2022 Star Women in Grocery winner Bonnie Birollo (Q&A)
Senior Level Star
SVP, Retail Operations
How did you get your start in retail?
I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school. At this point, I still didn’t know what “I wanted to be when I grew up.” I had plans to head off to university in the fall but was expecting to receive a senior camp leader position for the summer at the community centre where I had worked for the past four summers. Instead, I received a letter advising that due to cutbacks, my services would not be required. After two weeks of moping, I hopped on my bike and rode down to my local Safeway. I handed in my one-page resume at the customer service desk and hoped for the best.
What's your proudest moment?
This is a tough question as I’ve had many proud milestone moments both personally, and as part of the many teams I’ve had the privilege of being a part of. One standout moment for me, is the day, early on in my tenure at Sobeys, when I had the opportunity to tour the Safeway where I first worked at in Richmond, B.C. (Seafair) with Pierre Saint-Laurent, Empire’s chief operating officer. It was a surreal moment given that I had spent eight years of my life as a cashier and bakery clerk at this store. It was super fun to recognize the team members at this location, shine a spotlight on their efforts, and share with Pierre the exact location where my retail journey began.
Biggest career challenge?
I’ve been exceptionally fortunate throughout my career. Sure, I’ve faced many of the challenges that, unfortunately, most women face at some point along the way including harassment, patronization, undermining, etc. – but thankfully nothing too damaging. Frankly, my biggest repeated challenge has been when I’ve thought I was ready for the next step in responsibility and/or challenge and my manager/boss hasn’t necessarily agreed. As such, I’ve had to leave some great and very successful organizations with amazing people and cultures - not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I felt the need to push myself to that next level. As weird as it might sound, my biggest motivator is never “getting too comfortable.” I’m not done learning and growing as a professional. I guess it’s the sign of a true operator—never happy with the status quo.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My point of view is that a position of leadership is truly a position of servitude. It’s about removing barriers and bringing out the best in others, so they can show up and make their optimum contributions. Sure, at times, I can be tough when required, but I prefer to be approachable, provide open and honest feedback, and build people up. Working collaboratively in teams, creating safe spaces for debate and dialogue, and inspiring others is where I like to “play.” Complete with a big dose of humour. I also believe that consistency in leadership is key, and I love moments (big and small) where we win as a team and can celebrate together.
How do you like to spend time outside of work?
I’m naturally inspired by beauty and learning. I usually have more than one book on the go and take two or more online courses per year. I love spending time in nature, whether that’s in a forest hiking, river rafting some rapids or walking a beach. I’m fascinated by the Renaissance era so anything to do with art and architecture – please sign me up (must be my Italian roots). I’m very close to my family, and my four nieces plus one nephew have dubbed me as the “adventure auntie.” It’s not uncommon for us to be horseback riding up a mountain one day, and then heading to a museum or a candlelit classical concert the next. I wholly subscribe to the idea that work and life should intertwine. My Dad said to me when I was a tween: “If you love your work, you will never work a day in your life.” I continue to aspire to “never work,” because I love what I do, and the way I get to inspire and interact with others.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It took me many years into my career to become confident in my personal strengths. Of course, I still have many areas of “opportunity.” We all do. However, a key turning for me was the moment I began to understand that I can choose the filter that I want to apply to words like “assertive” and “ambitious.” For me, these words now represent strength and courage. Choose to be uncomfortable, choose to be brave. I encourage other female professionals, no matter where they are at in their personal journeys, to keep aspiring to become the leaders and role models that each of us needed when we were younger, and still need today.
Click here for the full list of 2022 Star Women in Grocery award winners.