Hoda Toloui-Wallace – Project Manager, Digital Strategy & Innovation at lululemon

January 29, 2023
Jenna Nicholas

Talking to Hoda is like speaking to the adult version of all the things you wish for your daughter to one day possess. Sure, she has accomplished great things professionally, but it is the qualities Hoda consistently exhibited on that journey that makes for the fantastic human she is. Impressive, humble, unafraid to embrace and learn from failure, service-focused, ambitious, creative, unaverse to adversity, and so on. She can handle the flip side of every coin. The arduous tasks of starting new projects and endeavors are taken with stride and with a continual focus on excellence. She has a tightly knit and loving family, but this did not stop her from moving to the other side of the world to forge a new and uncharted path.

Life is all about cycles: winning and losing, crisis and victory, happiness and sadness, and Hoda is up for the ride, wherever it may lead.

Hoda’s Origin Story

As with most of us, knowing Hoda and understanding her requires knowing a bit about her origin story. Her mom is an Iranian Bahá’í and moved to Vancouver, Canada, in 1974, before the Iranian revolution in 1979. Many Bahá’ís like her and her family were leaving the country due to ongoing persecution of Bahá’ís at that time. Once in Vancouver, Hoda’s mom, Shidan, studied building technology in college. After completing her studies, in 1984, she attended the opening ceremony of the Bahá’í house of worship in Samoa. It was here that she met Hoda’s father, Paul.

Paul is an Australian of Irish Catholic descent. As a youth, he felt a physical and spiritual calling to explore abroad, and this longing took him to New Zealand in his early twenties, where he stayed for ten years, living a life off-the-grid, making a living working jobs like commercial fishing and carpentry. During this time, he encountered local Bahá’ís, formed deep and formative connections with the community, and ultimately became a Bahá’í himself. The Bahá’í Faith was the answer to his spiritual search and set the tone for his life from that point on. Along with several Bahá’í friends, he too found himself attending the opening of the Samoa house of worship and upon meeting there, so began the inception of Hoda’s parents’ relationship.  

The two stayed in touch, writing letters for months until Paul made the journey to California to seek out Shidan, and together, they drove up the Pacific West coast to Vancouver and met Shidan’s parents. It was here that they got married and then decided to return to Australia and settle in Sydney, with the goal being for Paul to attend university and complete their formal education. 

At the time of their marriage, Paul didn’t have a college education, and her mother’s parents consenting to their college-educated immigrant daughter’s choice of a partner is not lost on Hoda; knowing Shidan’s parents had great expectations for the life their daughter would lead in the West that simply would not have been accessible to her as a Bahá’í woman in Iran. Hoda asked her grandmother about this once and was deeply touched by the response she received. Her grandmother explained that while the two seemingly had very little in common, both she and Hoda’s grandfather gave the marriage their blessing because Paul was Bahá’í. They saw his tremendous spiritual value and worth. They came from completely different backgrounds, but their common ground was spiritual and this trumped all else. 

Hoda’s Unique Childhood

Following their relocation to Sydney, Paul obtained his bachelor’s degree in construction project management. By this time, both Hoda and her older sister, had been born. At the age of six months, the day after her father’s university graduation, Hoda and her family moved to the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel, to live a life of full-time service to the Administrative Center of the Bahá’i world. 

Her family stayed in Haifa for seven years, and when they returned to Australia, Hoda and her siblings (a younger brother now in tow) transition to life there was challenging. In Israel, they had attended Hebrew school, and while they could speak fluent English, their reading and writing skills had room for growth. Hoda never loved academics and was more drawn to the arts and creative pursuits.  

Because her parents didn’t make an income in Haifa, her father’s professional career began when they moved back to Brisbane, Australia. It was during this time that Hoda became passionate about performing and studied dance and sang in the state children’s choir. Her love for the arts was further nurtured at the music and arts-centered high school she attended, and there she enjoyed the majority of her classes being subjects like dance, music, film and television, and drama.

Being of service in her community remained a huge focus for Hoda’s family throughout her childhood and adolescence, inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. She volunteered to teach children’s classes throughout high school, primarily inspired by her mother’s involvement in the spiritual education of children in their local community.

For Hoda’s parents, attending college was an assumed part of their children’s future.  They didn’t tell Hoda what she had to do but presented her with options and wanted to make sure what she did was service-oriented and something she was passionate about. The model her parents provided for her in the lives they led with one another, their family unit, and their extended community was an enormous positive influence on Hoda and the decisions she had yet to make.

Growing up, Hoda didn’t think much about what she would be. As a young student preparing for college, Hoda became interested in business. She graduated high school in 2007 at 16 and began university in 2008. She attended Queensland University of Technology and was accepted into the double bachelor’s degree program of Business with a major in Marketing coupled with Creative Industries, within which she majored in Media and Communication. 

Hoda found herself going through the motions while there, not particularly inspired or passionate about her experience or studies. She didn’t have a north star or driving force, but she knew she wanted a balanced life with a job, family, travel, and service. She didn’t know what she necessarily wanted to do professionally.

Hoda’s University Years

In business school, she was exposed to accounting and economics for the first time and failed both subjects in her first year. This made her feel she wouldn’t be able to succeed and she had to teach herself how to study systematically and achieve her goals. If one ever wonders how they will rise above their failures, learn from the example set by this woman who now manages large budgets for thriving corporations! 

 After two years of university, she decided to volunteer at the Bahá’í World Center as her parents had done and where she spent much of her childhood. She decided to take the next year off of school and shift her focus, hoping this time would give her clarity regarding her studies. No grand epiphany occurred that year, but she had a renewed sense of focus regarding her studies and put it into immediate practice when she returned.

It took Hoda another 2.5 years to complete her double bachelor’s degree, during which she did very well, receiving an honors distinction. She credits this success to realizing that she needed to focus, build networks to study with others, and connect with professors to understand better the real-world application of what she was learning. Nonetheless, she still had trouble cracking the accounting nut, but these intermittent challenges didn’t hold her back or throw her off course from the goal of completing her degree.

Following graduation, she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue professionally and decided to travel to Vancouver to visit her sister. With Canadian citizenship through her mom, traveling between the two countries was easy. 

As a self-described frugal individual, moving to Vancouver without a job was possible using money she had saved from working retail jobs since she was 16. She always worked and had a strong work ethic. However, months into her stay, when the time came for a down payment on an apartment that monetary well had almost run dry. She started to apply for jobs and was anxious about her next steps. 

Working Years

Through a connection, she got a job working at a retail optical store. The minimum wage in Vancouver was substantially less than in Australia and was hard for her to swallow. After working there for a few weeks, she found herself feeling somewhat defeated. As luck would have it, it was at this time that her sister met the founder of a tech start-up focused on crowdfunding and connected Hoda to him. After she successfully pitched herself, the company created a part-time role for her about content creation with customer engagement. It was here that Hoda acquired the experience and skill set that would set the tone for her professional journey from this point on. She created a customer toolkit for users and developed content for YouTube, blog posts, and infographics. After working there for 18 months, she was laid off and left shocked and bewildered. 

She found herself working retail at yet another optical store but wasn’t hindered by this pattern of ending up right back where she started. Using her connections and ability to leverage her strengths, Hoda secured a freelance role launching a crowdfunding campaign for an executive at a new high-growth retail company, Kit and Ace. This connection led to her next step up into a role working with Kit and Ace directly. It was being unafraid to market herself and exploit her professional connections that helped Hoda, along her path, to keep climbing the ranks in a very short span of time. 

“I knew that making meaningful connections and networking was important to develop professionally. Sometimes on paper, it is hard to show who you are based on your CV. People just needed to give me a chance and meet me. I knew I needed to converse with people and truly connect with them to make an impression.” Her work with Kit and Ace was as a Project Coordinator focused on new store openings and all of the technology and systems involved. During her time there, the company launched over 60 new stores globally. The work was complex, and during her 18 months in that role, she formed meaningful connections and friendships that she still has today. Hoda survived two company reorganizations and gleaned from the experience that her role could be gone instantly and needed to ensure her life was filled with more than just her work. 

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The timing was right when a former manager contacted her to hire a Project Coordinator to implement a new enterprise system at the Vancouver-based retail company, Saje Natural Wellness. Hoda harnessed the opportunity and went to work for them. She was promoted to Project Manager after six months and continued to work there for four years. When the pandemic hit, she found herself temporarily laid off, again left feeling shocked and disenchanted. From that experience, she learned that “No one is more invested or cares more about your professional growth and development than yourself. For me, this was a really big realization.” This taught her to look out for and focus on herself in a professional context. The realization that the last time she was laid off was the best thing that could have happened to her made her determined to recreate that reality this time around. 

She took time off to focus on professional development and study for the Project Management Professional exam. Saje reached out during this time to ask her to return to her full-time role, for a specific project to which Hoda returned. Within months she got a call from a recruiter for Vancouver-based global retail company lululemon and interviewed for two roles. She didn’t get them but appreciated the interview experience. A few months later, she interviewed for another Project Manager role at lululemon and landed the job.

In her current role as Project Manager, she works within People & Culture Operations, specifically in the Digital Strategy Portfolio. The objective of the Digital team is to transform, optimize and sustain People & Culture capabilities by designing and delivering digital employee experiences which are simple, scalable, and signature. She manages complex digital and technology transformation projects that aim to solve internal business problems and bring experiences to life for lululemon employees. Completing her PMP certification in 2020 and taking on new and challenging roles over the years brought her to where she is now – inspired, successful, and fulfilled. 

Hoda’s perpetual mindset of “Every opportunity is going to lead you somewhere, even if it’s not the one you expect. So do your best and make strong and meaningful connections, because you never know where they will lead” has seen her through many ups and downs professionally. Hoda’s ability to acknowledge, feel and process the lows in life without letting them hinder her pursuit of progress has seen her through both turmoil and triumph. 

I asked Hoda if she could tell her younger self anything about her future career what would it be and she responded:

“Think about what excites you, fuels you, and lights you up. Focus on what you’re good at, what gives you purpose, and what aligns with your values. Reflect on your talents and gifts, what you’re passionate about and what unique perspective you bring to the table. Use this to make a positive contribution to society and ultimately look for ways to be of service to others.” 

Hoda brings additional punch to the term boss-babe, and it’s her qualities of tenacity and being unafraid to fail that make her one to keep watching.