Driving 65,000 students to school: Ottawa businesswoman of the year nominee Vicky Kyriaco

Ottawa Student Transportation Authority CAO and general manager nominated in organization category
Vicky Kyriaco
Vicky Kyriaco is CAO and general manager of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority. (Photo by Miv Photography)

On April 20, the Women’s Business Network will honour 12 of Ottawa’s leading women entrepreneurs at its Businesswoman of the Year gala. The nominees are divided into four categories: Emerging entrepreneur; established entrepreneur; organization; and professional. OBJ will profile each nominee leading up to the event.

The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority transports 65,000 students daily by delivering multi-modal transportation solutions for of the Ottawa Catholic School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

What is your proudest business accomplishment?

My proudest business accomplishment is OSTA’s transformation. How kids get to school is part of every family’s daily routine, and we have a direct impact on that. Think about what happens when we call a “snow day” (who knew so many people could be happy and mad, all at the same time!). Working with the school boards to establish a solid governance model was critical in creating an independent organization. My team and I then evolved OSTA, whose innovative and creative solutions are recognized as being leading practice in Ontario and in Canada. The Ministry of Education recently rated OSTA as a highly efficient consortium. OSTA has eliminated funding deficits and generated savings in the millions of dollars for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

A few years ago, my son Connor (aged six at the time) was diagnosed with cancer. We spent months in isolation at CHEO. Day after day, he suffered from terrible side-effects from the cancer and the chemo treatments. No matter what, he always made the best of the it. His glass was full, all of the time. Whenever I think things at work, or in life, are challenging, I just think about Connor’s bald head and smiling face, and that gets me through. When Connor heard the BYA ad calling for nominations on the radio, he said, “Mom, I’d vote for you. You work hard.” He totally gets it.

What is the biggest professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I have been in the transportation industry managing airplane, truck and bus transportation for more than 20 years. In this male-dominated industry, I was faced with the same challenges and barriers that most women face: lower wages than my male counterparts, sexual harassment and difficulty being taken seriously. I took it all in stride, and with a ton of backbone and a sense of humour, I proved that my innovation, ability to mobilize support from others and savvy risk-taking would deliver results. I’m incredibly grateful for the support and mentorship I’ve received from other strong and successful women in my life, including my mom Ginette Beauvais, Katrina Cheema and Mina Grossman-Ianni.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Business is about taking risks: the bigger the risk, the bigger the payback. But there has to be an acceptance of failure, too, or it can paralyze you. The point is to prepare yourself, and your team, for all the potential outcomes, good and bad. Have a crystal-clear goal, a path to get there, figure out the soft spots in your plan and what can be done about them ahead of time and along the way, and then go like gangbusters without wavering. Taking risks in business can be exciting and terrifying all at the same time.