People Profiles

Barbara Rae, MBA, Beedie School of Business

September 07, 2015

Barbara Rae has been changing the way Canada does business since the 1950s.

Rae was the first female governor for the Vancouver Board of Trade and the first female chancellor of SFU (1987–1993). Just a few of the many awards she has received in her career include the Order of BC (1991) and SFU's Distinguished Leadership Award (1995). She was honoured with the naming of the Barbara Rae Tower in SFU Residences and the Barbara Rae Cup in women's basketball. Rae completed an MBA at SFU's Beedie School of Business in 1972.

As a leader in the community and the business world, Rae helped create an entire new industry through her 20-year role at the CEO of Office Assistance (now Adecco), Canada’s first temporary help agency.

“It was 1952 and the idea of bringing strangers into your office was foreign, it was a whole new concept. Before then people just worked late,” says Rae.

But even more surprising at the time was the notion of women being at the helm. “Lots of people were amazed that we could run and manage this company because we were women. When I got a business loan the bank manager insisted on my husband’s signature.”

With the company quickly expanding to include locations across Canada, not only did she prove women could be business leaders, she showed that they could do it in an entirely new way that was good for people and productivity. In order to accommodate her largely female workforce, Rae's company was one of the first employers to introduce maternity benefits and an extended maternity leave to employees.

“People just didn’t take leaves back then and certainly not for parenting. I was the first to offer women up to an 18-month leave. Other CEOs would phone me up and ask me how to do it and wasn’t it awkward. I said, 'No, it’s wonderful, because I get to keep amazing staff,'” says Rae.

Not surprisingly, the structures and policies she set up to support female workers caught on, many becoming industry standards.  

Rae’s drive to initiate change continues. In 2003 she co-launched Dekora, a home staging company which pioneered the industry in Canada and was the basis for HGTV’s The Stagers television series.

Rae credits her SFU graduate program as helping shape her career as one of BC's most visionary entrepreneurs.

“There weren't a lot of women taking MBA's then. It was me and 39 men. It was challenging but exciting, what I learned in the program I was able to apply right away in the business world because I was just then launching our company across Canada. It gave me the confidence to lead my firm,” she says.

Author: Jackie Amsden

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