Anita Huberman is the most impressive person I have ever interviewed. Her accomplishments inspired me more than the hundreds and hundreds of politicians, professionals and entertainers that I have spoken to. (Including the likes of David Suzuki and Tom Lavin of the legendary Powder Blues Band) Anita Huberman, President and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade(SBOT), is amazing.
For over 16 years, she has led the Surrey Board of Trade, one of Canada’s top 3 Boards of Trade/Chambers of Commerce. The board serves over 6000 member contacts. In 2021 she was announced as one of fifteen outstanding Canadians for her work in the private sector and through the pandemic. She is the only South Asian CEO of a Canadian Municipalities Board of Trade.
She is also the first Indo-Canadian woman to be named an honorary Captain of the Royal Canadian Navy, holds the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, was given the 2019 Surrey Community Builder of the year award and received a Canada 150 Community Medal. These awards merely scratch the surface of this brilliant woman’s accomplishments.
She graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in communication and a minor in European History in 1996. She worked part-time at the SBOT as their tourist information counsellor/office assistant while studying at SFU to help pay her tuition and get her degree. Even then, she was making her mark.
She told me, “I wanted to do something that would make a difference. I tried working for a bank for a year, but it just didn’t feel right.”
“I found myself back at the Surrey Board of Trade again. It was a natural fit. My parents wanted me to become a doctor. Of course, like any typical Indian family, I wanted to make them proud. But two things were essential to me. I wanted to make a difference in my community, but I was still determining what that would look like. I knew I wanted to travel the world. That was part of what drew me to European History at SFU. I wanted to find out about different parts of the World.”
Life at the Surrey Board of Trade was not without its challenges for a young South Asian woman back in those days. It was a male-dominated place, so Anita had to work three times as hard as anyone else just to be taken seriously.
This incredible work ethic may have been one of the keys to her success. When she applied for the position of CEO and Board President in 2010, she made sure her application was first-rate and she was 100% ready for her interviews.
“More than 100%”, she says, smiling. “I was thirty-two years old, I’d never been a CEO before, I wasn’t part of the old guard, and most of my board directors were men. It was an old boys club. So it was more than an uphill battle. But I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t think I could do it.”
Anita was the first Indo-Canadian President of a Board of Trade. “There are many now, but I was the first.”
Trailblazing is apparently in her DNA. So is team building. “I couldn’t be here without my team. You need a strong team to have the confidence to move forward and deliver results. That’s why Surrey has been so successful.”
Anita’s studies of European History helped her reshape the Board and make it more progressive. “The ideas in Europe were leaps ahead of where we are. I wanted to enhance those ideas and build on them here.”
The SBOT has a unique youth program that teaches people as young as in grade four how to be entrepreneurs. At the heart of this program is the idea that businesses must give back to their communities. In essence, to help make a better world.
“They make their product, develop budgets, learn how to deliver their products and talk to people. Mostly kids from the inner city. We have another program for at-risk kids to help them succeed. Every single person matters in this economy. That’s what sets us apart from other Boards of Trade.”
“We were the first ones that really advocated for child care as an economic issue, for poverty reduction, housing investments, and education investments to be part of BC’s and our City’s development plan.”
“One third of our population is under 19, so our youth is critical to us. We want our City to not only grow in population but grow as a community and in its capacity for caring as well.”
Anita grew up in Prince George and came to Surrey when she was 11. “At that time, people didn’t want to come to Surrey. They believed this was where the poor people lived. But now it’s a city of opportunity. And thanks to some great political leaders working with us at the Board of Trade, we are one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities.”
Whether it’s eight new towers, UBC coming to Surrey, or a robust manufacturing sector with a high-speed rail line that connects Surrey to California, this City is on the move. Anita talks about the ‘Cascadia Economic Corridor’ which will also connect us to Oregon and Washington.
“Surrey is the next silicon valley. We connect to India, Ireland, Dubai and other parts of the world. It’s not all about Vancouver anymore.”
Anita recites Surrey’s successes. She is a champion for her community who believes art is essential for Surrey to be a World Class City. She believes it is an economic builder. “I said to our new Mayor that art needs to be part of our renewed Economic and Jobs plan.”
Since 2002 the total population of Surrey has grown by over 140k to 1.2 million. That’s a 13.3% increase. It is currently the second-largest City in BC and is projected to pass Vancouver in the next 20 years.
Anita believes very strongly that life is a Journey. With her at the helm, I can safely say that the sky is the limit for Surrey, the City of opportunity. ◆
When determining the value of real estate, there are 3 key approaches: Income Approach: How much rent can I generate from this property? Replacement Cost: How much would it cost to build this property today?Land Value: The value of the property to a developer who chose to tear down and start again.
As an agent for change, Len leads and advises for systemic transformation in universities across North America. He specializes in developing educational programs and services with decolonization and reconciliation as their core values. He comes to us with an open heart and open mind and hopes to be received in the same way.
As human beings, we make decisions first and foremost based on judgments. Even the most open-minded person needs to categorize the world into groups of preference and prejudice.