It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll)

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“If you said to me when I was 15 years old that ‘Brad, one day you’re going to be the executive director of corporate communications for the TTC,’ I first of all would have said ‘What’s that?’ Y’know, ‘no I won’t. I’m not going to be at a desk, I’m going to be a rock star! Whatever!’ … There’s been no grand plan, ” says Brad Ross. I am sitting in his office on a sunny Tuesday in February, and he is taking me on a journey of the experiences that led to the job he holds today.

I’m working on an employment campaign for school called Ready, Aim, HIRE!, which focuses on first job stories. Brad is a great person to ask about employment, because he has been working all his life. His father was a photojournalist for the Toronto Star, and his mother was a secretary at Kellogg’s. Growing up in Scarborough, everybody worked, and he recognized the importance of hard work from an early age.

I catch a glimpse of Brad’s enjoyment of crisis communications, when he speaks about being a copy boy at the Toronto Star. “I was there the night of the Mississauga train derailment in 1979; it was a huge, huge news story. … In hindsight, I didn’t appreciate exactly what I was experiencing at the time. I was 16 years old and it wasn’t something that I aspired to do and that was working in a newsroom necessarily but in hindsight, looking back, it was a wonderful experience.” Back then, radio, television and print media would have been used to circulate the story. Now, in addition to using traditional media outlets, when the TTC is in crisis Brad immediately lends his voice to Twitter, answering all legitimate questions and inquiries on his personal page, @bradTTC.

Though Brad is an extremely accomplished person, he is quick to point out that he didn’t become established in his career until he was well into his 30s. By that time, he had completed a multitude of jobs, including: delivering newspapers, acting in national commercial campaigns, pumping gas at three gas stations, driving a van for Parker’s Cleaners, being a copy (messenger) boy in the Toronto Star newsroom, driving a limousine, working as a busboy, dishwasher, and more. After completing his broadcasting diploma at Seneca College, he worked at the WSIB doing video production and then writing communications materials for 13 years; was director of communications at the Ontario College of Teachers for two years; did a one-year stint at advertising agency Grey Canada; and did media relations for the City of Toronto for eight years, in addition to overseeing the City’s official photo and video unit.

It’s thanks to that experience at City Hall, where he had a boss that encouraged him and gave him independence, that led to his current position at the TTC. “Coming to the TTC and working for Gary Webster and now Andy Byford who, again, trust my judgment and give me that latitude, give me the ability to do my job – trusting that I’m only going to do positive things for the organization,” says Brad. “That comes with experience – over 25 years of experience.”

Many students graduating out of college feel the need to become established early in their career as soon as they graduate, instead of focusing on the value of hard work. Brad says that when he was first graduated from college he was eager, ambitious, and that’s great – people need to have that ambition, because that’s how you move along. However, that comes with time and lots of experience. “For the first 10 or 15 years of your career you gotta devote to learning all aspects of the job,” says Brad. “Even the most tedious. There are parts of every job that you don’t like to do. I think learning to do those and understanding what they’re all about will go a long way to helping you develop as a professional. Focus on what you do well, recognize what you need to bone up on, and get some of that under your belt so you don’t ever have to do it again.”

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