Serena Schwab: Today’s Notable Young Professional

Today’s Notable Young Professional is Tigris CEO and President Serena Schwab, who’s seen her brand experience agency grow from the inside out over the past decade as she’s ascended the company ladder from events staff to her current position…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
My job has changed significantly over the past 10 years. I was initially brought into the company to handle the day-to-day operations, which included booking staff, developing training packages for our programs, payroll/accounting, along with some marketing. Over the past three to four years, I delegate most of my work to three other staff members so I can focus on business development – marketing the company online, building and maintaining relationships with new/existing clients, quotations and proposals.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I started working with Tigris as an events staff in June of 2004. I had just graduated from Ryerson for Journalism and while volunteering at Rogers as a videographer, I worked for various promotional companies to make ends meet. I took a full-time management opportunity with Tigris in October 2004, which lead to partnership in April 2005. I was hesitant to take the plunge since my passion was journalism, but I recognized that pursuing broadcast was a long road. I had worked in promotions for five years and loved the work so I thought this was a great “back up plan.” I also thought I could improve aspects of the company, most notably staff relations and brand support.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
I have always been driven to help others so I take pride in knowing that our work builds brands. I love that we are helping to develop the personal and professional skills of young adults. We treat our staff very well, pay top wages, and very quickly. We also offer incentives, plan staff events, etc. to show our appreciation. The best part of what we do is the creativity we put into our events. Every request is a little different so it keeps things very interesting.

The most challenging part of the business is dealing with temporary staff who we don’t see very often and therefore cannot build the same type of relationship with as our full-time staff. We depend a lot on communication via phone and email – so for people working part-time, who are unfamiliar to the industry, the communication expectation can take some getting used to. 

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
When it’s your own business, it can be very consuming. For me, a telltale sign that I’m stressed is insomnia. I don’t have any trouble falling asleep but if we’re really busy or have early morning programs, I often wake up and can’t fall back to sleep. It’s improved but I went through a spell back in 2011 where my sleep was all over.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don’t believe in renting. I think it’s a waste of money. As such, I’ve been saving to buy an office space, which I plan to move into by the end of 2014. With more space and equity in the business, I’d love to have 10-12 internal employees within the next five years and expand into the United States. We’ve already done a couple of events in New York City but would like to officially put the right pieces in place for this expansion. I’d like to build a team that functions fully without my direct involvement. I really enjoy working but would like to have a well-oiled machine running as I get to my mid-late 30s. 

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
I’ve had a couple. The founding partner left the business so I had to shift my focus from operations, which I naturally gravitate to, over to sales and business development. The bigger challenge, however, was losing three of our biggest clients at the same time due to internal changes those companies were going through. I recognized we could be out of business if we didn’t start attracting new clients and launched an internet marketing campaign at the beginning of 2012. We experienced a bit of a slump for two years but quoted on more business than ever. I’m happy to say that our sales for 2014 have already surpassed our total sales for 2013, so we are on track to have an amazing year. I think we’ve rebounded really well. 

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
For me, money doesn’t equal happiness but it does offer time and freedom. I only took vacation one to two times every other year over the first seven to eight years in business, but last year I was able to take three weeks off and this year will be able to take one month off. Having the money to have an internal support team, that is trustworthy and capable, affords these luxuries.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
We are celebrating our 10-year anniversary this year so we’re really excited about this. I think it’s a really big accomplishment given the fact that I started as a part-time staff and worked my way up from manager to partner to owner while “surviving the odds,” so to speak. 

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Never stop learning. I like to call myself a “learn-it-all.” It’s really easy to get caught up with day-to-day life, work and distractions, but you can set yourself up for failure with an “I’ve always done it this way” mentality. The work force is ever changing, as is technology, so you need to keep up with this to stay ahead of the curve and continue growing. 

Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
I love to eat out and try new places. It’s one of my favourite things to do! Working in events, I’ve been very lucky to eat at some really exclusive, high-end locations. If I had to pick a favourite, I’d probably say Harbour 60. The quality is simply amazing and the washrooms are out of this world! 

When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
When am I not working? Kidding! I don’t have children yet but do have two miniature pinschers who take up a lot of my personal time. I also spend a lot of time at the cottage in the summer. It’s the best way to unwind and relax. 

Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
I don’t typically like to go to the same place twice, but I bought an investment property in Florida last year and I will be going down there at least a couple times a year. It’s at a golf and country club and my unit overlooks a huge lake. It’s gorgeous. Aside from this, I’d have to say Sydney, Australia. My best friend moved there several years ago. It’s a perfect blend of cosmopolitan city life in the tropics.

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
“The Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. I really think that life is about the choices you make, not the circumstances you face – so you can choose to wake up each morning and have the best day of your life. It’s up to you to create your destiny and live a life that makes you happy. 

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Ironically, I’m doing what I’m doing now because I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing – which was being a reporter for a news station. So I guess if I wasn’t running my own business now, it could’ve been because I ended up down the path I initially planned on. 

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I am a big proponent of animal rights and giving a voice to the voiceless. I contribute to the Toronto Wildlife Centre and have donated to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, the Oceanic Preservation Society, and some others. I think the world is becoming overpopulated and people need to band together to come up with a solution for a sustainable future. 

What to you is notable?
I am impressed by professionals who take risks and persist in the face of adversity – whether it’s overcoming personal issues or taking a risk to pursue the road less travelled. I also think people who are selfless and put others ahead of them are notable.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Android – Samsung Galaxy S3.

#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

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