Grindrod closes door on storied residence career

Paul Mayne // Western News

After 34 years at Western, Associate Vice-President of Housing & Ancillary Services & Liquor Licence Coordinator Susan Grindrod will retire at the end of June.

In just over a month, Susan Grindrod can finally ignore her phone ringing at all hours of the night. After 34 years of being ‘on call,’ the Associate Vice-President of Housing & Ancillary Services & Liquor Licence Coordinator can simply roll over and go back to sleep.

“Calls in the middle of the night are never good. I won’t miss that,” she said.

Grindrod was just 29 years old when she stepped into the role of Associate Director of Housing in 1982. Having worked in the private and public sector for six years prior, selling real estate and working for the provincial government as a property accessor, the Western graduate decided to return to campus to begin her career – one she expected to be a short one.

“I never anticipated I’d be here that long, perhaps three or four years and move on,” Grindrod said. “My position changed all the time. It became Director, which was a very challenging job. Then they added Hospitality, so that was another challenge and a steep learning curve. And then Retail Services. It felt very different and I was learning new things all the time.

“It’s been very interesting and that’s what kept me here – the people and the challenges.”

Another reason, perhaps, that kept Grindrod here was the need to accommodate the impending explosion in first-year students soon to be hitting campus. When she began at Western, there were three residences – she was told there were no plans to add to that number any time soon.

“But it soon became clear first-year classes were going to grow and we needed something, so Alumni House was the first one we added,” she said. Since then, Grindrod has also been part of Perth, Ontario, Essex, London, Elgin and Lambton residences.

“There has not been a time, until right now, where there hasn’t been something churning and ready to move,” she added. “I don’t think it’s me; it’s the university that is committed to the residence life experience, and that has been part of our success, that we’ve always had a new residence coming on. When we opened Essex, the year we guaranteed first-year residence, we opened up 500 beds that year and we not only had that filled, we had 600 extra students we had to arrange at a hotel downtown. We were building a residence but we didn’t know how successful we’d be.”

Shortly into her tenure, Grindrod was given the added responsibility to turn around Hospitality Services, which was running a deficit of almost $2 million.

“I was a big complainer about Hospitality Services because they were in the residences and I didn’t think the food was good enough,” Grindrod said. “When I got Hospitality, about 20 years ago, it was in pretty tough shape. It was a ‘see what you can do.’ We had to build a team and were able to do that. It was hard work and a lot of people helped to turn it around to what it is today.”

These days, Grindrod is the first to boast of Western’s in-residence dining program, willing to put it up against any in the country.

“It’s a unique part of our brand,” she said, chalking up this success to every employee in the residences. “It’s part of the residence life experience, eating together, and the students love it. The convenience of the meal plan is great for the students. There are mandatory meal plans and we don’t have push back.”

Grindrod had also been given the Retail Services portfolio to focus on and recalls, at that time, the university was in the process of signing its first franchise – Mr. Sub. Enormous growth over the last few decades now finds Western with a Fair Trade Campus Designation, which ensures farmers and producers are receiving a fair wage and are working in fair conditions for the products Western buys.

“You have to keep changing. You’re only as good as your last event in this business,” Grindrod said. “You have to make changes. The same in residence. If you would have told me that we would soon have two residence counselors here to help with mental health, I would not have believed it. But there was a need and we did it. You have to reflect what the students need.”

Grindrod admitted she may be good at big ideas, but is not a detail person. Which is why she counts on her “amazing staff” to take care of the more than 5,300 students living in the residences.

“A strong team and that safety net for students – I’ve always had the support of people I report to who believed in what we do. I was able to convince them of the value of residence life and Hospitality and how they play a role in student life,” Grindrod said. “Western, at times, we take for granted our people. But they are our strength. Certainly, in Housing and Ancillary Services, it’s the people who go the extra mile for our students that make that difference in so many student’s lives.”

This Labour Day will be odd for Grindrod who, after 34 years, will finally have the long weekend off. With travel plans on the horizon, she will be somewhere where no one can find her.

“(Western) pays me to tell them what I think, not what I think they want me to say,” Grindrod said. So when Western President Amit Chakma joked that, if she would stay, he would let her build another residence, she gave an honest answer.

“Your career, and your life, is a journey and right now, in my division, we’re at the top of our game,” she said. “Everything is good, I’m not leaving anything broken, which is what I wanted to do. I have a very strong team so I know my people will continue on with everything. I went to school here, it has been a great career, I am grateful to the university and I will continue to be a supporter.”