One of Vancouver’s own has been recognized for a third time by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) CANADA’S MOST POWERFUL WOMEN: Top 100 Awards. Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia, O.B.C., LL.D. (HON.) is a pioneer in the hospitality industry having founded the world-class Absolute Spa Group in 1997 which is Canada’s largest independent spa chain. She has also been CEO of Century Plaza Hotel and Spa since 1986 which provides award-winning hotel service and luxurious hotel amenities in the center of downtown Vancouver.
The industry awards and recognition stack high with accolades including an honorary doctorate of laws from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. She was recognized with the Order of British Columbia in 2015. Her community and humanitarian work proves to be just as rewarding as running businesses on the executive level. Wendy was the Vancouver Board of Trade’s fifth and youngest female chair and the Vancouver Police Foundations first female Trustee. She also co-founded the Pacific Autism Family Centre Foundation which has raised $31.4 million to date.
As an iconic trailblazer for women, Wendy exemplifies how a lifetime of high achievements and ambitions go hand-in-hand. On a day-to-day basis she runs multiple hospitality companies including the hotel & spa, the spa group and an international spa product distribution company, Soluzione Spa Products. When not running a charitable organization and her businesses, time is also found to serve on multiple boards.
We chatted with one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women about the tourism & hospitality industry, women at the executive level and her philanthropic commitments:
What does holding the honour as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women mean to you?
It’s humbling to be in the company of our country’s incredible female leaders and I’m honoured to be recognized. It’s so important that we continue to forge the path for young women to find success AND achieve whatever levels of leadership they set their minds to.
Where do you see the workforce and wage gap going in 10 years with more women than men being educated in Canada?
This is definitely a workplace and societal issue. The current gap needs to be addressed for many gender equality reasons, but also for the Canadian economy to compete at an international level. I’m optimistic that as men and women become more educated on this disparity, the gap will begin to level, but business leaders need to do their part and always aim for equality in their workplace.
As a path forger, how do you support the next generation of women in leadership?
I try and support our next generation by aiming to instil confidence in our young women as strong business leaders themselves. At our organizations we strive to ensure that women are given equal opportunity in the workplace and openly discuss their career growth. I have mentored young women through the Women’s Executive Network and YWCA where I provided guidance to our next Canadian women leaders.
With a resume that takes more than a few minutes to read, how would you describe yourself as a person?
I have been described as relentless, which startled me at first but i guess it’s true. I never give up and I don’t let failure stand in my way, and trust me, I’ve failed a few times. I truly believe that with passion and persistence, ABSOLUTELY anything is possible.
What is the greatest success or failure you experienced having grown Absolute Spa Group from a single spa into 11 locations?
Through the companies I have built with my husband, not only am I able to provide employment for over 500 people, I also use our corporate success and visibility to raise awareness and support for important charitable organizations like our new Pacific Autism Family Centre Foundation. Our new centre and its affiliated spokes will provide knowledge, support, connections and services to individuals and families living with Autism and related-disorders throughout British Columbia and Canada.
With advancing technology and disrupts in the hospitality and tourism industry, how do you keep your companies ahead of the curve?
Technology has completely changed marketing strategies for the tourism industry. A definite challenge is keeping up with the lightning speed in which technology evolves, more positively; the world is now at my fingertips and the power of technology unites diverse groups of people. We ensure to keep up-to-date with all the latest advancements.
Why is philanthropic work so important to you and what inspired setting up the Pacific Autism Family Foundation?
I request all our team members donate a minimum of eight hours a year to a charitable cause that is close to their heart. It takes a whole community to help people and it’s important to be a leader if you have the opportunity. Philanthropy is imperative to improving our society and if we all did our part the world would be a much better place!
What does serving on boards, task forces and committees enable you to do?
Serving on boards is an honour. I am fortunate to share my time with dynamic and dedicated people who make things happen in our province. A task force very close to my heart, the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), just launched their Guide in October of this year, which outlines key steps to setting up an RDSP. This guide will greatly assist individuals living with differing abilities.
What package makes a great gift or self-pampering experience at one of your facilities?
At this time of year, it’s definitely our Absolute Angel package. As our platinum gift, it includes our signature massage, prescription facial and signature manicure and pedicure. It also includes an aromatherapy gift set complete with all the necessary fixings to feel absolutely relaxed and rejuvenated during any season.
Advice for young women entrepreneurs in Canada?
I would continue to encourage young women to take risks and go forth with confidence. Entrepreneurs need to be flexible and adapt to change with an open mind. It’s important to expect difficult challenges and tackle all problems with self-assurance.
Interview by: Amar Mirchandani @amarmirch