Driving into Vancouver at 9am on a weekday makes me very happy for a motorcycle. I feel for those poor people trapped in their cars while I zip by in the HOV lane. Well, a little anyway. I’m on my way to visit Todd Cooper, who is the Executive Director, Wholesale Operations & Supply Chain at BC Liquor Distribution Branch.
I take the Grandview Highway exit and follow Rupert Street over railway tracks and under the Skytrain and pull up to the warehouse. I grab a cup of coffee from the cafeteria as I wait for Todd. He leads me through the maze of work spaces above the warehouse and we make our way to his office.
Todd decided to take this position after moving back here from Ontario to be close to his children. While it may seem odd to some, that a committed Christian is working to promote and distribute alcohol, Todd saw it as a perfect opportunity.
“We always planned to come back to BC in time, to re-join our Surrey friends, family and community, and when our daughters call us to inform us they were ‘never’ moving back to Ontario, we decided to accelerate our plans to return. This meant I needed to find gainful employment out here. When I saw this I thought, “Perfect, let’s go shine a light in the world of alcohol consumption.”
Todd sees his job as so much more than a way to make a living, and he sees the work that the Liquor Distribution Branch does as so much more than purchasing, distributing and selling liquor. All the profit that the company makes goes to the provincial government to benefit us all.
“Our profit, just in wholesale, will be over a billion dollars, and all of that money goes straight to the government, which goes to social services; hospitals, schools, roads, things like that.”
As the Executive Director, he is essentially responsible for the operation of the entire business. His day-to-day work looks a lot like coaching. In many ways, his work involves coordinating and managing a number of different work groups and ensuring that everything works smoothly.
“I’m the guy that sets the tone, but a lot of other people, of course, are responsible for our teams throughout the warehouses, etc. But I’m responsible for the ‘tone from the top. Not only the vision, but also to ensure that we practice humility, servant leadership, and compassion.”
This is one of the many ways that his faith really shapes how he leads, and reflects Jesus’ instructions that those who are in authority have that authority to serve those they lead. Todd has learned over the years that this isn’t just something he should do because he is a Christian, but this is actually the best way to lead. This shapes the way that he engages in his work, especially as he moves into a new position or works to move an organization through obstacles.
“There are four key things that have helped me for years in leadership. When I come into a role, the first thing I need to do is provide stability. The next thing is to provide compassion to find out what’s been going on. What’s the story of each person? Because each person is unique and has a story. And then I work on building trust with them, that’s the third key thing. And the fourth is to provide a strong sense of hope.”
These things are important for Todd because he believes it is these things that employees need, and meeting these needs are necessary for leadership. It can be difficult in an environment that is full of all kinds of brokenness and pain, and like any group of a significant number of people from many walks of life there is a lot of brokenness at the Liquor Distribution Branch. Todd views this as a real opportunity to be a blessing at his workplace.
“More than anything it is people and relationship building. It’s winning people over. It’s listening to people to find out where are they at, and where do we need our team to be, and how do I get there as an individual, and how do we get our team there.”
This is not always easy to do, especially as a leader. Leaders often have a real temptation to begin to get an inflated sense of their own value and importance. It is not very easy to have people around you who keep you grounded and are able to truly challenge you. Todd has recognised this temptation within himself, and works hard to surround himself with people who are able to help him take an honest look at himself, and his life.
“I’ve had an executive coach for a couple years. I meet with her probably every 6-8 weeks, and we go through everything holistically. We talk about everything from faith to fatherhood, to being a spouse, and, oh yeah, work as well.”
His church family is also extremely important in his life, and Todd has no problems being very open about this at work. This openness also gives him a natural way to express his faith at work. Those around him know he gets together with others from the church in small groups to study the Bible and support one another, and this had led to some great conversations.
“They know every Saturday I try to get out for a walk, and I go for breakfast with men from our church and we’re just trying to be decent spouses, and decent fathers, and decent humans, following God’s will. Clearly most people are intrigued and they are kinda like, “Hmmm… what do you guys talk about? What goes on there? What’s it like?” Then they realise we’re just normal guys trying to live a life of purpose, love, and goodness. You know, not be jerks to each other, or our families, or whoever. There is too much of that going on, and that’s the brokenness of life and that just seems so prevalent.”
This openness extends to other groups he is connected to because of his work. He is a member of a CEO forum which helps him connect with other leaders in the Greater Vancouver area. This group comes together to support and challenge each other in a confidential environment.
“One of the CEO forum drivers is “What are we going to do this year? What are our goals?” And I try to keep mine as spiritual goals, like, “How do I become the person that God wants me to become.” That’s my most important goal. Not, “How much money can our company earn.” Or “How much can our stock value go up to provide for our share holders.””
Todd is quick to point out that he is not perfect at this, and there is much he still needs to learn. He also believes strongly that he is in this position for a reason.
“I feel really called to be here. I believe strongly that the Holy Spirit gives me guidance, and he puts words in my mouth and thoughts in my mind on a daily basis. That is incredibly powerful.”
After the interview we walked around the warehouse, and I was impressed by the way that these principles weren’t just words for Todd. He greeted many of the workers by name, and stopped to talk with them about things they’ve been going through.
It may seem strange to some that a Christian would be excited to work within an industry which had, and in many ways still has, a very complicated relationship with Christianity, this is a very real way for Todd to live out the call to serve God in every area of life. When I asked him how we could help him and better understand what he does he answered this way:
“Just know that Christ is at work in all areas of life, including in booze, and in cannabis… Some of us work in areas that may not sound like the right area but to me it’s absolutely the right area. I think we need more people in those tough areas.”
As I got back on my motorcycle for the ride back to Surrey I was struck by how Todd’s work is a tangible way to give witness to the Lordship of Jesus over every aspect of life. As Abraham Kuyper put it:
“[T]here is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” – Abraham Kuyper, Sphere Sovereignty