Abdullah Snobar knows he has big shoes to fill as he prepares to take the top job at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ).
Snobar will be stepping into the executive director position left by Valerie Fox, the DMZ’s much-lauded co-founder and executive director of over five years, who leaves June 30.
“She a builder, she’s the creator, she’s the founder, she’s the visionary. She’s the person that was brave enough never to say no,” says Snobar. But he says he’s not intimidated.
He still has three months to transition into the role, and in the meantime, he’s still in his current role as student engagement and business development director.
“It’s being able to just ground yourself and always keep understanding that we’re still in the roles that we are,” says Snobar. “Valerie’s still here and she means business while she’s here for the next three months, but it also means transitioning.”
Snobar officially joined the DMZ in 2014, but he already had strong ties to Ryerson.
He’s a Ryerson business grad and was the president of Ryerson Commerce Society.
He specialized in hospitality and tourism, but after a brief stint working for a few major hotel franchises, realized he enjoyed staying in hotels more than working in them.
Snobar returned to the Ted Rogers School of Business Management as a liaison between student groups and the university.
Snobar was first invited to work with the DMZ to help identify ways it could improve and better serve students. Snobar started spending a couple hours a week at the DMZ, getting to know the organization.
In January, Snobar had the chance to act as stand-in manager for a couple months.
“I was able to come in and step into this space and really understand it,” says Snobar.
“And I love it. You could have asked me a billion times last year, ‘Did you ever see yourself going to the DMZ?’ and I would have told you, ‘Nah, not really, not so much for me.’ Obviously you don’t know what you don’t know.”
In a press release on March 25, Ryerson provost and vice-president academic, Mohamed Lachemi, announced that Fox will leave the DMZ to pursue other interests, and that Snobar will take over.
“I think it’s very very difficult to fill Val Fox’s shoes,” says Ryerson president Sheldon Levy. “Because it is not only the talent that you need but it is also that you understand the community and be able to bring people together, create a welcoming environment. I think Abdullah can do all of that and I’m excited about it.”
Snobar says, when it comes to management style, he has more in common with Fox than differences. “We love people. We’re big thinkers, we enjoy supporting everything where we can,” says Snobar.
But he admits he comes from very different background.
Fox’s resumé features more than 25 years of experience in the creative industries. She worked as the creative director for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and worked for IBM Canada before coming to Ryerson. She’s a self-described “professional coach and inventor.”
Snobar, meanwhile, served in the Canadian Armed Forces for nearly five years.
“I’m not saying that my military approach is how I manage, but it taught me discipline in different capacities, in different ways,” says Snobar.
Outside of the DMZ’s current strategic plan, however, Snobar says it’s too soon for him to start laying plans just yet.
“The hard part for me is that everybody’s coming up to me and saying, ‘Well what’s the big plan, what’s the strategic plan?’” he says.
“Well, I don’t know yet … You take what’s given to you, you’re grateful, one step at a time.”