Meet the OCA’s New President & CEO: An Interview with Pam Julian

By Molly Hurford

In November, the Ontario Cycling Association announced its new President, Pam Julian. The former equestrian has a broad range of experience in sporting associations, from diving to ringette, and she’s excited to step into this new leadership role with the OCA. Here, we sat down with Julian to hear more about her background in sports (including cycling) and her goals for the OCA as she begins her tenure as president.

You’ve been in management roles in diving and in ringette, how did you get into the world of sports management?

I love sport and it doesn’t matter what kind! I was a competitive equestrian rider growing up, but I also did ballet, swimming, figure skating, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. As an adult, I always stayed active, and ended up getting into road cycling, which I loved until I blew out both my knees! Both of my children were also athletic, with my son competing in both diving and trampoline.

When my children were born, I decided to stay home and was fortunate enough to be allowed that opportunity. But I had a hard time keeping still and ended up volunteering any chance I could, starting on my sport management journey when my kids got involved in diving. Before I knew it, I was coaching, officiating and president of the local club. I then jumped into running events and ended up on the board of directors of Dive Ontario. At that time, Dive Ontario did not have staff and the Board asked if I would step down from my position and take on the role of Executive Director – and the rest is history.

This circuitous journey is what makes me a unique leader in sport. I’ve come in from the ground level, and I can understand everybody’s perspective. I can relate to the volunteer, the parent, the coach and the official. I understand the motivation to give back and of creating something bigger than ourselves.

Eventually, you moved from Dive Ontario to Ringette Ontario—how did that happen?

I thrive on challenge and had felt that I’d gone as far as I could at that time with Dive Ontario. Ringette had posted for the role of Executive Director, and I decided to go completely out of my comfort zone and was honored to have been chosen. I had no direct experience with ringette, but I did know of the sport and how challenging it was. Not many people are aware of the incredible athletic ability of the those who play ringette. Like basketball, there’s a 30-second shot clock, and combined with the hand-eye coordination of the athletes, it leaves a game which is impressive to watch.

I was there for just under four years, and it was an wonderful experience. We moved the organization forward, changing the image and the relationship with our clubs. We built up professional staff in the office, modernized the board governance and I had a lot of fun doing it. I’m incredibly proud of the work I did there and my team who helped drive forward my vision.

What made you decide to leave Ringette Ontario for the OCA?

Even though I enjoyed my job, I knew I was coming towards the end of my time there. Leadership roles at provincial sport organizations do not come up very often, so when I saw the posting for the OCA role, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I love cycling and thought it would be an amazing opportunity and I’m thrilled to have been chosen for the role.

Coming into this position made me realize how important it is to step outside of our comfort zones and take chances. And as women, we don’t do this enough. There has been plenty of research indicating that women tend not to apply for roles because they don’t meet all the criteria. But we need to start believing in ourselves and reaching out for what we want.

I’m excited to be taking on this role as a woman, but it’s important that an organization picks the right person for the job. And I know I’m the right person to lead the OCA and drive the organization forward.

Coming into these positions, you obviously must love sport, but there’s a lot of business involved as well. How have you navigated that?

I do have business experience, although I didn’t go to school for business—I have two master’s degrees – one in Anthropology and the other in Criminology. However, I have always found myself working in business and have had experience in several different industries – from oil to video games to a merchant bank. That diverse experience has given me a strong foundation in operations and administration, prior to coming to sport.

But having said that, I think where I my strength lies is in my vision and passion for learning. We all have opportunities to learn every day not only through reading and professional development, but from the people around us. We must envision what we want – and then figure out what we need in order to make it happen.

How have the first weeks in your new role been?

It’s been busy! There is lots for me to learn about the disciplines within this amazing sport, but also the business processes of the organization. It’s important as a leader to be a driving force, but you also must be an active listener. We have an amazing team here, so I’ve been talking with each of them and asking not only about current structures, but what, through their experiences, they would like to see for the organization. I will also be taking opportunities to speak with OCA members whenever possible, to listen and get to know the sport from their perspective. This groundwork is essential for me to be able to do the role effectively and start to build the necessary foundation for change.

Cycling is traditionally a very male-dominated sport, though that’s slowly changing. Still, coming from Ringette, a primarily women’s sport, how is it stepping into a more male-dominated sport?

To be honest, all I see are opportunities! I have worked in several organizations that were male dominated and as a 52-year-old woman, I have had many years of experience. And I know that as women, we must be confident in who we are and what we bring to the table, and not be afraid to say it.

I’m excited to see many women in leadership roles in cycling and I want to have conversations about how we can change that image of being a male dominated sport. There are many women I know who love to ride and they need to feel welcomed in ways that work for them. The same is true for BIPOC and LGBTQ2+ communities and we need to work with those communities to determine what is required in order to make sure they feel welcome and included. In other words, cycling should be for everyone and we must do our best, as ambassadors of the sport, to make this happen.

How are you hoping to improve diversity in cycling?

I like the concept of DIBs: diversity, inclusion and belonging. But the only way you can create belonging is to create a sense of community. So how do we create a community where everybody feels they belong? That is integral in changing the image, changing how we market the sport, changing how we communicate within the sport – and for that we need to have conversations. All these pieces are part of the foundational work which will be taking place this coming year. Who are we and what is our why? We cannot implement change without first determining the answers to those questions.

Coming into this position after two seasons of minimal racing because of COVID, does that make things easier or tougher?

It’s a strange time to be coming in, because we are in a state of transition in the world. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity, because now that there’s been a gap, we can take a step back and answer those questions on where we want to go and determine how to meet the objectives which have been identified within the strategic plan.

A lot of people are excited about the strategic plan, but often, strategic plans get read once, then filed away. How will you ensure that the strategic plan creates change?

A strategic plan should be dynamic and something that is consistently being referred to, in order to make sure that the organization is following its own strategic direction. It contains the objectives that have been identified through stakeholder surveys and targeted discussions, and it’s my job as the CEO to determine how to make these objectives come to fruition over the next five years. The first step will be working with the team on creating a set of operational plans with measurable deliverables and timelines for the years covered in the strategic plan. I’ve already got a map in my head and with the team, we will work at taking the objectives and laying out clear timelines and measurable deliverables, which will let us know when we have successfully met those objectives. Of course, will be communicating these pieces out to membership, in order to keep our members up to date on our progress.

You’ve alluded to changing the image of the OCA: Will that include things like changing the logo?

Definitely! I believe that logos are incredibly important to an organization: They can express an organization’s values, who they are, and what they do. And in any organization, it’s important that the identity does not remain static, that we continue to grow to meet the needs of our members. For the OCA, the question will be how do we create a logo that encompasses all the different cycling disciplines as well as the values we hold? I’ve got some ideas percolating and we’ll work with a graphic designer, but it’s really important to me that it becomes a unifying image that our members are proud to wear.

So, can members expect to see you at the races?

Absolutely! I plan on coming out to events wherever I can, because it’s important to me to be there to support, learn and meet the members and athletes. That’s the fun part – getting to come out and watch the events!

About the writer:

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.