Glen LaValley (’85 BCom)

Jenna Marynowski, BAA Communications Committee Volunteer - 05 August 2021

Q&A with Glen LaValley (’85 BCom) – also known as Glen The Balloon Guy – who has been a professional balloon-twisting entertainer for over 15 years. Glen shares his transition from a corporate career to follow his true passion and calling in this month’s alumni profile.

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BAA: Can you share with us how your career has developed post-graduation through to today?

After graduating with a BCom from the Alberta School of Business in 1985, I pursued a wide range of opportunities and career experiences. I began in retail management and soon moved to the administrative side of banking in rural Alberta. I took an opportunity to join a young manufacturing company (eventually purchased by a very large tech company) where I developed administration and IT skills, which led me to join a large communications company on one of their IT teams (I returned years later as a project manager). I helped establish a new small geothermal company, transitioned to business consulting, then joined an exciting tech start-up where I managed the IT team and helped develop their product delivery and quality processes. My next adventure was joining a small manufacturing company in IT and product quality, including implementing their ERP system and process improvements.

Around 2000 I discovered my true passion and calling - an intense interest in balloon twisting and entertaining. I actively pursued and grew this talent, first during evenings and weekends, and in 2015 I left the corporate world to pursue a full-time balloon twisting and decorating business.

BAA: You left your career as a business analyst in 2015 to pursue your passion for balloon artistry. What helped you make this career change? Do you have any advice for others considering a career change into a different field?

A big driver for me to change my career was retirement planning.

I realized I found a calling I was intensely passionate about, would offer me flexible working hours, was something I could do long term and keep my interest well into my retirement while creating interesting experiences for my wife and me. My balloon art has become a path to a happy place. I pursue projects that interest and challenge me, and I can develop new techniques and knowledge for the international balloon community. My wife and I travel to many international balloon conventions where I compete or teach, and we make each trip an opportunity to meet new people and see new places.

When making a significant career change, it is critical to take the long view – where do you want to be in 10, 20, 30 years? What work makes you truly happy and can meet your life’s aspirations?

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BAA: What opportunities and experiences have helped you get to where you are today?  

I had an awakening while attending my first balloon convention in 2010 in Chicago. It was there I discovered a vast international network of amazingly creative and fun people who loved balloons and the magic they bring. I realized balloon art transcended far beyond my current perspective of party entertainer and that I had the potential to create new and exciting balloon projects.

In 2014, I entered and won my first balloon costume competition with a full-size Big Bird costume. I discovered I had a unique approach to balloon design, and with encouragement from my balloon community and family, I continued to compete with increasingly elaborate costumes. Competing at balloon conventions with my crazy costumes helped me realize my balloon art touches and inspires many other balloon artists, and brings enjoyment to people who follow my work.

My prior corporate experience in a wide range of roles has been hugely beneficial. I see details and variables in projects that my balloon peers and customers may not see, and it has provided skills critical for success as a small business person.

BAA: Looking back on the past six years, do you have a favourite creation or experience you'd like to share?

A highlight for me was being invited to travel to Xiamen, China, in 2017 as one of the feature balloon artists to create the world’s largest balloon zoo (in Guinness Book of Records). Fifty-two international artists and a large team of local artists and volunteers used 470,000 balloons to fill a 10,000 m2 facility with magical balloon creatures and structures.  My contribution was in the North America pavilion, creating a full-size bison, mountain lions and other critters, then creating costumes for the nightly street parade. It was such fun and a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of a culture very different from what I knew.

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BAA: The COVID-19 pandemic has meant many have had to pivot unexpectedly. How has your business evolved in this time, and are there any lessons about pivoting you can pass on to others?

The pandemic has significantly impacted my business. Twisting entertainment abruptly ended, but the delivery side of my business increased, as well as interest in balloon teaching material. I spend much more time in these areas developing new concepts and content. I used this opportunity to reflect on my personal health and ways to protect and strengthen my body and hands for balloon work (it is surprisingly physical and requires a lot of stamina).

I suggest looking deeply at what truly makes you happy and brings you joy. If you are passionate about what you do, you will be successful at what you do. Sometimes it isn’t about optimizing your income; it is about optimizing your happiness and satisfaction doing what you love.

I also recommend building and developing a network of like-minded people interested in your industry, whether local (like the monthly meet-up of balloon twisters I started), through professional organizations and international contacts via social media channels. They will provide a sounding board for your ideas, help answer questions, and help you appreciate there are many people out there like you who have experienced problems you face.

BAA: How can readers learn more about your upcoming performances and follow along with your journey?

I will be travelling to England to teach at the Blackpool Balloon Bash in March 2022.

Keep an eye out at the local comic conventions; you may see a strange balloon costume in attendance!

I regularly post my latest adventures on my Facebook and Instagram media pages as Glen The Balloon Guy and @glenballoonguy.

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