There comes a time in the lives of most people when they determine to change the world. As humans, it’s in our nature to want to make a positive difference in the lives of others, so we look to our particular skill set to effect that change. Through music or medicine or marketing, we endeavour to put our talents to good use and make the world a better place. (There was even a guy who tried to sell pie from the sky. His is another story.) Very few make a global difference. For the majority of us, dreams of a utopia of our own making are eroded by the day to day until we settle for the change we can make in our own corner. And that’s a worthy goal and certainly a more achievable one. Vancouver’s Roger Killen is not unlike the scores of us whose lofty ambitions have hit the ground not running.
“I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, attended Trinity College in Dublin and graduated with an honours degree in Business Studies and a single digit golf handicap in 1973. I immigrated to Canada in 1975 and worked as a salesman and product manager for Xerox Canada until 1979.”
So began Killen’s entrepreneurial journey filled with peaks and valleys. The trip has been a fruitful one, but by Roger’s own admission, some of the fruit has been rotten.
“Between 1980 and 2000, I launched 12 different start-ups with good, bad and ugly results.”
A west-end restaurant flopped and a growing home-building company folded after being defrauded by an unscrupulous sub-contractor. But Roger’s vision transcended the start-ups and setbacks. The fact that he kept getting back on the horse is testament to his “try, try again” attitude and the horse’s patience. It is a cornerstone of his philosophy in business – and in life.
But what really sets Roger apart from the pack is the drive to take stock of what he’s learned and, if he hasn’t changed the world single-handedly, offer others the insight, experience and platforms to take their shot at it. Roger knows the greater good can be served by a great idea.
His current baby, TEDxStanleyPark, is no longer a baby. It is an annual, not-for-profit conference at which a suite of educational and inspirational short talks is shared with onsite and online audiences that Roger launched in 2012.
“I now serve humanity,” says Roger in self-deprecating style, “as a catalyst for people who want to launch worthy movements. The tangible form that this takes is the annual conference and a weekly Meetup called Vancouver Business Network.”
For the last six years, Roger has produced TEDxStanleyPark named for Vancouver’s iconic outdoor green space. Their vision and perennial theme is as monumental as it is simple: Inspire Brave Actions.
“This theme is born from our belief that all human achievement is rooted in three elements: the dreams that we dream; the decisions that we make; and the actions that we take.”
Their mission is the spread of worthy ideas in the belief that they will move “thoughtful optimists with open minds and big hearts to take brave actions – conversations that matter, attitude shifts, policy changes, support for worthy causes, political and social activism and launching movements that make a positive difference.”
TEDx are much like the TED Talks you may have watched on YouTube, but differ in significant ways. They are shorter events, usually lasting only a day or less, far less expensive to attend, and produced locally. The live audience for TEDxStanleyPark has grown from 100 to 2,200 people. YouTube views reached 20,000 within nine months of the first conference. The most recent has exceeded 2,000,000.
Roger says the satisfaction he gets from helping others is enormous. And it is not limited to or reserved for his work with TEDxStanleyPark.
“Several years ago, I adopted a ‘3 RAKs a day’ practice and I have had a smile on my face ever since. A RAK is a random act of kindness. Every day, I actively seek out three opportunities to help others. When I perform a RAK my inner voice says, ‘Yyyyyeeeesssss’. Imagine the uplift that three Yyyyyeeeeeesssses a day gives my spirit.”
If Roger Killen hasn’t already endeared himself to you, ask him why, upon leaving Belfast, he chose Vancouver.
“Why not? Vancouver is the finest city in the finest country in the world,” he says. “To boot, I live in the West End, so I live in the finest community, in the finest city in the finest country in the world. How lucky am I?”
You may disagree with the finer points, but you can’t deny his gratitude and enthusiasm.
To call Roger’s TEDx venture the terminal point of his start-up journey would be to grossly underestimate his appetite for entrepreneurial wanderlust and his desire to make our world a better place.
In fact, with all he’s done, with all the experience he’s amassed and expertise he’s cultivated, you may be wondering if there is a new business idea up his sleeve, an iron leaning in a dark corner just waiting to be plunged into the bright fire. Roger’s marketing skill is never far from the surface.
“Yes, but I have my idea in stealth mode for the time being.”
Roger, like a ship’s captain who knows he is only as good as his crew, maintains a “steady as she goes” attitude for the future with no plans to veer from the course.
“I see myself as a catalyst – I use my time and talents to build platforms from which worthy ideas inspire people to take actions that give legs to dreams of what could be.”
If Roger hasn’t changed the world, he is the spark that gives life to the fire in others – the kind of blazes worth spreading.