"Determined to Win"
Born near London, England, raised in Toronto and educated in Raleigh, North Carolina, Claire Plaxton has has her feet in multiple worlds. But her Canadian roots run deepest. When asked the infamous Barbara Walters interview question, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be,” she doesn’t hesitate to respond: “It would have to be a jack pine. It’s a Canadian thing to love the jack pine. Back in the twenties, this group of Canadian painters known as the Group of Seven did all these landscapes featuring windswept trees on the Canadian Shield. And they’re all jack pine.”
That answer is typical Claire: erudite, analytical and often surprising. As a Senior Associate in the retail, media and real estate practice, Claire manages the team’s workflow, from identifying a customer’s needs to producing the final deliverable. “It’s all about dissecting the business problem and constructing the analysis that will get us from question to answer,” she explains. “While others look at a research methodology and technical aspects of a solution, I have more of a business mindset, looking at all the information in our organization to make smarter decisions. It’s a bit of a different perspective.”
Claire gained that perspective from her varied business experience, including positions as a financial analyst and a human resources consultant to financial companies. The daughter of an investment banker and a homemaker, she earned an M.B.A. in corporate finance from the University of North Carolina and a Bachelor of Commerce degree in international business and entrepreneurship from McGill University. After doing corporate restructuring work in the U.S. for several years, she returned to Toronto and an opportunity to work in marketing analytics. “I’m good with numbers and passionate about the consulting process,” she says. “I thought marketing analytics was the perfect fit.”
Since joining EA four years ago, Claire has found the corporate culture to her liking as well. “Everybody here is very casual and open to answering questions,” she says. “You’re not judged if you don’t know something.” While some clients are more challenging than others, Claire describes her most difficult project, a multi-year effort for a big box retailer, as a “high point.” “I’ve never been so challenged at work,” she recalls. “The project was a work-in-progress for a long time. So when we finally did, it felt great. It helped me realize that clients are part of the team. I changed from wanting to work independently to being more collaborative.”
Away from the job, Claire favours more earthy pursuits. She enjoys cooking and gardening at her Bracondale Hill home, even though she says she’s currently engaged in “a massive battle with the weeds in my yard.” Her plan is to dig everything up and transform the yard into an English garden with shrubs, tall grass and flagstones. “I’m determined to win,” she laughs, though her tenacity is obvious. She describes her neighbourhood as “a cluster 42 (Urban Spice) that feels like cluster 37 (Old World Style). We have lots of young families moving into homes that contain older, multigenerational Italian and Portuguese families,” she explains. But her typical Saturday is classic Urban Spice: after completing a five-kilometer run, she’ll cozy up with her Kobo e-book—anything from Victorian romance novels to science fiction—then do a little surfing for recipes, music and running gear on her iPad or laptop—gadgets and sports being hallmarks of any self-respecting Urban Spice girl.
With Claire’s cross-border background, it’s only natural to ask her expert opinion on the differences between Canadians and Americans. But Claire demurs. “Smart people are smart people wherever you live,” she says. “In a business context, Canadians are polite but assertive, Americans polite but a little more persistent. But smart Canadians and smart Americans are a lot alike.”
–Michael J. Weiss