Deborah Assaly and Adriana De Luca have both been leading thriving entrepreneurial ventures since the late nineties. Brought together by the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle initiative, we spoke to them about what has enabled their long-term success — from teamwork to technological investments — and their advice for other women looking to follow in their footsteps.
By Marie Moore
In the entrepreneurial world, longevity is one of the greatest testaments of success. And it’s an accomplishment that Deborah Assaly and Adriana De Luca can claim — they have both been leading and growing their respective businesses since the late nineties.
Deborah Assaly took over as president of Paramount Paper in 1996. Started by her father, the company had been providing packaging solutions to the Montreal market since 1958. Under her leadership, the family business expanded across Canada and into the U.S., offering an ever-broadening range of packaging, specializing in corrugated cartons and products, as well as poly bags, industrial papers, films, protective packaging, tape, shipping supplies, and sanitary and safety supplies.
Adriana De Luca started a natural soap-making business in her home in 1999, inspired by a family tradition and the birth of her first child. Today, Tiber River Naturals has multiple retail locations in Winnipeg, a thriving network of direct-sales consultants, and more than 300 bath, body, and pet care as well as home cleaning products — all handmade using naturally derived ingredients.
Interestingly, neither Adriana nor Deborah started their entrepreneurial journeys with any dreams or expectations of making it to where they are today.
Deborah describes taking over from her father as “quite a shock.” She was sharing office space with Paramount Paper for her own graphic design company, and started learning the business simply by being on premises. When her father passed away just a few years later, he left Deborah at the helm. “It was not my original goal, but when he passed on, I decided I would give it a shot,” she says.
For Adriana, the entire purpose of launching Tiber River was to make just enough money to be able to stay at home with her newborn daughter. “I knew I needed something that would be sustainable, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be what it is today. It wasn’t even a maybe.”
With entrepreneurial stories that now span across two decades, they each attribute their success to similar factors. For Deborah, it’s a broad combination — from her upbringing, to her work ethic, as well as the strong support of her husband and partner John, and her loyal support staff. Adriana also points to personality traits, like tenacity, that have made her well-suited to an entrepreneurial venture, but she largely credits Tiber River’s success to the people who have become a part of the business with her, such as her partner, Michelle.
“As an entrepreneur, there are so many times when you’re just feeling like it’s too much, and you can’t continue to give as much as you give, or do as much as you do, or find the right path,” explains Adriana. “And you really need a strong team around you to hold you up in those times, and you do the same for them. It’s a collective effort.”
Olivia Baker, the University of Waterloo intern paired with Adriana as part of the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle program, has certainly valued her time as part of the Tiber River team. “It’s opened me up to the world of entrepreneurship and given me confidence that I belong in the tech field,” she says.
“As an entrepreneur, there are so many times when you’re just feeling like it’s too much, and you can’t continue to give as much as you give, or do as much as you do, or find the right path, and you really need a strong team around you to hold you up in those times, and you do the same for them. It’s a collective effort.”
Deanna Danelon, the intern who worked for Deborah, also enjoyed the exposure to what running a business is like, and the chance for personal growth. “Working for Deborah provided the opportunity to learn new skills, such as developing a website for her new consumer division, Husky North. And I improved my problem-solving skills by creating a more efficient work flow for the business.” Deanna also assisted with a network refresh and implementing cloud technology — a key goal of Deborah’s.
“We were having difficulty with our paperwork internally, collaborating with staff, moving information effectively between the sales people, the purchasing department and our customers,” explains Deborah. “I knew there were programs out there to get it done, but I didn’t know how to do it. I wasn’t versed in the cloud, and I didn’t know what the first step should be. Deanna and I had many discussions on how we could accomplish it, and I’m very excited to say that Deanna implemented a winning strategy.”
Paramount Paper plans to continue the technological integration in the future, with the goal of networking information between colleagues and sales agents offsite, and eventually creating a client portal. Deborah sees it as a route to greater expansion, and a differentiating factor for Paramount Paper. “It’s definitely a competitive advantage. As a whole our industry is not very technology advanced. I was very excited to have this opportunity and be one of the first to have improved productivity through modernizing our overall structure with the cloud for internal use. This is sure to have a positive ripple effect to our customers and increase sales.”
Adriana also sees technology as integral to Tiber River’s future success, specifically the information that it can provide. “What are our customers looking for? What are they buying? When we started I made products that I wanted, which worked when my customers were only people like me. Now we have to look at the opportunities for growth.”
As the company gets bigger, Adriana also hopes to tap into the benefits of technology for resource planning, financial management, communication, and connectivity. But that doesn’t mean growth is coming quickly. Adriana and her partner Michelle are extremely committed to their business vision, but as mothers of three, they have not been willing to expand Tiber River at the expense of their family balance. “We made a conscious choice. We were both fine with slower growth so we could go to our kids’ hockey games.”
In contrast, Deborah saw growth as a necessary to her success. “We have a lot of competition in Montreal, and we knew right at the beginning — being young, being a woman, being a small distributor — we had to spread our wings and be innovative and do it quickly.” Not long after taking over, they were implementing strategies for expansion across Canada and into the U.S.
While they may have different ideas on growth, both Deborah and Adriana have been able to achieve long term success on their own terms. Adriana’s advice to entrepreneurs that are also hoping to be in business over decades? Get started on the journey now. “Just do it. Just dive in there. Don’t overthink things. Just get started and see where your path may lead you.”
Deborah adds that they should just be themselves. “When you’re young, you may feel you have to put on a show or talk a good game. There’s a lot of pretending to get through in the beginning years,” she says. “There are also a lot of people who want to offer advice on how to act or talk. It’s best to just follow your heart, be strong and have your own identity. You will learn and fail and learn again along the way. Learning from the failures is what will give you strength to allow you to keep going.”
The Cisco Circle of Innovation program is one part of The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle initiative, which addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.