BY SONIA WEST
Whether working in a small town, spearheading international corporate expansion, or being involved in the largest-ever vaccination campaign in B.C., Parm Hari has always focused on making a difference. That focus has built a 20-plus year career in human resources, change management and international business optimization that has led her to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority serving as vice-president of people, process, and performance. Having a strong sense of optimism and developing resilience to adversity have been key attributes that has supported her career. “I am a glass-half-full kind of person. Whatever challenge or issue I’m dealing with, I am always looking at the bigger picture from both the strategic and people perspective.”
Parm was born and raised in the small town of Williams Lake, B.C., after her parents came to Canada in the late 1960s. Her family owned two motels, and as a child, she recalls spending her weekends helping with the family business. “One of the first things I helped with was cleaning rooms. By the time I was 13, I was dealing with customers and managing the books, on top of doing my homework.”
Early on, she developed a strong work ethic modeled from her father who not only ran two motels but worked in the local lumber mill. “My whole childhood was based on resilience, perseverance, learning through different dynamics dealing with adversity.” She credits her mother for instilling care and consideration of others. “My mother is a fantastic listener, a woman of few words who has a lot of empathy for others. She never judges a book by its cover, and she always sees the best in people. Like her, I try to understand the person behind the person.”
These qualities have served as a strong foundation to her career. After completing her business degree from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, she went on to complete her MBA in strategy and consulting while launching a successful business and delivering executive coaching, leadership training, team building and program design to multiple Fortune 500 companies and start-ups.
This entrepreneurial period in her life gave her more flexibility to have more time to raise her daughter, Taylor, and her son, Ethan, with her supportive husband, Jason. With her two children now teenagers, she notes, “I have the full support of my kids. They are so proud to see their mom being successful, and they have given me such permission to do that.”
Seeing the value of working in larger organizations, she went on to serve as vice-president of global strategy for Pierre Fabre Group and transformed a key subsidiary from an American focused brand to an international player in 10 countries. That role gave her hands-on experience in building a business, dealing with everything from finance, sales and marketing to manufacturing and logistics. “What made my role unique was that I had to learn every aspect of the business very quickly. In a way, it was like being the general manager of an entire country.”
Prior to joining the port authority, she was executive director of people and culture at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, where she led the organization’s transformation into a values-based organization. She was also the people strategy lead for the largest-ever vaccination campaign in history, ensuring COVID-19 vaccination clinics were staffed by partnering and collaborating with unions, multiple sectors, industries, and professions.
She joined the port authority in 2021 and was attracted by its mission to enable Canada’s trade while protecting the environment and considering local communities. “I’ve always been attracted to the organization, its values, and the opportunity to support an organization that plays such a significant part of Canada’s economic growth.”
From her varied experiences in her career, she notes, “For ethnic women, it is important to have your own financial independence. We play mother, daughter, wife, sister, and society has a lot of pressure on these different roles. Do not feel guilty for your role. Live your life right where you are at. Never lose who you are.”