Adam Charania is UBC’s Associate Vice-President, Human Resources (Strategic Advisory Partnerships). As the leader of the HR Advisory Services, Faculty Relations, Employee Relations, Housing and Relocation, and Immigration Services, Adam plays an instrumental role in advancing university-wide HR partnerships and stakeholder relationships, as well as providing continuously evolving HR practices and services across the university’s community.
Adam brings over 20 years of diverse HR leadership experience in the public and private sectors at organizations including the Provincial Health Services Authority, BCAA, and the BC Provincial Government. He is also an advocate for cancer research and supports fundraising activities and initiatives for the BC Cancer Foundation. Some of Adam’s passions outside of work include playing sports, travelling, music, and his dog, Ozzie.
Q1. What quality do you most admire in a leader?
AC: I admire three things: courage, compassion, and humanity. It is so important for leaders to have the courage to do the right thing, even in the most difficult situations. I admire individuals who lead from the heart, prioritize their people and trust others to do their job well. Leaders often have a lot of competing priorities, so the ability to put humanity first is admirable. This all contributes to creating psychological safety with our teams, which is essential.
Q2. What makes you laugh?
AC: I find humour in so many situations! I enjoy political humor, satire, stand-up comedians, laughing with my friends, and my dog, Ozzie – he’s such a character! With all the snow this year, we got to walk him on ice for the first time and watch him fall flat on his face – it’s so funny (only because he wasn’t hurt).
Q3. Who inspires you, and why?
AC: My family has inspired me in different realms of my life. As a cancer survivor, my partner Nicola is one of my biggest inspirations. Despite everything she has been through, her courage is remarkable.
My sisters and my parents also inspire me every day. My sisters stood up for what they believed in, and overcame the barriers of being women of colour and immigrants to Canada. My parents left war-torn countries and sacrificed everything to give us a good life. They have worked incredibly hard and faced many challenges along the way, yet, are so humble and thankful for everything. Together, my sisters and parents laid the path for me to be where I am today – I am very grateful to them.
Finally, I am inspired by others who make sacrifices for social justice. In terms of a recent public figure, I am inspired by Colin Kaepernick and the awareness he has brought to racial injustice (in spite of personal sacrifice).
Q4. For you, what makes UBC different?
AC: Many things set UBC apart from other institutions, but the three things that stand out for me are people, place and purpose. As you walk on campus, it is amazing to see such a global community come together, represented by people of so many different ethnicities. Where the UBC campuses are situated is also worth mentioning. From our offices, we can see the ocean and the picturesque mountains facing the Vancouver campus. This also holds true for the Okanagan campus – Kelowna is beautiful, and is situated in one of the most beautiful places in the province. Finally, the caliber of teaching, research, innovation, and administration at UBC is exemplary, and our researchers, professors, and operational teams are renowned for their accomplishments.
Q5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned, in your career to date?
AC: I survived cancer 16 years ago, and it made me realize that the value of everyone’s life is equal. While some people may have more money, power, or possessions, the value of all our lives is the same. I believe that it is important to treat everyone equally and celebrate our differences. At our core, we are all human and want to be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone wants the same opportunities to succeed and it’s imperative that we create a playing field that provides opportunities for traditionally marginalized people – a place where we all feel included, accepted, have the opportunity to self actualize and be the best versions of ourselves.
Q6. How do you like to recharge?
AC: I’m an adventurer – I love sports, music, exercising and travel. From trail running and hockey, to road biking and skiing, I really enjoy getting out and being active. I’ve also been to over 30 countries, accompanied solely by my backpack. I’ve been lucky to have had some incredible experiences during my travels; from seeing Fidel Castro speak in the Plaza de la Revolución amidst a million Cubans, to walking through the souqs in Syria, and seeing where my parents were born and raised in India and Burma – I’ve been very lucky and have learned a lot.
Q7. What is the best advice you were ever given?
AC: I have three “isms” that have been shared with me over the years that I always go back to: balance standardization with flexibility; it’s okay to be hard on issues and soft on people; and sometimes you have to slow down to go faster. Over the years I’ve found it useful to keep these front of mind.
Q8. What do you value in your colleagues?
AC: I value colleagues who are vested in setting each other up for success and want to collaborate. I’m grateful to have colleagues who reached out to support me over the past 15 months, as I was new to UBC. It’s easy to exclude people and much harder to bring them in, so the quality of being inclusive and respectful is something I value. At the end of the day, achieving results is so much about how the results are achieved – with courage, collaboration, and fun!
Q9. What do you hope will be your lasting impact at UBC?
AC: I always think of what our lasting impact will be – not mine alone.
We are committed to creating great places to work for our people. This includes focusing on HR systems, processes, policies, programs and technology that are inclusive and will support the delivery of education and research at UBC. We want to continue building on strong partnerships within the university, and with our unions and associations. We also hope to build on the HR communities of practice that exist at UBC through collaboration between central HR and our distributed HR colleagues. Ensuring that we develop an informed HR Advisory, Labour Relations, and Industrial Relations strategy by partnering with our key stakeholders in a direction that supports the university strategies, will be our lasting impact.
Q10. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
AC: To grant the Toronto Maple Leafs a Stanley Cup title! Seriously though, the ability to fly has been “taken” so I’ll go for the ability to breathe underwater. I learned to dive in Australia, and on my last dive, I was between a reef shark and a turtle (definitely the meat in that sandwich). Watching these incredible creatures made me wonder what it would be like to exist underwater, free from the confines of oxygen tanks and equipment - think Aquaman!
Q11. COVID-19 has introduced new ways of working at UBC. What do you think the longer-term impacts may be for the future of work at the university?
AC: This is part of our ongoing consultation and collaboration to understand the lessons we have learned since the onset of COVID-19, and how that can pave the way forward for the university. There are some emerging themes: our remote work pilot program is in place and it will be crucial to understand how the learnings can be applied in the future; it’s also going to be important to be intentional about how we come out of COVID-19 and what ‘normal’ looks like; and the attraction and retention of our people, especially our IBPOC community will be critical, as people have more choices about how they want to balance work and life and where they want to work. With this, it will be important to continue to focus on the personal and professional development of our people.
Q12. What are your personal aspirations for your role at UBC?
AC: I want to contribute to the great work that has already been done across the university, ensuring that HR continues to be seen as a strategic partner. This could happen in a number of ways: we want to continue attracting and retaining faculty and staff; we want to see justice, equity, diversity and inclusion principles being applied to our HR and Labour Relations practices to support traditionally marginalized communities; we want to support our leaders in carrying out their roles; and we want to continue working with our partners, unions, and associations to maintain a harmonious Labour Relations environment at UBC. And finally, we want to continue supporting a great employee experience and respectful culture, where everyone feels they are provided opportunities to be successful.
Interviewed by: Aditi Ghosh-Mooruth, UBC Internal Communications