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- Cindy dot MacDougall at royalroads.ca
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Nostalgia lives in the Accent Inns and Hotel Zed properties around BC where guests are welcomed with an irreverent sense of fun, and in the latter case, a quirky retro groove and a fleet of vintage vehicles straight out of a 1960s beach party movie.
At the core, though, is a values-based approach to business that President and CEO Mandy Farmer (MBA ’03) has helped her companies thrive in 2020 while earning her this year’s Award of Excellence from the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneurs Awards.
Those values nourish a corporate culture that makes Accent Inns and Hotel Zed fun places to work, where employees have each other’s backs and where there’s a common commitment to “making everything better.” The other piece is authenticity, which has been shouldering a lot of the load for most of this past year.
“For years we’ve talked about bringing your authentic self to work,” Farmer said. “So here we are now in a pandemic and it was easy for us because we always talk like this, about bringing authenticity to work. It’s just usually not about tears and being able to communicate what your fears are, and then supporting each other.”
Coping with her own fears about the pandemic’s impact, Farmer decided that if there would be a chance of losing the family business during COVID-19, then they would go down with pride and by helping others. They joined forces with the United Way to offer for essential workers who wanted to self-isolate away from their families. Cancer patients and their families coming into town for treatments were provided with rooms. And when the first lockdown meant that kids’ birthday parties were “super lame,” Farmer and her team harnessed the Hotel Zed’s collection of old VW busses, station wagons and its Scooby Doo van and sent them out to do party parades.
“We would have at least three vintage vehicles go by kids’ houses with signs, honking horns,” Farmer said. “It was just to make that kid feel special on their birthday.”
Overall, Farmer says her group’s workplace culture is thriving. The roughly 275 employees feel a sense of bigger purpose, no matter where they’re located. “There is a real sense that we’re all in this together. It’s pretty magical.”
Farmer’s arrival at Royal Roads was the end of an academic path that had led her to seven different universities and an undergraduate degree in neuropsychology from McGill.
“I have attended a lot of universities and without a doubt the best one was Royal Roads,” Farmer said. “It was amazing to be in that experience, where people knew my name. I had no idea what my student number was. To be in this environment where I had daily interaction with professors, one on one, and with all the whole university team — that was a completely eye-opening experience.”
When Farmer took over the business from her father (and Royal Roads honorary degree recipient) Terry Farmer in 2008, it was a career move that got its spark while she was doing her MBA in Executive Management.
“When I first signed up for the MBA, I had a glimmer of hope that just maybe there might be a leadership role for me (with the hotels),” she said. “Then when I dove into the program it became very clear to me, as well as my business partners, that yes, this is the outcome that we’re all hoping for.”
Notably, the program enabled Farmer to stand back from the business and examine it piece by piece. “For my consulting project I did a three-year strategic plan. It allowed me to apply what I was learning to the business and get feedback from my professors. Then it showcased to my business partners what I was able to accomplish — that was monumental.”