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20 Years of Inspiration

THE BUILDING OF A LEGACY ONE MOMENT, INTERVIEW, SPEECH, AND QUESTION AT A TIME

BY CAROLYN LAWRENCE
(styled by Jones New York)

It was 1999 and the world was preparing for the new millennium. Marketing to women had become a trend in the previous few years with the reign of Faith Popcorn. Catalyst had started tracking board seats held by women in the Fortune 500. I was in my final year of university in London, Ontario, and I’d driven into Toronto to hear Heather Resiman speak. That luncheon was a pivotal moment in my career and ignited my passion for my work.

Reisman represented a powerful combination of traits that I had not previously considered; she was, and is, a CEO who is both passionate and authentic (a far cry from the stoic man-in-suit vision of leadership) and all of this while being a woman, a mother and grandmother. That combination is still exceptional, but was even more surprising 15 years ago. I hadn’t considered that combination was possible. My shock that it was in fact an option was quickly replaced with surprise that since it was achievable, why weren’t more women doing it? That question lit the fire of my journey and search for that option for myself and for every other ambitious woman who wanted it, but who, like me, never knew it was possible.

Six years later I joined the company that hosted that luncheon, and made it my job to increase the influence I had seen there that day.

To celebrate our 20 years in business influencing women and making a difference to them and the corporations that hire them, I’m sharing highlights from those two decades—the 20 best moments, lessons, insights, answers, and behind-the-scenes access with some of my favourite role models.


Backstage with Martha Stewart.

MARTHA STEWART

The backstory…
In May 2014, I had the pleasure of introducing Martha Stewart to Toronto, as she spoke to 1,200+ women for The Art of Leadership for Women conference. As a conference sponsor, I had requested the opportunity to meet Martha for an interview, but there were no guarantees.

On the day of, I was ready for absolutely anything and everything, from the interview opportunity of a lifetime, to nothing, to five minutes in the green room. As I waited—my game face squarely intact, adrenaline pumping, geared to jump into action at a moment’s notice—I was told I had “130 meters.” That was the distance between the convention centre green room and the back door of the stage where I would go on to introduce her…

In the weeks and months to follow, we had the opportunity to discuss our issue’s theme, and Martha’s view on legacy and leadership.

The legacy I would like to leave is…to see my two adorable grandchildren, Jude and Truman, grow up to be healthy, active, curious, productive citizens, doing what they love to do in life.

Two words I hope describe me 25 years from now are…teacher and “inspirer.” I believe the role of teaching has been undervalued in our society.

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Martha and me walk and talk to the stage…

My leadership style is…hands on. I like to be involved at every step in the process, whether it’s my magazines and books, my TV and radio programs, or my merchandise. I regularly meet with my
product development teams, try out products, and give my approval. In order for us to sell something, I have to like it. And my standards are very high.

The best advice I can give for business success is…love what you do. The delightful secret that all successful businesspeople
and leaders know is that when you love your work, you rarely get tired. You are so driven to do what you do that every task, every piece of knowledge or insight serves as fuel, giving you energy and momentum. You are endlessly motivated. It’s self-renewing.

When I wake up at 5:30, the first thing I do is…check on my animals. I live on a working farm in Westchester, New York, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, chickens, doves and canaries. Early in the day I like to make the rounds and see how they’re all doing. After that I work out. Every day. Then I drink about eight ounces of green juice.

Where do you get your motivation and drive?…What keeps me going is the same thing that keeps every entrepreneur going: the chance to find or discover that lesson you haven’t learned, the experience you haven’t had, the opportunity you haven’t taken advantage of. At this point, I don’t really think of myself first and foremost as an entrepreneur. I think of myself as an artist and a teacher and a discoverer.

 


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Tom Sandler Photography

 

Amanda Lang
Cover subject (read the full story) and Luncheon Series Speaker, Toronto and Waterloo, 2013.

“For me, luck came in a bunch of different forms and there were several different people in my career that took big chances on me, just because they thought they saw something. [There was] the first person to give me a job, a real job, in journalism; the Editor-in-Chief who sent me to New York when I was a green reporter who had no business being sent to New York; the first person who put me on TV; and a whole series of people that said, ‘Yes, we are going to take a chance on this.’ Then the hard work that follows after that is living up to those expectations because somebody has risked something on you and you are going to give it 100%.”

 

 

 

 


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Tom Sandler Photography

ARLENE DICKINSON
Cover subject (read the full story) and multiple Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver

 

For the last five years, Arlene Dickinson has been the top requested speaker at our events across Canada, and an undebatable favourite among our long-time sponsors who’ve seen them all. We love the duality of talking shop with her on growing small businesses (including ours!) while she’s donning her studded Louboutin’s and red Valentino dress for a cover shoot in her downtown Toronto loft.

 


Diane_Francis
Tom Sandler Photography

DIANE FRANCIS
Speaker, magazine subject (read the full story) writer, and Co-Founder and host of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards

Best advice on opportunity and what our daughters should study now…

“Liberal arts are fine, but only for a hobby I’m afraid. In my case, for instance, I believe that journalism schools should be closed for ten years because the business models that employed journalists are imploding and will disappear. Anyone interested in writing should also have a background now in writing code for digital web purposes as well as a business degree because self-employment and startups will be the only means of making a living.

So I have three pieces of advice: She should study, or be proficient in, math, sciences and computer science. Technology is trumping everything so a knowledge of these fields—which are the “languages” of technology—are important no matter what major she chooses. Engineers, scientists and IT specialists will be in demand. All bets are off concerning other professions in a decade or so.”

 

 


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Tom Sandler Photography

VENUS WILLIAMS
Cover subject (read the full story) and Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2011.

We brought Venus in to be the perfect illustration of confidence for our community.

And my favourite part of that experience was learning just how much of a high performance professional she is. We had Venus from 11am to 2pm, not a minute more or less. At 11am the elevator doors opened in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Toronto, where myself and additional handlers were ready and waiting. We quickly ran through the next 45 minutes of media interviews, VIP greeting, and microphone testing before her speech. She was all business.

Focused, she moved purposefully from one person to the next, present in all conversations, bringing to each person what they were looking for. But then something else happened. When her speech was over, she relaxed, she was hugging the members of the head table (all female CEOs), and laughing, cheering and hollering when she won a door prize. To me, that was the most inspiring element of meeting her, she had her game face on, and was a pro in every way, but also knew how to relax and have a good time when her job was done.

 


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Kevin Gonsalves Photography

KATHLEEN TAYLOR
Multiple Luncheon Series Speaker (view the photo gallery)

On choosing a partner…

“Marry smart. This means making sure your life partner lifts you up, makes you a better person, enables you to do more than you could on your own…thinks you can be better than even you think you can be.”

 


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Christopher Wahl Photography

MARGARET ATWOOD
Cover subject (read the full story) and Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2012.

Margaret Atwood is a hero of mine; having studied English Literature, I connected to her characters and prose over the years. So imagine my excitement (and the pressure!) to interview her for a cover story. The interview and photo shoot were to take place at the Spoke Club in Toronto. Atwood was three hours late.

As we waited, I was of course willing to adapt on the fly to make it work (as it comes with the territory working with senior executive women). However, I also had a four-month-old son, and was nursing. Three hours late was a big deal!

By the time her make-up was touched up, we got the cover shot and she sat in front of me, ready to talk, I could barely think straight; I needed to feed my son! Reeling from the physical discomfort and hormonal overdrive, it was the worst interview of my career in every way (and I love asking questions). Thankfully, our talented and compassionate editor helped me weave the fragmented conversation into an article that did Atwood justice.

 


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Dylan Coulter Photography

BONNIE FULLER
Cover subject (read the full story) and Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2010.

Bonnie Fuller’s career began in Toronto and led to her title of media powerhouse in the publishing mecca of New York, where she succeeded in increasing newsstand sales, circulation and revenue levels to their highest ever at YM, Marie Claire, Cosmo, and Glamour, had always inspired me. As a result of this, and her influence of women in North America, she was chosen to be the first cover woman for Women of Influence Magazine. Being inspired by those glossy pages for year’s myself, it was a career highlight to fly down to New York to interview and photograph her in the offices of the now thriving digital magazine, hollywoodlife.com.

 


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Tom Sandler Photography

JOHN GRAY
Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2013 and author

Men at the table…
John Gray, renowned author of the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus books was anointed, and very appropriately so, as the first man to grace the Women of Influence podium (listen to the audio version), with our partner, his co-author, and global leader in Gender Intelligence, Barbara Annis. They had just released a book on men and women working together, titled Work With Me.

 


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Brandon Barre Photography

SARAH RICHARDSON
Multiple Luncheon Series Speaker (watch her luncheon video)

 

“What I learned is the only way to succeed, for me, is to have the conviction to walk away. That is a metaphor that could be used for a lot of women in a lot of situations. If you have the power and the conviction to walk away, then you are in a better place. Being willing to do that has made all the difference.”

 

 

 


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Lydia Peltz Photography

PAMELA WALLIN
Multiple Luncheon Series Speaker and magazine profile subject (read the full story)

 

As a public figure, Pamela’s opinions, advice, and influence have been felt and heard across the country. What has, through all, remained undeniably inspiring to me is her voice. When she spoke at our luncheons you could hear a pin drop, that recognizable, comfortable yet sharp tone, reassuring and yet assertive style, and, my personal favourite, never a hesitation in asking a tough question. Her unique ability to converse about US-Canada relations and hair salons in Saskatchewan with the same approach is absolutely a gift of influence.

 

 

 

 

 


EverestSHARON WOOD
Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto and Calgary (2005)

Sharon Wood told her story of being the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest, how she discovered a new route, battled extreme conditions…and all without a Sherpa.

But what was most memorable at this event was the first question from the audience. A woman stood up and asked,

“How can you do that? How can you put your life at risk when you are a mother?”

We all heard the underlying question, which was not how can you, but how could you? Sharon took a brief moment, as we waited in complete silence for her answer, holding our collective breath, and then she nailed it,
“I do it because I am living to my fullest, I am smiling, and I am happy. And that’s the best thing I can do as a mother.”


 

 

BELINDA STRONACH
Luncheon Series speaker in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary, 2005.

The lesson: stand tall in your place…

“On May 17 this year, I acted on another decision. I felt that I could no longer submerge my own individual principles in the agenda of others with whom I did not agree on many important questions. The internal conflict became so strong that I felt it in the pit of my stomach.

So I crossed the floor of the House of Commons. It was an excruciatingly hard decision for me on several levels. I knew that I would face considerable anger among former colleagues and that a number of people would not understand why I did it. Many things would be said and assumptions made. But my principles were too important to me and no price was too high to safeguard my personal integrity.

There are double standards in the way a woman in public life is treated. I am routinely asked by reporters, and sheepishly even senior political journalists, what clothes I am wearing. What is the label? Where do I buy my shoes? I am so used to it that it is not an issue for me. But I doubt these questions would be asked of a man in politics.

Some have denigrated my contribution to the performance of Magna International when I was CEO because I was the “Boss’ Daughter.” These same people forgot to mention that Magna is a publicly traded company with active shareholders and a Board of Directors. My performance was under scrutiny by the bottom line at all times. And I can tell you a secret—being the Boss’ Daughter is not something I would wish on anyone; you just have to work twice as hard to earn the respect.

These are not complaints, just facts of life. I know the landscape and the rules of engagement. And I have chosen to suit up and play.”

 


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Tom Sandler Photography

RAIN EMILY ZHANG
Winner, Deloitte Start Up Award, 2013.

Best finalist video (a must watch) for the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. So beautiful, so grateful, and makes us remember why we do this every year…

 

“When I was a teenager I dreamed of having an office with a big glass window from floor to ceiling so the sunshine could come into my desk. However, I never thought I could become an entrepreneur or run my own business when I was living in China. Canada is a place where I make my dream come into the truth.”

 


 

MOYA GREENE
Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2007.

Best lesson on failure, resilience, and honesty…
“There’s something else all you aspiring leaders need: resilience. To be able to deal with failure and unexpected broadsides, like being sidelined, having a huge deal fall through, being fired…I say failure is good. It hones your game. Like the time I was fired. Nothing personal, I was told, just caught in a sweeping layoff. I was dumbfounded. But just call me the Comeback Kid: slowly, I picked myself up and dusted myself off. When I came out the other end, I was stronger. To lead, we need to learn from our mistakes and move on. Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear in his first car. And as the Founder of Johnson & Johnson, Robert Johnson, once put it: If I weren’t making mistakes, I wasn’t making decisions.”


TERESA CASCIOLI
Luncheon Series Speaker Toronto, 2007.

Most honest answer ever…

As CEO of Lakeport Brewing, Teresa spoke to our crowd of 700+ at the Royal York, and took a question that’s often asked among our community. This is the best response I’ve heard.

Question: What do you do if your spouse doesn’t support your drive or career?

Answer: Find a different spouse.


Do you have your ticket to celebrate our 20th Anniversary? See who’s speaking on September 30th!

20 Years of Inspiration