Home Month and Year February 2024 Shaping Edmonton’s Business Landscape

Shaping Edmonton’s Business Landscape

Aziz Bootwala shares the goals mission, and direction of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

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Aziz Bootwala, Board Chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Production World.

The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, one of Canada’s largest, longest running and influential business organizations, has a rich history of over 130 years in shaping Edmonton’s vibrant business landscape. With a robust network that extends regionally, provincially, nationally and globally, the Chamber is recognized as a powerful voice for businesses in Edmonton, representing small, medium and large businesses across all sectors – from heavy industry and manufacturing to retail and non-profit organizations.

The Board Chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce plays a vital role in the organization. The Chair provides leadership to the board, ensuring that it functions effectively and fulfills all its responsibilities. They work closely with all the stakeholders to set the strategic direction of the Chamber and make key decisions that impact the business community in Edmonton. The Chair’s role includes facilitating meetings, guiding discussions and helping to build consensus among members. They ensure that the board adheres to its bylaws and policies and that it fulfills its governance duties. They also represent the Chamber at public events and in advocacy interactions with government officials, meeting with community leaders and representing the Chamber to the media.

This year’s Board Chair is Aziz Bootwala, Senior Principal, Vice President – Business Development of Kasian. He is also a Fellow, Royal Architecture Institute of Canada and has been awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta).

“I started my career at Kasian as an intern architect and rose through the ranks to become a principal in 2002,” says Bootwala of his career trajectory since joining the firm in 1994. “In 2007, I moved to Dubai to open our offices in Dubai and Mumbai. Since 2015, I have been back in Edmonton in the role of Senior Principal and Vice President for Business Development.”

He smiles as he recounts, “Inspired by the words of the Aga Khan, I decided to become an architect to enable me to leave the world a better place than when I came in. My career at Kasian has been nothing short of a dream come true. I am amongst a fortunate few who enjoy their work and wake up every morning looking forward to the challenges for the day. More recently, I have been engaged in healthcare, senior living and commercial/residential projects in Alberta and across Canada. It is very fulfilling to see projects being completed and users enjoying the buildings they use.”

His personal mission dovetails perfectly with Kasian’s vision.

“We believe that the power of design can create a better world,” he explains. “Our work enhances our communities by creating deeper connections between people and place. Partnering with our clients who are visionaries, passionate and courageous gives us the energy to achieve results that make a difference to entire communities. Our commitment to sustainability helps shape the spaces we design to nourish and restore people and create stronger and more resilient communities. Embracing diversity is also crucial to our integrity as a design and creative firm and we ensure that diversity remains a cornerstone of what makes us Kasian. Committed to design excellence, our work creates an impact for the communities we live in and the spaces we design are relevant for the users today and tomorrow.”

These values also dovetail with the goals of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

“Having a holistic view of the city of Edmonton allows the Chamber to support and enhance the business community through advocacy, education and connections,” Bootwala says. “The activities of the Chamber are guided by the goals, which is to ensure there is impact, relevance and excellence. The synergy and alignment at Kasian and the Chamber are astonishing and it feels like the work I do at the Chamber is an extension of what I do at Kasian.”

Bootwala grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) where he completed a five-year diploma in architecture before moving to Kansas to complete a master’s degree in architecture at the state’s university. After graduating, he worked in Los Angeles, during which time his family in India immigrated to Edmonton.

“I made the hard decision to move from Los Angeles to Edmonton and have never questioned that decision,” Bootwala says of what drew him to the capital city. “In 1994, Edmonton was amid development and I was fortunate to lead the design team for South Edmonton Common for Cameron Developments. Edmonton provided opportunities to build a career and a family. This is where I met my wife Farah and raised two kids, 21-year-old Zoya and 19-year-old Vazir. The cost-effective lifestyle afforded me to purchase my first home in Edmonton and build strong relationships with the local Edmonton community. I was fortunate to enrol at the University of Alberta in 2010 to complete a master’s in business administration. The pluralistic values that Edmonton embodies build a stronger community, build respect, emotional well-being and enhance trust and safety.”

Growing roots in the city and engaging with the business community led him to join several Edmonton Chamber of Commerce committees.

“One thing that excites me about being on committees is getting engaged in the workings of the Chamber. The learnings it provides enable best practices in other areas of professional work and community service,” he says.

Bootwala enjoyed his time serving on the Governance and Nominating Committee, Audit and Risk Committee and the Policy Committee.

With a wealth of experience behind him in the business landscape and as a long-term member serving the Chamber, Bootwala is ready for the challenges as the Board Chair.

“As the Chair, I am looking forward to working closely with the team and the Board.

“In a post COVID environment, the biggest challenge I foresee internally is to rebuild the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, bring back member confidence, provide stability to the leadership and present the Chamber as a voice for Edmonton’s business community. A member-facing challenge is to maintain relevance and provide value for the membership.

“Additionally, there have been leadership changes. Doug Griffiths, the new President and CEO, brings a lot of promise, energy and enthusiasm; I look forward to working closely with Doug, resetting the tone and culture of the Chamber and building a collaborative process for good decision making. The Chamber is a member-driven organisation. My focus will be to retain existing members and recruit new members, ensuring leadership succession planning is diverse and represents all of Edmonton’s business communities while bringing municipal, provincial and federal governments to work collaboratively on matters that are concerning to Edmonton.”

He continues, “The increasing complex threat to the landscape includes natural disasters, geopolitical events, fraud and a multitude of other causes. These types of events impact consumer demand, employee health and safety, supply chains, cause physical damage, loss of customers, reputational damage and exponentially increase the cost of doing business.

“Through the three strategic pillars of advocacy, education and connection, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce will continue to support the business community to build resiliency in this difficult economic climate. By positively impacting policies and practices, by bringing business and thought leaders together to share expertise and learn from one another and providing opportunities to connect for greater business success, the Chamber will continue to play a pivotal role to help local businesses rise and succeed together versus failing from unnecessary competition.”

To achieve this, advocacy is key for the Chamber and its members.

Bootwala explains, “As a member organization, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in the local municipalities in promoting local businesses by representing the Chamber members. Through various events and member interactions, the Chamber understands the needs of the local community and advocates with various government and other relevant organisations. Understanding the member needs, the Chamber is able to plan appropriate programs and provide access to resources, discounts and relationships that enables local business to grow and develop. Additionally, the Chamber works with other sister organizations to bolster their initiatives and bring new businesses to the community.”

Outside of his role with the Chamber and at Kasien, Bootwala enjoys community engagement.

“Giving back to the community has been an integral part of my life. On a regular basis, I commit significant time to institutions that impact and enhance the life of the community I live in. Currently, I am engaged with the Alumni Council at the University of Alberta as a councillor, the Alberta Association of Architects as a councillor and I am also a member and on the board of the Universal Design Network of Canada.

“On a personal level, I support charities that have a direct and lasting impact on Edmontonians that need support. I would like to see the Edmonton business community come together and become a source of support to charities, not only raising funds but also providing intellectual input into make charitable organisations strong and self sustaining. I believe that Edmontonians respond passionately to a call for support when help is needed, and this is what makes Edmonton a strong city that looks after its own.”

Bootwala has high praise for the city he has grown to love, and for the business community within it.

“Having lived in Bombay, Los Angeles, Dubai and Edmonton, I can confidently say that Edmonton provides opportunities for families to grow and develop like no other city does. From access to good quality housing, secondary and post secondary education, healthcare, entertainment and recreation, Edmonton provides a complete package. As the Chair, I look forward to bringing the voice of the business community to rebuild Edmonton’s identity. The Chamber has a strategic opportunity to showcase Edmonton as a city of choice whether it is about transit, renewable energy, low-cost housing or simply a great place to live.”

He encourages the business community to connect with the Chamber, citing the many benefits.

“A highlight for me was the first luncheon held by the Chamber post COVID. The convention hall was buzzing! People did not know whether to shake hands or hug, but there was energy in the hall. That was a realization of what the Chamber offers to its members – the opportunity to CONNECT.

“If you are not a member, I would strongly encourage you to become a member. Being a part of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is a great way to get to know other businesses and business owners in your community. It is also a great opportunity to learn from one another and share best practices within the spirit of being competitive businesses. Shared services like insurance plans, support with discounts, word of mouth marketing and support during difficult economic times is what the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce provides as additional services.”

He adds, “Professionals in the city have a responsibility towards the growth and development of the Edmonton area. One way for professionals to contribute is to engage with civil society groups. Strong civil societies are instrumental in bringing information to decision makers through research, actively listening to targeted populations and bringing opinions to various levels of government. As professionals, they can be an important source of information for both Edmontonians and the government; monitor policies and actions by holding authorities accountable and by engaging in advocacy and offering alternate policies benefiting the Edmonton business community.”

With an eye to the future, Bootwala concludes, “The current geopolitical climate is concerning and can have a significant downward impact to the global economy. This will require companies to stay relevant and be forward thinking. Diversifying adequately by engaging in meaningful conversations with clients, incorporating their feedback into the business operations will ensure the professional practice is buffered to weather the challenge.

“For me personally, the challenge is to stay relevant, embrace climate emergency issues, use technology advances to get better results and become a part of the change we want to see. My passion for mentoring is more valid today than ever before. Sharing what I have learned with the younger workforce and making them a part of tomorrow’s success will make every business stronger and more successful than it is today.

“The same applies to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Strengthening the Chamber will make it a strong civil society that will become a resource for the Edmonton business community. The next step for the Chamber should be to stay committed to social responsibility, sustainability and ethical practices while addressing social and environmental issues by partnering with local businesses and other sister non-profits.”

With Bootwala at the helm, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is poised to hit those goals and exceed expectations. Learn more today at www.edmontonchamber.com.

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