For our career series “How I Got My Job,” we’ll be talking to real people, working real jobs across a variety of industries. These people are pushing boundaries and have made their mark. They’ve found success on their own terms, and now we’re extracting their advice on how to carve out your own career path.
Hot on the heels of International Women’s Day, we had the opportunity to talk to a woman who is proudly the owner of one of Toronto’s top coffee shops. Allow us to introduce you to Diana Olsen, the President and Founder of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.
With over 15 locations across Ontario and products carried in retailers across Canada, Diana has made more than just a small footprint with her chain of coffee shops. Her priority of sustainability for long-term success has gained the company recognition as “Toronto’s Greenest Coffee Shop-Roaster,” and her innovations gained her the title of “Design Thinker Of The Year” in 2017.
Diana has been able to take her company to great lengths since opening the first Balzac’s coffee shop in 1996 and is considered a trailblazer in her industry. Below we chat about the most fulfilling projects she’s had the opportunity to work on, the most important thing she’s learned in her career, and the most valuable attribute a leader can have.
First thing’s first, what was the first job you ever had? The job after that? And how did it lead you to where you are today?
My first paying job was when I was 14 at an Italian restaurant, Il Giardino, in Vancouver. One of my responsibilities was operating the espresso machine, and that’s where my passion for coffee began.
What’s a typical day at work for you?
I spend a lot of time answering emails and in my car (talking on bluetooth), but other than that there is no such thing as a typical workday… It changes drastically as I move around from new projects to cafes, to meetings.
What has been the most fulfilling project you’ve worked on so far?
Our Seasonally Sourced Coffee Series where we bring in Limited Edition or Direct Trade coffees from organizations such as Las Rosas, a woman’s coffee co-op in Colombia, or The Long Miles Project, a not-for-profit organization that works to help coffee farmers improve their coffee businesses and their lives in Burundi.
In your time working, what do you think has been the most important thing that you’ve learned?
Balance is so important. I try to take care of my personal life, my health, and my family…and encourage the same with my employees because it creates a much healthier work environment when they have great lives away from work.
What do you think the most valuable attribute those looking to get into leadership positions can have?
I think kindness and respect for others is almost everything. Not that I’m perfect in that regard, but how can we expect our companies to grow and prosper if we have employees that don’t like their jobs or feel valued.
How did you turn your dream job into a reality and get paid to do it?
For me it was out of necessity, I couldn’t keep a “normal” job, I was a bit of a disorganized mess… Now I understand that as my creative spirit just waiting to be unleashed.
What’s your advice to someone looking to climb the ladder and add the title of CEO to their resume?
Examine your motives, if it’s for power and money and ego…it could backfire…or not bring you fulfillment. It should start with a genuine love of what you are doing and grow from there.
What’s the best thing about working for Balzac’s?
The people! As Balzac himself said, “The cafe is the people’s parliament.” I love my customers (of course, I don’t know them all but I feel connected to them) and my amazing team. I get far too much credit… I owe everything to them.
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