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7 Questions on Leadership with Carey Smith

Name: Carey Smith

Title: General Manager & Vice President of Sales

Organisation: Contemporary Office Interiors

With over 15 years of experience in sales, business development, account management, and leadership, I am a passionate and driven leader who thrives on delivering value to clients, partners, and stakeholders. As the General Manager and Vice President of Sales at Contemporary Office Interiors (COI), Canada's largest MillerKnoll dealer, I oversee the strategic direction and execution of our Toronto location, while fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and excellence among our team.

My global sales expertise, gained from living and working in over 25 countries, has enabled me to understand and adapt to diverse markets, cultures, and needs, and to build lasting relationships with leading organizations across various sectors and functions. I am an advocate of empathy, humility, and candor in leadership, especially in these challenging and uncertain times, and I aim to empower and support our team and our clients to achieve their goals and overcome their obstacles.

Long-winded way to say if I can be of any help, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Carey's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Deciphering what matters vs what matters in the moment. I’ve tried to be intentional with meeting team members in the role they need me in. Meaning when I’m approached for feedback, I often ask whether they want me to listen to understand and give advice, listen to observe, or just listen. I’ve made the mistake before about actioning items that were shared with me more in a venting manner than needing my help resolving so I would say the most challenging is ensuring I’m supporting our team in the best manner for them.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Like many, becoming a leader for me started without the title. I've been fortunate in my career to have had many successes, and even more learnings. From an early age, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Then post education realized that in order to be of value to others, and myself, I felt it best to join the corporate world. This had me travelling the globe, but long story short this gave me an appreciation for people, cultures, and the ability to connect on far more meaningful levels which led to achieve great sales successes and improving business outcomes alike.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My weekdays start at 5am (aside from when my girls swim, then 4am), in my home gym (garage converted into a gym) by 5:15, breakfast at 6, out of the house between 6:30-7 and in the office post commute until 5-6 (unless it’s the one day of the week I coach my sons hockey team, Tuesday’s I leave a bit earlier) but generally home around 7-730 (traffic in Toronto is rough), spend time with kids til they go to bed around 9. Then catch up on emails, missed calls, etc and bed between 10-11pm.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Importance of trust. I would say that you can have the best intentions in mind, but decisions made will always be received with cynicism when trust hasn’t been built, or earned. Being newer to the organization I’m in now, I was accustomed to having our team be fully supported where we helped each other, supported each other, picked each other up if someone was down, and achieved great success together… but when you start in a new company, you inherit a slate to start from regardless of where you’ve come from. All the foundational work that you may feel is a testament to your character and leadership style goes away. You are literally starting from the ground up, and depending on past leaders, culture, etc you have individual beliefs on the team that you are not privy to, there are writings on that canvas that may (or may not be) visible, that you need to overcome to build trust with your team. Some you will achieve trust with sooner than others, and some you will not, and you need to be comfortable with that especially in larger organizations.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek stands out as this book spoke to me… both in terms of how I wanted to be led all along, but also how I want to lead people through purpose. Servant leadership is paramount in my opinion to not only achieve tremendous success personally, but collectively. The more we can achieve, the more the business will and the more we as individuals will. IMHO the lone wolf, or the about me attitude is losing its place in the workplace. Everyone wants to improve, upskill, challenge and be challenged, and overall succeed together.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Stay humble, find a mentor(s), and listen to learn. Don’t let your personal bias cloud your judgement. We see it all the time but the inability for leaders of any age, but more so younger ones, to walk away or change course from a bad decision that they have somehow convinced themselves is good, regardless of peer feedback, is crippling to a business. Value the feedback, evaluate the impact of it, and make modifications as required… the greater we, or greater voice, will always achieve better outcomes than our own personal bias.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I would say the impact of your actions vs your words. We have all heard talk is cheap, and that saying certainly holds true. I won’t go into too much detail due to the sensitivity, but I will say a meaningful story on the topic was when I was deciding between staying with a previous employer or considering a new offer. We, our leadership team, were tucked away in strategy meetings for a few days where I was a far more keen observer than ever in terms of the direction of the business, the resources, how valued team members were spoken of, problem resolution, equity on decisions, etc.. and although I was there as a contributor, in the back of my mind I was there as an observer paying close attention. Long story short, over the course of those few days I was crystal clear on my next chapter. Turning that around, I am now more cognizant than ever that in every meeting whether internal or external, we have keen observers, as any and every business should!

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