- Words by Angela Cowan Photography by Lia Crowe
After spending 15 years away from the family business, Caitlin McKenzie took the reins as CEO for Monk Office in the middle of 2018, marking the third generation of the family to head up the company.
Caitlin, who grew up in Victoria, started in the business dusting shelves and sweeping as a kid when her father had to go into the office, and eventually graduated to working Saturdays in the retail stores once she turned 13.
“I continued to work in office retail stores until past graduation, and then I did a few years full time. And then my dad said I had to leave, because if Monk was ever going to be a part of my future, I needed to have some outside experience that I could bring back and be of value,” she says.
Caitlin worked as an assistant to a life insurance agent and as a cashier for Thrifty Foods for a number of years. Then she worked with Oak Bay Marine Group, which took her to the Bahamas to help run a boutique hotel there. And then in 2016 a job opportunity opened up with Monk’s school supply program.
“I could see myself in that role and it was an opportunity to get my foot back in the door at Monk,” she says. Caitlin applied, interviewed and got the job, leading to what she calls a “challenging year.”
“From a personal standpoint, I was going through a lot in my life, not really knowing where I belonged or what I should be doing, and I wanted to see if Monk Office was going to be a part of my future,” she explains.
She admits that she hadn’t expected at the time to be where she is now, but a conversation over martinis with her dad in 2018 put her on the spot.
“He says ‘the time has come and I have two questions for you: do you want the job, and do you think you can do it?’ I was terrified,” says Caitlin with a laugh, “because I would never want to take on something with this kind of legacy behind it without genuinely and confidently thinking I could do it. But by the end of that martini, the answer was yes to both of them.”
Once at the helm, Caitlin re-established a strong family-minded culture within the business and then successfully—though not without stress—navigated the pandemic and its fallout.
And then in January of this year, Caitlin had the opportunity to carry on another legacy when Monk purchased Island Blue Art and Framing from the retiring Shemilt family. Island Blue, which first began as a map-making company in 1912, has a long and respected history in the local community, and to be able to safeguard its future was hugely important to Caitlin and Monk Office.
“To know that we were going to stay true to our promises to the Shemilt family, and integrate Island Blue Art and Framing into the Monk Office family and maintain a presence on the island, was very satisfying,” says Caitlin. “If you’re from Victoria you know how important supporting local is, and it’s worth its weight in gold to maintain those relationships and those connections to the community. Island Blue has certainly been a bright light for us. It was a long time coming.”
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
There are certainly people I admire, but I’m not sure whose shoes to choose! Instead, I’ll say that I would want to walk in someone’s shoes who has survived adversity and come out the other side not jaded. Just to see how they actually managed it all. As we all know, adversity is just a thing about life, but it’s how humans manage it and how we strengthen ourselves that I find extraordinarily inspiring.
What is the food you could eat over and over again?
Mashed potatoes. Thick, creamy (but not whipped!), riddled with butter, garlic, salt and pepper, and some cream cheese in there.
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
A weekly delivery service of fresh flowers, a piece of jewellery—likely a ring—and three extended vacations. One to Europe and the UK, one to South America and one to the Bahamas. Each of those areas of the world offer me different, but important things I need in my life: non-judgmental culture, my heritage and heat.
Loud yawns and people talking through their yawns! If you’re not sitting next to a person when you hear them yawning you can never tell if they’re alright…it’s alarming and always far too dramatic.
Where would you spend a long time doing nothing?
A quiet place with a view (specifically, Shawnigan Lake or Tofino), drinking wine and sharing the space with the person I love. But whether I’m surrounded by water or mountains, it wouldn’t matter. I love sitting in silence and just thinking and looking around. I’m in my head a lot and silence helps me focus on what’s right in front of me, or what I’ve been avoiding.
What is the one thing you’re secretly proud of?
Being an Auntie. Be it by blood relation or by friendship, I love being an Auntie. As someone who doesn’t have children of her own, I find it such an honour to be an important part of a kiddo’s life. There is a really special bond there and it makes me feel happy. Once they get to an appropriate age, I put in place the rule that they can trust me with absolutely anything, unless they’re in danger. Then I have to tell their parents.
What makes your heart beat faster?
LOVE. When I see that face, hear that voice, feel that touch. It’s magic. Pure magic.