It’s in her nature: Why Allison Christilaw chose serial entrepreneurship over partnership in a professional services giant
When Allison Christilaw and her husband sold their successful management consulting firm to Deloitte, she was taken on as a partner in the firm. A few years later she was striking out on her own path to create Reddin Global — and she’s still on that journey today.
By Shelley White
Allison Christilaw is a born entrepreneur.
She and her husband, Doug Emerson, successfully ran a management consulting firm, Managerial Design Corporation, for 18 years, helping leaders across five continents run their own organizations more effectively. When they sold their company to professional services giant Deloitte in 2011, Allison joined Deloitte for a few years as a partner. Deloitte was a great company, she says, but the fit just wasn’t right for her.
“My sister-in-law at one point told me, ‘You’re a terrible employee,’ because I just kind of like to do my own thing,” laughs Allison, now CEO of Reddin Global in Oakville, Ont. “I work well with my partners. And in a smaller business you can you have a huge influence over the organization, whereas you feel like just a number in a large organization. I like to strike out on my own path, and my husband’s the same way.”
After leaving Deloitte, there was only one thing to do: start a new business to develop and grow.
“As entrepreneurs, you don’t ever say, ‘Let’s just go to the beach,’” says Allison. “You say, ‘What do we do next?’”
Allison and Doug created Reddin Global in 2015, with the aim of creating tools to help managers run their teams more effectively. Doug has largely left the business to do consulting, and Allison is at the helm of Reddin Global as CEO. The company’s main product is the Emerson Suite, a SaaS mobile platform that helps companies manage their teams more collaboratively, with objective-setting, action-planning, time management and other prioritization tools at their fingertips.
“It’s designed so that there’s transparency across the team,” says Allison. “So if you and I are teammates, we can see each other’s objectives. It’s a tool to get everyone focused on the right things and holding each other accountable.”
Allison says their clients tend to be medium-sized organizations, though they work with some smaller and larger enterprises as well.
“We’re still new, so we’re still trying to get our marketing and targeting right,” she says. “It’s hard starting a business and getting all those things clear. It’s an ongoing journey of learning and pivoting while trying to keep investors happy.”
One big source of support for Allison in her entrepreneurial journey has been BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada). She first got involved with BDC when she and Doug were looking for some funding for Reddin Global in the first year of the business, says Allison.
“We took a loan out from them, and the terms were very favourable for us given where we were as a business,” she says. “And I must say they’ve been great about staying in touch and keeping an open door. They’ve been quite supportive.”
On recommendation from BDC, Allison got involved in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC), an initiative that aims to help women become more successful entrepreneurs by addressing some of the obstacles they face. According to Industry Canada, female-owned SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) exhibit lower growth than male-owned SMEs. And the 2013 Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) showed that the majority of women founders struggle to access the capital, technology, networks and knowledge they need to scale their business.
Allison is participating in WEC’s Circle of Innovation program, which pairs female entrepreneurs with engineering students from the University of Waterloo in order to help them build their digital strategy and scale their business.
“It was a great opportunity for us,” says Allison of being involved with the Circle of Innovation program. “I’m also a huge believer in supporting young people and helping them get started in their career the right way. It felt like this was a good thing for us, but also for the student that we are bringing on.”
They’ve been working with their intern, 19-year-old engineering student Kira Wadden, since May, and Allison says it’s been a positive experience for all. “She’s fantastic,” says Allison. “We’ve had her working primarily with our UX [user experience] developers and she’s very capable. Without a lot of direction, she’s undertaken some projects, such as an accessibility audit of our website, and she’s done some really great work for us.”
Allison says she would definitely recommend the program to other entrepreneurs.
“If all of the students are like Kira, you have nothing to lose,” she says. “And it’s great to have a young person on the team, sitting in on conversations, contributing their views on the product.”
As for Allison’s future plans for Reddin Global, she says they will continue to grow the business and expand their client base. She says the support of organizations like BDC and Cisco has been important, especially as she navigates the many challenges of marketing and scaling a growing technology company.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun too. I wouldn’t change anything,” says Allison. “I remember when I was leaving Deloitte, one of the partners said to me, ‘Are you nuts? Why are you giving this up?’ But I need that freedom of driving something forward, and knowing that it’s mine to drive.”
The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles women-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 free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.