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Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce finds new skipper

A recruiting campaign that attracted nearly two dozen applicants has produced an “excellent” new executive director, according to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.
Melissa Syer is the new executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, starting Nov. 8. Photo courtesy of Hannah Eden Photography

A recruiting campaign that attracted nearly two dozen applicants has produced an “excellent” new executive director, according to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

The hiring committee whittled that list down to three and made their selection: a 17-year military veteran with high-level management experience, a graduate degree in communication and a Queen’s Jubilee Medal to boot.

But there was a wrinkle: the successful applicant was Melissa Syer, who is married to Tim Syer, the now-former president of the Chamber (another way to say the chair of the board of directors).

The outgoing executive director, Deneen Everett, explained that having both Syers in those positions would have represented a conflict of interest as defined by the Chamber’s policy on the subject, which is spelled out on page 10 of its Board Governance Policy.

So, Tim stepped down to “mitigate any of those perceived conflicts.” CloudWorks co-founder Rob Warburton took over as president Oct. 12.

“We had a separate hiring committee and Tim was not involved in the hiring process whatsoever,” Everett said. “In fact, we established a hiring committee with board members to review all the applications that were received to choose candidates that we interviewed and then to actually conduct the interview and make the selection.

“The goal was to have a transparent and competitive hiring process and we selected Melissa because she’s the best candidate and she’s going to make an excellent addition to our team.”

Critical timing

Everett said the transition takes place at a critical time for Yellowknife businesses which can be seen as both a difficult and a time of opportunity.

“Whether it is the Covid-19 pandemic or the labour shortages or supply chain issues that businesses are facing, this is a difficult time,” she said. “But it’s also an exciting time because we are seeing that businesses are changing how they operate.

“They’re changing how they deliver their products and services and what those products and services are.”

Everett is leaving at the end of December after eight years at the helm, which is a metaphor Syer will probably identify with: during a 17-year career in the Royal Canadian Navy, she worked on the bridges of the HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Calgary and is a specialist in “underwater warfare.”

She graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in 2005, holds a master’s degree in professional communcation and was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for demonstrating excellence and leadership in that field. She also spent six years recruiting for the military in Vancouver and Calgary.

Her military career brought her to Joint Task Force North in 2016, where she led a team that planned and executed operations. Since 2019, she’s been a capital planner with the GNWT’s Department of Infrastructure.

Syer starts on Nov. 8, so she’ll have time to learn the ropes with Everett before she sets off on her own course.

“I’ve been looking for something to do that would be sort of a more dynamic role, where I’d get to meet lots of different people in the community,” she said. “I think I’m really interested in … growing whatever successes that Deneen has overseen. She was one of the reasons I was interested in the role and she has done a fantastic job for the organization.”

Syer was “thrilled” to hear it was mission accomplished.

“I have a very good job I’m in right now,” she said. “I am compensated handsomely. I have responsibilities commensurate with my seniority and experience. I work with very smart, hard-working people, and I’m sad to be leaving this job but I’m excited about the opportunity to work with business owners.”

– with reporting from Ethan Butterfield