Revenue in her service line has increased 150 per cent year-over-year for the past decade, and that alone is reason to fete the accomplishments of Arlene Dedier as she has risen through the ranks at Colliers.
Now Dedier, currently a director of Colliers Project Leaders in Toronto, is gaining recognition outside of just her own office and colleagues. She has been named the Catalyst 2020 Business Leader Champion.
“This is a business and you don’t survive if you’re not a good businessperson,” Dedier told RENX in a recent interview. “In the projects that we deliver (our clients) come back time and time again. Seventy-eight per cent of our business is repeat business, because we’re good.”
You have to deliver on your promises, she added, noting that if you’re not producing benefits for both your clients and your business group, those relationships won’t last. Dedier said projects must be delivered on time and on budget, but clients also return “because it’s really strategic and clever and smart.”
If that sounds a bit cocky, don’t expect Dedier to apologize: “Women are humble in how they talk about themselves and I refuse to do that. I refuse to be defined by anybody else.”
Nominated by Colliers colleagues
In her current role, she finds strategic means for her group to deliver solutions to clients. Colliers has given her wide latitude to grow the service line: “They let me build my own business,” she said.
Dedier was nominated by her team and is among six Canadian corporate leaders who have been named Catalyst Honours Champions this year in three categories. Knowing she was nominated by her colleagues makes the honour doubly rewarding.
“You don’t really know what people think of you,” Dedier said. However, to know her peers believe she’s doing a great job is “amazing.”
Dedier said she can’t wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over so she can return to the office and see her colleagues in person once again. “I love my job and my co-workers.”
Catalyst is a global nonprofit organization which works with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to build workplaces that work for women. The 2020 honourees were announced on July 9.
The new business champions will be formally recognized at Catalyst Honours, a three-day virtual conference in October.
Dedier’s career path
It’s been an interesting career path for someone who grew up wanting to be a jazz and African-Caribbean dancer.
Dedier was born in the West Indies – Trinidad and Tobago – and her parents (an electrician and teacher) arrived in Canada during the 1960s when she was four years old.
Along with an older and a younger brother, she was raised in Toronto.
Dedier studied architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa, and worked as a teaching assistant both at Carleton and later in Rome.
She is married and once again lives in Toronto. When she’s not working, her free time is spent boating or in her garden.
After Rome, Dedier returned to North America, where she worked as an architect in Washington, D.C., for 13 years before joining Colliers in 2010. Her background now also includes development and construction management.
Takes on role of “firefighter”
These days, Dedier is known as a “firefighter” at work. When a project is in crisis, “they’re like, we’re gonna bring in Arlene,” she said, with a chuckle in her voice.
She’s developed a straight-forward approach over the years that helps get things done.
“I don’t have a filter anymore,” she said before launching into an explanation of how this came about. Dedier said many people spend the first half of their work lives “operating from a space of fear.”
Then, as a person works their way up the ranks, they learn a few things.
“What you realize when you’re with the C-suite — when you’re doing projects that are $200 million or $50 million, or $300,000 — if somebody is not telling the executive everything, then they can’t make really good decisions for the company and we’re a business partner, we’re an advocate for them,” she explained.
“So I’m going to tell them the truth.”
She has built a diverse, inclusive team of project managers, including 50 per cent women in the private sector and 40 per cent women as national business leaders. Two of her most recent projects were successfully led by 60 per cent women.
They were delivered on-time and on-budget.
If a woman can “manage the life of chaos and children and work and everything else that they have to do, they’re so adaptable to the private sector,” she said.
“We have a bunch of really talented people and I saw an opportunity to mentor and champion the women in our field.”
Private versus public sectors
She likens working with public sector clients to the army in terms of pace: slower, planned, methodically taking control of the beach.
The private sector by comparison? She considers it to be more like Navy SEALS.
“We’re more agile and nimble and flexible, and you’ve got to yield, and you have to be able to challenge with empathy to understand our clients’ goals,” she said.
Having a more diverse group where people have already “spent a lifetime accommodating and listening and understanding . . . they are more adept at being agile, right?”
Dedier’s leadership approach has helped open up three new regional markets for Colliers in Moncton, Halifax and Ottawa.
She’s an active proponent of organizational cross-collaboration, and has also helped highlight that employee diversity is an opportunity to present different solutions for clients.
“I’m from Trinidad. We’re island people . . . our people are so ingenious at coming up with ways to do things,” she said.
Though she estimates her colleagues are predominantly male, she said Colliers fosters a corporate culture where people can be “your authentic self.”
Dedier also said she’s been fortunate to work with, and for, a number of outstanding colleagues, including business development manager Michael Fleming and her current supervisor, senior vice-president for Central Canada, Gary Stanhope.
“He’s given me so much freedom to come up with the strategy, to select the team, to expand my reach,” she said.