Hello! This is the second edition of Hello Neighbour, a blog series that shines the spotlight on the faces behind your favourite Downtown Saskatoon businesses!

Today we’re featuring Shawna Nelson, Sales & Marketing Director of Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon and The James Hotel. Shawna is a fascinating business woman – but don’t take our word for it. Let’s get into the Q+A and get to know her a little, shall we?

Q. First + foremost, tell us a bit about yourself, neighbour!

A: I was born and raised in small towns throughout Saskatchewan – as the Johnny Cash song goes “I’ve Been Everywhere, man!” I went to the University of Saskatchewan and have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, and Saskatoon has been considered home for me for the past 35 years. For the last 15 years, I have created my own little “Prairie Paradise”, and live on an acreage just outside of the city.  Also, not only born and raised in small towns, but I was born and raised in an entrepreneurial family with most of our businesses in the Hospitality industry – it’s really no wonder I ended up in the Restaurant and Hotel Industry! With having over 20 years in the Hotel Sales Industry, my last 12 years have been in the Director of Sales role at the Sheraton Cavalier and The James Hotel in Saskatoon.

I feel it’s very important to give back to the community that has provided me a great place to live and work. I have also served on many boards and committees. Some include: Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce where I spent 9 years committed to the provincial chamber, eventually fulfilling the role of Chair.  I have sat on the Board of Directors for the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, where I spent 17 years and was awarded the President’s Award in 2012. I also represented Saskatchewan on a national level while sitting on the board of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 2018.

 I enjoy my hosting job with Shaken with a Twist, an event brought to you by Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan – a monthly networking event that showcases inspirational women entrepreneurs in our community. I enjoy helping out the North Saskatoon Business Association on various projects, and for the work I have done with this organization, I received their Member of the Year award in 2016. I love music of all kinds, and sat on the Canadian Country Music Awards Host Committee when it came to Saskatoon in 2012 and 2017. I’m the current Chair of Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, Board Member of Tourism Saskatchewan, Member of the National Convention Advisory Council, Chair of the Destination Marketing Council under Saskatoon Destination Marketing Hotels Inc. I’ve also been recognized for my commitment to giving back. In 2015, I was nominated at the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards for the Community Builder Award and recognized by the Business and Women Professionals of Saskatoon by being awarded the 2016 Athena Leadership Award, which is given to an individual who gives back to her community, displays the highest level of professional excellence in her area of work, and lifts others up to leadership.

When I have free time I enjoy my workouts (good for the mind and body), relaxing, and making memories at the family cabin at Candle Lake. I also love playing golf (if you want to call it that), enjoying good vino (hence why I need to work out) while connecting over conversation with old and new friends. 

Q: Tell us a bit about the businesses you work for. What’s their history? 

A: Cavalier Enterprises Ltd, located in Saskatoon, owns and operates two Sheraton Hotels, the Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon Hotel (opened in 1962) and Sheraton Cavalier Calgary Hotel (opened in 1983). It also operates The James Hotel (opened in 2011), which has been a well known fixture in Downtown Saskatoon, overlooking the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Why would you choose these hotels? Because of the history in hospitality! Since 1935, the Leier family has been welcoming travellers into a world of hospitality built by three generations of dedicated hoteliers. They have led an inspirational journey of transforming business and leisure travel, meetings, and cuisine in this city and province. 

 The James Hotel represents the legacy of the first-generation hotelier, James Peter Leier. Those who knew James often recount his kindness and sincerity for giving newcomers a true sense of belonging and a welcoming place to stay.

Both Hotels are local and family–owned, and the passion and pride lives through our dedicated team of partners and employees. Everything we do, in every space of our hotel, is designed to welcome our guests as a part of our community. One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of putting people first and giving back to the community that has welcomed and supported us. 

Q: What do you enjoy about working in Downtown Saskatoon?  

A: I love the vibe that Downtown has to offer compared to most cities – it’s like a good zoom call, business up top and casual on the bottom! The Downtown has so much to offer for all kinds people for all kinds of reasons. It’s nice to be able to spend time in the heart of the magic that makes Saskatoon uniquely different.  

Whether for work,  play or to just relax, our guests love the opportunity to walk to work or the festivals that are just steps away. And then to be able to relax in their room, overlooking a beautiful river that winds itself through our Downtown – how lucky are we to have all this Downtown!  

Q: Describe a working day in the life of Shawna.

A: Oh, the stories I could tell – I’m keeping them close and guarded for when I write a Stocking Stuffer book about our industry – I’m calling it “Spoiled Cream”, and there’s a backgrounder to the name, which you’ll have to buy the book to find out!  WOW, there are some good stories!  Of course no real names will be printed! 

I digress. But that actually sets up the day in the life of Shawna. Not everyday goes as planned, which makes for never a dull and routine day! I always tell the team you can plan and have a to-do list, but in sales (and in particular in the hotel industry) be ready for the “bird”.  The bird is something that comes up and needs your attention asap. For example, sometimes we’ll get a lead on a piece of business, and it needs to be in by end of day. OR, the bus tour that was coming in at 3 p.m. came at noon instead, and the rooms aren’t ready, the key cards are not pre made, and the extra staff you had coming in to help with luggage and parking aren’t in until 2 p.m. so you jump in. OR the meeting that was to go until 5 p.m., went until 5:20, and now the Banquet team has only 40 minutes to flip the room for a 300 person dinner, and so now you’re cleaning up and resetting the tables. I love those days and miss those days. COVID has made me appreciate how great of a team we have, in that they’re in the “trenches” each day, face-to-face with our customers.  A day in the life of a Director of Sales has me looking at my emails a few times a day, touching base with my 8 sales and event managers (which now due to the pandemic has dropped to 2), to look and see what the week is like compared to their Work Compass. Then, I would fit in some marketing for the week, month and quarter.  Then I would look at some other projects that I have in the pipeline, jump on a few head office calls or other webinars, call a few clients, have lunch with a client, site a client, and follow up with previous guests to see how everything went. 

I always find time to be strategic by reviewing the revenue and market share reports, menu development, etc. – there is never enough time in the day, which is why I love what I do – I’m challenged and forever learning! I love what I do – I’m appreciated and respected by my superior and owner – and I can truly say I live to work. When I’m finished work, I’m usually off to some community event or dinner (which, as we know has been non-existent). I miss connecting and I miss the buzz of business – I can’t wait to get back to building relationships and collaborative partnerships!

Q: If you could have a glass of wine with one person (from past or present), who would it be and why? 

A: Of course I’m drawn to this question because of my love for wine! The person who I would love to enjoy a glass or two with would be Eleanor Roosevelt. As a recipient of an ATHENA Leadership Award 2016, I was invited to attend the ATHENA International Conference in Poughkeepsie, New York, and I can’t tell you how inspiring it was. The area was so beautiful in October and I remember kind people and rich history of women defining some key areas in education, business and politics. For example, Vassar College founded in 1861 (which is the second degree-granting institution for higher learning) was an all women institution til 1969. But most notably, Poughkeepsie is where Eleanor Roosevelt vacationed and then later settled to live after President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away. I had the honor of being able to tour Val-Kil (translated to waterfall-stream, which speaks to its beauty) estate – which is a National Historic Site, and where I was able to dive into the history of this woman and how she touched so many. I was reminded of her work and influence on child welfare, housing reform, and equal rights for woman and racial minorities. She would definitely have many stories to share – about the old, pale, boys club and how she broke through that as her husband’s eyes and ears during his many terms, (the longest term as the President of the United States)! Later in 1945, President Harry S. Truman appointed her to the United Nations where she served as the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, and played a major role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed her chair of his Commission on the Status of Women.

Driven and spunky – I would love to hear about the time she and Amelia Earhart ditched a White House dinner and went for a spin in a plane while dressed in evening gowns! Inspiring, bad-ass, and she broke the ceiling and stereotypes to pave many roads for many of us. It’s up to us now to keep on paving!

Hello Neighbour is a new Downtown Saskatoon initiative that shines the spotlight on the people in our district – because it’s them who make it all happen! Get to know more of them here.