June 1, 2018
Serendipitous is not usually a term that comes to mind when most people reflect on their careers. For Human Resources Management alumna Deborah Bugeja, looking back at the people and experiences that have shaped hers, she’s hard pressed to describe her journey as anything but.
Her story begins in the early 90’s, working as an executive assistant for the senior leadership team at Connaught Laboratories.
In her early thirties and satisfied with her current role, she wasn’t looking for a career change, but the President and CEO of company, Peter J. Campbell, whom she would come to describe as an unofficial mentor decades later, saw her untapped potential and suggested she look beyond her current job.
Her first step was to attend a career planning workshop offered at Connaught to hone in on her areas of interest. She found that she was most passionate about marketing and human resources.
“They both captured, probably what he saw, that I easily connect with people, that I like to help and train people to get them where they need to be in their performance”, she remembers.
Campbell then brokered a conversation between Deborah and Connaught’s director of learning and development which only increased her interest in Human Resources. She knew then that HR was her calling.
As a mother of two young children with her husband also working full-time, dropping everything to pursue her career ambitions was impossible, but Seneca offered this working mom the flexibility and convenience of multiple campuses close to home so that she could pursue part-time studies.
In 1996, Deborah officially joined the ranks of Seneca’s proud alumni, graduating with honours with a diploma in Human Resources Management. With degree in hand, she went onto have a rewarding career as an HR Specialist at Connaught Laboratories, now Sanofi-Aventis.
“It was one of my biggest growth areas because I was working with world renowned research scientists and in my dealings with the President and CEO, I had access to the boardroom. I was gaining insight into projects the lab was working on that I would never have had access to had I not been in that role. I was quite privileged to have that seat at the table.”
This exposure gave her many skills that would serve her well throughout the rest of her career. But after 18 years at Connaught, she felt as though she had hit her ceiling and was looking to evolve into a leadership role.
She applied for a training and development manager position at Aluma Systems, a company specializing in concrete forming and shoring and engineered scaffolding solutions.
Moving from the biotech industry to construction was not an obvious transition, but Deborah was able to demonstrate how she could transfer her skills and knowledge to this new role and went onto implementing some valuable innovations at Aluma Systems.
But it is on a flight back from a business trip in Las Vegas that would prove to be the most life-changing moment during her five years with Aluma Systems.
As luck would have it, the airline ran out of ear buds for the in-flight movie, and with her laptop in the overhead compartment and her being in the middle seat, she was looking for a distraction to occupy her time.
Enter Frank Johnstone. A passenger in the seat beside her, Deborah decided to take a peek at his laptop and asked him what he was working on.
“I remember her saying, ‘Oh I’m sorry, it’s just that what you’re looking at is really interesting, can I ask what you do?’”, remembers Frank, then slightly confused how a presentation on ground-engaging tools could be of interest to anyone else.
A fellow training specialist, but for Toromont CAT, he spoke so passionately about his role and the company that when a headhunter contacted her two weeks later about a training and development position available at a construction company, she was intrigued.
The hiring company: Toromont CAT. She took it as a sign. One might even say it was…serendipity.
Fast forward 15 years and Deborah, still the Talent Manager, Development at Toromont CAT has proven that even long-standing employees can keep that new hire passion and make significant contributions to the organization
With each new role, Deborah built upon her experience and expertise and that has allowed her to implement key changes with the Toromont CAT team. These include their successful Management Trainee Program, the design and implementation of a formal Talent Review Process to develop future leaders and facilitating an Employee Customer Experience Program. All of these programs support the organizations initiatives and make them the number one dealer in North America for customer satisfaction.
And her journey continues.
There are a lot of “what ifs” in Deborah’s story that have moulded her career’s trajectory; What if she decided to remain in her assistant role all those years ago at Connaught? What if she never attended Seneca? What if the airline had given her earbuds and she never struck up a conversation with Frank Johnstone?
She hopes to be a part of other Seneca students’ ‘what if’ moments: Hiring Seneca HR graduates and co-op students and attending the Human Resources program networking events organized through the Alumni network to rub elbows and impart some of her vast knowledge and experience to aspiring HR professionals.
With the many successes and failures she’s experienced over a HR career that has spanned two decades, she has this piece of advice to give to students following in her footsteps: “Don’t get in the way of yourself. Growth comes from making mistakes.”