IWD2021: Moving conversations with Gigi Chen-Kuo & Kyla Daman-Willems

IWD2021: Moving conversations with Gigi Chen-Kuo & Kyla Daman-Willems

Photo of Gigi Chen-Kuo and Kyla Daman-Willems
Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #ChoosetoChallenge.
A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.
We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
Part of this work is recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in our workplaces. We’re proud to share the stories of those who work at the TransLink Enterprise and its operating companies.

It’s safe to say that being CEO of Metro Vancouver’s Regional Transportation Authority was never on Gigi Chen-Kuo’s career bucket list.

A child of immigrant parents, Gigi came to Canada from Hong Kong when she was just two years old. Growing up, her choice to practice law was a clear one for her. As with many traditional Chinese families, she was given just a handful of career choices: she could be a doctor, a dentist, a teacher, a lawyer, or an accountant.

“It’s really the sheer process of elimination that led me to become a lawyer,” she said, “and it’s something that I’ve never regretted since.”

Gigi graduated from UBC Law School in 1990 and worked in private practice for a few years before starting with BC Transit in 1993 as Executive Assistant to the Chair of the Board. At that time, BC Transit didn’t have an in-house legal department, so her role included advising various departments that had legal questions. This later evolved into a full-time legal role, becoming the Director of Legal Services for BC Transit in 1996.

In 1999, responsibility for public transportation in Metro Vancouver was transferred from BC Transit to TransLink, with Gigi going along for the ride. But not without her own choice to challenge. 

“When I first joined BC Transit, there was no in-house role, but I indicated that I would be willing to do some in-house legal work and they took me up on that offer. That led to a full-time legal opportunity and I also recall that when the transition was made from BC Transit to TransLink, I’d actually heard through the grapevine that I was going to be moved. I thought that that wasn’t the best fit for my particular role as an in-house lawyer, so I actually accosted the CEO at the time. I caught him in the elevator and I said: “Oh, excuse me, do you have a moment? I’d like to talk to you about something that’s on my mind.” And so I indicated to him why I thought the role should reside at TransLink and he said: “That makes sense, sure. If you think the role is better suited at TransLink, then that’s where you’ll go.” So you never know when speaking up will change the course of your career.”

Throughout the years, Gigi has held various legal roles, and in 2019 she assumed the role of General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Corporate Services, which has responsibility for legal corporate secretary insurance and claims, privacy, access to information, information technology, real estate, and safety. So, when she’s not acting as Interim CEO, she’s managing a robust portfolio.

When asked about what the most important pieces of advice she’d give to a woman, who is starting out in their career today, she simply said to look for opportunities to push yourself, to take a leap of faith and say yes.

“Look for potential opportunities and volunteer to take them on. Sometimes women can feel unsure about their own abilities, worry about what can go wrong, or wait for an opportunity to be fully baked, rather than to try and shape it or wait to be invited to apply. So I would encourage women to take some personal risk and just put themselves out there a little more. Letting people know that you’re interested in a new challenge will increase your chances of being considered for a new role.”

Metro Vancouver’s regional transit system is full of employees who have dedicated their careers to helping keep the region moving. Listen to the full podcast with Gigi Chen-Kuo, TransLink’s Interim CEO, on Soundcloud below.


SkyTrain’s Alex Jackson caught up with West Coast Express’ Kyla Daman-Willems who’s story is no stranger to The Buzzer Blog. Kyla was also profiled back in 2019 as one of the women who help keep you moving.