Top 25 HR Professionals

Canadian HR Reporter names Canada's top human resources practitioners

We looked… and we found — the top 25 human resources practitioners across Canada. Whether it’s an impressive resumé full of accomplishments, an innovative program or practice, or a challenge that was met head-on, these professionals never failed to impress.

Evert Akkerman: XNL HR

Born and raised in Holland, Evert Akkerman, HR consultant at XNL HR in Newmarket, Ont., went on to obtain his CHRP designation in Canada and worked as an HR manager for eight years. He started his own consulting practice in 2012 and in 2014-15, served as interim director of HR at Habitat for Humanity GTA after amalgamation, organizing a road show with the CEO to visit employee locations and discuss harmonized HR policies. He also helped York Region with updating its job descriptions for transportation, leading to a larger project at the organization. And in 2016, he helped Toronto-based Fleet Complete with the challenging search for a new vice-president of sales for Holland.

Vincenzina Berman: William Osler Health Systems

Vinnie Berman joined William Osler Health System in 2012 and was promoted to the role of executive director of HR and organizational development in 2014. Under her leadership, Osler’s HR team has implemented a number of initiatives directed at maintaining and further enhancing staff morale and great work culture. Other strategies implemented include HR transformation leading to the stabilization of an HR service delivery model (portfolio “pods”), strategic labour relations, the launch of an employee wellness program, a management competency model and management-focused workshops.

Angela Briginshaw: APEX

As the senior advisor for executives at APEX (the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada), Angela Briginshaw provides a confidential advisory service around issues such as career management, harassment, health, retirement, and terms and conditions of employment. Previous accomplishments include the establishment of a total quality management approach to executive staffing; the development and launch of a Canada-U.S. award for mid-career executives in the federal public service; and diversity and gender awareness training at Industry Canada.

Debby Carreau: Inspired HR

Calgary’s Debby Carreau founded Inspired HR in 2007. This year, she added author to her list of accomplishments, publishing The Mentor Myth in April to help employees take personal accountability for their career development. Debby has earned recognition across Canada for her work and sits on numerous industry boards. She often speaks and writes about workplace issues, including optimizing human capital and diversity in the workplace. Debby has two decades of experience alongside her MBA and CHRP designation. Her firm earned a national HR consultancy award last year.

Wendy Carroll: Saint Mary’s University

Wendy Carroll, associate professor of management at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, has refined and developed evidence-based approaches to the teaching and practice of HR management, while motivating her students to do the same. She has also spent time conducting research into unjust workplace events and possible employee reactions. A practitioner-turned-academic, Wendy’s excellence as an educator has earned her seven teaching awards during the past decade.

Nita Chhinzer: University of Guelph

Having completed her MBA in 2000, Nita Chhinzer went on to work in management positions at various companies including HP and Nortel. It was then she recognized that the execution, decisions and implementation of downsizing have significant individual, organizational and societal outcomes, prompting her to return to academe to advance our understanding of downsizing. Nita is now an associate professor of HR management at the University of Guelph in Ontario. She also co-authored the textbook Intro to HRM (now in its 13th edition) and has shared her expertise pro bono with multiple stakeholders, including the Town of Oakville and the City of Guelph.

Alina Constantin: Grieg Seafood BC

The development of organizational culture change, a wellness program and new recruiting process have kept Alina Constantin, HR manager at Grieg Seafood BC in Campbell River, B.C., busy of late. As part of the culture focus, she implemented a survey followed by a roadshow to present results and get employee input on developing the action plan. Self-managed communication training and coaching sessions were offered while a leadership development and coaching plan was implemented. A wellness survey showed which health conditions were affecting the greatest numbers of employees, and driving costs, leading to the development of a health strategy. And recruiting guidelines and policies were reviewed.

Nick Cooke: Eminence Organic Skin Care

Nick Cooke’s commitment to exceptional people practices makes him a top HR professional in Vancouver. The senior HR and organizational development consultant at Eminence Organic Skin Care, he has been at the company for nine years and seen it quadruple in size, with expanded distribution into 50 countries. Nick has built the senior leadership team and recruited more than 200 new team members. He has also ensured the company exemplifies best HR and leadership practices through a continual focus on employee engagement. Nick also holds a degree in computer science and several HR-related certificates.

Kelly DeGurse: Reliance Home Comfort

As director of organizational development and labour relations at Reliance Home Comfort in Toronto, Kelly DeGurse has seen employee engagement rise to an all-time high of 82 per cent. An intensive focus on a winning culture is part of the reason, along with more positive labour relations — the number of grievances has gone down by 41 per cent. Kelly also introduced workplace councils to solicit suggestions and improvements, along with implementing an online learning platform. He also created a “Positive attitude” test in conjunction with the University of Toronto and a testing vendor, while starting a scholarship program for gas fitters to assist candidates in under-serviced areas.

Pavlo Farmakidis: Woodbine Entertainment Group

Having started with a diploma in computer engineering back in 2004, obtaining a master’s degree in education in 2009, and now pursuing a CHRP, Pavlo Farmakidis has taken a winding career path. And as recruitment co-ordinator at Woodbine Entertainment Group in Toronto, he demonstrated his expertise recently when suggesting the company hire two Pokemon Go players for a job fair in the summer. About 325 people applied for the one-day gig, which required them to walk around and play the mobile game to attract more people. The move led to about 500 people handing in resumés and generated plenty of media interest from the likes of CityTV and the Huffington Post.

Gabriella Fermo: Raising the Bar

As a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL), Gabriella Fermo has been practising HR for more than 20 years. She is now managing partner at her learning and development business Raising the Bar in Mississauga, Ont. And while Gabriella has worked across all of the HR functional areas, she never actually was an HR generalist — instead, she took on specialist roles and immersed herself in learning as much as possible about a particular function. Recently, in collaboration with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and Humber College, Gabriella delivered an inaugural leadership development course as part of an accredited Fire Service Executive Management Certificate.

Alana Free: GoodLife Fitness Clubs

Alana Free has been at GoodLife Fitness Clubs in Toronto for 20 years, starting off as executive director of people development and going on to become vice-president of people and culture in 2010. The years have kept her occupied, most recently when personal trainers voted to join a union — despite the company’s best efforts. The fitness chain held town halls to hear about people’s concerns, explain its position and manage expectations. Weekly communication also went out from management to talk about the changes being made based on feedback, and the company worked to make the compensation system around commissions more straightforward.

Anthea Gomez: Express Scripts Canada

Anthea Gomez, director of HR and corporate services, has spearheaded significant advancements around Express Scripts Canada’s office culture in Mississauga, Ont., leading several initiatives focused on enhancing workplace diversity and employee engagement. She introduced a work-at-home pilot project and advocated for a stronger focus on diversity and cultural awareness. Anthea believes in maintaining a culture that supports both individual and corporate goals, and has the ability to recognize top talent. She is a Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE) and serves on several volunteer boards in her spare time.

Jerry Gratton: O2E Brands

Jerry Gratton is an integral member of the O2E Brands leadership team in Vancouver as vice-president of people and culture. Under his guidance, the company has been recognized for a number of people- and culture-related awards. Over the past year, Jerry guided the company towards a significant increase in overall employee engagement, thanks in large part to a reorganization of the sales department. Other accomplishments include an overhaul of the A-Player Development Program, leading a major office renovation, and relaunching the company’s 101 Life Goals Program. Jerry has more than 20 years’ experience in HR.

Zabeen Hirji: RBC

Zabeen Hirji is a name well-known to Canada’s HR community. As RBC’s CHRO, she is part of an eight-member group executive responsible for setting the overall strategic direction of RBC. Zabeen joined the bank in 1977, holding progressively senior roles in British Columbia and Toronto, and eventually moving into HR in 1997. She was appointed CHRO in 2007. Hirji has won several awards, including Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal for advancing diversity and inclusion, and has been inducted into Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Hall of Fame by the Women’s Executive Network.

Helen Kosa: Calgary Public Library

This fall, Helen Kosa, safety and wellness officer at Calgary Public Library, will unveil a new “Stay Safe” safety program for 820 employees at 18 public libraries in the city. Helen built the foundation for the program, including a redesign of existing print and online documentation. A skilled presenter, she is passionate about safety and has the ability to make bland material relevant and exciting, and readily shares her expertise to aid staff in crisis. Helen also manages wellness initiatives within the Calgary library system and promotes support services available through Shepell FGI. She holds an HR management diploma, amongst other certifications.

Tanya Martin: Jazz Aviation

Tanya Martin began working for Jazz Aviation 21 years ago as a customer service ticketing agent. A Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL), Tanya recently became manager of Jazz’s central and west regions, representing 2,500 employees. During the Fort McMurray wildfire disaster, she successfully organized a relief fund. Other achievements include moderating a “Women in Aviation” panellist discussion, implementing online workplace complaint and accommodation forms, and navigating through a series of difficult layoffs in the central and western regions last year.

Angela O’Connell: Ocean Contractors

Angela O’Connell has had a busy year implementing a full complement of HR programs and processes as HR manager at Ocean Contractors in Dartmouth, N.S. Building the system from the ground up with a focus on practicality and follow-through, she created programs focused on benefits, early and safe return to work, modified duties, job descriptions and more. Angela is the sole HR professional employed by the family company, which consists of four operations. She also has her CHRP and a consulting background in oil and gas, marine and transportation.

Lynn Packham: Development Dimensions International

Technology skills helped Lynn Packham, senior consultant at Development Dimensions International (DDI) in Abbotsford, B.C., to spearhead a virtual learning journey program at Enbridge Gas this year. The program’s purpose is to elevate the core leadership capabilities of frontline managers. It drew high reaction scores and program adoption, with post-program evaluations indicating positive behaviour change. Previously an attorney, Lynn was drawn to HR by her work in leadership development. She holds master trainer certification and is enrolled in an executive coaching graduate program at Royal Roads University in Colwood, B.C.

Scott Phillips: Gateway Casinos and Entertainment

Having obtained a BBA in HR, marketing and economics, Scott Phillips has had a successful career at various companies and positions. Most recently, he was promoted to senior vice-president of HR at Gateway Casinos and Entertainment in Burnaby, B.C. And in the three years he’s been there, the company has gone from roughly 3,000 to 4,000 employees, making recruitment and retention top challenges. The casino is further challenged by a rocky economy in Alberta, where the right skills can be hard to find. Scott has focused on finding the best fit through social media, web-scraping programs and employee referrals. The company has also put a big focus on orientation and re-orientation as the company expands.

Sherri Simoneau: Solutions 2 GO

When Sherri Simoneau joined Solutions 2 Go in Mississauga, Ont., in 2011, it did not have an HR department. Since then, she and her HR team have implemented many programs and processes, such as performance management, employment policies and compensation programs — leading to her recent promotion to vice-president of HR. One main focus has been on employee engagement. In 2011, levels were at 64 per cent — since then, the ratings have gone up to 89 per cent. Sherri has also led all the new HR initiatives as the company expands into Latin America.

Naomi Titleman: American Express Canada

In 2014, Naomi Titleman spearheaded the Women at Amex initiative to support the development and advancement of women in the workplace. As vice-president of human resources at American Express Canada in Toronto, it’s a topic she’s very passionate about. Titleman also did a presentation on the topic of ambition and career management at the “Forward Together” conference in Toronto, which brings together women from 15 organizations to share best practices and resources. She also led the company through a transformative move to its new headquarters. From dealings with real estate, managing the logistics of moving nearly 1,600 employees and overseeing all communications, Titleman played a critical leadership role.

Samia Torcivia: Fairmont Winnipeg

Over the past four years, Samia Torcivia, director of HR at Fairmont Winnipeg, has decreased grievances at the hotel by 91 per cent, thanks in large part to a commitment to open communication and partnerships between managers and shop stewards. The engagement score has consistently increased during Samia’s time and, last year, the facility had the highest engagement score amongst Fairmont hotels in the Americas. Samia meets with new employees within six months to ensure expectations are being met and always takes an interest in employees’ career paths. She holds a Human Resources Management Certificate.

Liette Vigneault: Cogeco Connexion

Liette Vigneault joined Cogeco in Montreal in 2012 as senior director of organizational development, and was appointed vice-president of HR and communications in 2013. Her ability to easily navigate through change has been her best ally through her career. Since she was named head of HR, she has been instrumental in revising the entire organizational structure to create a customer-centric company. Liette played a crucial role in the development and implementation of a change management framework and bringing in the discipline of change management and communications in the context of transformational projects. She was also responsible for bringing the HR department from a functional service to a strategic service by creating the role of HR business partners.

Amanda Zarubin: SaskWater

With several years of HR experience, Amanda Zarubin, manager of HR at SaskWater in Moose Jaw, Sask., has become a trusted business partner. She has worked in HR at IMC Canada, Morris Industries, Five Hills Health Region and Mosaic Potash, with several promotions along the way. In 2013, she was promoted to an operations role at Mosaic as the continuous improvement manager — the first HR employee in the 50-year history of the mine site to be given the opportunity. And in 2014, she returned to HR at SaskWater. Amanda has a master’s of HR management from the University of Regina and has held a CHRP since 2007.

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