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2017 Golden Pencil winner: Diane J. Brisebois

Retail Council of Canada president and CEO talks about her love for the industry

Diane Brisebois says her friends are reluctant to go shopping with her, lest she burst into another emotional speech about how great the retail industry is and how much it contributes to the economy. She’s joking about her friends (we think) but her love and commitment to the industry is undeniable.

“It’s a passion,” she says. “I just get a real high when we win an issue for our members, or we can provide assistance or support or some information that makes a difference.”

That passion burns bright even after 22 strong and successful years as president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC). Brisebois credits the teams she’s worked with as the “best and brightest” of the industry. “They inspire you to look ahead ... to understand where the association needs to go to be effective and relevant. My most important job is just to make sure that bloody happens.”

And that’s what she has done over and over again—no small accomplishment with such a large and diverse association dealing with often-conflicting interests on complicated matters, from food safety regulations and healthy eating initiatives to evolving environmental policies.

“The most difficult work for an association when it represents a wide constituency, including very large players, is the ability to bring them all to the table to agree on an issue, and to come to a consensus,” she says. “I’m proud that we have been able to bring all of the key players together to set aside their differences--because they are in a very competitive environment--to discuss and agree on what is good for the industry.”

Aside from being the honest broker that pulls the industry together and pushes it forward, she’s also been its biggest champion. Most retailers instinctively avoid bragging about what they do or taking strong positions on political issues, so Brisebois and her team do it for them.

“A lot of people don’t understand the amazing contributions that retailers and specifically grocery retailers make,” she said. “They don’t realize that for every job created in retail, four more jobs are created in other sectors.”

She gets especially frustrated when politicians or the media show more interest in new players or disruptors entering the market and ignore important Canadian stories and innovations. “It drives me bananas,” she says.

Brisebois wants the RCC to do more and better in this regard and considers it a top priority for the association going forward. “I want us to take that to another level so the public gets a much better sense of the role of retail in the community, so that message resonates with regular folks when they are shopping.”

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