Diego Vassallo got an early start on the fast-track to success.
Vassallo, the owner of KDR Homes and KDR Design Builders (Commercial) Inc., first got a taste for hands-on work as a child, learning to use miniature versions of tools set up alongside his dad’s workbench.
By the time he graduated from high school, he already had about five years of woodworking classes under his tool belt, so it was a natural choice to go directly from Maples Collegiate to Red River College. At 18, Vassallo was the youngest student in his pre-employment trades program, but he was already so advanced, he successfully challenged his first-year apprenticeship as a carpenter.
“From that point on I accelerated through the industry … I was lucky, I excelled,” he recalls.
The 46-year-old entrepreneur is still operating in high gear. The businesses he runs with his wife of 24 years, Domenica Vassallo, tackle everything from residential and commercial renovations to $1-million homes and high-profile projects including the City of Winnipeg’s new Transportation Management Centre, the St. Vital Park Pavilion, Grant Park’s MLCC and Osborne Village tapas hotspot Segovia. Read More →
Raunora Westcott’s employers allow her to balance her business career with her side gig as a competitive curler. It’s a privilege she doesn’t take for granite.
As an account manager at National Leasing, Westcott spends her days helping clients meet their commercial, agricultural and medical equipment needs. But during her off-hours, she can often be found sweeping and sliding her way down a sheet of ice as the lead on a rink skipped by Michelle Englot.
Team Englot will curl in the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings (Dec. 2 to 10 in Ottawa), where they’ll compete for the right to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeonchang, South Korea.
Westcott, who works from a home office, says National Leasing gives her the flexibility she needs to focus on her pursuit of Olympic gold.
“National Leasing has been really good to me,” she says. “They make sure that their employees are feeling balanced in their lives, and health and wellness is important to them.”
“They’ve always been supportive of employees and the sports they play and the activities they do, but once my team and I hit a national level where we started playing on the world tour more often, they really got behind me. They even sponsor our team.”
Westcott graduated from Red River College’s Business Administration program in 1998, and joined National Leasing that same year as a lease administrator. She says the practical and cooperative nature of the program prepared her for her eventual role at the company.
“As much as the group work was a bit of a grind — and there was a lot of group work — looking back I think that was the best experience of the whole program,” Westcott says of her time at RRC. “It prepares you for real-life experiences in sales, and in work in general. We’re negotiating all the time, we’re working with others, so I feel like that was a cornerstone of my success.” Read More →
Thinking local isn’t just Kyle Doucette’s passion — it’s his job.
As the founder of Friendly Manitoba clothing, Doucette pays homage to the prairie lifestyle by designing and selling T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with staples like the province’s prairie crocus, as well as his company’s namesake phrase.
Customers from Manitoba and beyond have responded well to the quirky streetwear line since it launched last spring — and Doucette couldn’t be happier about keeping his growing business right where it started.
“I like the idea of keeping things small,” says Doucette, a 2011 graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program. “I don’t have any hopes of grandeur. I don’t want to go into big box stores or anything like that.”
In fact, Doucette didn’t see himself having a storefront at all, until he was given an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. In the summer, another local business owner approached him with his first big break: A rent-free space on the second floor of The Forks Market for three months, as part of the Downtown BIZ’s Launch It initiative. Doucette leapt at the chance to build his clientele and network with other local retailers, while enjoying program perks like free Wi-Fi, signage and workshops.
“There’s a constant place where I can interact with customers,” he says of the storefront, which he’ll occupy until November. “It’s a lot more convenient than just doing things online.”
Of course there are the typical challenges that come with running a new business, especially one that’s a “one-man show”, as Doucette calls it. But he credits the training he received at RRC for giving him the tools he needed to have confidence in himself and his line.
“I’m grateful for the education I received there,” says Doucette, who admits to applying to the program with very little knowledge of graphic design. “At the time I don’t think I understood what I was learning but everything I was taught there applies to what I do now.” Read More →
“I realize that alone, I will never stop poverty, hunger, war, etc., but by doing whatever I can to help those in need, I can set into motion a chain of events that could in fact make those kind of differences.”
— Richard (Asher) Webb
During his lifetime, Richard (Asher) Webb exemplified the philosophy that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
A 1986 Computer Programming graduate who’d returned to Red River College to study Business Administration when he died at the age of 49 in 2009, Webb devoted his time, talent and irresistible enthusiasm to helping others, driving social and political change, promoting the arts and nurturing a universal sense of community.
“He was very outgoing — he was very social minded,” says brother Ken Webb, RRC’s former vice-president of Academic and Research. “He was a servant leader and a great organizer and a lot of his passion was around organizing groups and activities to make the world a better place.”
His family established the $750 Richard (Asher) Webb Social Justice Activist Memorial Award to honour and extend a legacy of kindness and caring, recognizing RRC students who inspire others through efforts to further “equity, inclusion and social justice through community engagement.”
Patrick Webb, who lives in Edmonton, says he’s proud of his late brother’s accomplishments on a great many fronts. A lifelong champion of the underdog, he didn’t just talk about equality and social justice issues, he did something about them, and he convinced others to join him.
“He wasn’t an armchair quarterback and a critic,” says Patrick. “He lived by his values and led by example and tried to get other people to do the same thing.”
When he lived in Vancouver in the early 1980s, Webb organized the city’s first hospice for HIV/AIDS patients, at a time when they were frequent victims of fear and misinformation.
“He gave his all to care for the terminally ill, many of them in hospice or hospitalized,” says his sister Linda Dyck, from Vancouver. “He helped ease many during the most difficult times of their lives. He cared for and provided emotional support for both the ill and their families, often to the very end.” Read More →
It’s never too late to follow your dreams. And if you think that’s just a silly cliché, you really ought to meet Olga Rusnak.
If you had asked Rusnak 10 years ago if she thought she’d ever graduate from Red River College and land her current job as a daycare provider at the Makoonsag Intergenerational Children’s Centre, she would have answered with a definitive ‘no.’
“I’ve always wanted to work with children, but I didn’t have the education for that,” says Rusnak, 56, who recently proved dreams can be realized at any age.
The second-oldest of six children, Rusnak came from a poor family, and dropped out of school in Grade 9 to help her mother care for her siblings. She worked in retail for many years to provide financial support for her family — and she’s proud to say four of her siblings went on to graduate from high school.
But once she reached her late forties, Rusnak herself felt stuck.
“As you get older, you think, ‘I wish I had my education.’ I used to think, ‘If I could only have this job …’, but you need an education. You can’t get anywhere without an education.”
Rusnak told her husband, Daryl (John) Rusnak, how badly she wanted an education so she could fulfill her dreams of working with children. He offered nothing but support.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m too old, and I’m afraid.’”
Thankfully, John’s persistence paid off, and Rusnak eventually went to Urban Circle Training Centre Inc., which provides culturally appropriate education and training to Indigenous women and men in Winnipeg. There, she received the support she needed to graduate from the Centre’s high school equivalency program in 2009. Read More →
Tania Czemerynski’s bad hair days are behind her — and she wants to tame your mane, too.
Czemerynski is the founder of Cze by Tania, a Winnipeg business that specializes in all-natural hair and beard care products for women and men. Czemerynski launched Cze (pronounced ‘Chay’) in the fall of 2015, but the roots of her hair care business go back a little further.
“I started (making hair care products) because my hair was super dried out — it was broken and brittle. I didn’t do it with the intention of starting a business,” Czemerynski says.
“I started making my own home remedies sometime in 2013. I started to research different oils and things to make my hair grow out, because my hair was broken — it wasn’t growing. My boyfriend was like, ‘Your hair feels like a mop.’ I had spent so much money on store-bought products, so I started to make my own and it was really noticeably different within six weeks.”
A 2012 graduate of Red River College’s Business Administration program, Czemerynski went on to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Manitoba two years later.
She had entrepreneurial ambitions, but initially Czemerynski was only sharing her home hair remedy with family and friends. It wasn’t until co-workers (at her former serving job) asked to try her “magic hair oil” that Czemerynski realized she had a potentially profitable product on her hands — and her head. Read More →
No shirt, no pants — no problem, at Thermëa by Nordic Spa’s restaurant.
Guests can dress for lunch or dinner, but if they’d rather unwind in a fluffy bathrobe and spa slippers, that’s OK with Chef Thomas Stuart.
The 2005 graduate of Red River College’s Culinary Arts program is all about making patrons feel relaxed and comfortable, and he’s happy to massage his Scandinavian-inspired menu to satisfy eclectic appetites at the upscale eatery, whether guests are in the mood for gourmet S’mores, a vegan salad or beer-braised lamb shanks.
“Being a food service for a spa has been kind of an eye opener for me because we have people with every different expectations coming to the spa and coming to the restaurant,” he says.
“I’ll have people who just want a burger and French fries and then I’ll have another group that’s sitting at the table beside them that want a four-course table d’hôte fine dining experience, so that’s been my main challenge.”
But it’s been a fun challenge for the adventurous chef.
Stuart, 34, has been rattling pots and pans since Thermëa opened three years ago. In fact, he was hired a year before the spa’s delayed debut, so he traded his chef’s toque for a hard hat and steel-toed boots and pitched in, moving lumber, painting fences and doing other odd jobs. While the kitchen had already been designed, he got to outfit it with small appliances, whisks, spoons and other wares, and he created the menu from scratch.
He picked a good time to join the Scandinavian food movement. Restaurant Magazine has named Copenhagen’s Noma the world’s top restaurant in four of the last seven years, sparking a new global culinary wave.
“Now you can go to a bookstore and find a whole section of Scandinavian cookbooks, which is something that 10 years ago you wouldn’t have been able to do,” Stuart says. “So it’s kind of a fun time to be able to do that and get inspired by a growing trend and contribute to it.” Read More →
To say Raymond Ngarboui has made the most of his time in Canada is an understatement.
Since moving to Winnipeg 12 years ago, the Chad, Africa, native has amassed a list of accomplishments longer than most people do in a lifetime. As a community development coordinator, he works to support fellow immigrants and other residents who struggle to make ends meet, all while sitting on various boards and volunteering for organizations like UNICEF and the United Way.
He’s won countless accolades for his work – including a recent Premier’s Volunteer Service Award – but Ngarboui insists that he’s the one who’s grateful, especially for the education he received from Red River College.
“For me, it’s not about being recognized, it’s about doing what I’ve been doing, and of freeing myself of moral debt that I’ve been carrying,” Ngarboui says.
Like many other newcomers, Ngarboui didn’t speak English when he arrived here on Sept. 27, 2005. The inability to communicate made those early days difficult for him.
“I was feeling loneliness, I was feeling homesickness,” he says.
Thankfully, Ngarboui is a fast learner. Shortly after enrolling at RRC’s Language Training Centre, he became fluent in English and his “life started getting better.”
One of his first priorities at the time was to give back to UNICEF, an organization that had helped him as a child. In civil war-torn Chad, when all the schools had closed, UNICEF was there to provide some education for Ngarboui and his fellow classmates, despite the circumstances. Once in Winnipeg, he located the office and began working there.
“I wouldn’t have been able to graduate to the level that I am today without the help of UNICEF,” he says.
After completing the Language Training Centre’s post-secondary prep course, Ngarboui considered studying agriculture at the University of Manitoba – an area he’d begun studying back home – but wanted to find a way to meld his passion for farming with his devotion to his new community. He discovered RRC’s Community Development/Community Economic Development program, and knew it was the perfect fit. Read More →
Darrell Brown believes knowledge is power, and in his case, clean power.
Brown is the president and owner of Kisik Inc. — a company that provides school, office and health-care furniture to First Nations clients and federal government departments — as well as Kisik Marketing and Communications Ltd.
Brown’s quest for knowledge began at Red River College, where he earned an advanced diploma in International Business in 1998.
In 2013, the Cree entrepreneur earned a certificate of Indigenous leadership, governance and management excellence from the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The next year, he was back at the Banff Centre participating in a week-long leadership workshop called the Ambassadors Program.
One of Brown’s latest learning experiences was with the 20/20 Catalysts Program. In 2016, he participated in the interactive three-month program, which is designed to support Indigenous communities embarking on clean energy projects.
“Across Canada we have many First Nations that are not connected to the power grids, so they are still burning diesel,” says Brown. “The idea is to connect them with renewable energy and reduce their reliance on diesel.”
“It was an intense course last summer on how to develop and execute an Indigenous renewable energy project for your community. We had layers and layers of support: business mentorship, personal coaching, the staff of the program and non-stop excursions to renewable energy sites. We were onsite for three weeks in three different provinces. We learned firsthand from the people who have done their clean energy projects. These were chiefs and former chiefs and economic development officers who have all executed their own renewable energy projects for their own First Nations.” Read More →
When it comes to visual communication, Robert Mensies concentrates on the big picture.
Since graduating from Red River College’s Advertising Art (now Graphic Design) program in 1999, Mensies has continually climbed the corporate ladder, from designing ads for a local publisher to owning his own ad agency, Edge Marketing Strategies.
In 2015, Mensies merged Edge with 6P Marketing, where he now serves as Director of Client Strategy, a perfect position for his big-picture thinking.
“Director of Client Strategy is a fancy title that basically means I get to work with our clients on their longer-term marketing and branding business objectives,” Mensies says. “I’m still in the minutia of the day-to-day stuff for some clients who just can’t get enough of me and my winning personality, but mostly I’m focusing on that longer-term game plan for clients,” Mensies says jokingly.
Mensies’ focus may be long-term, but it’s also quite specific. At 6P, his main clients are in the agri-business and food sectors.
“Whenever you can specialize within a certain industry or sector, it really builds your knowledge and your expertise,” Mensies says.
“I know something a lot of firms struggle with is being [a] commodity versus a specialist. We’ve (6P) really been focusing on being specialists within certain sectors. There are many benefits. You can charge more, because you’re seen as a specialist, versus a commodity guy. You focus your energies in a particular field as opposed to being all things to all people. And you just build your own personal brand, and people respect what you do. If someone is looking to sell something or do something within agriculture, they see you as more of a peer versus a supplier.” Read More →