From Nurse to Entrepreneur, “Closing the Gap”‘s Connie Clerici Let her Passion be her Career Inspiration
Closing the Gap’s Connie Clerici saw both sides of the healthcare equation: the nurse saw the need for care; the entrepreneur spotted a market.
By: Erica Scime | Photography by: Matthew Stylianou
In these uncertain times, Connie Clerici counts herself lucky to have found her vocation early. Indeed, it’s unusual enough when a teenager discovers her calling while working with seniors in a nursing home. But that wasn’t the only thing that would set Clerici apart.
Inspired by a “vision of helping others,” Clerici says, she first became involved with caring for the elderly in humble surroundings in her hometown of St. Thomas, Ontario. She has since gone on to build Closing the Gap, a thriving healthcare firm whose annual revenues of $26.5 million make it Ontario’s 15th-largest healthcare firm.
The idea to form her own healthcare group came in the late 1980s, when Clerici was working as a registered nurse at the now-defunct Calgary General Hospital in Alberta. It was while working there as a registered nurse that Clerici witnessed firsthand the acute need for better at-home healthcare in the province. In that negative she saw opportunity not only to alleviate suffering but to build a business.
Clerici soon became aware of two sides to herself: the medical professional saw the need for care; the entrepreneur in her spotted a market.
Determined to make a difference, Clerici quit her job and took out a $10,000 bank loan. In 1992, she officially formed Closing the Gap. In its first year booked revenue of $226,000, the company’s income has skyrocketed winning a handful of healthcare awards in the process.
Today, the group provides Ontario clients with a variety of healthcare services including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, social work, dietitian services, nursing and personal support. They have also recently added an environmentally friendly cleaning service called Greenly Clean.
However, Clerici is not about to let this success go to her head. She works the same hours as everybody else.
“But I like it that way,” Clerici says. “It doesn’t even feel like a job.” Her outlook and her attitude are refreshingly genuine. Optimistic even.
On November 29, when Clerici was recognized with an Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship at the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Awards, she said it was an honour. “Excellence” she says is what Closing the Gap is all about.
She also received the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2007 and made the Women’s Executive Network’s list of the 100 most powerful women.
It’s hardly surprising that getting to where she is has taken some serious determination. When Clerici was first studying to be a nurse there were just four men in her class of 200 graduates. These men, she was always told, would become administrators. She and the rest of her classmates would be floor nurses.
While the healthcare field may be predominantly female, Clerici explains, the “decision-makers” are mostly men.
Although she modestly maintains that being a woman has not posed any insurmountable barriers, Clerici admits it can be challenging.
“Establishing credibility seems to take a little bit longer [as a woman],” she says.
However, having to prove herself has only given Clerici more motivation. To gain credibility, she explains, she bases all of her decisions on quality and excellence and lets them speak for themselves.
“Strong leaders know their weaknesses,” Clerici says. A truly effective leader, she explains, is somebody wise enough to surround themselves with people of different skills. “Together, you make good decisions.”
Clerici’s final words of guidance “Let your passion be your inspiration.” She certainly has – and look where it has taken her.