Many association professionals can say they’ve witnessed the evolution of business from being conducted on typewriters to being completed with drones and 3D printers, but how many can say they’ve witnessed this transformation from the vantage point of a singular association?
Mary Wademan is the office manager for the Ontario General Contractors Association. The OGCA was founded in 1939 by 11 local contracting firms to be a proactive voice for general contracting issues across Ontario. Mary has been a proactive voice for OGCA’s board, staff and members for more than one-third of the association’s existence, assisting with numerous events, member publications and general tasks since 1990. We enjoyed talking with her about her professional growth with OGCA and how association leadership means listening to members and showing them respect no matter their issues. After all, members are the reason associations exist.
Although Mary is hardly finished with her career, she’s proud that she can already say she has set out to accomplish her primary career goal, which is to be the best at what she does.
Association Adviser: You earned a diploma in Advertising. How did you find your way to the association community?
Mary Wademan: I graduated from Sheridan College in 1975 with a diploma in Advertising. My dad worked in specialty advertising and I was always interested in commercials on television. I would look up from reading to watch a commercial, rather than the television show. I still do this now! I was looking to get out of self-employment that wasn’t working for me and saw an advertisement for someone who knew the word processing program Word 2000. Somehow, I had learned that program and was hired as a secretary.
AA: The construction industry has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. What drew you to work for OGCA 30 years ago? What keeps you there today?
MW: The construction industry is definitely a male industry, but I think associations work tend to have more women working and running things. There are quite a few local construction associations that are run primarily by women, but their boards are more likely to be dominated by men. For me, I stay because of the different things I get to work on. I like the people I work with and have been fortunate to have had three totally different presidents running the office. There are also some great perks that come from being in the job so long! The one thing I can say is that I have made my job a career, not just a job.
AA: What’s on your daily or weekly task list?
MW: I always start my day with emails. If there are any that are of real importance, I deal with them first. Some get put on the back burner, but one thing I am very proud of is how quickly I respond to emails from our members. Depending on the time of year, I have several items that will need to be completed.
Twice a year, we put together a magazine for members, architects, government people and nonmembers. My job is to gather the topics, proof them and submit them to the publisher. Right now, I am working on the annual membership directory. I gather the profile pages and submit everything by the deadline. It is sometimes an effort to get members to respond in a timely manner, but we usually succeed.
I am also preparing the documents to accompany the executive committee and board of directors meeting, sending notices and setting up the Zoom calls. Our board meets six times per year. I also send out the newsletter every two weeks, gathering and proofing all the articles and making sure that the links work.
In between all of that, I find time to supervise some of the staff and answer any questions they have. Our former president Clive Thurston always referred to me as “the Boss” and this has carried over to the new president, Giovanni Cautillo.
AA: What are the biggest changes to the construction industry, and to OGCA, that you’ve witnessed during your tenure? What is something that hasn’t changed at all?
MW: I think one of the biggest changes is the use of technology. When I started in 1990, we were still using electric typewriters. Nowadays, drones, 3D printers and tablets are in common everyday use. Some of the things that haven’t changed are the issues that contractors face every day: unfair risk, quality of documents, not enough women and people of colour in construction, and so much more. I have taken a bit of an interest in trying to resolve some of the tender issues that have arisen, thanks to Clive Thurston, and hope I have served the members well in this regard.
AA: What would YOU change about the industry?
MW: I would like to see more women in positions of power in the construction industry. There are very few women who are running construction companies, and I don’t know why that is.
AA: Who is a leader you look up to?
MW: I have been through three presidents and 30 chairmen. I have always worked well with both, and with most of the staff who have worked for OGCA over the years. I think I look up to the chairmen and presidents who have listened to the staff. One of our former presidents wrote me a note to say that he could drop a handwritten letter on my desk and before he got back to his office, it would be typed and ready to be signed. I took that to mean he was pleased with my work, and for that I can say I have achieved what I set out to do, which was to be the best at what I do.
AA: What leadership lessons have you learned from your predecessors?
MW: I have learned to listen, think about what has been said, act on it if necessary, and don’t carry things over to the next day. I have learned that the members are the most important thing in association work, and we need to show them respect no matter what their issues are.
AA: In terms of your job, what keeps you up at night?
MW: Just trying to make sure I haven’t forgotten something important, like, did I send out the notice for the Annual General Meeting 60 days out? Did I remember to update the website with the new board and executive committee? Did I send the notice for the next board meeting? Did I set up the Zoom call? I work on so many different events, publications, and newsletters that something is bound to slip my mind. Fortunately, these things can be taken care of quite quickly.