An Interview with Ken Aber – an Innovator, a Marketer, a Trailblazer

Aug 01, 2017 by outonbayst in  Publications

By: Nina Rakic

Ken Aber, the founder of Blueprint Business Architecture and marketer extraordinaire, is widely praised for his ingenuity, out-of-the-box thinking and seeming ability to be one step ahead of you, your boss and your boss’s boss. I had the pleasure of working with Ken when he consulted with my company on a couple of large-scale projects. He brought interesting perspectives to the table, and beyond that, saw our ideas in a different light that opened up possibilities we had not yet begun to identify. Considering the variety of projects he’s led, it’s really no wonder that he has such a unique perspective.

He’s spent his entire career creating innovative marketing campaigns, programs and media partnerships.  When working with Omnicom he led the marketing and communications at Labatt, he dabbled with Cara – the makers of Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s, and American Express to name a few. Ken loves to create and build. In fact, Blueprint Business Architecture isn’t the first company he brought to life. He can be credited with developing the Hero Certified Burger chain, which he sold to John Lettieri the current president.

Q: Word on the street is that you got accepted into Harvard at 14. What a feat. How did you accomplish that and were you nervous?

A: I was 16 when I was accepted into Harvard. Nervous? No. I completed grades 2, 4 and 6 in public school and home schooled for grades 7 – 12 which I finished by the time I was 16.  I was too young to know what nervous was way too young to really grasp the magnitude of what I had achieved. It was my normal.

Q: Did accomplishing so much at such an early age change your perception of success?  

A: Yes. Until the age of 35 I was hungry to succeed and be a leader. I achieved my goal at 35 and was a CEO until I was 40. At that time, I realized that my definition of success, the way I had imagined it,  was really lonely. I realized at that time that that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be in the trenches and work on a multitude of different and exciting projects, not managing people. Doing work instead of sitting at the top and doing lunch.

Q: What advice do you wish had when you were an undergraduate student?

A: The advice I wish I had is this: You don’t have to take unversity so seriously. Truly learn something and get your money’s worth, but once you’re done no one is going to know if you got a A or C.

Q: What was your worst job and did it ever cloud your vision of achieving your dreams?

A: I once worked in a fish factory making sure that all the fish were Kosher. It was smelly and rotten. After that, I only had cool jobs, like a dickie dee ice cream boy. I worked at Ontario place for many years. These jobs only fueled my drive to succeed because it made me realize I didn’t want to be at the fish plant for my entire life.

Q: Was is difficult to come out at work the first time you did it? Has it gotten any easier?

A: It was tough to come out the first time I did. The people who I thought were my friends no longer showed up after that. I was 37 and my world was divided. People hated me and people respected me. I had people calling me a liar because “how could you lie about that for so many years?” I didn’t want to be gay and I wanted to be like everyone else. Has it got easier? I think society as a whole has been more accepting and corporate brand world has definitely got on board, however, there are still many people in smaller communities with no support system who may fear for their life if there were to come out. So the answer to that question is yes and no.

Q: How have you seen the LGBT community change and develop within the professional space?

A: In my 35 year career, I’ve seen sponsors go from not wanting to touch the LGBT community to companies literally pouring millions and millions into getting their brands associated and in front of the the LGBT community. The Mental Health conversation has gone through a similar adoption and transition, just as I think Cannabis is going through now.

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This has been an Out On Bay Street Sneak Peek into the Speaker Series for the 2017 conference. If you’d like to learn more about Ken, his robust work experience within marketing and the challenges he’s overcome as an out LGBTQ+ professional click here and buy your ticket now. Ken will be speaking at the Gala Dinner on September 16th.  

An Interview with Lucy Zhao – A World Traveller, Business Designer & Strategist

Aug 15, 2017

By: Nina Rakic

There is something so exciting about packing your bags and embarking to a new world. It is as exciting as it is nerve wracking-the uncertainty that follows such a shift is fundamental.  Though with a vision, strategy and diligent execution the international lifestyle can be a rewarding and transformational experience, influencing how a person conducts themselves in business.

Born in Beijing and raised in Vancouver, Lucy learned early on that identity is contextual. She braided together social psychology, cultural anthropology and urban geography in understanding the power of the individual experience. She has applied this lesson to to entrepreneurship and innovation as she evolved in her marketing and tech career.

Q: Tell us about your background and your career so far.

My career has been diverse, that’s for sure. I started off marketing in various fields touching on areas from consumer packaged goods to forensic consulting. Forensic consulting, by the way, is kind of like CSI … except the accident scenes don’t look like they do on TV. Though, the lawyers and the cops are very similar. After that I started volunteering with Out On Bay Street which definitely inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship and a whirlwind of travel. I moved to Beijing where I completed a MBA program, then to Massachusetts for an MSc at MIT and eventually found myself in San Francisco working in Silicon Valley.  Initially, life outside of work didn’t exist – I worked 18 hour days with little sleep or exercise. Luckily, my start up became profitable within a year and a half and life balanced itself out again. The growth of the company was addictive and being the only marketing person gave me a serious sense of agency. My hard work paid off and I was able to build my own international team in India. Soon, I found myself on the hunt for more adventure and moved to Berlin with my girlfriend where we both currently work in the tech space. Though, Toronto is exploding and I might find myself back in Canada.  

Q: In learning about your past, I noticed that you started your career off in Marketing and Retail. What motivated you to make the transition into tech?

The opportunity of problem solving. Sure, emerging technology is invaluable but there is a lot of already existing tech that can solve many problems and I wanted to be involved with communicating that. Now I’m back in marketing, and I have plans to start another start up. But stay tuned for that… I can’t give away all of my cards.

Q: Your career has been very international so far, having worked in Canada, the US, and China. How has this influenced you and how you do business?

Toronto, Beijing, San Fran, Berlin, Boston, Bangalore.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste of all of these different cultures and work settings, the importance of intrapersonal relationships has definitely been underscored.  So is transparency – it’s important to be in a place where you can create transparency of business or it already exists. A strong legal system is so important. Copyright infringement, patent infringement or good old fashioned plagiarism can completely derail your business plans. In places like China you can’t really sue for stuff like that and it’s kind of difficult for you to say that you’re the first one that did it and for the government to back you.  

Q: What was it about the US market that motivated you to transition from the Canadian market?

I really wanted to go to MIT because of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists on campus. MIT is so vibrant and the business school there is so supportive of entrepreneurship which helped in building my network. Moving to San Francisco was also a very specific move. The startup revival was coming up again and I wanted a piece of that pie. The amount of venture capital money being thrown around was unprecedented – who could resist that temptation?

Q: What advice do you wish you had when you were finishing your first of three degrees?

After UofT? I’d say, “don’t stress about your major.” I was a psychology major and took courses that I just wanted to… it ended up working to my favour and diversifying my portfolio. That said, if you want to become a doctor or something, prerequisites are important. If you’re going into business, keep taking classes that expand your perspective because you can always make up for knowledge gaps in other ways… embrace being a student forever, outside or inside the classroom.

Diversity wise.. I was very out when I was in Toronto and when I moved to Beijing I was really reluctant to be out. After the second semester everyone I knew I was gay and no one cared which is great. Same as in India. Same as in San Francisco. I mean, Berlin is the most open place. Ever.  I’ve been really lucky with that, because there are people that have lived in the same places that have been really negatively affected by their queerness.

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This has been an Out On Bay Street Sneak Peek into the Speaker Series for the 2017 conference. If you’d like to learn more about Lucy and her international career click here and buy your ticket now. Lucy will be speaking at the Networking Lunch on Saturday September 16th.

If you can play, you can play

Jul 10, 2017

An Out On Bay Street Partner Showcase – You Can Play and the OOBS Case Competition

“You Can Play shows coaches, team captains and players how important it is to focus on skills and work ethic, not personal differences.”

Glenn Witman, Co-Founder of You Can Play and Founder of GForce Sports

Founded on the principle that ability, not sexuality or gender expression make the athlete, You Can Play has been addressing homophobia in sports since 2012. YCP strives to ensure safety for LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans. Through education and events, You Can Play has been driving inclusion from the locker room to the field.

The organization was founded by a score of talented members of the athletic community who recognize the extent to which homophobic attitudes can impact the performance and life of an athlete.

Patrick Burke

A scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager.

Brendan Burke

Was an athlete and student manager at Miami University for the RedHawks men’s hockey team and the youngest son of Brian Burke. With the love and support of his family, Brendan became an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in athletics until his untimely death in 2010. You Can Play was founded in his memory.

Start Proud is featuring You Can Play at the 2017 Out On Bay Street Conference. The Out On Bay Street Case Competition will bring together qualifying students who will have an opportunity to pitch a solution for a challenge that YCP is currently facing. The winning team will have a chance to make a real impact as YCP implements their solution into their expansion strategy.  

“This is a project that lets gay athletes tell their stories and talk about what makes them great”

Brian Kitts, Director of Marketing Communications and Business Development at the City of Denver

Click here to learn more about You Can Play and here to register for the Out On Bay Street Conference to make a change in your community.

Leaders To Be Proud Of Awards

Jul 10, 2017

Leaders To Be Proud Of Awards

Recognizing exemplary achievement and community service within our community helps to provide LGBTQA+ students and young professionals with examples to emulate and aspire to.  Sharing the experiences of these individuals helps our community to celebrate Canada’s progress in recognizing LGBTQ+ value to the professional community and society.