In February of 2009, Rhiannon Traill sent an email to her mother-in-law from her work account at the Economic Club of Toronto. In the signature, she erased “event coordinator” and typed “president and CEO” in its place. “I’m a visualization person,” she explains. “I like to think in advance of where I want to go.” Seven years on, Traill no longer has to modify the title on her correspondence—the job is hers for real. And with it comes control of the most important stage in the world of Canadian business.
The Economic Club of Canada has built a reputation for nimbleness, organizing high-profile events for an audience of the country’s top decision makers in days, despite the security and scheduling complications that come with hosting world leaders and the like. New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair used the club’s stage in 2013 to reveal the party’s energy platform for the most recent federal election; MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren pitched a Toronto casino from it that same year; Governor General David Johnston announced his new innovation awards program there last summer. Traill’s team—all women age 35 and under—have earned the respect of prominent policy-makers and business leaders through honesty and hard work. “They know there’s no wizard behind the curtain,” says Traill.
When the club’s founder, Mark Adler, won his Toronto riding in the 2011 general election, he asked Traill to take over. Traill was 27 years old and two weeks away from having her first child when she became CEO. “I was worried about the fact I’m this young woman at the helm of an organization you would think was the classic ‘old boys’ club,’” she admits. “But it’s not; it’s a club for everyone.”
Traill started her first business at age 10 to earn pocket change for pizza. A decade later, she found herself at the table with some of the world’s most powerful people. On her first day as event co-ordinator in 2003, the club hosted Bill Clinton; lunch companions in the years since have included the likes of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current French President François Hollande.
But it’s not all celebrities and Chardonnay. Trail’s ambition and determination saw her spearheading the club’s national rebrand six months after joining the organization. The same year she took over as CEO, she founded the Jr. Economic Club of Canada, an organization designed to teach financial literacy to Canadian youth. In 2014, she launched Jr. ECTV, a television program in which young Canadians talk about important issues. “I can’t even sleep sometimes, I’m so excited to go back to work,” she says.
What’s next on Traill’s agenda? She mentions a file labelled “Barack Obama” sitting on her desk. “I know one day we’re going to host him,” she says. If past success with goal setting is any guide, she’s probably right.