Local leader Michelle MacDonald proves lifelong learning is the key to career growth – By Meredith Birchall-Spencer

Throughout her 20-year career at First West Credit Union and its local division, Envision Financial, Michelle MacDonald has time and time again said yes to opportunities to learn, grow and challenge herself.

Currently a communication business partner at First West and a director at the Langley School Board Foundation, Michelle knows the power of saying “yes”.

“A leader once told me that ‘the greatest growth happens outside of our comfort zone’ and I take that to heart,” she says. “Every challenge I face, I treat it as an opportunity to learn, which has helped me grow as a leader.”

Michelle, who currently resides in Langley with her husband Matthew, and sons, Nolan, 9, and Garrett, 6, first started her career at Envision Financial as admin assistant to the marketing vice president. Over the next 15 years, Michelle worked her way up through the department by taking a variety of progressively senior and diverse roles.

“I think the reason I am where I am today is that I consistently asked for the opportunity to take on different positions to get more experience. As a result, I was able to learn and grow, and, ultimately, progress far beyond the constraints of one area of expertise.”

When she came back from maternity leave after having her second son Garrett in 2014, she was ready for a new career challenge. Unsure of exactly what that would entail, she turned to then mentor, Envision Financial president Dave Lanphear, for some advice. “There was a temporary role in communications, which was a different department, and he encouraged me to ‘just take it,’ she says. “I left his office and walked straight into the hiring manager’s office and asked for the job. I found a renewed energy in the unknown of this new role and was able to accelerate my overall business and leadership expertise, which evolved quickly into a permanent, more senior position.”

Currently Michelle’s passion lies in creating strategic communication solutions that help employees and members stay well informed of high impact initiatives. “What’s kept me so engaged in the role I have today is that I get to work alongside and learn from so many exceptional people at all levels and in all areas of the organization, as we work towards one common goal—helping our members and communities thrive.”

An area where Michelle feels she’s made considerable impact is in First West’s digital journey. In 2018 she developed and led an initiative across the network of 52 branches and 38 insurance offices across British Columbia to incent employees to adopt digital solutions and reduce paper waste. Through this initiative, First West cut the number of pages printed by over 1.4 million, saved the equivalent of 71 trees and planted 84 fruit trees to benefit hunger in the communities in which First West serves.

Her commitment to lifelong learning led her to pursue her Lean Greenbelt, a certification program offered to select First West employees that focuses on process improvement. Participants in this program partake in three modules over three intensive week-long sessions tackling business problems. “It was a high-pressure environment that stretched me far beyond anything else but I learned so much about the business and how to initiate impactful change.”

On a personal level the experience taught her a lot about herself and her leadership style. “I realized that my only self isn’t always my best self and the same applies to everyone else,” she explains. “It takes all different types of people to make something great. Everyone has a purpose and a contribution that is valuable. Sometimes you just need to adjust course to ensure the right people are sitting in the right seat on the bus.”

Michelle embraced her newest learning opportunity when she recently accepted a position on the board of directors with the Langley School District Foundation. It’s a good fit for Michelle as a Langley resident and a mother, but the clincher was when she realized the extent of the Foundation’s commitment to ensuring no child in the district ever goes hungry. “Food security is an important issue to me,” says Michelle, “and it’s one that I’m proud our credit union has also made great contributions towards through our signature cause, The Full Cupboard. I’m excited for this new opportunity for my own growth and learning, but also for the chance to make a real difference.”