Alumni Engagement

Business Admin alum proves importance of giving back as Pride Winnipeg President

May 29, 2024

If a conversation with Barry Karlenzig does anything less than inspire, it will at least leave you questioning how many hours there are in a week.

An individual prolific in his sales career and as a volunteer, Karlenzig can make you rethink how you spend your time — and he shows no signs of slowing down. On top of a full-time Customer Programs Manager role with New Flyer, Karlenzig spends significant time volunteering with Pride Winnipeg, where he’s been the President for the last five years.

Karlenzig’s sales career, which began with a Business Administration diploma from RRC Polytech, has taken him across Canada. His first job was on a travel committee for Princess Auto, assisting with new stores being opened. From there, he worked for Sun Life, Enterprise, Sysco Food, and CWB National Leasing before joining New Flyer. Today, he works to ensure customer satisfaction with new buses and builds long-term relationships with those customers.

All these experiences started at RRC Polytech, though.

After attending high school at River East Collegiate, Karlenzig started out at university with most of his cohort. Unfortunately, after missing out on his first opportunity to get into business school, Karlenzig was left at a crossroads. On the advice of a friend already attending, he chose the Business Administration program at RRC Polytech.

“I still remember my first day, I had an amazing Business Communications instructor who walked in with a CD player and played Buckcherry – Crazy Bitch,” laughed Karlenzig. “She let the song play — lyrics, swearing, everything — and she said ‘You have ten seconds in business to introduce yourself and have someone either like you or not like you. You all are never going to forget this first 30 seconds of this class.’ Fifteen years later, I’ve never forgotten.”

The program also created some surprise experiences for Karlenzig. He was chosen out of his graduating class to be the business manager on the North American Solar Challenge team from RRC Polytech, transporting a solar car to Texas on a trip managed by students across several programs.

As business manager, Karlenzig did all the trip logistics — finding sponsors, making t-shirts, and booking hotels. He was also blogging updates from the road using a long-distance plan.

“On MySpace, that’s how old it was.”

“I still remember the car breaking down in the middle of Missouri,” Karlenzig recalled with a laugh. “I had to book the only hotel that was close, and it was one of those where you have to get the key for the door — a strip motel. I walked into the room and I’m like, I’m not sleeping on this bed. I just went and slept in the van. I felt horrible, but all the students were like ‘this is a blast!’”

Giving back has an impact

The Solar Challenge also showed Karlenzig the impact that giving back can have.

“All of this was done during the summer. So, you know what? I wasn’t getting paid. There was a little stipend, but it wasn’t much. It really showed that…you have to give back on top of just working. You need to be there supporting people, and that’s what I was really excited about.”

This experience launched a journey parallel to his one in sales as a dedicated volunteer. It started at Gio’s Nightclub — one of Winnipeg’s first gay bars and a staple of downtown for 31 years — as treasurer, and eventually acting general manager.

“I had moved back from Ontario and I came out to my friends,” said Karlenzig. “I wanted to support the community that had been there with me since the beginning and Gio’s happened to be looking for someone on their board.”

After Gio’s closed, Karlenzig was approached by local video jockey JD Francis about being a volunteer driver for Pride Winnipeg. His involvement accelerated and has stayed constant for the last 14 years, as he’s moved to Executive Assistant, Vice-President of the Festival, and into his current role as President.

“I do it day in and day out because I remember the challenges I went through when I came out, and I don’t want the next generation to have to go through it,” Karlenzig said.

As of December of last year, Pride Winnipeg has added its first full-time staff members. This has allowed Karlenzig to take a bit of time back, from 30 to 40 hours a week to more of a part-time role.

“I have a social life again,” said Karlenzig. “My husband is very happy about that.”

Networking is key

When asked about what he loves about his job, Karlenzig cites the networking success he’s had over 14 years.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about. I had the chance this past week to meet Prime Minister Trudeau, something I never thought would’ve happened before starting this. I still remember meeting Mayor Katz and having a similar feeling, and then I was on quarterly meetings with Mayor Bowman for four years. I get the chance to serve a community of more than 100,000 individuals who identify in Winnipeg alone.”

Karlenzig also gets plenty of opportunities for public speaking, a skill he first honed at RRC Polytech. He applies that skill now to inspire today’s students, with a common message about extending yourself to build your ideal community.

“I’ve always said to the students ‘if you want to be successful, you have to give back’. There are people who have laid the groundwork for the work I get to do with Pride Winnipeg right now, and I get to further that by making sure there is greater education and something there for the next generation,” Karlenzig said.

“It’s up to us and this generation to ensure that equal rights exist, and the best way to do that — whether you’re part of the community or as an ally — is to sit on boards and volunteer in different areas to ensure equality happens across the board.”

Profile by John Gaudes (Creative Communications, 2012)

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