Vancouver's Favorite Insurance Power House, Devina Zalesky

The eldest of three children, Devina immigrated to Canada with her family in 1972 after their farm in Fiji was destroyed by a cyclone.

Shortly after arriving to Vancouver, her family life was altered and the future insurance mogul became acquainted with long workdays at an early age. In grade eight, she started working two jobs in addition to school. At 6 a.m., she would open up a restaurant and work until she had to go to class. Then, during her lunch breaks, would rush home to prepare dinner for her mother and two brothers. After school she would then go and work at a cleaning company with her mother.

"A strong work ethic was always in me," Devina states. "I also wanted to make money. I wanted to drive nice cars. If I saw a purse that I liked, I wanted to buy it."

In an attempt to achieve that lifestyle, she completed flight attendant courses for Pacific Western Airlines throughout high school and got the job by the time she graduated. Though she never took one trip as a Flight Attendant. "When I went to get my uniform, they told me that they were sorry but wouldn't hire me, as I was only 18 and you had to be 21 at that time to serve liquor." As a result, Devina landed in the insurance industry.

Her high school business teacher, Mr. John Adams, had offered her an opportunity at his father's insurance agency, but she had turned it down because she assumed she was better suited to be a flight attendant. Insurance was an older man's game, she thought, one with a briefcase and a suit. It actually turned out to be very much Devina Zalesky's game.

She joined the insurance industry in 1981 and has never looked back, now owning the top two ICBC Autoplan insurance agencies of the 926 in British Columbia. It was evident from the start that she had a bright future in insurance. Her first account was Mercedes-Benz of Canada.

"l never forget, it was New Year's Eve, and the salesman needed me to attend and issue licence plates and insurance. The client owned a restaurant and was having a party. We had to wait until after midnight to finally have his complete attention, and get the transaction done! It was all about service then, and it still is our focus today!" Meredes-Benz continues to be a major client to this day.

Soon, the rising star felt she had progressed as far as possible with Adams Insurance. The company was family owned and she had higher aspirations. She thanked her former teacher for the opportunity and told him that she had to move on. It was an amicable departure.

In 1983, Devina then joined AllWest Insurance --named Brian Coyle Insurance Agencies at the time.

Always the multi-tasker and overachiever, she managed to find love on her way to the top.

"We met in the summer of 1985," said Paul Zalesky, Devina's husband and CEO of AllWest Insurance. "I was standing outside my office and Devina was walking flawlessly toward me. I thought she had been to a Swiss finishing school because of her look, her appearance, and how she carried herself, everything, but especially the way she walked."

He even remembers the moment their relationship made the leap from professional to personal. It was March 8, 1986, at 8 p.m. and Paul had just come back from a vacation in the Far East. He asked Devina if she wanted to see photos of his trip and she agreed.

"She opened her door and I was smitten," Paul said. "I was in love with her. I kissed her and we've never been apart since."

The two soon got married on Dec. 31, 1987 in Maui, Hawaii. It wasn't all sunshine for the newlyweds as a hurricane hit and devastated the island later that day. It was the first of a series of terrifying interludes the couple would face together.

In 2007, when the Zaleskys were vacationing in Italy with their two children. Devina fell out of a window and was critically injured. "I sat on the window sill and slipped and fell. Falling six metres and landing on a potted palm tree."

She was rushed to the local hospital, where medical assistance was minimal. Paul called their travel insurance company and, with the help of a dedicated and relentless Swiss doctor, was able to have Devina airlifted to Zurich University Hospital in Switzerland. There, Devina faced over eight hours of surgery while her two sons were being hastily shuttled from Italy to Switzerland by a family friend, as there wasn't space in the special medically equipped jet.

It was a terrible experience but the family avoided the worst case scenario on all fronts with Devina making a full recovery.

While this accident was a close call, it wasn't her last.

In 2008 Devina was diagnosed with breast cancer. While she underwent multiple surgeries and had more than 60 sessions of radiation, few people knew about her condition at the time. As always, she maintained her polished look and never missed a day at the office.

"I went for my radiation every single day, dressed in my suit," she said. "I was exhausted at the end of the day but I never missed a day of work." The radiation worked and soon found herself in remission with few people even knowing what her situation had been.

She had experience moving from the office to the hospital and back again. A mother of two, she barely let her pregnancies interfere with her work. "I was in our boardroom when I went into labour with my first son. It was 24 hours of labour, with ultimately an emergency Caesarian Delivery. A few days in recovery, and back to work with baby Stefan in tow."

"There are photos of me with my first son in the hospital. I am laying in bed with my briefcase on a table with my insurance paperwork piled high."

The second time around, Zalesky had everything scheduled out.

"My second son, Mikhail, was born on October 27th, in much the same manner. I was back in the office in days with his crib next to my desk."

Can anything faze Devina Zalesky? Despite a long list of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, her biggest challenge seems to be pinpointing what it really is. "Challenge?" She hesitated in thought while tapping her nails on the table for a minute trying to answer the question. Every day presents it's challenges but nothing is too great to be overcome. It is the essence of my life!"

Source Credit:     Text by Alexander Villegas | Photography Jonathan Cruz

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