Natasha McLean began working in the defence industry about 20 years ago. Prior to that time, she was working in human resources on the East Coast when she came across a manager position at Serco at its 5 Wing Goose Bay location. 

“The job really appealed to me given I was born and raised in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I grew up around the base and had a strong appreciation for companies like Serco,” said McLean. “An opportunity to work for an innovative company while applying my skills in support of the military’s mission at 5 Wing, was like a dream come true.”  

Being in HR at Serco exposed McLean to the breadth of Serco’s capability and opened doors for her to move into other areas of the business. She also worked at Serco’s corporate office in Ottawa for a few years, which expanded her knowledge of the business and its operations. In 2013, she transitioned out of HR and into the Deputy Site Manager role in support of Serco’s Goose-Bay contract, where she was assisting with all operations on the base. That role was the springboard that led to the Site Manager role and eventually to a VP position for McLean at Serco Canada Inc. 

“I can’t say enough about Serco as an organization and the focus it places on developing its people. As a young woman in the defence industry, I certainly had barriers to overcome in the early years, but I’ve always felt as though the sky’s the limit with Serco,” she added. 

Natasha McLean, VP, Serco Canada Inc. was selected as a Vanguard Game Changer for the April/May 2021 issue. 

Can you tell us a little about your role in your company today?

Currently, I am Vice President of Serco Canada Inc. Serco is a global company with over 55,000 employees across 4 main geographies: North America, The United Kingdom, and Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. We are a full-service solutions company serving the defence, transport, and citizen services sectors. I manage our Canadian services-based business. This includes overseeing the 5 Wing Goose Bay contract (which we just recently secured for another 10-20 years), air navigation support services in Moose Jaw, Drive Test Centers in Ontario, Security Guard testing, and most recently, Integrated Logistics Support services.  Serco is also interested in growing our presence in Canada, and we are currently looking at a number of exciting new opportunities.  

What was your most challenging moment?

In this fast-paced environment, it seems like every day brings a new challenge!  Serco is a leading provider of government services, and it’s an absolute necessity to always be reimagining how we deliver services, how we bring value to the customer, and how we ensure our military, government or the citizens we serve are pleased with their experience.   We challenge ourselves to always question the status quo, to deliver process changes, and introduce enabling technologies that improve the value we bring to our customers.  It is always looking to the future, staying abreast of emerging trends, and being innovative in our approach.  

It’s exhilarating and rewarding to be able to work through those challenges and continue to bring service to life.  

What was your “aha” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?

There are many “aha” moments, where new ideas, thoughts, and strategies have impacted the business, but I think I’ll share a much more personal moment.  As a young woman from Labrador, of Inuit descent, I joined this huge global company, Serco. Though I was well educated and had experience in my role, my first interactions with corporate teams and business leaders outside of Goose Bay were quite intimidating.  I considered these individuals as more worldly and knowledgeable, compared to me and my role.  My “aha” moment came quite suddenly one day, during a very important meeting when I realized I was holding back and second-guessing my own opinions. I knew in my gut the best approach to take, and I had facts to support my recommendation, why was I waiting for someone else to speak up?  At that moment it dawned on me that my informed perspective was critical to resolving the issue at hand. If I didn’t share my perspective, I would be doing myself a disservice and letting my team down. Speaking up that day had a profound impact on my professional career. It has really stuck with me. I am a firm believer that everyone has a role to play, regardless of position or rank, and I make a point to welcome and encourage all perspectives. In business, all opinions matter.

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

I am very passionate about the issue of gender and diversity in the workplace. I am so proud of our exceptional track record supporting 5 Wing Goose Bay and of our amazingly diverse and inclusive team. I am eager to build upon the great work we are doing to advance equality for women and Indigenous People. As an Indigenous person myself, I understand the challenges facing our communities, but I also see the potential. At Serco, we’ve placed great focus on deepening our ability to work cross-culturally. Indigenous cultures are so rich, so diverse; to be a partner and employer of choice for Indigenous business and people, is incredibly important to Serco. Our policies, processes, training, tools, behaviours, and team culture work in concert to drive inclusion and meaningful representation. By being informed, respectful, adept, and flexible, we have and continue to create real opportunities for success for all under-represented groups in this industry. 

What is the best advice you received?

A piece of advice I received early on in my career and one that has really stuck with me is to own up to my mistakes. Easier said than done sometimes, this advice has guided me through some tough situations. Not only has it enabled me to gracefully accept the mistakes I’ve made over the years, but it taught me early on that it’s okay to make mistakes. 

In business, you have to take risks sometimes to make a change, which means mistakes are inevitable.  As a team leader, I work hard to cultivate an environment where mistakes are okay because if I can do that, I can cultivate a culture of innovation.

What is a habit that contributes to your success?

I would definitely say that listening has been the one habit/skill that has helped me the most in my career. Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to build trust with those around me in that they trust that I HEAR what they are saying.  The simple act of consciously listening has enabled me to collect valuable information from employees, customers, and stakeholders over the years. Actively listening has allowed me to draw insights and ultimately solve complex operational challenges faster than any other business skill/tool. The worst thing you can do as a leader is cut yourself off from what is really happening in your business. 

What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset? 

In the defence sector, innovation is all around us. It’s woven into every day in such a seamless way, we can forget to stop and take note. For me, however, innovation comes in many forms inside and outside defence. Of late, I’ve been most impressed with the efforts of some of the youngest members of our society who are focused on finding innovative ways to solve large environmental and societal challenges. Young women like Autumn Peltier who have managed to capture the world’s attention on issues that have been plaguing society for decades are truly inspiring. It is this passion for change and innovative problem solving that moves mountains. 

How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?

Two years before I started working at Serco, the company embraced 5 Wing’s motto SuliaKaKatigejut, which means “working together” in Inuktitut, and it is still our guiding principle at Goose Bay today. We truly support Canada’s desire to maximize long-term employment, training, and skills development opportunities for Indigenous people and women, and it continues to be core to Serco’s way of doing business. At Serco, we have created a path to success by weaving this into everything we do for our employees – from succession planning to mentorship. We are truly focused on a supportive and welcoming culture where we can leverage the diversity of our people to enhance the value of our solutions and the services we provide to our customers. Inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is a game-changer. We see it every day. 

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?

One of the biggest impediments to innovation in the defence sector is time – both too much of it in some instances and not enough of it in others. At Serco, our biggest customer by far is Government. It’s no great secret that when you’re dealing with Government and Government procurement, things take time. But Innovation happens quickly – change is measured in days and months, not years. Bringing innovation to Government contracts can be challenging as a result. Persistence is the name of the game.

How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?

Strength through diversity is a long-standing core tenant at Serco. Our company’s success depends upon our people. Our main purpose is “to be a trusted partner of governments, delivering superb public services, that transform outcomes and make a positive difference for our fellow citizens”.  To truly impact our fellow citizens, we need to understand them which is why we view differences as strengths. Every team at Serco reflects the communities in which we work. At 5 Wing Goose Bay, Serco has provided critical Site Support Services to the Royal Canadian Air Force for over 21 years. We have fostered an environment where our entire team is encouraged to bring their whole selves to work – we embrace different ideas, cultures, genders, backgrounds, and passions. Strength through diversity isn’t just a throw-away corporate tagline. At Serco, it is supported by policies and procedures that are woven into the very fabric of our day-to-day work. Our team’s unique perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds ultimately result in innovative approaches to meeting our customer’s needs.  

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

Serco is a services-based business which ultimately means we are in the people business. While this will never change, I see technology-enabled services becoming more and more important. 

Finding new ways to optimize service delivery and redefine client value through the use and/or insertion of smart technology is and will continue to be critical to our business’ growth.

What is your parting piece of advice?

Never be afraid to be your authentic self in the workplace. I believe authenticity is the foundation of strong teams and furthermore, strong companies.