Catherine Vu

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 35

Job Title: Owner, Pro-Active IT Management Inc.

Why She’s A Top 40: While running a successful and growing IT company, she volunteers for a variety of charities – running races, rappelling down towers and doing whatever it takes to raise a buck for a good cause.

Key To Her Success: “I love self-discovery and learning about myself and being better.”

Vy Catherine Vu is a four-foot-ten-inch perpetual motion machine. If she’s at home, it’s probably to sleep. Otherwise, she’s devoting her time to her successful IT business and volunteering for a dozen or so Edmonton charities.

Her community presence stands in stark contrast to her small frame. She jokes about it – “You have to overcompensate!” – but her community involvement says a lot about the challenges and triumphs of her life.

In 1981, as a 10-year-old who couldn’t speak much English, Vu arrived in Edmonton from Vietnam with her family. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Alberta in the faculty of business and worked at McDonald’s to help pay her tuition. She made $3.60 an hour, which she shared with her mother, and she won a few scholarships that supported her until graduation.

Vu worked in marketing at an IT company for awhile, which paid better than the golden arches, but not enough. When a coworker suggested starting their own company, Vu agreed. Then in 2003, she went solo and started Pro-Active IT Management.

Vu quickly broadened her range of skills so she could offer numerous IT services to companies unable to pay for in-house staff. Her small business now has up to 10 contractors that provide 130 clients with server maintenance, security setup and other IT essentials. It earned over $550,000 in revenue last year.

Though a reluctant entrepreneur in the beginning, Vu loves being in the business world – especially the social element. “Since becoming a business owner, I’m a lot more outgoing,” she says.

Vu’s ultimate goal is to have a low-maintenance business that gives her the free time to volunteer for causes she cares about. Among those many causes are Junior Achievement, where she mentors students in Grade 3 to 12 who are interested in business; Alberta Easter Seals, which has her rappel down the Sutton Place Hotel in an annual fundraising spectacle; the Canadian Cancer Society, for which she never misses a Relay for Life run; and the Winnifred Stewart Foundation, a charity close to her heart because her brother has Down syndrome.

Vu says her career path started from a desire to fit in: “When you’re an immigrant, in the beginning you sometimes get excluded. I think that’s sometimes what drives me – to be included.” Her passion for volunteering, however, is more about self-discovery, because “you learn from everything you do.”

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