In early September 2018, the Winnipeg Chamber was preparing to wrap up Johanna Hurme’s chapter as chair, and welcome Kate Fenske – then regional manager of public affairs with CN – as the new board chair. But when Fenske accepted her new role as CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, and could no longer fill the position of chair of the Winnipeg Chamber, Sissons got a phone call.
“I was down in Minneapolis for meetings actually, and I got a call from Loren [Remillard, President and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce], and he just kind of said, ‘I need to talk to you right away,’” Sissons recalls, chuckling. “So I really skipped the whole incoming chair process that most people have. But I think that was a bit of a blessing, in that I didn’t really have a year of building up any expectations.”
One thing Sissons did take some time to consider before stepping in was the ‘theme’ for his year as chair, and what he wanted the focus of his time in the position to be.
“For me, given that I work with so many different types of industries and clients in this city, I see so many people have different priorities, but to me the biggest thing was: how can Canada, Winnipeg, and Manitoba be more economically competitive.”
Now, as Sissons enters his final month as chair, he’s taking some time to look back at a few of the highlights from the past year, including having the opportunity to introduce former President of the United States Barack Obama to a sold-out crowd at Bell MTS Place, which he says was, “an opportunity of a lifetime.”
“The biggest overriding thing for me was just all of the people that I had the opportunity to meet – and I thought I knew a lot of people in this city already – and just how passionate they are, in their own businesses and just seeing Winnipeg succeed,” Sissons says. “That was really exciting for me.
“One thing that stands out, and speaks to the business community here, was Terry O’Reilly (Canadian advertising guru and host of the CBC Radio One series The Age of Persuasion and Under the Influence) for the January luncheon. I was sitting beside him for lunch and he leans over and says, ‘You know, in Toronto we would never be able to get this many people to come out for something like this.’ He was amazed at how many people showed up. Never mind how engaged everyone was, he was just thrilled. I think it really speaks to how community-minded we are; we are a big small town, and that’s really one of the benefits of Winnipeg is that close-knit community.”
But it won’t be an event, or a speech, or an introduction that Sissons remembers most when he looks back on his time as chair of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, but rather how the position opened his eyes to the full potential of Winnipeg’s business community.
“To me, it reinvigorates my enthusiasm for the passion that the people in this city have. For each other, and for the business community. It’s really a testament of why you should get involved with the Chamber, whether it’s being a member, showing up to events, getting more engaged, volunteering, being an ambassador, or even being on the board. If all you do is show up and do your job every day and drive home, you never get a full appreciation of all of the wonderful things that are occurring in this city.”