Puneeta McBryan ('12 BCom)

In this month’s profile, Puneeta McBryan ('12 BCom) reflects on her time at the Alberta School of Business, discusses the resiliency of downtown Edmonton, and passes on advice about building and maintaining your network.

Jenna Marynowski and Kathy Pham BAA Communications Committee Volunteer - 15 August 2022

Puneeta McBryan, '12 BCom, is executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association – a challenging role that she took on in December 2020, as downtowns globally faced the challenge of empty office towers. We caught up with Puneeta to reflect on her time at the Alberta School of Business, discuss the resiliency of downtown Edmonton, and pass on advice about building and maintaining your network. Photo credit: Nicholas Yee/YEGpeople


BAA: How was student life for you? What are your favourite memories of your time at the Alberta School of Business?

Honestly, I wasn’t a great student when it came to studying and attending lectures! But I was so fortunate to have great instructors, mentors and friends through that time who really taught me so much about myself and the foundations of my career. My favourite memories are from my role as a BUS 201 seminar manager — that was a great team and we had so much fun learning from each other and supporting first-year students.

BAA: How did your career develop between graduation and where you are today?

I sort of fell into my first ‘real job’ while I was finishing my degree. I was employee #1 at a startup motion graphic video production company called Amplomedia, which eventually grew into a full-service digital marketing agency, and that experience as a new grad made me realize my love of great creative communication and set me on my path as a marketing & communications strategist and consultant. 

After Amplomedia, I worked at a boutique marketing strategy consultancy called Incite Solutions, and from there I went onto ZGM – a full-service advertising, PR and communications agency. I had incredible clients over the course of those years – I felt like I became an expert in something new every month, from government agencies like AGLC, to consumer brands like Booster Juice, and I even had the Alberta School of Business as my client at one point! I also volunteered on political campaigns during those years, and that got me interested in being civically engaged, and really playing an active role in the future of our city. That’s a big part of what led me to take on the role that I have now.

BAA: Can you tell us about your current job and the type of work you do?

I’m the executive director at the Edmonton Downtown Business Association (EDBA). Downtown Edmonton is what’s called a Business Improvement Area (BIA), and we at the EDBA are the non-profit organization that oversees the management and stewardship of the Downtown BIA. It’s a really big, complicated mandate – it includes marketing and PR to support Downtown businesses, advocacy to all levels of government, hosting events that generate foot traffic and vibrancy, hiring contractors for litter pickup and street cleaning, partnering with social agencies on outreach programs for our most vulnerable, and everything else you can think of that helps create a successful business environment and a great urban experience. We do all of this as a small team of six, with quite a modest budget at just over $1 million per year.

Every business within our borders is a member of the EDBA, and I report to a Board of Directors made up of representatives from the Downtown business community. We also work closely with Downtown arts organizations, social agencies, and our other partners like the City of Edmonton, Explore Edmonton, the Downtown Edmonton Community League and many others. The most important parts of my job are leading my team, being a good steward of our members’ money and making sure we’re delivering on our mandate and our strategic plan, and overall serving as a leading public voice, convener, relationship-builder and advocate for our downtown.

BAA: What was it like to make the career change from the marketing industry to the Edmonton Downtown Business Association?

It has been a WILD change. When I took this job, I actually didn’t think it would be too big of a stretch, because so much of the outward-facing work of the EDBA is really marketing, communications, and events - completely in my wheelhouse! But there were two major complicating factors. For one, when I was starting this job, I was freshly re-entering the workforce after a year of maternity leave. And for two, it was December 2020 – right in the middle of the pandemic, when downtowns all over the world had been absolutely decimated by the COVID-19 public health measures. So, the work I’ve been focused on has actually had a lot to do with community safety, homelessness, mental health & addictions issues, and complex social issues in general, combined with very complex (and very new to me) urban planning and economic development work, focused on how to revitalize and ‘future-proof’ our downtown.  It’s been a nonstop rollercoaster and I can honestly say I’m learning and being challenged every single day.

BAA: Many businesses now offer a hybrid work environment - what impact are you seeing in downtown Edmonton? And what excites you about downtown Edmonton's future?

These changes to how and where people are working – it’s having a massive impact on our downtown. And that’s true of downtowns and commercial cores all over North America. Through most 2020/21, we only had between 5-15% of our typical daytime population here. We’re seeing a rebound now, especially since May/June of this year, but even with that rebound and our rosiest projections, we’re looking at only hitting about 60-70% of our pre-pandemic weekday foot traffic on a good day. That’s going to continue making it very difficult to have a good mix of retail, hospitality, personal services, and other types of businesses that really rely on tens of thousands of people spending time in the core every day – it’s just not sustainable or realistic to rely on office workers as the drivers of a busy and successful downtown anymore.

So, what that means is that we - and downtowns everywhere - are having to completely reimagine our downtowns as complete communities, rethink who we’re here for, and what our most valuable assets are. We’re focusing heavily on increasing our residential population downtown – there are over 1000 new residential units under construction right now and many more to come. That will help to bring back a lot of the retail businesses that we’ve lost in the past couple of years. There’s also a ton of opportunity for us as we double down on Downtown Edmonton serving as the entertainment, arts & cultural hub of our city. We’re having so much fun running and supporting live music events and other incredible cultural events that are getting thousands of Edmontonians back downtown!

BAA: What advice do you have for new graduates just starting out in their careers?

Your relationships are everything. Every employer, co-worker, client, former classmate – you really have no idea where your biggest, most exciting future opportunities are going to come from or who you’re going to have extremely mutually beneficial relationships with. Especially if you stay in Edmonton or Alberta – relationships are everything in this business community. Any burnt bridge could easily be a lost opportunity or a tainted reputation.

Don’t put too much stock in 5+ year career planning. In the world and economy we’re in – it’s very possible you’ve never even heard of the sector or organization where you’ll find your dream job in 5-10 years! For now, focus on seeking out opportunities that allow you to learn and challenge yourself the most and to build the most connections, and then spend your time and energy homing in on what your strengths are, what gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning (and what doesn’t), and just being the absolute best at what you’re doing today. And always take the meeting if someone reaches out with an opportunity!

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