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Champions

Waishing Lam

When Waishing joined the JA Company Program in 2009, Junior Achievement quickly became part of his identity. “I was consumed by it. Some people join a sports team or a school committee, Junior Achievement became my extra-curricular. It defined me. You would always look forward to JA nights.”

During his first year of the 18-week Company Program, Waishing took on the leadership role of President & CEO where he enjoyed the real-world, hands-on experience of creating and running his own business, and of truly being part of something bigger. In the following three years of the program, he held the position of Vice President of Human Resources, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, and came back full circle to President & CEO in his last year where Waishing was awarded Company Program President of the Year, a Next Generation Leaders Forum Delegate, and his company was named Teamwork Company of the Year.

Waishing credits Junior Achievement in changing the way he thinks on a daily basis. “You develop team skills that stick and skills that are essential to how you lead your life. The biggest impact JA had on me was the ability to build relationships and work outside my comfort zone to accomplish something more. Being a part of a team, and seeing myself with the ability to lead a team.”

After a successful run as a student of the Company Program, Waishing became a Company Program Center Manager for a year to help train and guide other participants. “My favourite part about being a Center Manager was interacting with the students, and providing mentorship to students through my past experiences in the program.”

Presently, Waishing is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, studying towards a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education with a major in Social Studies, and a minor in Career & Technology Studies (CTS): Business, Administration Finance. He also works as a Financial Services Representative at TD Canada Trust, serves as a Canadian Representative on the Pearson Student Advisory Board for Pearson North America, and as Vice President of Operations and Finance for the Education Students’ Association at the University of Alberta.

Waishing highly recommends JA and tells all of his students that “Junior Achievement is one of the best things you can do as a student to better you for the workforce and to build relationships.” He describes Junior Achievement as a foundation to one’s career and when his professional “big bang” happened, because the program gave him the opportunity to network with professionals and make connections in the real-world.

On the future of Junior Achievement, Waishing hopes JA will continue to “connect more effectively and efficiently with young adults in an ever-changing society” and to “make attempts to bridge the gaps between curriculum, teaching practice, and extracurricular activities in and out of the classroom so that young adults are afforded the opportunity to build foundational skills and values, as well as advance their professional careers, to create a more informed citizenry.”

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Gary Silsbe

Gary Silsbe was a dedicated volunteer for 36 years with Junior Achievement. He participated as an advisor to our Achievers and was a member of Junior Achievement’s Corporate Connections Committee; a committee whose members actively seek out volunteers from their workplace, and increase awareness of Junior Achievement in corporate Edmonton.

Gary first heard about the JA Company Program through his employer AGT, now TELUS, in the early 1980s. At the time, AGT put together a team of advisors annually to support the JA program. With a background in finance, Gary was sought out to be on the AGT advisor team. Not knowing what to expect from the program, he signed up as an advisor with some trepidation, but he was pleasantly surprised by the high calibre of the program and the students it attracted.

Over the years, Gary saw many changes within the program; it has progressed to keep up with technology, moved locations, and broadened its scope. But he noted that the essence of the program has always remained constant: at its heart are business advisors coming together with students to give them hands-on experience as they set up and run their own companies, and learning from their mistakes and successes as they go.

Because the JA Company Program is a high-impact program that targets a small number of students, each participant receives a tremendous amount of attention and is exposed to quality instruction. The result is that students in the program want to be there and are dedicated to doing their best.

What Gary wasn’t expecting when he began volunteering was how much fun he would have working with the students. He loved connecting with the younger generation to demonstrate how a business operates and watch them grow and take on responsibility. He often noticed how shy and quiet some students are when they start the program, and how much they can transform by the end of the year.

The students aren’t the only ones changed by the program; Gary said being involved as a volunteer has changed his life as well. Looking back, he recognized that he used to be shy and introverted. He said that volunteering as an advisor with Junior Achievement helped him develop stronger public speaking and presentation skills. Ultimately, he grew as a leader because of his participation and acknowledges the importance of that change early on in his career.

Having watched the program grow over the years, Gary felt it had done a good job of keeping up with business trends. Junior Achievement has adjusted and updated the programming to ensure the students exiting the program are prepared to move into the business world today. The program has evolved to be entirely cloud based, allowing students to access everything from home. Gary felt that by keeping its programming current, Junior Achievement will continue to attract the top students.

For Gary, the true strength of Junior Achievement is demonstrated by how many students, upon completing the program, return as advisors. He believed that speaks well of how the program is run and what people get out of it. When the business community is matched up with students, both parties learn a lot from each other, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Gary Silsbe passed away in late 2015. Beginning in 2016, the Gary Silsbe Endowment Fund will award a JA Company Program student a $2,000 scholarship based on their community engagement and leadership. More details will be posted on the JA Company Program student page.

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Diane Lefebvre

As an educator, Diane Lefebvre highly recommends that every student in northern Alberta needs to participate in Junior Achievement. Having participated in the Company Program as a student herself, she recognized the value of the program and as an educator, brought it to her own students. Diane has spent 9 years as a teacher, and now works as a Technology Consultant for the Edmonton Catholic School District.

Diane remembers being in 9th grade when a Junior Achievement staff member visited her school to talk about the Company Program. Thinking it sounded like an exciting new challenge, Diane decided to take part in the program. She looked forward to the opportunity of meeting new friends outside of school. Diane took part in the Company Program for two years, producing hand-painted light switch covers, and hand-painted Christmas ornaments.

Diane recalls that her first year was not as successful as she had hoped it would be, but also admits that was part of the reason she wanted to return for a second year. “I wanted to challenge myself to do better, I wanted to take my experience of knowing what didn’t work and create something that did.” She says one of the most valuable lessons she learned was that even if you fail, you get up and you try again.

The perseverance and drive that Diane gained from the program were skills that she hoped her own students would develop. In 2009 Diane took it upon herself to act as Company Program advisor to a group of students at the all-girls junior high she taught at, the Jean Forest Leadership Academy. Through the two years that Diane led the program, she was in awe of what her students managed to accomplish.

Her first group of students produced t-shirts to raise awareness about a charity for Muscular Dystrophy, and gave all of their company’s profits to that charity. Diane was so proud of how socially conscious this group of students was at such a young age.

Her second group of students produced organic hand-lotion, and had the opportunity to compete in The Big Pitch – a Junior Achievement competition where students’ present their business plans to a panel of top-level business executives in the community. Diane reflects on that time as a great period of growth for those girls. “That experience helped a lot of those kids break out of their shell, and the confidence that they displayed in that moment was incredible.”

Diane admits that it was a completely different experience working as an advisor for these students than it was teaching them. “In the Company Program, you don’t want to give students all the answers. You want them to be able to figure things out for themselves. And it’s difficult to step back because you don’t want to see them fail. But you just have to get yourself in the mindset that even if they stumble, they are still learning such valuable lessons.

Diane says that her time as a student in the Company Program was one of her best memories in high school, and participating in it was one of the best things she’s ever done. As for her experience as an advisor, it reaffirmed her belief that the program really does help prepare students for the future. “The practicality of the program is huge for the kids. The skills that they learn puts them steps ahead of most people.”

Diane has also had some of Junior Achievement’s in-school programs into her classes. She believes those programs are just as valuable to young students as the Company Program is to high school students. “The knowledge that kids gain from JA’s programs provide a solid base for the skills that they will need to succeed in the work world, and provide a great springboard for their future.” She continues to be an active advocate for Junior Achievement programs in the Edmonton Catholic School District, and in the Alberta Education system.

Diane urges people to take the initiative to spread the word about what Junior Achievement provides students. She says “every student needs to take part in a Junior Achievement program. People think the entrepreneurial spirit is just about making money, and it’s not. It’s about taking a risk and challenging yourself. Being innovative. Trying to decide how to make things better for people. How do we improve our environment? How do we improve our society? It’s part of our goal in Alberta, to make those improvements. And the Junior Achievement programs are a way to get there.”

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Angela Armstrong

For Angela, moving to Winnipeg in grade 11 meant entering a new high school where she was unfamiliar with the city and people. Hearing about the Junior Achievement program piqued her interest. She recognized that it would be a great way to make new friends and get to know the city. By her second year in the program, she was president of her student business group and had lots of great friends.

As a result of her leadership and her team’s hard work, Angela was named President of the Year during her grade 12 year. She then went on to receive a nomination to the Junior Achievement national conference in Ontario, had an opportunity to come to a conference in Edmonton, was a keynote speaker at an inductee lunch for the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame, and was profiled in a feature article in MacLean’s magazine. After graduating from high school, she maintained her connection to the program by working in the Winnipeg office as a summer student and also volunteered during university as a liaison between advisors and Junior Achievement before going on to become a mentor herself.

Even throughout university, Angela always imagined herself entering law. It was, however, her participation in Junior Achievement and the numerous opportunities it offered her that focused her energy into business. She was constantly inspired by the passionate mentorship she received. Her first mentors, Nick Laping and Jo Magnifico, among others, are still invested in her success and always willing to help her in any way possible. Through the robust network she developed in Junior Achievement, Angela was recruited into her first career position, which would ultimately lead her to Edmonton in the role of branch manager by the age of 25. Currently, Angela spends her days as the president of Prime Capital Group.

The Junior Achievement program pushed Angela to think differently and identify areas to work on and ways to improve herself. By identifying shortcomings in a safe environment, she was able to try new approaches to problems that she would otherwise have been unable to try. Discovering that successful businesses require leadership to be a collaborative process involving dedicated teamwork is one of the greatest takeaways that Angela attributes to her time with Junior Achievement. It was a different approach to leadership that she had not considered before.

In addition to the dedicated and passionate mentors, Angela believes that a major strength of the Junior Achievement program is the innovative and holistic approach it takes to business. With the future in mind, Angela hopes the program stays current by focusing on recognizing and developing different work styles. With young generations experiencing evolving primary and secondary educational programs based on alternative learning styles, she hopes the program continues to evolve to accommodate this variability.

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Nicole Janssen

Nicole is a well-decorated alumna of the Junior Achievement Company Program. Today, she spends her time working as the co-founder of Stratus Holdings Inc. and principal of Janalta Interactive Inc., but in 1999 her focus was on something much different: piggy banks and back-scratchers.

Nicole’s first contact with Junior Achievement was in 1996, when she learned about the popular Company Program. Like a lot of kids, she first heard about Junior Achievement in the classroom. Thinking it would be a fun way to meet people, learn something new, and try her hand at what both her parents filled their days with as entrepreneurs, she signed up. During her first year in the program, she and her company manufactured and sold a line of piggy banks shaped as bears. She took on the role of VP administration and spent the year watching, experiencing, and getting a feel for what it meant to run a successful company.

With one successful year in the bank, Nicole came back for more. Taking on the role of president in her second year, she aimed to lead her team and their company into record profits. It was a feat she accomplished unequivocally.

In 1998, she was named top salesperson of the year for Northern Alberta. It would be the first award of many. In the months that followed, Nicole was chosen as President of the Year, was the first person out of Alberta to be selected as Most Valuable Achiever for all of Canada, and was a finalist for the Award of Distinction at the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.

Today, Nicole and her husband run a few businesses together, and being an entrepreneur is what her life is all about. Looking back on her time in the Company Program, she’s quick to recognize that the benefits have been far-reaching. Aside from connecting her with her first employer, it was her first opportunity to lead people and her first exposure to just how many responsibilities come along with business ownership. Nicole continues to give back to Junior Achievement as a member of the board of directors and as a major donor.

“People have this view of being an entrepreneur,” Nicole explained, “that it’s all these flexible hours and you can go on vacation whenever you want. But it’s a lot of hard work. You’re never on vacation because you’re the one people need to contact. It’s always on you wherever you are. JA’s Company Program is a really great opportunity to give people a taste of what entrepreneurship is like before they take a big bank loan out and learn that lesson the hard way.”

With all the success that Nicole’s been able to realize since her two years in the program, she’s excited about the future of the program and what it can mean to today’s youth. Recognizing that Alberta is an ideal location to be an entrepreneur, she hopes the program becomes even wider-reaching to expose as many kids as possible to the opportunities it offers.

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Ian McDonald, FCA

Growing up in Edmonton, Ian had always imagined pursuing a career in law or politics, but it wasn’t until he entered the Junior Achievement program in high school that he began to consider a different path. Junior Achievement introduced Ian to a wonderful group of caring and committed business-minded people who opened his eyes to the opportunities in the world of business. After two years in the program, Ian went on to complete a degree in commerce at the University of Alberta.

Today, Ian is a partner at Grant Thornton LLP, a leading Canadian professional accounting firm. He also uses his business acumen as the owner of a number of small businesses in the oilfield service and real estate sectors. Looking back, Ian attributes his interest in business directly to his participation in Junior Achievement.

In 1988, thanks to Ian’s strong leadership in Edmonton’s business community, Junior Achievement approached him about becoming a volunteer. He was eager to be involved because the program had been so influential in his life. Since that time, Ian has been an active and dedicated volunteer, sitting on the board from 1988 to 2007, and acting as board chair from 2006 to 2007. During his time as chair of the board, Ian was one of the founding funders for a fundraising campaign to establish and move the organization into the Junior Achievement Centre in the World Trade Centre, the organization’s current home.

As a Junior Achievement volunteer, Ian has spent countless hours in Edmonton’s classrooms since 1991 delivering enthusiastic programming to get youth excited about business. For over 20 years, he has partnered with same teacher, Darien McConaghey, to reach hundreds of students. A highlight of his participation has been watching the program expand into younger classrooms and seeing the excitement the elementary school children bring. Reaching younger generations is Ian’s major focus; he hopes to engage and excite them and encourage years of participation in Junior Achievement and the business world after graduating.

Ian believes the program excels in teaching students the basics of business so they leave with real-world skills. In the classroom, Junior Achievement students are presented with real-life case studies in which they solve problems, balance budgets, design marketing programs, and much more. “The only difference between a student business and mine is a few zeroes,” Ian explains.

Looking back on his time in Junior Achievement, Ian appreciates how beneficial it was to have a safe environment in which to learn and fail. He notes that he learned the most from his student businesses when they were failing, because that experience taught him to deal with adversity and work through hard times.

Ian is excited about the future of Junior Achievement and hopes to expand the program so it can reach and influence every student. He has big dreams of making the student experience even more robust by creating a realistic student commerce centre where students can learn to trade, invest, and work together in a real-world environment.

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