June 1, 2021Print | PDF
Shawn Warren first came to Wilfrid Laurier University in 1989 to pursue his Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), at what is now the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. Graduating in 1994 with his BBA degree and some fantastic co-op experiences under his belt, he built an impressive international career working in the packaged foods industry with some of the world’s best-known food brands including Dole, Cadbury, OREO, Ritz, Delissio, Mentos, and more, in Canada, the United States and more than 15 years in Asia-Pacific markets.
Throughout his career, Shawn has been an avid supporter of the business programs at the Lazaridis School, participating in events such as World of Opportunities where he shared his international experiences with current students, as well as in-class speaking engagements. He has also created jobs and co-op positions to foster learning opportunities, just like the ones he’s had.
Upon returning to Waterloo with his family in mid-2019, he sought out opportunities to stay engaged with the Lazaridis School and to support the next generation of business leaders. “I’m clearly a Laurier fan.” he said. “I am committed to the School, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see ways to bring my career experiences, my Laurier affiliations and my professional connections together.”
Part of that continued engagement led Warren to come back to into the classroom and pursue his MBA, which he completed in the Spring of 2020. Upon graduation, he put his years of experience to work, consulting with major food brands and consumer brands here in Canada, often bringing in his MBA peers to support the consulting projects or fill roles within his client companies.
In April of this year, Warren was named President and CEO of GreenSpace Brands Inc., a publicly traded North American food business focused primarily on plant-based, organic food options and clean snacking. Their brands include: Love Child Organics, 100% organic baby food and snacks; Central Roast, nut and seed snack mixes; and Go Veggie, a leading plant-based cheese company.
What has always motivated me is a commitment to growth, growth, growth (yes, times three!). I look for opportunities for growth of the business, growth of the team, growth of the individual. When all three exist in an assignment, I believe it’s going to be a magical fit. Without all three areas of growth, growth, growth, it just doesn’t feel personally or professionally as rewarding.
That growth mindset was always in the forefront of family decisions. The first move – really our first baby step you could say – was moving to the United States from 2002-2005. And that worked out well – for the family, professionally and personally. So the move to Asia in 2005 was the next step. It was a big new adventure and we thought it could be amazing. Our family had no expectation about the timeline of our assignment in Asia, but I think that’s why it worked out so well. It’s important to go into a new opportunity with an open mind and an open heart. We lived in Asia as expatriates for 15 years. In addition to raising our family in Asia, I was able to help businesses in significant ways, by bringing teams together with a common sense of purpose and focus.
After almost 18 years of living abroad, I was starting to miss home. I was travelling for work too much. I wanted to be closer to my family, including my parents and my extended family. So, it felt like it was the right moment. It was an incredible learning opportunity for us all, those 18 years abroad, and especially for my children. Attending some amazing international schools opened up a world of opportunity for each of them to go to different places and interact with people from all over the world. Now that they’re heading into post-secondary schools in Canada and in the UK, it just felt like the right moment to return home.
I set three professional pursuits coming back to Canada – consulting, teaching, and volunteering. I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to do each of those pursuits since returning. I started a consulting practice as I was finishing my MBA and I was able to work with some great companies. Moreover, I was able to bring in a number of my MBA classmates to support various projects within these client companies. Being able to combine domains of my life, to open doors for others, and to add value for clients in meaningful ways, was gratifying.
I’ve also been lucky to come back and teach in a number of classes now with some of my fantastic professors and friends like Nina Rosenbusch, Carmel Branston, Gerry Ramos, Lisa Giguere, Sebastian Fourne, Brad Davis, Sarah Wilner and Hamid Noori to name a few. I get energized by teaching because it deepens my sense of community. I was once that BBA student trying to find their way into the workforce with no idea what opportunities would lie ahead. So, if I can encourage someone to see broader opportunities for themselves in this world, then that just feels good.
I felt that having my MBA was essential for me to build academic credibility for the teaching I wanted to pursue over time, both as a guest lecturer and eventually in an adjunct teaching role.
Besides pursuing my own personal growth, I also felt that the MBA was great a way to rebuild my network in Canada. After working across Asia for 15 years, I had a great network over there, but not so much here in the Region. Coming into the MBA program at Laurier immediately gave me a super network of MBA classmates and professors, all with a common purpose. Being able to work alongside my MBA peers, find opportunities to advocate for their work, and provide professional references for many of them, helped me re-establish my network and my sense of community in meaningful ways.
I've found, over my career, living and working in so many different countries, there are essentially two different kinds of cultures I’ve seen, which is what I call a “me” culture or a “we” culture. I've been in some areas where the “me” culture is strong, sometimes too strong, and it doesn't really resonate with me and with who I am. The “we” culture is something that's much more natural for me - I feel at my best in a “we” culture, where there’s a sense of community and inclusivity. I've seen and I've taught at business schools in various places, and I feel that there's a definite “we” culture at Laurier. There is a collectivism, with no kind of stripes or hierarchy, nor any kind of entitlement mindset. We're all here to work together to get it done, make a difference, lead and follow, and to learn from each other, so I've gravitated to that Laurier “we” culture and it keeps me coming back to the Lazaridis School.
There are a few things that make me keep coming back to Laurier as a place to find great talent and great people in business:
It’s probably no surprise, but the Lazaridis School was the only place where I applied. Luckily, I was accepted. Laurier launched a career that took me places I never could have imagined and I feel blessed to have had those experiences. I also feel a very deep sense of gratitude in being able to go full circle and come back – to keep learning and also contribute in different ways.
There’s nothing better than working with friends. After a career in the food industry, I realize the importance of building meaningful friendships and the trust and understanding that come from those friendships. Knowing you can trust others, appreciate their strengths, support them and let them excel is really important. As I’ve moved to new roles, I’ve sought out those people and friends that I know to be great leaders and great human beings, so we can continue to work together and make a positive difference together.
Coming back to Laurier with my MBA peers, I’ve been able to build tremendous new friendships. With my consulting work and now leading GreenSpace Brands, I’ve been able to hire many of my MBA friends, because I know how capable they are, and I know we work well together. I love being able to open doors for others at different points in their careers and to see how they thrive. It’s incredibly gratifying.
Also speaking of peers, I was able to do some consulting work with a classmate and close friend of mine from our Laurier BBA time together. He is an accomplished Senior Vice President in the food industry in Toronto – so it is testament of the Laurier community that 30 years after meeting in our BBA, and we still are great friends who still enjoy working together!
Three particular areas stood out for me: the switch to a remote curriculum, the emphasis on fostering teamwork, and the linkages to the broader business community.
One challenge we all faced was to switch gears quickly to remote learning when COVID struck in March 2020. I felt that the School, professors and peers acclimated to remote learning exceptionally quickly and well. We didn’t miss a single beat and everyone embraced it. For me, I sought out more team projects because that’s real life – diverse teams working together to get a job done. I feel that remote learning actually enabled even better linkages with the business community. Beforehand, we’d maybe have a business leader occasionally come in for a night class and it was fine; but by going virtual, we were able to hear from more business leaders, many of whom were other Laurier grads in senior positions from all around the world. Speakers dialed-in remotely from just about anywhere at any time, and it really made for compelling learning. Technology is quickly breaking down silos between academia and the business community in powerful ways, and that’s great to see.
As the newly appointed President and CEO of GreenSpace Brands, I saw the opportunities to pursue my commitment to growth, growth, growth, and I can feel it’s going to be a great fit. GreenSpace Brands is a North American food company with a diverse team, and we have great brands – Love Child Organics, Central Roast snack nuts, and Go Veggie plant-based cheese. We quickly set a new vision for the Company: “We make organic and plant-based snacking more delicious!” and we are bringing that vision to life quickly in new ways.
We have tremendous growth opportunities across North America, but also broader opportunities over time. The business experienced some challenges, and by association the team really needed to come together with a clear sense of purpose and focus. I’m excited to have this opportunity to lead the business and team because my career has been spent in these food categories, and not just in North America.
I’m excited to be able to share experiences and forge new connections with this new team. In just a few weeks, the team has really come together with a new strategic plan, and I’ve seen a lot of what we talked about in terms of a can-do attitude, pragmatism, approachability, diversity all within the GreenSpace brand team. We are quickly moving to implement our strategic plan and make a positive difference for consumers, customers and investors.
Oh, and by the way, we’ve hired a few of my fellow Lazaridis MBA classmates again as consultants and we’ve hired a few Lazaridis BBA co-op students into the business already in my first 30 days in the job. And we’re just getting started.
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