20 below: Nathan Whelan

Nathan Whalen (20)
Hometown: St. John’s, NL
Executive summary: University student (Bachelor of Business Administration, MUN); financial services representative and investment consultant, TD Bank Group; owner and manager of business development, The Lifesaving Team Inc. (a first aid and water safety training company); and, volunteer president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (the youngest person to ever hold this position).

ABM: According to your bio, you’re completing your BBA at MUN, working with TD Bank, you own your own business and you’re an avid volunteer. What’s the secret to your time management? How do you fit it all in?
Nathan Whelan: The truth is that I barely fit it all in. While not a Rotarian, I am a firm believer in their motto, “Service Above Self.” Leadership requires sacrifice and I certainly make sacrifices in my life in order to allow me to be an involved entrepreneur, banker, and volunteer. It’s certainly true that I face many challenges in fitting it all in but I believe that as long as you understand both your limits and your motivation for doing what you do, you can be successful. Also, working in teams certainly is helpful. Often, we are reluctant to ask for help when we need it or we’re afraid to share our successes and projects with others. Leveraging the right talent and partnerships can make anything possible. Also a few late nights, tall cups of coffee, and a great calendar app don’t hurt.
 
ABM: What is your business? When and how did you open this business?
NW: The Lifesaving Team Inc. (www.lifesavingteam.ca) is a first aid and water safety training company that aims to help people from all walks of life prepare for emergencies. Working as a Training Partner for the Canadian Red Cross, we have been very successful thus far in gaining ground in the St. John’s market.

Cody Dunne and I (co-owners) founded this business just two years ago. Cody and I knew each other because we were both TD Scholarships recipients and Provincial Presidents of Allied Youth of Newfoundland and Labrador. Cody is a year older than I am and coming from similar backgrounds, our styles and vision meshed.

As a lifeguard, Cody was very involved with The Royal Lifesaving Society and took on a program called “Project CPR” where he needed first aid instructors in order to train every student at Booth Memorial High School in St. John’s in CPR during an afternoon. Knowing my public speaking ability, he reached out to me to become a first aid instructor. Soon after the project was complete, I approached Cody about the idea of turning first aid training into a business using his deep curriculum knowledge and industry contacts and my understanding of marketing, customer service, and networking.

We started out by training on a few weekends per month at a local junior high school. Our customers were receptive to our competitive prices and course delivery methods. About a year later, we decided to approach Metro Business Opportunities (CBDC Associate Member) to obtain financing for our own office and training centre to offer programs year-round and during weekdays in order to keep up with market demand. It wasn’t long before we hired employees, were training high profile companies, and had contracts with many organizations.

To date, The Lifesaving Inc. has been recognized with the Excellence in Financial Management Award and the Venture of the Year Award by the Canadian Business Development Corporation.

We became Board of Trade members, members of the Business Association, Certificate of Recognition certified (NL Construction Safety Association), and even did two Groupons! I’ve got to say…Looking back, this was the most incredible learning experience I could have ever imagined.
 
ABM: When, how and why do you work with TD? (e.g why work with them if you already have a business?)
NW: I first started working with TD because as a TD Scholarships for Community Leadership recipient, they provide four years of summer employment; however, after the first summer, I was hired permanently. First I was a Customer Service Representative and have since been promoted to a Financial Services Representative/Investment Consultant. I work at TD because it teaches me different skills and is a very different experience than being an entrepreneur. I really enjoy banking and the ability to help people with their financial well-being and to be honest, their corporate culture is extraordinary – I can see a serious long-term future at the bank.

I think the question I get asked the most often, however, is why do I work for TD when I have my own business. The answer is complex, but it is mainly because as a new business, Cody and I decided to invest our money in growing the company, which means investing less in delivering immediate financial return for us. Also, being a full-time student makes it challenging to provide legendary customer service to our clients. Therefore we decided that we would hire people to coordinate the day-to-day operations while we’re in school. Also, the business was not at a point to sustain Cody and I on the payroll, so holding an outside job helps me take care of the bills.

If those aren’t good enough reasons, I honestly enjoy banking and its performance-based culture. I think I’m still young and I want to keep my options open.
 
ABM: Why do you feel the need to go to school? You’ve had so much early success professionally, it feels like you could teach the program, rather than be a student.
NW: Thank you for the compliment! I certainly think there are aspects of the university program that I know well, such as entrepreneurship or finance; however, I think that the theoretical knowledge and formal education holds value in its own right. I have the opportunity to learn new ideas and apply them in my work life. I am a firm believer that a balance of formal and experiential knowledge is the best method to personal development. Eventually, I would like to pursue a Bachelor of Education and graduate degrees in both education and business.

Also, our country does a good job to entice students to stay in school and I do feel there is a great deal of pressure to hold a university degree. Not just because of the pressure youth face to continue with higher education from their family, the media, and employers, but because I have been given an incredible opportunity to obtain a degree almost anywhere in the country – for free through the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership. Coming from a single-parent-low-income household, I will be the first person on my mom’s side of the family to obtain a post-secondary degree. For me, a degree means more than a piece of paper and letters after my name. It means a sense of pride and the ability to put food on the table – because frankly, as a child I knew what it feels like to worry about whether or not there will be food to eat. I want my mom and my sister and my own kids (eventually) to not have those worries.
 
ABM: Why is volunteering so important to you?
NW: I owe my life to my community. The bottom line is I wouldn’t be who I am today without the support of very thoughtful and caring people who wanted to see me succeed. From teachers to volunteers in programs that I have been involved in, I have been supported and encouraged a great deal along the way.

I am very passionate about giving my time to support worthwhile causes in my community because I personally understand the kind of impact it has on others.
 
ABM: Why does public education in NL require a champion? What do you see as the biggest issues/challenges? And what are you doing to address them?
NW: Public education in Newfoundland and Labrador is an interesting beast. As a recent graduate, I have seen and heard the stories of the struggling teacher. I have travelled the country on debate tournaments and for leadership conferences and have seen what other provinces are doing well. I have had friends who have died due to a drug overdose, I know people with serious learning disabilities or health issues (physical and mental) who have not received supports they require, and I know the challenges of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Unfortunately, the people who know the issues facing education most intimately – such as our teachers and administrators – cannot speak out about these issues due to their employment contract. Many parents are not engaged in school life and I feel that the lack of public awareness about education issues in our province seems to drive the lack the political will to put our children first.

In my role as President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, I had the pleasure of representing our province at the Atlantic Caucus of Home and School Federations. On an Atlantic Canadian scale, we are consumed with issues of guidance, mental health, and addictions supports for students. Furthermore, we face increased challenges to student achievement such as parent education and slipping math and literacy results.

Here at home, I think access to services is our greatest obstacle. Newfoundland and Labrador has come a long way in providing better programs to students; however, students from rural communities continue to face significant barriers to achieving their full potential and certainly do not have the same kinds of opportunities that students from urban centers have. For example, a student in rural Newfoundland and Labrador is less likely to have timely access to counseling or additional human supports such as an Instructional Resource Teacher because their family is unable to drive to a larger center to follow through on a referral to a specialist.

Our organization works with School Councils across the province to enhance the delivery of local programs and the advancement of school development plans. We also meet with officials with the Department of Education, School Districts, Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, and other government and community organizations to advance policies and priorities on behalf of school communities that relate to education and youth. Our advocacy efforts enable us to work together with a wide variety of groups to find solutions to community problems.

Students are being left behind and are falling through the cracks in Newfoundland and Labrador. I believe in a strong future for our province and I know that education is society’s greatest equalizer. I think our future deserves a champion, don’t you?
 
ABM: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
NW: That’s a very tough one! I’m very proud of everything that I’ve accomplished in my 20 years. I think my greatest professional achievement that I have to date would certainly be The Lifesaving Team. Thinking of everything that we have done in a single year: obtained small business financing, obtained our Training Partner contract with the Red Cross, renovated an office into a Training Centre, obtained Certificate of Recognition status, obtained two job grants and hired employees, and trained nearly 2000 individuals in lifesaving skills from across Newfoundland and Labrador – I think that’s not bad for two young guys from St. John’s.
 
ABM: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
NW: In many roles, I have had to do tremendously challenging things, but the hardest thing is when you directly affect another person’s life. I think the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is human resources management. This past summer, we posted for two positions. After sorting through more than 100 applications, finding the right talent to fit a dynamic start-up within a very competitive labour market was no easy task. Not only was it tough to tell unsuccessful candidates that we chose someone else after a series of interviews but recently we let an employee go. Making such an impact on people can be crushing when you care so much. 
 
ABM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
NW: In ten years, I see myself living in Newfoundland and Labrador. While I don’t know what position I will be in or what exciting opportunity will happen next, I do know that I want to do it right here in Atlantic Canada. I have a strong sense of community and I think we have lots of work to do in order to make our province all that it can be. Some people say they expect to see my name on a ballot sometime soon and while I would never rule something out, I can say I will most likely pursue a career in business within the private sector.
 
ABM: Who inspires you?
NW: There are three people who really inspire me. My mom because of her perseverance and her relentless passion for photography; my grandmother who is visually impaired who has an incredible wonder for life and sport despite the obstacles she faces; and the last is Denise Pike, our Executive Director for the Federation of School Councils. Denise has been involved with School Councils for well over a decade and as a former President of the organization, her passion for education and social justice has really encouraged me that change is possible. 
 
ABM: How would you describe yourself?
NW:
I would describe myself as a people person who has a great sense of curiosity. I love to talk and enjoy working with people to add value to their lives. I also love to explore issues, culture, and the world, most recently travelling to Australia.
 
ABM: What are your best and worst qualities?
NW:
I think this article in Harvard Business Review describes me well: http://hbr.org/2011/06/managing-yourself-the-paradox-of-excellence

My best quality and my worst quality is that I work too much and I often struggle with an appropriate sense of work life balance. I strive for excellence in everything I do and while I tend to produce results, I sometimes have trouble knowing when to ask for help and when I really need a break to prevent diminishing returns.

ABM: What do you do to have fun/relax? Do you have a favorite band/song?
NW:
Lately I have been forcing myself to watch Netflix before going to sleep to unwind – my mind is racing at the end of the day – so I’ve seen some great shows like House of Cards and I’m now onto The Good Wife. To have fun, I normally share a meal or go to coffee with friends and I know it sounds indicative of someone like me, but I honestly have fun every day with the work I do. I especially find my work with School Councils to be most rewarding.

My favourite band is a toss-up between The Beatles, Queen, or Steve Miller Band but my favourite song is Free Bird. There’s nothing like rocking out with some air guitar.
 
ABM: If you heard another young person your age complaining about the status quo (such as the political system) and using it as an excuse to not vote or not get involved, what would you say to that person?
NW:
I would tell them to “walk the talk.” While discourse is necessary and identifying that problems do exist and discovering palatable solutions matter, actually taking action to implement these solutions is most critical.

In an age when there have never been more things to occupy our time, I think it’s harder and harder to get people, especially youth, to turn that passion into action. Additionally, there are many obstacles in our way. Most youth are in school, work part-time jobs, and studies show that we’re the most likely demographic to volunteer. Youth are certainly not lazy but sometimes it’s challenging to engage in the implementation of long-term solutions to community issues when youth are pressured to go through the motions of getting an undergraduate degree, finding a permanent job, saving for a house and car and kids, and then choosing a graduate school away from home. What’s worse is on the rare occasion that we find youth that want to make a serious impact on our communities; most of the time youth don’t feel valued.

I call this problem the Youth Engagement Paradox. It says that our community declares they want youth involved and endlessly talk about why youth don’t vote or why youth won’t join this committee or that program. But when push comes to shove and leaders finally find interested young people to take action, the contributions that youth offer are not valued and the engagement is not meaningful. For example, when discussing youth being involved in politics and the average age of our legislatures and municipal councils, we often determine that our community wants more youth to be on the ballot. However, when a young person runs, they are often discredited, made fun of, or not taken seriously.

I think that the problem extends further than this. I think that we need to rethink the word engagement. Youth have no interest in driving down to their local city hall to hear about residential rezoning or joining a committee. Not only are these issues often uninteresting, but we want to feel that we’re making a difference in a way that makes sense to us. For voting, make voting relevant and convenient. For consultation of government programs, host a Google Hang Out or have it in a non-intimidating environment like a local coffee shop. I think that it is safe to say that many adults don’t want to participate in government consultation sessions that feel like lip service in an unwelcoming environment and youth certainly don’t either.

I think that in fact we are all asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what can we do to “engage” with youth and obtain their input, let’s ask: what can we do to develop meaningful long-term relationships with young people in our community? I think if we are to ask that question, we will realize that engagement involves relationship-building and meaningful conversations not a one-time public consultation at a government office.

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