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Cocktails with KB | Sera Filice-Armenio

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One of the favourite parts of my job is the opportunity I get every month to sit down with people in Hamilton. For our influence issue, I wanted to sit down with someone I have long admired and who has influenced me: St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation President and CEO Sera Filice-Armenio. She is someone who carries herself with grace, kindness, and a deep-seated passion for the role of St. Joe’s in the well-being of our city. We sat down for lunch and, over salads, got to know each other personally and professionally. What followed was an hour and a half of wonderful conversation, and a chance for me to be once again inspired and influenced. Grab a cocktail, and enjoy getting to know a true champion for Hamilton and a personal inspiration.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received from numerous sources is to focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses. We can’t do it all, and we can’t do it all well, so it’s really important to have support systems in place. It also forces you to be very self-aware— to ask yourself what are your strengths and your weaknesses. I’ve often heard this advice from people and read it in books… maybe put in different words but essentially saying the same thing.

Why Hamilton?
Well, why not? I was born at St. Joe’s, I did all of my schooling in Hamilton, from elementary to secondary school to getting three degrees at McMaster University. I started working at McMaster right after I studied there. After 13 years there, a tremendous opportunity came up to join St. Joe’s and of course, I have been at St. Joe’s ever since. It’s a real privilege to work for a foundation that supports a hospital that has been caring for the community for 125 years. For me, Hamilton has afforded me many, many opportunities for which I am really grateful.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?
My biggest inspiration has been my parents. I am the daughter of Italian immigrants. I always think about how courageous it must have been for two young people to come here, on their own, without knowing the language, without jobs, but simply with a vision and a hope for a better life for their future kids. And that for me, is something I never take for granted; the journey that they took to come here to give me an opportunity. It’s something I try to remind my kids of as well — it is important to never take things for granted.

What’s the best thing about what you do?
By far, the best thing about working at St. Joe’s Foundation is being able to witness every day the power of philanthropy and the impact that the contributions from the hospital’s donors make in the community and to our hospital. Whether it’s helping to build our new surgical centre in our Charlton campus or the new Margaret and Charles Juravinski Centre for Integrated Healthcare on our West 5th campus, funding research or a special piece of equipment, philanthropy really has the power to change a patient’s life, and to change healthcare in a significant way. For the foundation to be a part of facilitating that discussion between the hospital and its supporters and grateful patients is really a privilege and to see it come to fruition is very, very rewarding.

What’s the worst thing about what you do?
The worst thing is that despite the number of high-priority funding needs we’re able to meet through philanthropy, there are equally as many worthwhile projects and research studies that we are unable to fund, or have to wait to be funded. Sometimes it’s hard to not be able to help more in that regard.

What is your motto?
Generally, I try to stay the course and carry on. Things can get pretty hectic with work, and with life in general. But, if you stay focused, stay calm and keep on your path, remembering what your goals are, what you’re trying to get at, I think that’s important in both your professional and your personal life. So, I always try to remember that.

What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
My role at St. Joe’s has actually expanded. In addition to the work that I’m doing with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation Hamilton, I am also now the CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation Guelph. St. Joe’s Health Centre Foundation in Guelph is another foundation within the St. Joseph’s Health System. It’s an opportunity for me to provide strategic leadership and direction to both foundations in both the Hamilton and Guelph com- munities. It’s a brand new challenge for me.

What has been the biggest learning experience of your life?
Easily, having kids is the biggest learning experience. It is the most rewarding, most fulfilling thing that has happened to me. But, it is also the biggest learning experience in that it’s a constant reminder of how vulnerable we really are, and how quickly things can change. Kids teach you patience and the importance of listening, and also the importance of being in the present. So, putting the BlackBerry down and really listening to what they’re saying. I learn something everyday and a lot of that is from being with my kids.

If you had $10 in your pocket, what would you do with it?
Donate it to St. Joe’s of course! Kristel, come on!!

People often see the benefits of the foundation; the financial support of the hospital, or new equipment. What is something that is part of the foundation or your role that people wouldn’t necessarily know?
I don’t know if everyone is aware that the foundation is actually governed by a board of community members. We have 20 very dedicated community members who devote their time and skills to ensure the foundation is appropriately governed and that we’re meeting our targets so that we can maximize our support for the hospital. Equally, the hospital has a very dedicated and engaged board. As CEO, I report to the foundation board, but also work very closely with the hospital board to ensure they are aware of our foundation activities, how they can partake in them and help further our efforts.

LIGHTNING ROUND:

WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THESE DAYS?
My kids’ upcoming hockey season, but also my expanded role in Guelph.

BEST GIFT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
My mom gave me a necklace that holds special meaning.

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR COFFEE?
I like my coffee very strong, two cream, two sugar but, I actually prefer an espresso.

A BOOK YOU PLAN ON READING? 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

HIDDEN TALENT?
I can juggle! I learned it as a kid at Dundurn Park from Dr. Bandoli’s Travelling Good Time Band!

THE FIRST THING I DO WHEN I GET HOME IS?
Get a hug from my kids.

BEST WAY TO DECOMPRESS?
Getting a hug from my kids.

IF YOUR LIFE WERE A SONG, WHAT WOULD THE TITLE BE?
Counting My Blessings.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IN YOUR CAR?
Usually what’s transpired during the day and what I need to do when I get home.

ONE THING YOU COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT ?
Coffee.

ONE THING YOU COULD LIVE WITHOUT?
Cold winters.

WHAT’S SOMETHING NEW YOU LEARNED THIS WEEK?
Never make important decisions when you’re tired.

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