Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Keidi Janz

Just looking at Jessica Johannson’s career, there’s one thing that’s pretty evident: she’s a people person.

She has successfully built a 20+ year career within Human Resources by flipping the script on traditional HR approaches by employing out-of-the-box strategies.

But, it hasn’t always been easy.

Since almost the beginning of her career, Jessica has confidently questioned ineffective HR practices making her subject to doubters...and at one point, self-doubt.

Nevertheless, Jess stayed true to her beliefs (of course, her vision for forward-thinking HR has become commonplace in many companies!) and now, as the Vice-President of People at Tucows (the umbrella company of Hover and many others) she uses her “people-first” mentality to create an innovative company culture and a memorable employee experience.

Keep reading to learn from Jessica as she shares why passion, resilience and enthusiasm is a tried and true recipe for success:


Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

I received a great job offer in a different city after just taking possession of a brand-new built home.  During the negotiations of this job offer, there was something gnawing at me, but I ignored it. I jumped in with both feet and before too long, I realized that the fit with this organization just wasn’t there. I felt the harder I tried, the worse it got.  I had a few pity parties along the way and wondered how I ended up there and why me?

I finally got the courage to negotiate my exit – I was calm, cool and collected and spoke very passionately (this word will come into play a bit later in this Q&A!) and we came to a mutual understanding.  Once I got over my feelings of ‘failure’, I realized that the experience allowed me to grow in ways that I never would have anywhere else.  It was a necessary step on my life’s journey! I learned about my resilience and ability to overcome.  I have tremendous life-long friends from the experience and a clearer understanding of my capabilities.  Life is very short, there are, unfortunately, countless examples of this.  As such, you need to be in a place where you can be your authentic self.  I made lemonade by leaving a great job with nothing to go to, but believing that I would find something that would fulfill me and appreciate my ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking style.


Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.

An environment where you can be yourself and where you have the freedom to paint the sky purple, if you so desire!  Where there aren’t unrealistic expectations and all ideas are welcome.

How much of your success has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

I have always been a bit left-of-centre in my thinking and akin to a petulant 2-year old who continually asks ‘why’.  Playing it safe is not in my DNA.  I feel you have to challenge the ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) to create great things. Thru risk taking you can build new best practices and revolutionize/reinvent the status quo.  Be a trailblazer.

How do you measure success in your career?

By creating environments and cultures that allow employees to bring their best selves to work each and every day.

You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?

Continual self-talk about how I simply need to be myself.  People get into trouble when they try to be someone they are not.  Being genuine reigns supreme.

"I stay true to myself and do everything in my power to prove the doubters wrong."

Was there ever a moment when you questioned your career path? How did you overcome it? 

There were often times that I second guessed myself about being of a different breed in HR. Over 15 years ago, I questioned the need to do performance reviews and people thought I was nuts.  Now – it’s commonplace for organizations to not complete performance reviews. Is it that crazy to trust that our employees know what they are supposed to do?

Overcoming doubters comes with the steadfast belief that there are different ways to achieve positive outcomes.  


What do you love most about yourself?

My resilience – get knocked down and get my ass back up!

What is the last investment you've made that has made your life better?

Every Saturday I take time for myself – go to a movie, go out for lunch/dinner, go to a spa, do nothing - just take time for me.  I have also joined Kickboxing classes and at times, work out with a personal trainer.  Investments in yourself don’t have to be financial, but being able to just chill, reflect and ‘be’, are important.

Have you ever had anyone doubt you?

Of course – I think this is par for the course.  Earlier on in my career, I would just move to an organization that valued my contributions.  As I have grown (ok – gotten older), I stay true to myself and do everything in my power to prove the doubters wrong.  Even though some days are harder than others, I don’t waiver from what I believe to be right and really try to block out the naysayers!

What is your best negotiation tip?

Passion and enthusiasm.  You need to believe in what you’re doing in your very core.  If you do, passion will come through and those you are negotiating with will want to share in your energy.

Know a woman you want to see on our blog? Nominate them here