Leaps of faith pay off for Kanata North’s Jamie Petten

The KNBA boss credits support of family and friends – as well as a strong work ethic – for helping her meet challenges head on
Petten
Jamie Petten, president and executive director of the Kanata North Business Association. Photo by Caroline Phillips

It’s funny how life works sometimes. During the same week Jamie Petten interviewed for the top position at the Kanata North Business Association, she also learned she was pregnant, causing her to question whether she could concurrently handle two big challenges: motherhood and the demanding new job that she was subsequently offered.

Of course she went for it. If there’s one thing Petten has learned, it’s that she’s not taking her giant leaps of faith alone.

“By leaning on the support of those closest to me along the way, from mentors to colleagues to family and friends, I trusted that it would all work out,” she says during an interview at KNBA headquarters at 555 Legget Dr., in the Kanata North Business Park. 

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve shifted my priorities in this way, fully embracing and relying upon the support systems around me. I have come to realize, from more experience over the course of my career, that we accomplish less by attempting to do it all ourselves. It is the sum of the parts – the collective community that we all have around us – that propel us forward.”

Petten returns to work full-time in November as the president and executive director of the KNBA, after giving birth nearly a year ago to her baby boy Braedon (who now tops her list of life’s greatest accomplishments). She’s been working part-time for the past couple of months, just to ease her transition back.

The Kanata North Business Association is a group of companies working to promote the area as Canada’s largest tech park. It’s home to more than 500 businesses and provides jobs for more than 33,000 people in the park and the immediate surrounding area. It’s led by a board chaired by 2019 Businesswoman of the Year finalist Amy MacLeod.

“It’s an amazing honour to represent the businesses here in supporting their needs as they continue to grow,” says Petten, a 2018 Forty Under Forty Award recipient. “We have businesses from startups, SMEs, all the way up to multinational global corporations.”

Beachside startup

Petten, 30, grew up in Kanata, having moved to the west end of Ottawa with her family as a young girl. She graduated from Holy Trinity Catholic High School before earning a degree at the University of Ottawa, with a double major in communications and psychology.

Early on, her parents instilled in her a strong work ethic. 

“If there were things that I wanted, I had to work to buy them,” says Petten. 

She remained employed throughout university at a pair of day spas located in the city’s west end. She was hired to do reception and administrative duties but took over the communications and marketing for the owners, Christine Cohen and husband Shane Cohen.

After Petten graduated from uOttawa, she had the opportunity to get involved with the Cohens’ dream of building a beachside villa resort along with a restaurant and day spa in Negril, Jamaica. 

Petten travelled quarterly to Jamaica, spending several weeks at a time working there. The experience was not all rum punch and reggae. It was also hard work.

“It was my first foray into working for a startup, a company that was being built from the ground up, on a Caribbean island no less,” says Petten. “I will not lie – the early days of operating the business were very challenging. We really did not have any experience – none of us – in running a hotel in the Caribbean.”

The owners’ focus and attention to customer service and creating highly personalized experiences for guests “slowly but surely” earned The Spa Retreat Boutique Hotel the top spot on TripAdvisor, says Petten.

“It was an amazing experience and I think I learned quite a few things about myself. No. 1 is that, from a career experience, I love to build business from the beginning. Every new challenge that was presented to me was a problem to solve.”

But after four years, she was ready for her next challenge, preferably with a startup company in Kanata. 

Petten, who had no background in the tech industry, started emailing and cold-calling around. Again, it was another leap of faith on her part. 

Eventually, she landed a marketing position in the world of startups, venture capital and tech with what would become Canada’s leading enterprise software accelerator, L-Spark. For the next four years, she worked alongside founding directors Leo Lax and Patrick White with L-Spark’s member companies, helping them to grow and achieve that next level of success.

From spas to hotels to high-tech, one wonders if Petten has any more big leaps to make. She does. “I hope to be running my own company one day.”

Five things to know about Jamie Petten

1. Her greatest role model is her mom, Anne Keeley, a former nursery school teacher who later became an entrepreneur by developing materials for early childhood educators. 

2. Her father is retired deputy Ottawa police chief Ed Keeley, who sat for many years on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.

3. In 2016, Petten married her high school sweetheart, Jon, who works within the federal government and will be taking six months’ paternity leave to care for Braedon. “He’s just been the most supportive partner,” she says.

4. Petten was a figure skater growing up. She began at age five at the Glen Cairn Skating Club and coached when she was older.

5. She’s really into interior design. She shares the passion with her younger sister, Shannon Holbrook, a freelance hairstylist. They live just a few streets away from each other in the west Kanata neighbourhood of Arcadia.