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.
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.
* * *
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.
This year marked a special anniversary for the Out on Bay Street Organization which helps to facilitate the professional development of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Ally (LGBTQA+) students as they transition from school to career in order to build a national network within the LGBTQA+ community.* This year’s theme was #StartingOut and for RBC we were PROUD to be part of the entire event where it all started 10 years ago at the Rotman School of Management/ University of Toronto.
I want to give a “shout-out” to the team of from the Out on Bay Street for organizing a fabulous event and for connecting so many employers, like RBC, to the LGBTQA+ students across Canada. A special thank you to Albert Lam, Marshall Peacock, and Stefan Palios as an event like this takes so much planning and time and the execution was flawless!
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.
A scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager.
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