Cheryl Carver is the associate vice-president of people and resources at USask. (Photo: James Shewaga)

From assembly line to the board room for Carver

An encounter with one of Canada’s biggest business leaders helped carve out a career path for one of the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) senior leaders.

Raised in Cape Breton, N.S., Cheryl Carver was initially interested in studying science, but quickly learned she had a keen sense for business instead. As a teenager, Carver—USask’s associate vice-president, people and resources—was involved in Junior Achievement (JA) Canada, a non-profit that helps youth start their own businesses and lead teams. In Grade 12 she was already the president of her own company, taking over from a colleague when things weren’t going well.

“We were losing money and considering simply closing up shop,” said Carver. “I accepted the challenge of leadership. As a team we talked it though, identified the problem and came up with Plan B. We didn’t make a lot of money by the end of the year, but we had turned the business around.”

It was because of her leadership that, at age 18, Carver won the JA award for best managed company in Canada.

It was this award that unknowingly helped shape the trajectory of Carver’s career. As a national award winner, Carver was asked to speak at the Canadian Business Hall of Fame gala where she met a number of Canadian business leaders, one of whom was Frank Stronach, a well-known entrepreneur with a penchant for supporting youth as they launched their careers.

Recognizing her potential, Stronach asked her where she’d like to work in his company, Magna International, after she graduated.

“I was maybe 22 years old,” said Carver. “The opportunity he was affording me was huge.”

Initially, Carver was unsure of where she might be able to have the most impact at Magna, but after some consideration chose human resources.

“I knew in my experience from Junior Achievement that the thing I enjoyed most was seeing how an engaging environment that involved everyone could lead to greater success,” she said.

While she was armed with an undergraduate degree in commerce and a master’s in industrial relations, Carver still wanted to know more about manufacturing car parts. At her request, Stronach arranged for Carver to spend her first six months at Magna working on the manufacturing line. Resembling an episode of Undercover Boss, Carver learned not only how hard the work was, but also the personal and professional challenges her colleagues faced.

“It was exhausting, and I wasn’t very good at it,” said Carver. “My apologies to anyone who bought a Ford in the ’90s with window problems. That might have been me!”

“Frank had a big impact on me,” Carver added. “I had the chance to experience all sides of a global organization, to work with a diverse group of people to see how the business was being run around the world. I always remember how focused Frank was on empowering people and making sure they understood their connection to the big picture.”

Just like her experience in JA, Carver saw the link between Magna’s success and the engagement of the people who worked there, something she has carried over to her role at USask.

“My goal is always to empower people in a way that creates a more engaging work environment, allowing us to run an effective organization,” said Carver.

Joining USask as the director in human resources in 2004, Carver has since taken on an even larger portfolio as AVP of people and resources, including finance, procurement and human resources.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” said Carver. “In some ways I’ve felt like I did when I joined the manufacturing line back in 1989, but I didn’t find it as overwhelming this time. I know that I have good people all around me who are so engaged in supporting students, faculty, staff and leaders across the university. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of an organization that is deeply committed to developing the skills and knowledge of our students, and providing amazing opportunities for our faculty and staff.” 

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