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Toy story

Park the ego and listen to what Melanie Teed-Murch, BA’95, has to say

by Jason Winders, MES’16, PhD’16

Melanie Teed-Murch, BA’95 (English Language and Literatures), has seemingly taken every life lesson to heart. And she has the scars to prove it.

Thick skin. Wide eyes. Big heart. And a willingness to park the ego. She is proud of every scar earned learning those lessons. And now today, Teed-Murch, President of Toys“R”Us Canada, is happy to share the story behind each in hopes of helping the next generation.

“I watched my parents work hard. Work ethic is something that is strong and instilled in me. Whatever I do, I am going to do a good job. I am going to give you 1,000 per cent of my effort, because that is who I am.”

Teed-Murch is fourth generation Thornbury, Ont. One of two sisters growing up on an apple farm. To this day, she can still handle a combine harvester or a tractor, with or without attached disk harrow. (Not every national retail chain president can say that.)

The work was hard. The days were long. But she loved every minute.

“What a great way to grow up. It was super simple – and I don’t mean simple in a demeaning way. I have a humble background. And I am proud of that.”

Finances were always tight; the family stayed tighter. They always broke bread together – even if that meant 10 minutes in the bed of a pickup during her dad’s break in the fields. They made time for one another.

Every Christmas, the sisters got one really great gift. “I can tell you what they were from every year. Every year. I never remember thinking I didn’t have things. I never remember being envious of others.”

Truth be told, the toy tastemaker for an entire country never owned a Barbie – a fact she admitted when she first met Mattel product representatives. But why would she? Her dad was one of three boys. She was a farm girl. Her favourite toy was a Tonka truck that she used to cultivate earth in a sandbox.

She married her high school sweetheart, Paul, who went to the University of Waterloo. She didn’t need to forgive him for that – it was her plan all along. She wanted him to pursue the path that was right for him.

“I tell my kids now, ‘If you’re meant to be together, it will happen.’”

She came to Western – the first person in her family to go to university. There was a lot of pride around that fact. Her father told her if she could get in, they would find a way to help her pay for it.

Coming from a town of 3,000 to a campus of 30,000 was eye-opening. Yet, she felt immediately “at home” – an admittedly “corny-but-true” statement. See can still see UC Hill in her mind, as well as in a sketch that hangs on a wall in her Concord, Ont., office.

From her earliest recollections, she wanted to be a lawyer. But at Western, she kept “trying on different things.” Journalism. Psychology. Sociology. Business. English. She fell in love with the arts and all it offered her in helping her organize and communicate her ideas.

During all that time in school, she never knew a career in retail existed. “I knew there were stores – I would shop at stores,” she laughed. “But I didn’t understand the backend of what we do here today – how we source products, build assortments, do planograms. I had no idea.”

Straight from university, Teed-Murch joined Toys “R” Us in 1996 as a store manager in Kitchener, Ont. Since, she has been promoted through a variety of senior leadership, merchandising and operational roles, including her most recent position as Canada’s Chief Merchant before moving to President one year ago.
Coming up within the same company, one that operates 70 stores across the country, she valued mentors who guided her through an unfamiliar industry. These were the people she models herself after today.

“I credit my quick progression to having people who I worked for who weren’t scared. When you have young, eager, high-potential young people working for you, don’t be scared. You should not be road-blocking people from taking your job; you should do the inverse.

“People can be so concerned about themselves. Well, park your ego. The people who park their ego are the most successful. Coaching and mentoring. I love that part. When you are a leader who can truly empower your team, you are highly successful, you are highly regarded and you have a positive culture.”
During her career, she worked harder for those who believed in her. She liked to be pushed. She was told she had “greatness in her,” but …

She needed to learn to listen. To work smarter. To be open to ideas from others.

Sometimes those criticisms hit hard. There was a bit of frustration, anger, maybe even a few tears. But she learned. “People tend to get wounded. But you need to be open to hearing these teachable moments as opportunities. Treat them as such. I took those criticisms to heart.”

She forgot that being eager was not enough. Hungry to impress, she still needed the help of others.

“In the journey to take the next step, I forgot some of the people around me had been in the business a long time. When I took the opportunity to listen, I realized I had people who had been selling for 30 years. The knowledge base that came back to me was 10-fold from what I thought I knew – and I actually didn’t know that much.”

For the next generation, she hopes to be the same kind of mentor she depended upon. She sees the mistakes they make – some of the same she made. And her lessons are universal.

There doesn’t seem to be much she cannot overcome. She speaks of the lessons learned when her father died in a car accident more than two decades ago. “I don’t believe life hands you more than you can handle. At the time it may feel that way, but as you work through it, you will figure out how to get back to your path.”

He father never saw her rise in the corporate world. But the lessons learned on the family farm keep her rooted in family tradition today. “Don’t be afraid of hard work. Don’t be afraid of risk taking. Don’t be afraid of being a dreamer. Be positive. There is no reason not to be positive even when life throws you curveballs.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Alumni Gazette
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