From Construction to Publishing: Sally Douglas on her Career

Sally Douglas is Deputy Publisher at iPolitics and current Chair of the WCT National Capital Region.


When did you start your career path and why did you choose it?

My career path has been eclectic. I actually planned to go to art school but my parents over-ruled me and so I was steered into nursing. Although I qualified (and have always appreciated the training) I think it was inevitable I would veer back toward something creative. Somehow I caught a break and got the chance to become a Trainee Commercial Project Manager in Construction working on interior finishes. A job I grew into and loved. After a number of years I took a new challenge in the same company of National Training Manager.  Another big change, a huge challenge but fortunately one I truly relished.

When I came to Canada (emigrating from Scotland) just over a decade ago I realized the common thread of my career at that point was really about taking a project from conception to completion and beyond. Whether as a project manager or devising and implementing a company-wide training plan I had learnt to start with very little and build something.

Canada proved challenging to get back into the work force. I did not speak French and had no local experience – the later issue being somewhat of a catch 22. So another big shift in career was waiting for me. Instead of working in training or construction I was given the opportunity to build a recruitment team here in Ottawa, with an international company called HAYS Specialist Recruitment. Over 5 years we built a team providing recruitment solutions in a variety of disciplines including my own – construction and engineering. It was a huge challenge and inevitably taught me a great deal about both business development and about Canada.

And then a day came when I met Mr James Baxter – the owner of iPolitics - an online news service specializing in politics and policy. He was looking for a business developer and believed he needed someone from outside the journalism industry sector. Journalism is changing beyond all recognition and he understood to follow the same road maps of old would be to fail. And so he offered me the opportunity. That was 5 years ago. In that time I have gone through another enormous learning curve in a sector I knew nothing about and learning as I went along. We have built the business, doubling in size and revenue year-on-year. We now employ a team of 25, have a respected and reliable brand recognized across Canada and have over 9 revenue streams including advertising options, a variety of specialist information services and event management. We customize and deliver newsletters and bespoke digital and/or print magazines and we continue to deliver quality journalism, analysis and opinion 24/7.


What or who helped you get you to where you are today?

Luck has helped me every step of the way. I do believe however we make our own luck to some extent. I have always had a love of people and I know this has helped me. I enjoy finding out about the careers and lives of those I meet and inevitably that has lead me to opportunities I might have otherwise not found.

Mentors, both formal and informal have been vital. People that believe in and encourage you, who are good enough to offer constructive criticism or just the listening ear to give me the sounding board to reach good solutions.  People can be mentors without even knowing they are doing this for you. People you admire or want to “grow up and be like”. They can be people in your life or people who have left you. Poets or politicians, leaders or actors. The common denominator among them is always behaviors or beliefs that resonates with you and using that connection to motivate and keep you on track. Occasionally I have also come across a few who are the kind of people I do not want to be like and I have used those individuals as mentors of sorts as well. I keep them with me. They remind me of the kind of person I do not want to be.

So whether formal or unbeknown, whether family or stranger, expert sponsors or a younger colleague with no experience the people around me – good and bad, have mentored and influenced me every step of the way.


What are some challenges that you faced in your career? How did you overcome these challenges?

Changing career direction has it’s challenges. In business training theory there is a learning circle called the 4 stages of competence.

1. Unconsciously Incompetent
2. Consciously Incompetent
3. Consciously Competent and
4. Unconsciously Competent.

The idea is that it is impossible to know the full extent of what you do not know when you start a new job. But there is a phase you will come to when it all becomes clear and you begin to understand the full extent of what you have to learn – Consciously Incompetent. It may sound derogatory but really it means you are in a state of learning. I have spent a lot of time at this stage in the cycle but perhaps, over the years I have come to relish this potential growth and it has become a more comfortable zone. I am sure this has helped me tremendously.


When you look around the room in meetings do you see enough diversity?

We could always have more diversity. The young teaching the old as well as the other way round, people from all walks of life coming together and sharing experience, men and woman balancing perspective.  As the fabulous Maya Angelou said, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”


What advice would you give your younger self? 

Be brave and never believe or say out loud “I can’t”! Life is short so we must never settle for second best. We must strive to be the best version of ourselves and never be afraid to ask for help. I have learnt so many times, people like to help. And there will always be the opportunity to pass it forward.


What is a quote that you live by?

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

By Theodore Roosevelt


You can get in touch with Sally Douglas through LinkedIn or Twitter. In the Ottawa-Gatineau area? Meet Sally through the NCR Mentorship Circles


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