These 22 women were selected from over 4,000 nominees to become finalists for the 2014 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. From construction to retail, communications to industrial services, they manage more than 2,300 employees and over $190 million in gross profit. We asked each of them to share their biggest lessons learned.
BY CARRIE FISCHER PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE BAILEY AND KEVIN GONSALVES
After a 20-year career in radio, Penney began to crave new challenges. At the age of 35 she went to university, completed three degrees, and then started her own counselling and consulting business, offering a variety of inspiring services for individuals and businesses.
“Don’t worry about the competition. Focus on excellence, customer service, and providing people with more than they expect…and business will come. Happy and satisfied customers are the best ambassadors a business can have.”
FINALIST: MELODIE BISSELL President and CEO, Plan to Protect
While acting as executive director of a charity running programs for kids, Melodie was shocked to find the organization did not qualify for abuse coverage from their insurance company. This sparked her entrepreneurial spirit, and in 2007 she launched Plan to Protect, that today equips over 7,500 clients with customized policies, procedures, and training to help protect children, youth, persons with disabilities, and the elderly from all types of abuse.
“The best advice I ever received was to nurture and build relationships with ideal clients, thus growing the business. I spend time every day meeting potential clients, writing notes, making phone calls, responding to proposals, and following up on opportunities.”
After two of Pam’s children failed to learn how to read in public school, she took matters into her own hands and formed what would ultimately become her proprietary reading system, Creating Readers. Beginning as a home-based licensed childcare program, Creative Kids Education Centre has become one of Nova Scotia’s most innovative private schools, with plans to launch an online learning platform.
“The worst mistake I ever made was not taking advantage of networking with other women entrepreneurs until later in my entrepreneurial career. In the beginning, I wish I had known how to promote myself effectively.”
DELOITTE START-UP AWARD
WINNER: MIA PEARSON
Co-founder, North Strategic
At 29, Mia believed that she had what it took to become an entrepreneur. Her instinct was correct: she built and sold her successful first business, High Road Communications, and then started again with North Strategic, a public relations and social media agency. Headquartered in Toronto with offices in Montreal and Calgary, the firm works with some of the most sought after brands in the industry.
“What matters the most to me personally is that my daughter grows up in a world where women are equally represented at the C-Suite and play an equal role in business at the most senior levels. I want her to believe that being a woman will not limit her opportunities or potential in business.”
FINALISTS: LARA MURPHY AND KAREN RYAN
Co-founders, Ryan-Murphy Construction Inc.
Lara and Karen hadn’t worked with many women when they met as project managers on a construction site in Banff. In 2008 they formed Ryan Murphy Construction, a general contracting firm with expertise in construction, renovation, and management. Going on instinct (“trust my spidey senses,” as Lara puts it) has brought the co-founders success: with corporate, commercial, and residential projects across Canada, they tripled their employees in 2014, and doubled their revenue.
“Don’t be afraid to turn down a job. Saying no as an entrepreneur is difficult, but essential.” -KAREN
FINALIST: SARRAH SHEINER
President, Show & Tell Fashion
Show & Tell is a bi-coastal fashion distribution company with offices in Montreal as well as Vancouver, bringing sought after retail brands from the USA, Europe and Australia to Canada. Sarrah co-founded the company in 2008 and now has over 400 customers in Canada.
“Relations in business are everything. Sometimes it is more important to work with like-minded people with smaller brands, than people with different values who have the biggest brand.”
RBC MOMENTUM AWARD
WINNER: KYLE MACDONALD
CEO, Phoenix Interactive Design Inc.
Phoenix designs and develops mission-critical software that operates ATM’s for banks around the globe. Founded in 1987 at Kyle’s dining room table, she credits building a reputation and earning trust for getting Phoenix software into large financial institutions in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
“Initially, we underestimated how much marketplace power and influence the existing players in our industry had, and how much money and effort they would use to counter our competitive challenges.”
FINALIST: JANET STIMPSON
President/Designer, White House Design Company Inc./Sympli
A fashion industry veteran, Janet launched the White House Design Company in 1992, after recognizing a gap in what the market was offering. She designs its signature Sympli line to help women feel confident and beautiful, regardless of age, shape or size.
“Women should engage confidently within the business community. There are always others out there ready to mentor you if you’re willing to make the first step.”
FINALIST: CAROLINE NÉRON
President, Néron Inc.
Already a successful actress and singer, in 2004 Caroline decided to become an artistic entrepreneur with her own self-titled brand, designing jewellery, accessories and bags. A decade later, she has 20 retail stores, 200 employees, 2 franchises, and almost 80 points of sale in Europe.
“I’ve learned to always trust my instincts, and not get too emotional when someone refuses an idea or product.It is a part of the process.”
TPH CHARITABLE GIVING AWARD
WINNER: JENNIFER GILLIVAN
President & CEO, IWK Foundation
In 2012, Jennifer stepped into her role as president of the IWK Foundation, the fundraising partner of the IWK Health Centre, which provides critical and specialized care to women and children in the Maritime Provinces. Guided by her “donors are everything” approach, they raised over $20 million in 2013, and opened a world-class mental health unit for children and their families in 2014.
“The best advice I ever received was from my father. He told me to never look down on anyone but also never look up too much to anyone either, in the end we are all equal and on the same journey.”
FINALIST: RHONDA CONWAY
President & CEO, Providence Child
Rhonda began working at Providence in 1984, shortly after graduating from college in Early Childhood Education. Appointed president and CEO in 2006, the organization has since opened five additional schools (now totalling six in Calgary) and continues to provide therapeutic and educational programs and services for children with all types of disabilities.
“Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5 job, and it certainly hasn’t been for me, but realizing the importance of having a good work-life balance has led to a more productive, healthier, and happier workplace.”
FINALIST: BRITTA MARTINI-MILES
Executive Director, The Lighthouse for Grieving Children
Born in Germany, Britta studied International Relations in the U.S and then worked around the world in a variety of roles before stepping in as Executive Director of The Lighthouse in 2011. She’s since helped grow the registered charity, which provides peer support groups and companionship for grieving children, teens, and their families who have experienced a life-altering death.
“What I wish I had known from the beginning? Knowing that I give the best of myself every day, and yet I cannot control everything.”
As a new mother, Jennifer decided she would never serve her six-month-old daughter anything she wouldn’t eat herself. She introduced her homemade baby food at the Calgary Farmer’s Market in 2006, and by 2010 she was entering the mass market with Walmart Canada as her first customer. Today, Baby Gourmet is Canada’s leading brand of organic baby food.
“What matters the most to me personally? The happiness and overall health and well-being of my family, including myself.”
FINALIST: STEPHANIE ASH
President & CEO, Firedog Communications Inc.
Born in England, Stephanie enjoyed a successful public relations career spanning Europe and Australia before moving to Canada in 2002. In her new home of Thunder Bay, Ontario, she found local businesses weren’t investing in corporate communications. She convinced them of the benefits and launched her own PR business, which has seen revenues double over the past few years.
“We hear a lot about young professionals leaving northern Ontario to go to larger centres, so we’re really trying to show them that you can build a successful career in northern Ontario, even in public relations.”
FINALIST: SARAH SAJEDI
Chief Technology Officer & CEO, ERA Environmental Management Solutions Inc.
In 1995, Sarah put a Ph.D. on hold to launch ERA Environmental with her husband. Stepping in as CTO & CEO, the company has found success under her leadership, producing software to help manufacturing businesses comply with environmental regulations and reduce their carbon footprint.
“My mother told me: focus on your education, it will be your ticket to freedom. Her advice completely changed the trajectory of my life, resulting in ERA. As an entrepreneur I’m always learning and pursuing new knowledge to grow ERA.”
Mabel’s Labels was created in 2002 by four frustrated moms tired of their children’s belongings leaving home and not returning. What began as a basement start-up is now the leading provider of personalized children’s labels in North America.
“We have a saying on our wall at the office, ‘World domination is a full time job,’ so we will continue to climb this mountain and enjoy every moment.” -JULIE E.
FINALIST: SHANNON BOWEN-SMED
President & CEO, BOWEN
For more than 40 years, Calgary-based BOWEN has been providing the energy sector with workforce solutions, from managing recruiting projects to management support. Shannon joined the company at 19 (ten years after it was founded by her mother) and became president in 1996. What matters the most to her? To “leave this world with a reputation for making it a better place.”
“Apply the 24-hour rule; If I can sleep on a decision I always make a more sound and less emotional choice.”
FINALIST: MADELEINE PAQUIN
President & CEO, Logistec Corporation
Logistec Corp provides specialized services to the marine, municipal and industrial sectors, including cargo handling, environmental services, trenchless aqueduct rehabilitation and woven-hose manufacturing. Founded by her father in 1952, Madeleine stepped in as president and CEO in 1996, and has since focused on growing the business.
“It is not all about accomplishing things; the process or way in which you carry them out is equally important. For example, you must get buy-in from the team before you execute important changes.”