It’s not often you meet someone whose life imitates art. I’m talking about the artful slalom run of Vania Grandi’s career path.
A former alpine skier with the Canadian National Team, Vania continues to swoosh past risky gates and ambitious goals as she takes the helm at Alpine Canada as its new President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Vania’s artful journey befits her trailblazing status as we celebrate women’s accomplishments on International Women’s Day 2018. She’s the first woman to hold this coveted position since the organization’s inception in 1920.
Hired just weeks before the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Vania’s foremost responsibility was to oversee the activities of the Canadian coaches, officials, supporters, and athletes. For the next few weeks, Vania’s focus will shift as she guides the Alpine team representing Canada in the Paralympic Games beginning March 8th.
Canadian Ski Royalty
Vania is well-positioned for harnessing her successes both on and off the ski hill having come from what many Canadians consider “ski royalty”. Vania has built a reputation as a fearless and determined competitor. She and her two younger siblings, Thomas and Astrid, have all competed internationally for the Canadian National Team, with Thomas being the first Canadian male to win a World Cup slalom race.
Born in Trieste, Vania’s roots are grounded in the northeastern part of Italy – formerly the country of Yugoslavia. Growing up close to nature and living an active outdoor lifestyle was important to Vania’s parents who moved the family to the snowy town of Banff, Alberta. Her father Ugo pushed Vania and her siblings to work hard, and Vania became an exemplary student in school and on the slopes.
In fact, Vania rose through the competitive ranks as a young fourteen-year-old ski phenom. Early memories as one the “Quickies”(photo below), a youth ski club her father helped establish, turned into impressive training invitations to join the national ski team.
In 1984, Vania flew to Buenos Aires by herself and says these formative experiences instilled a sense of confidence and desire to explore the world.
After competing with the Canadian team from 1984-88, Vania graduated from the Burke Mountain Ski Academy in Vermont but decided she no longer wanted to compete internationally. Instead, she leveraged the skills she acquired on the hill with her educational desire to attend Dartmouth College.
While there, she captained the ski team and became a two-time All-American athlete-scholar. New challenges continued to unfold when she accepted a position with the Associated Press (AP). Vania moved to Rome, Italy carving out a career as a reporter.
Covering a variety of assignments from 1992 to 2001, including the Bosnian War, European elections, and World Cup Skiing, Vania expanded her knowledge of people reporting on a broad variety of stories. Traveling the world as the AP’s “go-to elite sports specialist” resulted in publications in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Reporter and USA Today.
But life detoured again when Vania was invited to join the Organizing Committee for planning the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Vania accepted the job despite knowing she risked losing the reporting job she loved. Thankfully it was well worth the gamble and the change prompted Vania to earn a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Westminster College in Utah.
Vania Gradi Eyes New Challenges
More twists followed and Vania accepted a new managerial role with Rio Tinto, a British-Australian multinational. It provided another milestone for Vania who quickly excelled in a variety of increasingly-prominent roles at the company, including sales, marketing, and commercial and strategic management in the metals and mining business.
Vania realized success in this male-dominated industry by building high-performing, global leadership teams around the world. She produced record-breaking sales and increased efficiencies, which snowballed into board appointments that furthered her strategic insight and management skills.
What attracted Vania to Alpine Canada was the chance to build new opportunities and make a real impact in the organization. It didn’t hurt that Vania also loved and felt immensely connected to the ski world. In many ways, her organizational leadership and customer training had come full circle.
I can’t imagine the demands of running a national sports organization, but it’s obvious Vania’s financial experience and proven skills will foster new growth opportunities for Alpine Canada. What I’m most intrigued about is how Vania will inspire new women leaders and affect overall changes for women in sport.
Role Modeling a Better Future for Women
We know women are still grossly underrepresented leaders in the world. And, at the Olympic level, media coverage and financial support for male sports has long surpassed that afforded to women. Fast Company, a favorite progressive business magazine of mine, recently found in a 2015 study from the University of Southern California that “coverage of women’s sports hasn’t increased in the last 25 years, despite dramatic increases in the number of girls and women playing sports, from youth through professional teams.”
Airtime coverage of women’s sports also lags, with only a paltry 2-3% coverage; of that, most is dominated by women’s basketball and soccer. Changing persistent gender attitudes and stereotypes about women means changing the way we see them. It also means paying women athletes like soccer players more than the current rate – women in soccer receive a quarter of the salaries men make playing the same sport.
With her proven track record and broad-based leadership skills and business experience, Vania is an exemplary role model across industries and organizations.
As I admire her wonderful family pictured above while traveling in Tokyo, I’m hoping Vania’s leadership will translate into greater attention and more parity for women in sport.
Vania is well versed in competing for success, and Alpine Canada’s appointment of Vania Grandi brings us a step closer to changing the cultural norms that continue to hold women leaders and women athletes from achieving Olympic-level success in life.