2019 Ascend Canada leadership award winners show us how to be bold, be different and still be you

A decorative image of Ascend Canada's Awards.

Being bold and different is a leadership challenge that doesn’t come easy to most people, but there were many shining examples at the 2019 Ascend Canada Leadership Awards reception.

Kelvin Tran, President, Ascend Canada, welcomed more than 300 leaders from corporate Canada to celebrate five individuals who have shown exemplary leadership, career achievement, and contributions to the Pan-Asian community.

He also asked the audience to “Be Bold, Be Different, Be You” a challenge to live up to Ascend Canada’s chosen theme this year and take individual leadership to make an impact in our communities.

It wasn’t hard to be inspired by the evening’s award recipients and speakers.

Applauded by his peers for his honesty and astute business sense, K. Rai Sahi, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Morguard Corp., was named Executive of the Year. This award recognizes a strong leader who has made outstanding contributions to their business and community, and served as a catalyst to growth and innovation excellence.

“My family has played a big role in my journey. Without their support this would have not been possible,” Rai said, as he accepted the award. “Equally important is my team, some of whom have been with the organization for the last 20 years. Recognize your ecosystem, as they will become your biggest supporters and advocates.”

  • Daniel Rodic received the Rising Star Award, which recognizes a Pan-Asian individual under 30 years of age who has demonstrated early leadership qualities through personal performance and commitment to professional, volunteer and educational opportunities. Daniel is a serial entrepreneur, and is the co-Founder and CEO of Exact Media, a company that has reinvented samples.
  • Zahra Ebrahim, an Executive Advisor for Civic Innovation at Deloitte, received the Mentor of the Year Award for her commitment to provide guidance to hundreds of her colleagues, clients and students. The award also recognizes an individual who has significantly helped a Pan-Asian individuals’ quality of life and professional development. She is also a designer and instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
  • Frank Nguyen, Chief Technical Officer and co-Founder of HelpWear Inc., received the Innovator of the Year award for his work in disrupting the health care industry. This award recognizes a Pan-Asian individual who develops new or improves processes, methods, systems, products or services that have a meaningful impact in the workplace and community. Faced with concern for his ailing mother, he is on a mission to provide affordable health tools for others.
  • Mohit Ganju was presented with the Volunteer of the Year award, which recognizes an individual from Ascend Canada’s volunteer base.  He began volunteering with Ascend shortly after immigrating to Canada three years ago, and was instrumental in bringing engagement to an all-time high across all Ascend social media channels. He credits his volunteer opportunity at Ascend in helping him bridge his skills and newcomer experience to land a job at Scotiabank.

Attendees also heard from Elio Luongo, Chief Executive Officer at KPMG, who emphasized that diversity of thought is the root of innovation and is the secret ingredient that gives strength to an organization. During a fireside chat with Ascend board member Farah Qasemi, he said he prides himself in creating an environment where everyone feels safe to express their ideas and fight against bias in the workplace.

“As a leader, it’s your job to listen and draw out ideas from your entire team because we create better solutions by leveraging our differences,” he said.

True to his word, he graciously invited Farah to share her perspective on the importance of having good role models. She said there is a need to empower individuals and recognize their contributions. She recalled how she was unsure of herself when she returned from maternity leave and as a woman of ethnicity in a male-dominated industry. She went to a meeting and stood at the back of the room, but Elio brought her front and center, making sure her voice was heard.

To wrap up the event, Vincent Lee, another Ascend board member, talked about the importance of having good role models. He challenged leaders to join him in paying it forward to the next set of Pan-Asian leaders, including participating in Ascend Café, a partnership with a third party technology platform called Ten Thousand Coffees to connect Ascend members. He added, “actions vests legacy, do more, become more.”