Anita Huberman, an Alumna Superstar

August 03, 2022

Looking up at the bulletin board at a summer job posting for the Surrey Board of Trade, Anita Huberman, as a first-year undergraduate student, never expected to one day become both the President and CEO of the company. Flash forward to 2022. Anita not only oversees the day-to-day and overall success of the organization but does so as a South Asian woman, one of the first ever in this role.

She has been the President and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade for sixteen years and has been with the organization for twenty-nine. She has also acted as an honorary captain of the Navy and has served on the National Film Board of Canada. To say the least, we are incredibly proud of this inspiring alumna.

The Surrey Board of Trade provides businesses and organizations with economic opportunity, workplace development and education, and government advocacy. They host over 150 events to connect the business community to different audiences, government officials, and other stakeholders. They also create global business connections for local business in Surrey.

Since Simon Fraser University means a lot to Anita, she has ensured ties between the university and the Surrey Board of Trade. She helped advocate for the campus location in Surrey, and she also sits on SFU's India advisory council, whereby she bridges global trade links between SFU and India. Prior to the pandemic, Anita and the council sponsered SFU students to travel to Inda and engage in hands-on work within the Bollywood film sector.

We sat down with Anita to chat more about her work at the Surrey Board of Trade.

What does a typical day on the job look like for you?

All day every day is very busy. I wish there were ten of me. Each day is also very different, which I love. I'm never bored. I either deal with media, government, member-related support, advocacy, policies, or compositions. I also get to learn about and support any new economic project that comes in.

Did you always know you wanted to do something in this field?

I had no idea. In fact, I almost quit university to go work on a cruise ship (laughs). I was paying my own way through school and things were very challenging. But then I got used to university life. I transitioned from the Business program to the School of Communication. But even though the CMNS courses really resonated with me, I still had no idea about my future. I worked as a summer student for the Surrey Board of Trade throughout my degree, so having that job grounded me a bit when I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. 

After graduation, there was a recruiter on campus for Royal Bank. I worked with them for a year before I realized that wasn't the right path for me. I took a month off to reset and then I found out the Surrey Board of Trade needed support, so I went back. That was the beginning of it all.

How has your School of Communication experiences shaped your success?

My CMNS courses helped me think critically about different topics and issues. Each course had me connecting the dots between big ideas. Instead of seeing a meeting attendance as just attending a meeting, I started to think about my position as a communicator within a group setting and what results I could achieve as such. I had so many amazing professors, specifically Alison Beale, who always encouraged me to push myself. Having the summer job at the Surrey Board of Trade also helped because I was able to apply what I was learning in my courses to everyday work experiences.

University in general also taught me that you have to work really hard to make your way through life. From both a financial and emotional perspective, school can be tough, so in order to make it through, I had to persevere.

How does it feel to be the first South Asian woman in your role?

It feels really, really good. There are other women now that are leading their Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade organizations in Canada, so we're seeing more diversity, but at the time I applied for the job, as a thirty-year-old South Asian woman, it was a little bit unorthadox. Of course there is a lot more work to be done in diversifying the work force because you're only as good as your last success, right?

Tell us more about your advocacy work.

We have such a diversified portfolio, from taxation, environment, trade, and social policy to poverity and childcare. It was very hard work bringing childcare to the Board of Directors as a critical issue, as it is often seen as non-economic. But I put my foot down because it very much is an economic issue. Childcare problems exist because of workforce inequalities. It was very rewarding in the end when we won by reaching a childcare fee reduction initiative.

Advocacy is challenging because there are a lot of controversial subjects that make people uncomfortable. It's gotten a lot easier for me to put myself in uncomfortable spaces to advocate for what means a lot to me. The discomfort makes you take risks and fight for what you want.

How does the Surrey Board of Trade benefit young entrepreneurs and women?

I started our youth team, where we do a variety of advocacy pieces related to youth, women, newcomers, and BIPOC populations, but specifically for youth. We advocated to the Federal Government for a youth entrepreneurs strategy. We wrote a policy report and implemented entrepreneurship programming in K to 12 classrooms. We also help university student start-up companies and then we recognize the great entrepreneurial community initiatives that students engage in through our Top 20 Under 25 Awards.

At the Board of Trade I've tried to emulate in our philosophy that every person matters, including women who have been facing labour shortages since the 90s. We advocate for women's edcuation and start-up companies by reducing the barriers of accessing capital financing to start their own businesses. We also advocate for these women by ensuring they have access to quality, affordable childcare. We also work with Translink to make sure women can access transit. There are many other pieces to the advocacy puzzle, but those are the main ones we've recently been focussed on. And then we also have our signature Women in Business Awards event that celebrates the successes of business women.

How do you see Surrey becoming more livable?

By having a thriving arts and culture sector. To have youth engaged in their community and proud of where they live. I want youth to live in a city where they can be entrepreneurs, where they can get a job and find housing. I want them to be able to get from point A to point B without having to own a car to get around the huge geography of Surrey. I want Surrey's inhabitants to not only work in their city but to also happily learn and play.

Your mom is a significant influence. Tell us why.

She came to this country when she was ninteen years old and pregnant with me. She didn't speak a word of English. As I grew up, she practiced her language skills. When I was seven, she went back to school. She completed her high school equivalency, then went to college and worked part time at McDonald's to pay her way through. She loved learning and took all the courses she could afford. Bookkeeping, sewing, cooking. You name it, she learned it.

Now she's the CEO of a student union and has her own bookkeeping business. She's the hardest working woman I've ever known. She faced so much adversity and still came out on top. I have a lot of respect for her. 

What is your favourite memory from SFU?

I'm very proud to be an alumna. I loved being a student and taking risks to stand up for my beliefs and values. There was a student strike, and I remember all of the students walked out of their classes that day to form a huge crowd in the AQ. It was this incredible moment of freedom and simultaneous collectiveness. Even though it's been awhile since I attended SFU, I will always remember that day.

And finally, what advice do you have for students?

Find a job while you're in school. One thousand percent. Having a job alongside my studies so that I could apply my course knowledge to real life was absolutely integral to the success of my journey. It doesn't have to necessarily relate directly to what you hope to do in the future because any form of employment is going to foster workplace connections and networks. You need to be able to develop relationships because networks are going to be significant when you're wanting to move ahead. And always, always remember: work hard. Don't expect to be promoted right away. We all have to start somewhere. I started at the bottom as a summer student, then made my way up to President and CEO. If you keep pushing yourself and working hard, success will come.

Learn more about the Surrey Board of Trade here.