There’s more than a month to go before South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director offically takes over the role.
But Ritu Khanna says she’s essentially – and rather unintentionally – been laying the groundwork to step into the position since moving to the Semiahmoo Peninsula six years ago, and perhaps even prior to that.
“Everything I’ve done has sort of laid the foundation for me to be the executive director,” Khanna said, during an interview this week at a Grandview Corners coffee shop.
Getting involved in everything from the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s annual gala to the White Rock Museum, the arts community and more, made her feel at home, Khanna said.
“It just sort of grounded me… helped me find my way,” she said, adding, “when you’re new to a community, you don’t have a choice” when it comes to finding ways to make connections.
“I had to start from scratch. It was really hard. And then I got involved. That’s just the type of person I am.”
Khanna, 45, signed a three-year contract for the chamber position last week, and is set to step into the role of executive director in early September. She’ll fill the seat that’s been held by Cliff Annable since January 2012, when the former White Rock councillor, businessman and South Surrey Eagles franchise owner signed on – initially with for a tidy $1-per-year compensation – to help the chamber “work through some operating challenges.”
The chamber’s announcement of Annable’s pending retirement, issued in April, noted he streamlined and focused the organization to “put it in a solid financial position.”
Khanna agreed, saying Annable “really helped turn the chamber around financially.”
For her, the timing of his retirement could not have been better. She described her years in B.C. as a “such a time of transition” – from settling in with her son, now 10 years old, to slowly building connections, to navigating her father’s death in 2014, then convincing her mother to move here, and more.
“I feel like I’ve really been through the trenches,” Khanna said.
But, “something just felt right” about the chamber role. “It just feels like a natural fit.”
Born and raised in the Toronto area, Khanna’s professional background includes nearly two decades in the not-for-profit, political, advertising and banking sectors; her clients have included RBC Royal Bank, Ralph Lauren, Bridgestone-Firestone, the Canadian Olympic Association and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
She volunteered on the 2010 mayoral campaign for Rob Ford’s opponent, then she set up her own branding-consulting practice.
Other community-centred roles she’s become active in on the Peninsula include as a parent leader for her son’s Scout group, and as a member of the PAHF board of directors.
Khanna said when she read that Annable was resigning, she was ready for full-time employment.
She said she was among more than 65 people to apply for the job, and laughed when asked if she’d made the same initial $1-per-year arrangement as her predecessor.
“Certainly not,” she said.
She’s also not waiting for September to start making in-roads. Khanna said she’s making herself available to meet with community leaders over the summer, is already looking to hire an administrative/marketing assistant and is gearing up for the chamber’s August picnic at Peace Arch Park.
Noting one of her strengths is in bringing people together, Khanna said she was hired to “re-engage the chamber with the business community.”
“My approach has always been, in any work that I’ve done, has been collaborative,” she said.
“I’m looking to invite the business community to share their thoughts and ideas and frustrations.”
Her plans moving forward include looking at changes in the market, increasing the arts and culture community and engaging youth in business – although how to best accomplish the latter is still a work in progress.
“There’s always room to grow,” Khanna said.
“And there so much happening. It’s a changing community, so it’s just tapping into that.”