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at Barb at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of the live show on our Facebook page. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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