Ashira Gobrin has run the gamut of operational roles. And through her career, she realized the most successful companies invested in the people, not just the processes. This thoughtful approach to business has brought her to Wave, where she is the SVP of People and Culture. It's also brought her to a series of other opportunities — and encounters with people who inspire her.
We spoke to Gobrin about her winding career path — which included immigrating twice — the activities that galvanize her best work and how she makes mentorship meaningful. She also shared her best advice for women who want to succeed at being extraordinary.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Ashira Gobrin
SVP, People and Culture at Wave
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I started off in advertising design with dreams of becoming a creative director. In 1996, looking for my first job, I landed at one of the first web design companies, and got "bitten" by the technology bug. I have been in technology companies ever since, moving from advertising to digital strategy to online market research and finally to software development.
I love the pace, the changing dynamic and the high growth of tech. I love how unpredictable it is and how creative and innovative it is. Over my 20 years in operational roles, I learned that my real successes — the places where I was truly able to change the game — came not through investing in processes and systems, but through investing in people.
My current role is to help a CEO grow a business by investing in the people and building a culture that directly ties to business performance, and that's what I do every day now. I've never found anything more rewarding in my life (other than my 3 children).
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I think of myself as a transformational executive, a natural people manager, and a change advocate; others think of me as a leader who helped achieve new heights of excellence. The simple truth is that by blending a get-it-done performance improvement style with the ability to bring a vision to life, I am able to fuel enterprise-wide execution that drives employee engagement, retention, revenue and growth.
My proudest accomplishments are the people that grew into leaders under my mentorship, those that are now developing other leaders and creating opportunities for people to shine. I see them as the precious gems of my career and my greatest accomplishments.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
I've immigrated countries twice in my life time. Building a life from scratch in a new country, with no family, is really hard. I've found that there are people who come into your life, see something in you and give you an opportunity to prove yourself, so if you put your heart and soul into proving them right, the next opportunity is waiting for you and each one gets easier than the next.
I raised 3 kids through my career, always working full time. I also took volunteer opportunities to make the world they live in a better place. My biggest challenge was always time — how do I make time to be the best wife, mother, manager, employee, coach, mentor and friend? Life's most valuable lesson? If you really want it, and you are prepared to invest and sacrifice for it, you can find a way to have it all.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
Ideshini Naidoo joined us at Wave from Johannesburg to lead our Engineering team. She is one of the most formidable women leaders I know: smart, kind, brilliant, caring, demanding and all-around excellent at everything she does. She has earned the respect of a very tough team, and has elevated of the work they do in leaps and bounds in a short time.
Ideshini is a South African of Indian decent who grew up at the end of the apartheid era. Despite that, she rose through the ranks to be CIO of one of Africas' largest banks at 29 years old. She is humble but confident, and when asking her how she shattered glass ceilings, she just said: "anyone who wants to do something great has to be better than the rest. The rule is the same for all of us. When we are true to ourselves, work hard and put the best of ourselves forward, there really are no glass ceilings."
What do you do when you're not working?
I'm a wife and mother of 3. I'm a painter and when I can find a few hours of solitude, you'll find me in my studio behind a large canvas with a paintbrush in my hands. I'm passionate about education, so I volunteer on the board of my children's schools. I spent 11 years on the board of the Toronto Heschel School, leading it through a major transformation in the final 3 years as Chair of the Board. I am currently Chair of Bnei Akiva High Schools of Toronto, where both my daughters graduated and my son now attends.
I am also a director on the Board of the Canadian Jewish News and an Advisor to the Lola Stein Institute for teacher education. Lastly, I have a large network of special people who mean a lot to me. Over the years I have worked with them, I have seen the grow and develop and so I continue to mentor and invest in them frequently.
If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be?
Wow. Hard one. I'd have to say Albert Einstein. His off-the-wall sense of humor and unique perspective, combined with the ability to simplify hugely complex ideas to the point that anyone could understand and to see things that no one else could see... that is a super power I would love to absorb.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
You don't want me to sing. Seriously.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
I love action-packed movies where I can sit back and watch someone else solve the problems of the world. Quite a change of pace for me, as its usually me doing that for others.
Lightning Round: What would you bring with you on a desert island?
My best friend. That includes a creative problem solver, a sense of humor and the ability to to see the best in every situation. What more would I need?
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
Oh my. I am a purse fanatic. You can never have too many beautiful handbags. But if money were not an issue, I'd have to say that for each one I bought myself, I'd buy one for someone else who could not afford that experience. Confidence is a gift that lives within and is spread without. Doing something like that for someone else means the gift lives on and on and on.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Do not work for a place or a person who does not respect you. Do not do a job that you don't feel passionate about. If you combine your life's passion with what you are good at, and something that the world needs, you will have a job that doesn't feel like work.
Make sure you surround yourself by people better than yourself. Be a constant learner and push yourself further with every opportunity. Nothing great comes easily, but the hard things are the most rewarding.
Why do you love where you work?
I have a boss who is my biggest ambassador and biggest cheerleader. He is demanding and exacting and accepts nothing other than the best — and then he expects more and faster. He pushes me to be better every day. He is aligned with my values, understands my strengths, sees my weaknesses and knows how to help me compensate for them. He saw something in me when we met that others had not seen before. He took a risk and gave me a chance to prove myself in a new role. He stood by me and helped fix my mistakes and applauds when I succeed. This is the hardest, most challenging and most fun job I have ever worked in.