The Chief Catalyst

by Community Partner, Jim Gibson (September 2020)

Catalyst, n : an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action

I’ve been told many times not to bury the lede. So here goes: You may have heard the announcement today from SAIT about the School for Advanced Digital Technology. I’m going to lead it as Chief Catalyst. I remain as the Community partner at Thin Air Labs. Together these organizations will have the resources to build what’s next for this amazing city and I am honoured to be a part of the leadership moving this forward!

#LedeNotBuried ;-)

Some backstory!

When I first saw the email from the recruiting firm with the subject line, “Chief Catalyst at SAIT” a whole number of thoughts went through my mind. I get quite a few of these emails – as most of you likely do. But this was different. When I read the details, I was intrigued. As someone who had found his ‘posse’ and the mission of his life with Thin Air Labs, I can assure you I was not looking for a job. Our slogan, “Building What’s Next”, had become, in some circles, a rallying cry for the city. Our team was moving forward on all fronts to bring capital together with design and community to accelerate diversification and grow amazing new companies of the future. 

But I remained curious!

I read the job description. What I discovered was the most extraordinary assemblage of opportunities and invitations to make change happen I had ever seen. It was a compendium of what I believed my highest aspirations to be. It was a call to be an agent of change at a time when the entire bedrock of what makes a modern society was changing – most importantly, the ways and means of educating those who would lead us into an uncertain future. 

I had to meet the organization that had caused this to be written.

I then read the five-year strategic plan. As a strategist, I recognized a brilliant work born in the crucible of a city and province reimagining itself. Written well before the pandemic. Recognizing the urgency and completeness of the change required. Perfectly presented. Clearly articulated. Inspiring and action oriented. Human and real.

I then met some amazing people. Brad, Rannie, Jim, Randy, Brian, and David. The team at SAIT who challenged me to catalyze my 35 years of entrepreneurial experience, community building and strategic thinking into a new call to action. 

When they expressed that continuing my work as a leader of venture creation with Thin Air Labs was a key aspect of why they were interested in me, I realized I had found my “AND”.

Then I met David Bissett.

I was still very unsure. I was possibly putting at risk much of the work I had done over the past 4 years. But David’s call to make his staggeringly important gift 3 or 4 times bigger appealed to my venture investing and community building aspirations. He asked me to help him present this compelling new vision for the future to his network. This tapped into my foundational belief that while our city’s leaders of the energy era had – through hard work, entrepreneurial spirit and company-building – amassed great wealth, they had been recipients of a resource-rich lottery ticket that needed to be paid forward so that all could benefit. Our city and province could lead the world once again as it designed and built what’s next. What I then realized is that David was only getting started.

And SAIT could be that Catalyst.

A catalyst speeds change; causes action. Without itself changing.  That last part is what people sometimes forget. And that is why I said yes to this role. I am humbled and honoured to be that agent because the SAIT team simply said: “Do what you do best. Don’t change. Be what you have always wanted this city and the future to be. Be yourself.” 

The Alumni team at SAIT asks their members to describe themselves or their vision in seven words.  The famous saying of “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time…” was never truer. 

My seven words of what I hope to achieve as Chief Catalyst – inspired by my father – my work of the past 35 years and the extraordinary people at SAIT is:

“Future proofing, one catalyst at a time.”

I look forward with humility, honour, a small amount of fear and a great need to collaborate with all in the city to help be a part of Building What’s Next with Thin Air Labs and to inspire, teach and catalyse the agents of change for our future along with the amazing team at SAIT’s School for Advanced Technology.

My ask:  Come join me on the journey here.