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One-to-one with Susan Tohyama


Susan Tohyama is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Ceridian. Susan is a highly accomplished leader with a proven track record of driving organizational transformation with some of the world's top brands. 

What was your first job?

After university, my first job was teaching English in Tokyo. I feel like I grew up professionally in Asia, as I worked there for over 20 years. Working abroad had a profound effect on how I approach my career and people management because it teaches you so much about culture, diversity, and the importance of exploring different ways of thinking.

What inspires you?

I'm consistently inspired by the passion, creativity, and commitment my team brings to work every day. Not only that, it's about the fun and camaraderie we have. Our organization's purpose is "Makes Work Life Better", and our HR team works to deliver that in tailored and meaningful ways to all our colleagues globally.

How do you balance work and maintaining a personal life?

As CHRO for Ceridian, it's so important that I lead by example. And I realize it isn't always easy, but it's essential to set and maintain boundaries. We offer our employees company-wide Wellness Days, have set aside Focus Fridays for deep thinking, and so much more. It's important to use these types of benefits if they're offered to help create balance, so I try to model that behaviour for my team.

I also ensure I do one thing for myself every morning before starting work. Often, it's an early morning run which sets me up in the best way possible for a focused and productive workday, while prioritizing my health and well-being at the same time.

What is the biggest challenge facing Greater Vancouver?

While there are so many things that stand out about why Vancouver is a great place to live and do business, I think it's critically important that we turn our attention and support to people who are unhoused. With the number of people who are experiencing homelessness on the rise, it's an issue that requires action from our city's leadership.

What do you like most about doing business in Greater Vancouver?

As an HR leader it always comes back to people for me. I chose to live and work at a global organization in Vancouver because of its vibrant community.

What is your most prized possession and why?

I tend to think in terms of experiences rather than possessions. When it comes to my work, I prize the ability to collaborate with people across cultures and bring a global mindset to how we recruit, retain, and help our people grow in their careers across the organization.

Where do you see untapped potential in Greater Vancouver?

Again, it comes back to people. There is an incredible amount of talent in Vancouver ready to help drive success for organizations in this complex world of work we're all living in. Whether it's people new in their careers, or new Canadians establishing themselves locally, I see tremendous potential for both people and the companies they work for.

What is the most important lesson, business or otherwise, life has taught you? 

Having lived in Asia for a significant amount of time, I think the most important lesson I've learned is about the importance of cultural humility. It's about creating meaningful connections through an understanding of a person's culture and history. Tied to that is the importance of curiosity and to create a work environment that prioritizes listening because great ideas can come from anyone, and everyone, across an organization.

What keeps you awake at night?

Being responsible for people operations across a global workforce means quite literally that you sometimes have to take a call in the middle of the night. And for me it works because of that balance we talked about before. Knowing the boundaries that work for me and taking the time I need to recharge.

What do you think makes a great leader?

Three traits that are essential in a great leader are empathy, humility, and curiosity.

During COVID, empathetic leadership really took centre stage. Given the continued pressures workers are facing, it's important leaders continue to show empathy through their benefits, and workplace policies.

At the same time, humility has never been more important. While traditionally humility has been characterized as a weakness in leaders, it's an incredible strength. It drives not only individual growth, but growth for their team as well.

Finally, curiosity drives innovation. To be curious, you must have an open mind, listen to what others are saying, and look for solutions that don't yet exist.

Where is your favourite place in Greater Vancouver?

Whether it's running or walking my dog, it's the trails of Stanley Park I love visiting most in Vancouver.

What do you think Greater Vancouver needs more of?

Affordable housing will have so many benefits. Of course, it will help the people of Greater Vancouver who currently don't have a home to live in, which is so critical. Beyond that, it will also mean more people will be able to live and work in the area.

Who has helped you most in your career?

I've been lucky to have several leaders mentor me throughout my career. I try to pass the lessons I've learned from them along to my team. One of the most meaningful pieces of advice I carry with me is the importance of building trust. To act with integrity. Without trust you can't have a cohesive and well-functioning team. It's also important to recognize and amplify the successes of your team while protecting them when there are bumps along the way.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

Resulting from my time living and working abroad, I speak fluent Japanese.

Ceridian is a global human capital management (HCM) software company. Dayforce, their flagship cloud HCM platform, provides human resources, payroll, benefits, workforce management, and talent management capabilities in a single solution. The platform helps customers manage the entire employee lifecycle, from recruiting and onboarding to paying people and developing their careers. Ceridian provides solutions for organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to global organizations.

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