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A night to remember PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brenda Dumont   
ImageReaders of this blog have often heard me mention the Henry Singer Awards, which are given annually to an outstanding retailer in Canada and presented by the University of Alberta's School of Retailing. This program has grown dramatically in importance and attendance over the past ten years.

This year's presentation - held in early October in Edmonton - was a fabulous night for retailers; probably the best I have attended in my (ahem!) 25-plus years in retail recruitment.

What made it so darn great?

The earlier Henry Singer Awards attracted about 200 attendees and has slowly climbed over the years. In 2008, there were over 650 retailers, students, vendors, and past recipients in the room for the event.

The Retail Council of Canada held a board of directors meeting outside of Toronto for the first time ever in conjunction with this event. All of the directors attended, which is largely a who's who of retail executives in Canada.

The 2008 honouree, Wynne Powell, president and CEO of London Drugs was an excellent and popular choice. The success of London Drugs and its' people is a well-known phenomena across North America and Powell's acceptance speech included some amazing stockroom to boardroom stories about London Drugs employees as well as their constant focus on the customer. Many retailers talk about ‘focus on the customer' - few actually walk that talk better than Wynne Powell. He also shared many of London Drugs philosophies for success. It was a fabulous learning experience for all present.

Wal-Mart Canada gave the school of retailing $1 million. People who have read by columns and blogs over the years will know that, based on my experiences as a retail headhunter, shopper, and vendor, I am pro-Wal-Mart. This is fodder for another blog, but I have long admired their employee relations programs and can reliably report it's very difficult - practically impossible - to recruit a good Wal-Mart manager away from his/her role.

In addition to employee relations, Wal-Mart continually donates money to worthy causes.  High on the list is the furtherance of retail-specific education. Some can say a million dollars is chump-change to the biggest company in the world, but I say it was an outstanding contribution to the new school of retailing (formerly the Canadian Institute of Retailing and Services).

To boot, the newish president of Wal-Mart Canada, David Cheesewright, was on hand to deliver the cheque. His presentation was as full as enthusiasm for the industry, his customers, and employees as you'd expect from a person in his position.  More learning, more feel-good about our great industry.

Want to know the best thing about the evening, though?  All of the current students at the school of retailing attended. Their attendance was highlighted, and they were encouraged to network with all attendees to ask their opinions, try and obtain an internship placement, ask questions and generally get a feel of all the aspects of the industry.

Every retailer there - whether it was Melissa Bigwin, district manager from La Senza or Bob Sator, CEO of the Forzani Group, or Steve Matyas, president of Staples/Business Depot or Keith Soubliere, regional manager, IRIS Visual Group - spent some time with the students. Some of the senior executives visited the classrooms the following day and some made presentations on their careers, and the opportunities available., and its new corporate parent, has long been a sponsor at the Henry Singer Awards and we have supported CIRAS (now the school of retailing) since its inception. I think it's the best marketing/advertising money we spend all year.

Consider getting involved at the partner level with the school of retailing. Their website is

Brenda Dumont is the founder of, the first ever specialty job board designed specifically for retailers. Prior to that, she founded and operated Dumont & Associates Retail Recruitment, a retail-only search firm for ten years and served as corporate human resources manager and training manager for Woodward's Stores Limited.

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