Growing up in the service industry, Soula Burrell learned at a young age the art of hospitality and of making sure that others were well taken care of.
Her parents, both hard-working Greek immigrants, started from the bottom when they each came to Canada — her mom working in a factory and her dad washing dishes at a diner — until they met, married and saved enough money to run their own restaurant, eventually choosing small town life in the Ottawa Valley. Nicholas and Eleni Boretos ran Nicholson’s in Pembroke for 35 years.
“I always loved getting to know our patrons,” said Burrell, 58, of her years of working at her family’s restaurant. “The fundamentals of serving have followed me throughout my career. My career has been all about serving people, it’s always been about service.”
This past summer, Burrell stepped away from her job as executive director of the Women’s Business Network (WBN) of Ottawa to become director of membership for the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA).
GOHBA is the voice of the building, land development and professional renovation industry in the Ottawa area. Its members include builders, renovators, designers, trade contractors, suppliers and financial institutions. It also hosts an annual housing design awards gala, happening this year in a virtual format on Nov. 19th.
Burrell said the builders’ association had approached her with a job offer. It was based on a referral made by Eugeniya Tsetlin-Paliga, past board president at WBN and a leader in the real estate finance division of commercial banking at CIBC.
Burrell liked the fact that the work she’d be doing for GOHBA would be much more hands-on with its 400 members than her largely administrative duties at WBN, a volunteer-driven businesswomen’s networking group that saw tremendous growth in membership and sponsorship support under her three-year leadership. She helped to raise its public profile, growing its LinkedIn presence by 800 percent. As well, WBN enjoyed the largest attendance ever at its Businesswoman of the Year Awards dinner held in 2019. Burrell is also proud that WBN became more diversified and inclusive during her time there, creating more seats on its board for women of colour.
These days, Burrell works in a sector dominated by men. Not that she’s complaining. She appreciates men's ability to compartmentalize and to focus on the task at hand. “I have met so many great people from the builder industry.”
Above all, she likes her new boss, GOHBA executive director Jason Burggraaf. She first met him, very briefly, at a fundraiser for Harmony House, an Ottawa women's shelter, in February 2020, not knowing at the time that they would soon work together.
“His leadership is top-notch,” said Burrell. “He’s just one of the best people I have ever worked for in my life.”
At GOHBA, Burrell is the go-to person for help, whether it’s aiding a builder in desperate need of a renovator or assisting a renovator who's trying to track down building supplies, which have been in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m the person to call if you need something,” said Burrell, who enjoys problem solving and removing roadblocks for people. “I love to see the outcome, to see what happens when two honest, trustworthy and good business people connect and fulfill each other's needs based on my recommendation.”
One of the other major challenges currently facing the housing industry is a labour shortage in the trades. There needs to be more young people seeking a skilled labour profession, she said. “I think becoming a tradesperson is a job for life. There’s no better security right now, in my opinion, than in becoming a tradesperson.”
Burrell previously worked as executive director of the Nepean Chamber of Commerce from 2007 to 2012, followed by general manager of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa from 2013 and 2016. She joined the WBN in 2018 and remains “a huge supporter of women in business”.
She and her husband of 28 years, Anthony Burrell, Chief Warrant Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, have two adult children, Eleni and Neikko.
People on the move across Ottawa
Julia Knox has joined Sobeys as senior vice president of merchandising services and retail. The 2018 recipient of a Forty Under 40 Award was previously senior vice president of eCommerce and chief purchasing officer at Giant Tiger.
Seasoned professional fundraiser Danielle Robinson has joined BMO Private Wealth as its new director of philanthropic advisory services. She’s best known for being president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators Foundation for more than 14 years. The organization left the hockey club in the summer of 2020 to become the Ottawa-Gatineau Youth Foundation, which Robinson served as president and CEO for at least another year.
Kevan Kaylan has joined blackiron agency as its new creative director. He was formerly the creative group head of St. John’s-based marketing and communications firm Target, working on campaigns for Newfoundland Tourism, outdoor apparel brand Patagonia and Parks Canada.
Mushtaq Kazani has become the new CEO at Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa. He previously worked within the Aga Khan Development Network, where he helped to transform the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB), a community-based education organization.
Shannon Bain is the new director of marketing and communications in corporate and community partnerships at Queensway Carleton of Hospital Foundation. She'd been the senior manager of fundraising development for the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation. She also worked for the OSEG Foundation and Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.
Janice Nicholson has joined Bluesky Strategy Group as its vice president of digital. She was most recently director of communications for Stem Cell Network and, prior to that, was senior director of marketing for Senators Sports & Entertainment.