By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel
During a difficult time for the aviation industry, Tamara Vrooman is rising to the challenge.
Named CEO of Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in May, she began her new role on July 1 amid pandemic restrictions.
“In some ways coming in during this time you’d think would be a challenge, but actually it’s an opportunity to look at the business and the organization end to end, and do it in an environment where fast-moving change is going to be required,” says Vrooman.
Born in Victoria and a lifelong British Columbian, Vrooman’s work in the business community has been recognized many times over. The CEO of Vancity for 13 years, she led the credit union to become the largest Canadian organization to adopt a living wage policy in 2011.
Last June Vrooman was named chancellor of Simon Fraser University (SFU), where she received an honourary doctorate in 2016. She’s also been recognized by groups such as the Association of Women in Finance and the Women’s Executive Network.
When named SFU’s chancellor, Vrooman was described as “a respected leader and champion for social justice” by SFU president and vice chancellor Andrew Petter.
“She brings a wealth of experience and a strong commitment to community betterment,” Petter added.
Last year, Vrooman received the Order of British Columbia for her community leadership through business. She says ever since leaving university, she’s always been drawn to business as an opportunity to serve people and communities.
“The opportunity to provide leadership and work with people who are such a vital part of the economy as an airport is always appealing and will continue to be so,” she says.
A former board member at the airport Vrooman knew the organization and what it stood for before assuming her new position. The airport’s people-centric nature and sense of place always stood out, as well as its connection to the community and the Musqueam nation.
“When you’re at YVR, it’s absolutely clear where in the world you are,” she says.
Vrooman adds that the timing of her appointment has given her the opportunity to set YVR on a path for the future. While there have been unexpected challenges, she maintains that the people around her constantly demonstrate their strength.
“It’s been a great opportunity to see that even in the most challenging times, the essence of what makes a big company and organization great is unchanging and comes to the fore right when it’s needed,” she says.
There are several focal areas Vrooman wants to work on during her tenure. She sees the lower passenger volume during the pandemic as an opportunity to do things that weren’t possible before. Adjusting to COVID-19 means having basic protocols in place, but the airport has also stepped up its cleaning technology, deploying elements like robotics and artificial intelligence.
And looking to the future, YVR hopes to continue its strong connections to the Asia Pacific region and its economy, says Vrooman.
“Looking into the next 30 years, what role does YVR need to play when it comes to things like technology, logistics, cargo delivery, drone delivery, the opportunity for bioscience and biosecurity to be a bigger part of our economy going forward?” she adds.
So far, Vrooman’s time as CEO has been filled with plans for new projects amid the constant changes of the pandemic. And through it all, her commitment to the airport and its future success is clear.
“Tamara is a visionary executive with an exemplary track record leading large, complex institutions in both the private and public sectors, including through periods of enormous challenge, innovation and growth,” says board chair Annalisa King. “With a career-long commitment to the betterment of BC, she is the ideal person to lead YVR forward.”
Although challenged by the unpredictability of the pandemic and its impact on planned growth, Vrooman clearly has passion for the industry.
“I’ve always been a big fan of YVR, a high user of its service, and I’m proud to be the CEO,” she says.