Laura Thurnheer chuckles when she tells the story of leaving Kelowna for Vancouver at age 17 and returning at age 34 with a commerce degree, husband and two small children.
“I left right after high school to go to UBC Vancouver and when I came back to Kelowna it was like starting over with a new life and a new name,” said Thurnheer, 56. “I ended up creating my own training company and ran it around my young family. I did SuperHost training and managed the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce’s SuperHost program and also did a lot of leadership training.”
Thurnheer’s initial involvement with the chamber also lead to her serving on the chamber’s board for seven years, including a stint as one of the group’s first female presidents in 2007.
It’s being a woman leader that Thurnheer feels landed her the Kelowna Top Forty Over 40 nod.
“I think a lot of women I’ve worked with in the community over the years got together and nominated me,” she said. “It was a struggle at times, but I managed to balance work, life and family. Hopefully, I’ve set an example for younger women.”
Her job as chair of Okanagan College’s School of Business is the perfect vehicle for her to be an example for not just for younger women, but younger men too.
“I’ve found the right niche for me,” said Thurnheer. “I get to work with outstanding young people and faculty every day. It’s very rewarding to be part of helping set young people on the right track with education and mentoring and mentoring other faculty.”
In fact, today Thurnheer is in Victoria coaching a team of students who are competing at the Tourism Industry Conference.
Next month, she’ll be in Vancouver coaching another team of students at the Human Resources Case Competition West.
While her children are now grown up, Thurnheer is still busy with her job and sitting on four boards – Okanagan College’s Board of Governors, the B.C. Wine Authority regulatory board, Kelowna Community Resources and Human Resources Manage-ment Association of B.C.
“I get a lot of support from my employer so I can sit on boards,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I still work a lot of hours, but I do have flexibility.”
Human resources is Thurnheer’s passion. Besides her degree in commerce and her masters of business administration in strategic management from UBC Vancouver, she is also a chartered professional of human resources.
“I’ll probably get another degree before I’m done, likely a PhD in human resources to do with women and governance or a doctorate of business administration in women and leadership,” said Thurnheer.
Human resources has also been a common theme throughout her careers.
SuperHost training was all about helping tourism workers be the best they could be.
The leadership training she facilitated is probably still paying dividends as the people she worked with went onto careers and mentoring stressing the importance of people.
Thurnheer also worked at Community Futures as the self-employment manager.
And when UBC Okanagan started up, Thurnheer worked in the human resources department before moving to Okanagan College nine years ago.
Thurnheer was elected to the three-year term as Okanagan School of Business chair by the 60 fellow faculty she works with. The position is so demanding administration wise that she isn’t required to teach classes. How-ever, she keeps contact with students by coaching competition teams.
“And when my term as chair is over, I look forward to going back to teaching and leading classes in strategic management, human resources and tourism,” she said.
Editor’s note: Every week in this space with Top Forty Over 40 we profile a businessperson over the age of 40 who is having a great career and giving back through mentoring and volunteering.
The series is presented by BDO Accountants and Consultants, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and The Daily Courier. If you know of a deserving over 40 you'd like to nominate, send an email to TopForty@KelownaChamber.org.