How Diane Scott made a late-career pivot to focus on giving back.

Diane Scott

By Hailey Eisen 

Diane Scott couldn’t have planned a career as dynamic as the one she has. Five years ago, it didn’t exist.

As Chair and CEO of JMCC Group, Diane sits at the helm of Canada’s only woman-led international medical cannabis company. She built the business from the ground up and today operates on four continents and the Caribbean.  

JMCC, which stands for Jamaican Medical Cannabis Company, was founded in 2016. After more than a decade working in New York and London in the global financial services and technology industries — including work in the financial services practice of presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr — Diane felt burnt out and in need of a restart. “After all those years I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore, and I didn’t like the person I had to be to do it,” Diane recalls. 

Taking a career pause gave her the opportunity to return home to Toronto after 17 years. “I sold my apartment in New York and came home to the town I was raised in to reflect. Suddenly I had five acres to look after, and I had to learn how to garden.”

While her next steps weren’t clear, Diane felt fortunate to have the time and resources needed to regroup. She’d been following the medical cannabis industry closely for some time and saw its potential from an investment perspective. In 2014 she started making investments in Canadian cannabis companies. 

What followed was a sequence of events which led Diane to explore cannabis farming in Jamaica. She was asked to consider investing in a family farm on the island, and while she initially said no as she felt only comfortable dealing with Canada, the idea stuck with her. 

“I took a conference call with the family who were looking to convert their sugarcane farm into medical cannabis. While we didn’t end up taking that opportunity, it made a few things very clear,” she says. First came the understanding that growing medical cannabis outdoors — what she calls a ‘natural grow’ in proprietary greenhouses — would ultimately be better for the end patient than growing it in big warehouses. And second, Diane came to learn that Jamaica has the most optimal growing environment, combined with regulations in line with what you’d see in Canada, Germany, and Australia. 

“We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.”

Soon after Diane and a close friend in London, Tom Speechley, decided to build and launch a global venture capital business, SX2 Ventures. Their goal was to support innovation and long-term value creation in the human care sector, with a focus on life sciences, longevity, specialized care and emerging market healthcare solutions. “We were clear when we started that we wanted to do more with our investments. Rather than solely focusing on financial returns, we saw an opportunity to direct our funds to have a positive impact,” Diane explains. “We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.” SX2 was an early expression of an environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment model years ahead of today’s standards. 

It was upon this ethos that JMCC was founded. “Starting SX2 naturally led us to create JMCC because we found there was nothing like it in the world. We saw the need, and believed that if it didn’t exist, we should build it.” After nine months of due diligence in the Jamaican market, Diane got on a plane to visit the island. 

“The huge learning curve for me became about the science and medicine,” she explains. And to help grow the business, Diane turned to people who she knew and trusted. “As an entrepreneur, you need to know your own strengths. We can’t be great at everything, so you need to build a team that’s great at everything.” Starting with her well-established network, Diane began to build the JMCC team, both in Jamaica and internationally. While Tom continued to run SX2, Diane focused on JMCC — taking a “divide and conquer approach.”

Diane knew her strategy with JMCC was unconventional from the get-go. “Being a female CEO who had chosen to do things differently than they were being done in Canada at the time, not going public, not growing in a big warehouse, cultivating on an island — I wasn’t making the most popular choices,” she recalls. Even still, she was clear on her vision and happy to be occupying a place that others were not.  

And her outside-the-box thinking paid off. In the five years since its inception, JMCC has become a fully integrated medical cannabis company, operating with a self-contained supply chain — from propagation and cultivation of raw materials supply, product development, manufacturing and packaging, through to global logistics and distribution. “We are the leading global provider of premium Jamaican medical cannabis products and services to the world.” 

She’s also in the final stages of organic certification, which should be in place by later this year. “Not many others can say they’re naturally grown, organic, and control their supply chain from start to finish. This allows us to ensure the highest possible quality patient experience,” explains Diane. “For JMCC, patient quality is at the center of everything we do. It has to be.” 

The company also just completed a joint venture in the Channel Islands, UK to establish a JMCC distribution hub in order to ensure seamless and timely prescription fulfillment to UK patients, and has expanded into an exclusive distribution agreement for the Australasian Region. 

Being a woman running a global medical cannabis company is unprecedented (the industry is dominated by men), but it has pushed Diane even harder to ensure an environment of equality for everyone on her team. “I’ve made it clear for all the women and teams I work with, that we are a company that will find the best talent — regardless of gender, religion, or sexual orientation — and that everyone who joins us has to believe and respect this.” 

Diane and her partner’s commitment to do their part to leave the world a better place has carried over in other ways to JMCC. “This is more than impact investing. We focus on profitable businesses that also are committed to doing good in the community,” she says. “We created the JMCC Foundation, and have committed to reinvest 10% back into communities, education, scientific research, and the medical cannabis industry.” 

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment.

This includes working with academic institutions to support trials — such as an epilepsy trial being conducted via a Canadian university, which JMCC will provide the cannabis for at their own expense. They’re also one of only five companies in the world chosen to support Drug Science’s Project T21 — which is deemed to be the largest observational evidence-based study in the world, with a target of 20,000 UK patients.  

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment. In SX2 and the companies we fund, we look for investment opportunities with those who share our vision for this.”  

Personally, Diane carries on that legacy with her involvement in community initiatives beyond her work. She’s a patron of a small school in Maasai Mara, Kenya on a 3,000-acre conservation area protected by the Kenyan Government. She was introduced to the school while on a business trip in Nairobi. “I had decided to stay over for a weekend and go on safari, and I met the manager of the safari who offered to take me to the local school,” she says. Since connecting with them, Diane has sponsored a water harvesting program that has allowed the school to harvest rainwater rather than the village mothers having to bring it from the river, which can be very dangerous. She’s also organized a program to ship books and sporting equipment from Canadian children to the children at this school, who are now learning to read in English. 

Diane is also a Royal Patron of the Royal Ontario Museum (also known as the ROM, in Toronto) and an Activator for SheEO, an organization which has built a $1B fund to help women-led businesses. SheEO is focused on investing to help with the ‘worlds to do list’.  She’s also a mentor and advocate for women, encouraging others to have confidence in themselves and their decisioning. 

“I think as women we don’t always feel like we deserve to be at the Board table, but the truth is, most of the time we’ve earned the right to sit in that seat,” she says. “Use your voice, share your knowledge and experiences, and contribute your thoughts as diversity always leads to better decision making.”  

She also has advice for anyone who is feeling the same sense of burnout and dissatisfaction she was before her pivot: “Doing what you love should be a career goal,” says Diane. “I don’t think people prioritize that enough.” 

How this beauty entrepreneur successfully built a purpose-driven company.

Jenn Harper

By Khera Alexander

Jenn Harper had no intentions of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she didn’t think that was something that was even possible. And then in a dream one night, Jenn was visited by happy, smiling Indigenous girls wearing lip gloss. This dream was vivid, and it sparked an idea in her that she didn’t think of previously: to build a beauty brand with a purpose.

“Wanting to recreate this joy for those Indigenous kids that were in my dream was essentially the foundation of how I began this journey,” Jenn says.

Jenn had already done a lot of work on herself: she had overcome personal struggles, recovered from alcoholism, and learned more about who she was, her culture, and the lineage from which she descended. She was ready and determined to work on building her business, Cheekbone Beauty. She wanted to make a positive impact, invest in her community, and run a business that would do its part to help the environment — not hurt it.

Jenn also wanted Cheekbone Beauty to be a symbol of representation and something Indigenous youth could take inspiration from. Jenn had experienced the intergenerational trauma of North America’s colonial past and current settler colonial environment that has harmed Indigenous nations. “For many years, part of my addiction came from this deep shame of actually being an Ojibwe woman,” she says, adding that she wanted to do her part to subvert the miseducation and share more positivity for the next generation of children. “Can we change this narrative for our kids? Can we give them good stories to see? They don’t have to be ashamed of who they are and where they come from, and they can use their wonderful, incredible gifts, all these things that are innately Indigenous. It’s an amazing culture with really powerful teachings and stories.”

“It’s not about this Western view of, how much can I attain for myself? An Indigenous view of success is about how much you can give back to your community, and thinking about our actions today and how they impact the next generations.”

Jenn started with the basic steps: gaining an understanding of how products are made, what a supply chain is, and what channels she could use for sales. She wanted to create high-performing beauty products that were cruelty-free and without harmful ingredients. As she progressed, industry experts encouraged her to focus on profitability only, but Jenn continued to push forward in her pursuit of being of service to others while building Cheekbone. 

“I fought all of the pushback from business advisory boards and mentors saying, ‘No. This is the only reason I’m doing it. And if we can’t weave that in as part of the foundation, then it’s not going to work,’” she said. Little by little, Jenn built Cheekbone Beauty from the ground up and on her own terms, tapping into her culture to inform some of her decision-making. “It’s not about this Western view of, how much can I attain for myself? An Indigenous view of success is about how much you can give back to your community, and thinking about our actions today and how they impact the next generations.”

In business since 2016, Cheekbone Beauty is still a young brand — but they have already made significant strides aligned with their three sustainability pillars: Economic good, educational good, and environmental good. “We add it into every part of the business,” explains Jenn. 

Their SUSTAIN Lipstick line, for example, has a tube that uses 85% less plastic and is made of biodegradable paper — and once it’s used up, the packaging can be separated by the consumer for recycling and compost. Each shade is either named after the earth, the land, or after the word that means “on the land or earth” in one of the over 7000 Indigenous languages. Plus, “For every one that is purchased, there is one going back to an Indigenous youth somewhere in some community.” 

They also sell a Give Box seasonally, featuring both Cheekbone items and natural and sustainable products from other North American brands, with a large portion of the proceeds going to a charitable cause. “Usually in spring and summer, we’re planting trees. Last spring, we got water and solar power to a family from the Navajo reservation in the United States. We’re always just looking for streams of giving, different ways that we can add that layer of giving into everything that we do,” Jenn says.

Cheekbone Beauty has been able to invest in Indigenous communities by donating over $108,000 to a number of causes. One of these initiatives is Shannen’s Dream, an organization that works in tandem with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS) to address educational disparities between Indigenous youth and non-Indigenous youth. In the future, Jenn has plans to create a scholarship program to help fund the education of Indigenous students. 

On the environmental front, she has goals to eliminate single-use plastic products, provide refill options, and have all packaging be biodegradable and compostable by 2023. The company is also looking into a recycling initiative to safely dispose of their products. “Internally, we’re trying to figure out what it could look like if we could create some kind of program where we’re the ones taking back the product, so that our customers know something really positive is happening with that product at the end of that packaging life,” Jenn says. 

“The reality is, in every situation, it’s not black or white. When it comes to a sustainability journey, every choice is different for every product.”

Jenn credits her business’ success to being directly linked to how much Cheekbone values giving back. “When I think about the success in such a short time that we’ve had in the growth, it’s certainly because people feel how important that give back is to us,” she says. For any business that also cares about sustainability or being purpose-driven, Jenn points to authenticity and communication as key to success. 

“A business has to be very transparent about their supply chain, how they operate, and how they source products and ingredients,” advises Jenn. “With our SUSTAIN Lipstick, we were open and honest about that process, making sure that the organization is giving the right information to support the consumer with the product at the end of its life, and anything there in between.”

Jenn can empathize with any customer that may feel overwhelmed when attempting to shop sustainably, but wants for people to find what works best for them. “The reality is, in every situation, it’s not black or white. When it comes to a sustainability journey, every choice is different for every product. Plastic, glass, or aluminum, they all have a place, and that’s why it’s hard,” Jenn says. “It’s up to each individual consumer to decide on the consumer they want to be, and then do the research,” she says. 

For consumers who are skeptical of the difference they can make as an individual, Jenn encourages thinking of your efforts as part of a community. 

“It takes one person to start building that community, and be a part of a community, and share what they know with the community,” says Jenn. “We can’t do it alone. We just can’t, and that’s why we need each other. We need to find people that you connect with and realize, even though you are on your own, and though you’re making those small steps and changes, then it’s going to be about your example and you spreading that into your community.”

Gold medalist Erica Wiebe turned a postponed Olympics into an opportunity to get her MBA.

Erica Wiebe

By Hailey Eisen 

It’s easy to imagine how disappointing it would be to spend years preparing for the Olympic Games, only to have them postponed. While Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe was set to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games last summer, the global COVID pandemic upended her plans, along with those of thousands of other Olympic athletes. 

The reigning Olympic champion in the women’s 75kg wrestling event had qualified for the Games at the Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament in March 2020 — just a week prior to the announcement that the Games would be postponed for a year.

Faced with disappointment and uncertainty, Erica decided to use the opportunity to do something completely different. 

“The week before the qualifying event, I actually interviewed for the Executive MBA program, something I had wanted to do since I came home from the 2016 Olympics in Rio,” Erica recalls. “My plan had been that, if I got into the program, I would defer acceptance and start in 2021.” 

But with the Olympics postponed and a year of unknowns ahead, Erica was thankful when the Smith School of Business program director called and asked if she’d consider starting the MBA that year. “I saw it as an opportunity to bring some structure to my days, something to focus on other than sport — and a huge challenge amidst the uncertainty of everything else,” she says. 

In June 2020, Erica joined the first-ever virtual opening residential session of the 17-month, team-based Executive MBA Americas program, a partnership between Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business and Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management. For the past twelve months, she has been studying business from the comfort of her home in Calgary — while also competing in wrestling tournaments internationally and preparing for the rescheduled Games, which begin on July 23.  

“When I won the gold medal in Rio I knew that I was just scratching the surface of what I was capable of.”

Earning two MBA degrees from two of the world’s top business schools while preparing to represent Canada at the Olympics has been physically and psychologically demanding, but Erica has always thrived in the face of a challenge. 

Erica loved sports — all of them — starting at an early age. She first tried wrestling in her Grade 7 gym class, and joined the co-ed team in Grade 9. While she’d primarily been a soccer player, and once imagined herself playing soccer through university, she fell in love with wrestling. “It was technical, tactical, physical, mental, and I loved every aspect of it,” she says. 

At 18, Erica moved across the country – from her home in Stittsville, Ont. to Calgary – to train as a member of the Dinos Wrestling Club at the University of Calgary. “It was the best wrestling program in the country and I wanted to put myself in the position to be my best,” she says. “In fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing with the MBA, participating in one of the best programs in Canada to help pave the way for goals outside of sport.” 

Eight years and two degrees later, Erica made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016. “When I won the gold medal in Rio I knew that I was just scratching the surface of what I was capable of,” Erica says. While she knew she wanted to compete in the next Summer Olympic Games, she also wanted to challenge herself in other ways. So, in 2018, she accepted a flexible work position with Deloitte. The opportunity allowed her to apply and bolster her skills in strategy and high-stakes decision-making — skills that translate well from wrestling to the business world. 

With consulting experience and a Bachelor of Kinesiology and Honours Bachelor of Arts in Sociology under her belt, earning her MBA made a lot of sense to Erica. Plus, she was eager to be part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s (COC) partnership with Smith School of Business. As part of this partnership, up to 1200 scholarships are available to eligible national team athletes through Game Plan, Canada’s total athlete wellness program designed to help athletes thrive on and off the field of play. 

“I took all the things I use to structure my training and I applied them to these MBA sessions.”

Typically a blended program, with interactive online classes every other weekend and three in-person residential sessions interspersed throughout the program, the Executive MBA Americas was forced completely online due to COVID-19. “So far we’ve done the whole thing online, including the residential sessions, which meant we were on Zoom for eight hours a day for two week stretches,” Erica explains. 

For someone who is used to being on the move, it took great stamina to get through these virtual sessions. “I took all the things I use to structure my training and I applied them to these MBA sessions,” Erica explains. “I prepared like I would for a training camp, ensuring I got quality sleep, used the 15-minute breaks to do yoga or walk, drank three liters of water a day, and optimized my performance in every way I could.” 

She also bought herself a road bike and has taken up cycling. “Being able to get on my bike and feel the wind on my face has been the biggest thing that protected my mental health over the past 12 months,” she says. “There’s great power in getting outside and moving your body.” 

With so much uncertainty in the world due to COVID-19 – restrictions, facility closures, travel bans – impacting her ability to train and compete, Erica is thankful for the distraction the MBA has provided. “What an amazing time to be stuck in class for 14 hours over a weekend,” she says. “These classes have given me the structure and focus to help make sense of what’s going on around me.”

“I’m not done with sport and I’m just getting started on my business journey. There is a whole realm of possibilities.” 

Erica has deferred three courses between now and August 8 to focus on final preparations to compete in Tokyo. “I’ve been so lucky that teachers and staff at Smith have been incredibly flexible throughout this journey, ensuring I have everything I need to excel.” 

After the Summer Olympic Games, she will return to her studies. “Beyond all of this,” she says, “the short answer is I’m not done with sport and I’m just getting started on my business journey. There is a whole realm of possibilities.” 

Asked if she has advice for other athletes considering the MBA program, Erica says: “Whether you’re an athlete or a woman in business considering this program, if you’re worried you can’t handle it or it’s going to be too much, or maybe you won’t belong, those are all the right fears to have and it means it’s exactly the right program for you.”

While this whole year has pushed her to uncomfortable places, she says she’s definitely coming out stronger — and more prepared to compete in the Olympic Games this summer. “Today I am feeling better, stronger, and so much more ready to compete than I could have imagined.”

Sherri Pierce owns her voice to make a positive impact on others.

Sherri Pierce

by Shelley White

 

Sherri Pierce remembers the first time she understood the positive impact she could have on others, just by being herself.

She was at an awards gala run by Out on Bay Street (now called Start Proud), an organization that facilitates the professional development of LGBTQ2S+ students as they transition from school to career. Sherri was there with her Scotiabank colleagues, and they were being approached by young people attending the event who had questions about opportunities in the financial industry.  

“I remember very distinctly one girl tapping me on the shoulder and asking, ‘Hey, what company are you with?’ I said, ‘I’m with Scotiabank, I work as a manager there.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t think I would show up to an event like this and see myself in someone in the professional world,’” recalls Sherri, Manager, Operational Effectiveness at Scotiabank.

“That really took me by surprise. I thought I was just coming to a nice dinner. But just by showing up, I had affected someone’s life. It was really eye-opening for me,” Sherri says. “It’s not just about me and the people who have come before me. It’s about the people who come after.” 

It wasn’t long ago that Sherri was a student herself. Growing up in Brampton, she initially thought she would pursue a career as a lawyer. But she was also attracted to the financial industry, and upon graduation from the University of Toronto, “I walked around the downtown core, handing out my resume to a bunch of financial institutions,” she says. “Scotiabank welcomed me in. So here I am, eight years later.” 

“I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common.”

In her role, Sherri works in the Business Service Centre where she provides a breadth of services for business banking clients. She says she loves her job because no two days are the same. 

“Because it’s project-based, I’m always working on different things with different departments — commercial banking, regulatory, audit. I also get a lot of exposure at the VP and director level, so it’s definitely the perfect career-building role,” she says. 

Sherri says her experiences as an out gay woman in the financial industry have been positive, especially once she joined Scotiabank’s Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG). 

“I always felt very supported, and I think that support really took off when I joined the ERG, because then I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common,” she says. “It’s a safe space. It’s a place where you can go to ask questions of our experienced leaders.”

Now, Sherri has taken on a role of co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Pride ERG, feeling it’s her turn to “carry the baton a little ways further for the next person.” 

She also recently enrolled in a program through Pride at Work Canada, an organization that helps employers build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. THRIVE is a four-month virtual program to develop the next generation of queer and trans managers through virtual learning modules and mentorship.

Through THRIVE, Sherri was paired with Val Walls, Director of Sales Effectiveness at Scotiabank, and Sherri says the conversations they’ve had have been invaluable for her career development. 

“The program has really forced me to think about my future and not just come to work and think about what I had to do that day,” she says. “I’ve seen the growth, I’ve learned so much, and it’s only been four months.” 

“In being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”

Sherri says her own coming out six years ago was “tough,” especially because she had to do it a number of times. 

“It was definitely difficult, building up the courage to come out to my friends from university, the girls that I play basketball with and wondering, how are they going to react? It’s the fear of the unknown,” she says. “Then, coming out to my parents, the fear of disappointing them. And my big brother. It was a stressful and scary time.” 

For the most part, Sherri says coming out “went okay.” She did receive the support that she needed, though it took some people a little longer than others to come around. 

“Now, I’m in a place where I’m unapologetically gay, it’s who I am. I’ll show up with my suit and tie, I’m not trying to fit a mold or wear a skirt or heels, that’s just not me,” she says. “And in being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”

Sherri says that the Pride festivities that come around each June always mean a lot to her. Going to Pride for the first time in Toronto’s gay village neighbourhood felt like “the unshackling of myself,” she says. 

“I remember the first time walking down College Street and then turning down Church Street and it was like the air changed. Everyone was having the greatest time just being themselves. It was freedom.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride Toronto 2021 will be a virtual celebration, and Sherri anticipates that the Scotiabank Pride ERG will take part in the Virtual Parade as they did last year. The rest of the day will be enjoyed at home with family, she says.  

“You have a seat at the table for a reason. So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you.” 

Though Pride is a meaningful and celebratory time for the LGBTQ2S+ community, Sherri points out that it’s also important for organizations to take the lead year-round in creating an environment that is safe, inclusive, and where people feel they belong. She says one of the best ways for people to be allies in the workplace is for those with privilege to use their platforms to support their colleagues in the queer and trans community.

“Use your platforms to stand up for them, stand beside them, or stand behind them, to support them in some way,” she says.  

As for LGBTQ2S+ people looking to advance in their careers, Sherri has this advice: own your seat in the room.

“You have a seat at the table for a reason,” she says. “So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you. 

Sherri says the idea of “owning your voice” is something that she’s learned and developed, especially over the last four months in the THRIVE program. 

“I’ve always been a shy, slightly reserved person, and I’ve been encouraged by my mentor, Val, and my senior leadership to speak up,” she says. “Now, I’m able to lead meetings on my own, and that’s because I’m owning my voice and really speaking up on behalf of what I believe in.”

Sherri says she hopes to take on even more active leadership roles in future, so she can pass along her confidence and her knowledge to the next generation.

“That’s what I have in the back of my mind,” she says. “How am I going to influence who comes next?”

Roxane Ducasse went from working in government to Walmart’s leadership program.

Roxane Ducasse

By Hailey Eisen 

Having a behind-the-scenes view of the frenzied buying patterns of Canadians during the early days of the COVID pandemic would have been interesting for anyone — but especially so for someone with a statistics background, and who likens supply-chain logistics to a puzzle ready to be solved. 

For Roxane Ducasse, whose career with Walmart Canada has spanned nearly five years, the pandemic provided indelible lessons in resilience and the ability to pivot on a dime. 

And, while she says she’s had great opportunities to learn over the past year, Roxane actually began to hone these skills earlier in her career — when she pivoted from a five-year job with the federal government, to a full-time MBA, to Walmart’s D.A.R.E. leadership development program.

“I completed my undergraduate degree in statistics in Ottawa and, like many in that city, I got a part-time job with the government,” she recalls. “Once I graduated, I was offered a permanent role with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in operations performance management.”

Part of Roxane’s role was the development of an operational forecasting model aimed at reducing processing times for citizenship applications — work she felt was rewarding. Still, a few years in, she began to think about her career goals and long-term plans. “Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever,” she recalls. “As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.” 

It was around this time that she began to research MBA programs, thinking the degree might be a good way out of government and into the private sector. She attended a few information sessions and was quickly sold on Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “I go for that gut feeling when making decisions, and I didn’t get that feeling from any other school,” Roxane recalls. 

“Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever. As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave a permanent position and a pension. Roxane says many colleagues tried to convince her to take a leave of absence rather than quit her job to go back to school. But she knew leaving her job would propel her forward to finding her next career move. She resigned from the government and began the MBA in January 2015. “I didn’t want to have one foot out the door; I decided to pivot, and knew I would land somewhere else in the end.” 

During the year of her MBA, Roxane felt that she was at her physical and mental peak. One reason for that is she joined Smith’s Fit To Lead™ program — which emphasizes goal setting, fitness, healthy eating and balance. She came to realize just how many usable hours there were in a day. “From 7 a.m. boot-camp, to a day full of classes and team meetings, followed by running club, and social outings at 10 p.m., the program really pushed me and I experienced a tremendous amount of growth that year.” 

It was through an on-campus recruiting event that she discovered Walmart’s D.A.R.E. program. “What appealed to me about the program was that you learned from the experts on the ground floor — spending two years in the stores before going to work in the head office,” Roxane explains. 

When choosing between the Walmart program and a senior consulting role she was offered, Roxane says it came down to Walmart offering her the biggest personal growth opportunity — a people leadership role which both scared and excited her — and the fact that working in retail was nothing like any job she’d held to date. 

In her first year with Walmart, Roxane joined a store in Oshawa and learned everything from cashing out customers, to slicing deli meats, to unloading a truck. In her second year she co-managed a store in Whitby, her hometown. “I led an incredible team of 200 associates alongside my seasoned store manager and oversaw the operations of a $75M Supercentre — it was truly a life changing experience.”

Not only did she learn a lot about herself as a leader, but she also gained a tremendous amount of respect for associates at the store level in the retail industry. “Working alongside people who had been with Walmart for years, gaining their respect, and working as a manager for them to make sure they had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively, that was a really important part of the job,” Roxane recalls.  

“Your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had.”

After two years in stores, Roxane moved to Walmart’s head office in Mississauga, Ont., where she did a few more rotations as part of the D.A.R.E. program. “I worked in pricing analytics, logistics, and supply chain. During that time, I took on a project analyzing Amazon’s pricing strategy and how Walmart’s online prices compared,” she explains. 

Roxane decided to pursue a permanent position in supply chain management, a role she’s held since July 2019. This landed her right in the middle of product shortages, out-of-stock suppliers, and empty shelves when COVID hit in early 2020. “There was a lot of pressure on the supply chain both in terms of keeping up with customer demand and readjusting to increase supply.”

Roxane says the pandemic taught her that you can never really take for granted what’s going to happen next. “We’ve all learned to think outside the box, push the envelope, and work in ways we once thought unimaginable,” she says.  

As a mentor to other young women within Walmart and as a member of the Smith School of Business alumni network, Roxane has lots of advice to share. “When you’re young, starting out in your career, you may be brought into a meeting and feel hesitant to speak up. What I was told 10 years ago, and what I tell other young women in the workplace is, ‘You were invited for a reason.’ Establish your credentials and your background, tell them why you’re an expert in the topic at hand, and then speak up,” she says. “Also remember, your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had. Always strive to have a positive impact wherever you go.” 

How this Scotiabank executive is responding to the pandemic’s impact on the gender gap.

Nicole German Scotiabank

by Shelley White

 

Like most working parents across the country, Nicole German has encountered ups and downs adjusting to the new normal of life during a pandemic. As a busy mom, she says balancing work and family can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has taken it to another level. 

“I would say it’s really an ebb and flow,” says Nicole, VP & Head Global, Enterprise Digital Marketing & Growth at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “On one hand, during the lockdown, I’m not driving to sports or having to race home after work. On the other hand, there are moments where I’m consumed with work and trying to juggle online learning and the emotional needs of my children. I also have older parents, and I want to make sure that they have access to all the resources they need and are in good health and spirits.”

To keep things on an even keel, Nicole says she consciously focuses on mental and physical well-being for herself and her family. “We’re trying to get outside as much as possible, and also making sure that we’re reaching out and making those connections with family and friends via video conferencing.”

While it’s likely that anyone can relate to feeling challenged during a global pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that women have been particularly impacted during this unprecedented time. 

“We are seeing a disproportionate amount of extra load falling to women,” says Nicole. “If you have young people at home and older people you are looking after, it’s that idea of the ‘sandwich generation,’ and that’s especially compounded when women are working too.” 

Nicole says she’s been “astounded” to see how women have lost ground from an employment perspective during the pandemic. She points to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center that found while women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce a year ago, they accounted for 100 per cent of job losses in the country in December 2020. 

In Canada, the data has followed similar patterns. Global non-profit organization Catalyst pointed out that although unemployment for parents was near-normal by September 2020, 70 per cent more mothers — compared with 24 per cent of fathers — were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020.

“It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure. But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform.” 

Nicole considers the lasting impact to women COVID-19 may cause. “It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform to support women to ensure we remove these inequities and challenges for women.” 

One of the ways Scotiabank is supporting business women through the pandemic is through the Digital Hub created as part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Launched two years ago, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a comprehensive program helping women across Canada take their businesses to the next level through unbiased access to capital, financial services, education, advice, and mentorship.

The Digital Hub is an online platform and resource centre to help women-led businesses transform and thrive during these challenging times. Resources include everything from articles, stories, templates and training on topics like how to build a website and transact through e-commerce to how to use digital channels to promote and market your business. The Hub was developed in collaboration with some of the heaviest hitters in the tech world, including LinkedIn, Shopify, Facebook, and Google. 

Nicole says the idea for the Digital Hub was sparked pre-pandemic. Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, and executive sponsor and founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, engaged Nicole to create a digital toolkit that would help women entrepreneurs prosper during the challenging times of the pandemic. As a member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative Advisory Board, Nicole embraced the task at hand. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we thought about how we could take that online at scale for women-led businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic” she says. “How can we help women business leaders pivot to use digital as a channel to promote or fulfill their products and services? And so the idea was born.”

While going digital has, for some businesses, been the only alternative during an era of pandemic lockdowns, Nicole says this kind of digital transformation could really benefit many businesses long after the pandemic is over. “The thing about digital is that once you’re set up, it can be very efficient. It can lower your cost to sell or promote your product.”

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection.”

With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, Nicole says this year’s theme — Choose to Challenge — resonates with her. 

“To me, it’s about voicing when you see something is off or not right,” she says. “I think it’s about making the choice to step forward for something that you believe in more proactively with a louder voice.” 

While Nicole says that in her career, she has been fortunate to have been supported along her path, she knows that is not always the experience of women building their careers. For example, an August 2020 analysis by Catalyst showed that men hold over 90 per cent of C-level executive roles in Canada. There is clearly more work to be done, Nicole says. 

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection. Look at your data on women in the workforce. You might think that you’re doing OK, but you don’t really know until you look at the data,” she says.

“The second part is about transparency. No matter where you sit in terms of the data, share that internally among your organization and then offer transparency to the public to say, ‘This is how we’re doing.’ The next step is agreeing to move the needle. And what are the steps that you need to take to do that?” 

Nicole says she hopes that in future, “we won’t need benchmarks and targets.” But in order to get there, our perceptions about what “work” is may need to change. 

“We’re seeing through the pandemic that in some cases women are having to leave the workforce because they’re having to care for kids in the home, or they have lesser pay than their spouse. But maybe once we’re in the ‘next normal,’ it will be different, maybe it won’t be a ‘nine to five anymore. Maybe there needs to be more flexibility, or better access to affordable childcare.”

Nicole says she’s curious to see how things will change with her sons’ generation. 

“I’m raising two incredible young men and I know they are advocates for gender equality because they are my biggest supporters, whether it’s at home or at work. I’m curious to see how it plays out for my guys, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a challenge to juggle.”

 

How this Spin Master executive embraces a digital-first marketing strategy.

Laura Henderson

When Laura Henderson was a kid, she had big expectations about what she wanted to do with her life. “I was the ultimate performer,” she says. “I was going to be a pop star.” Though she didn’t make it to centre stage, she did end up in a fairly incredible role — one her three-year-old self would no doubt be proud of. 

“I joke that I’m about to be the coolest person in my kid’s world,” Laura says of her position as EVP, Marketing at Spin Master. If you’re not familiar with the company, you may recognize the many brands it owns and represents: Paw Patrol, Hatchimals, Kinetic Sand, Gund, and many others. Since its inception in 1994, the award-winning Canadian company has come to dominate the world of children’s entertainment. 

Today, it’s Laura’s job to keep Spin Master’s brands top-of-mind with pint-sized and parental consumers, something that’s been a new  challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID came at a time when the marketing world was going through a digital transformation,” she says, noting kids were already starting to spend more time on screens instead of in toy aisles. “It means we’ve had to pivot and get more creative about where and when we show up.” As opposed to creating one ad that would air on live TV, for example, she says marketing has become about combining the message and medium in creative new ways, delivering hundreds of contextually-relevant ads across many new screens: tablets, smartphones, and streaming services. “You can deliver experiences that are more relevant. Digital is real-time, it’s global, personalized, responsive, and it has a lower cost of delivery, so you can test and learn faster.” 

“My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Digital-first may be a unique way to approach marketing, especially for those at larger organizations that still prioritize traditional campaigns, but it’s one Laura came to passionately embrace in her previous roles at Mondelēz and BuzzFeed. At the former, she helped transform the way the candy and consumer packaged goods company created content and promoted their products through platforms like Facebook and Google. At the latter, she helped popularize brands like Tasty and Worth It. 

“This role is really a combination of my past two lives,” she says. “Spin Master has the creativity and entrepreneurship of a BuzzFeed, but the scale of a Mondelēz. We have the heart of a startup, and the brain of a big company. My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Her advice to marketers who are looking to cut through the clutter and tap into their digital audiences is to first define how marketing is tied to their business. “Is it share, sales, growth? What’s your metric for success?” From there, figure out who your core consumer is and meet them where they are. You can then align your goals to overcome challenges as they come up, much like Spin Master has done during COVID.

Laura also says it’s important for leaders to be empathetic to their teams’ needs and to realize pivoting to new approaches and tactics may not be as straightforward for some employees as others –– especially given the new challenges we all face while working from home. 

“I think it’s important as a leader to be vulnerable. I have a two-year-old at home, and I make a real effort to share that experience and to speak honestly about the challenges I face both with members of my team and senior executives. It’s important for me to set a tone that no one is going to be perfectly OK all of the time; and that’s not just for the people who have kids. Everyone is dealing with the impacts of COVID in different ways depending on their circumstances. We’re focused on getting through this together by supporting one another.”

“I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

It’s also key for leaders to emphasize their own learning no matter how senior they get, and to be honest about what they don’t know. There is value in learning with your team. 

“Early in my career, I always wanted to present the perfect buttoned-up picture. Midway through, I realized that instead of pretending I had all of the answers, it was more productive to ask the right questions and come from a place of curiosity to help solve the problem. Today, I set up a team by saying, ‘you are the experts, and I am here to learn from you and make you as successful as possible.’ Throughout my career, even as I took lateral roles or positions in new industries where I had little knowledge, I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

Lastly, like your favourite PAW Patrol characters Chase or Skye, figure out what your strengths are and lean into them. “Focus less on those things you need to improve upon and more on finding opportunities to apply what you’re good at. This will help you multiply your impact, and more fluidly move into unexpected roles versus following a rigid career path. It’s great for you and great for your company.”

Her HR career taught her employee feedback was underutilized — her startup is solving the problem.

Yvonne Lau Retainify

By Hailey Eisen 

 

Having spent 15 years in corporate Human Resources, Yvonne Lau had a strong understanding of the employee experience. She knew that employee feedback held great value for organizations but that, by and large, it was widely underutilized. 

“The fact was, I had sat in a lot of leadership meetings and performance reviews, and I recognized a gap between the feedback employees provided to their managers, and how managers conveyed that feedback to leadership,” Yvonne explains. “Most feedback is either misrepresented or not conveyed at all, primarily because there’s a fear of sharing negative feedback and employees are often worried about the repercussions of telling the truth.”   

While she was interested in solving for this gap, Yvonne felt there wasn’t much she could do in her current director role. “I felt stuck in the role I was in, and limited by the potential for growth within my career,” she says. With an impressive resume under her belt — having held HR roles with Starbucks, Barrick Gold, and the medical technology company, PointClickCare — Yvonne realized the next move she’d make would be into a role she couldn’t be hired for. 

With the intention of starting her own business, Yvonne enrolled in a global executive MBA program through the IE Business school in Madrid, Spain. “Knowing this would be my last degree, and needing the flexibility to fly back and forth to Vancouver, where my mom was undergoing cancer treatments, I chose this international program,” Yvonne explains. Over the next year, she studied in Madrid, Singapore, LA, and Brazil, supported her mom through treatment, and began the ideation, prototyping, and customer validation process for her own business venture. 

This was when her start-up, Retainify, was born — developed to gather honest, timely employee feedback and turn that feedback into data, which companies would use to uncover issues, identify relationships that are at risk, and maintain a happy, satisfied workforce. 

“Looking back, I honestly think every woman should try entrepreneurship at least once in their lifetime. For women and people of colour especially, we often find ourselves asking permission or waiting for opportunities to come up — but when you go out on your own you give those opportunities to yourself. Now I’m doing rather than waiting,” says Yvonne. “I feel like I’m doing something to break through that concrete ceiling,” she adds, referring to the more challenging barriers women of colour face compared to white women, whose ‘glass ceiling’ at least affords them the ability to see the opportunity of leadership roles. 

“We started with nothing but an idea, and we pitched that to customers who took a chance on us and signed early letters of intent.” 

Earlier in her career, Yvonne may not have been so quick to take her own advice. “I had said I’d never be an entrepreneur and risk everything, after watching my family almost go bankrupt a few times,” she recalls. Yvonne’s father had come to Canada from Hong Kong with a grade three education and very little English. He left his own business behind to make a better life for his family, who were relying on him to bring them to Canada once he’d established himself. After feeling dissatisfied with the work he found in Canada, he started his own auto body shop.

It was Yvonne’s dad who encouraged her entrepreneurial endeavors. “When I got bored in my career in my late 30s, it was my dad and uncle who told me I had nothing to lose, that I was young, and even if I didn’t make it on my own the experience would help me a lot,” she recalls.  

Three years later, Yvonne has never been happier — but she’s worked hard to get there. “The year we started out, we were focused solely on building the software that would make Retainify possible,” she explains. “We started with nothing but an idea, and we pitched that to customers who took a chance on us and signed early letters of intent.” 

Yvonne credits her success with these early adopters who supported her through the trial and error process. “These weren’t free users, they were paying us, and supporting us along the way as we made mistakes and worked through them,” she says.  

As Yvonne began to experience success, so did her customers. “Our dashboards help leaders pay attention to their employee and customer engagement data with the same urgency they do with financial data,” she says. With staffing as the biggest cost on most companies balance sheets, access to this underutilized data can be directly linked with revenue growth. 

Just before COVID-19 hit, Retainify expanded into the senior care and home healthcare space, harnessing feedback to track resident and patient satisfaction. “While long term care is government funded, there’s not enough auditing or feedback process in place,” she explains. “If they had regular pulse checks and were using that data consistently, we would have been in a stronger position to fight against COVID.” This aspect of her business continues to evolve and it’s an area she’s especially passionate about. 

Also with COVID came the need for increased employee engagement, providing Retainify with a unique value proposition. “With our software, employers can better understand the needs of their employees as they work remotely — conducting regular pulse checks and building programs and solutions that keep them engaged. If your employees aren’t feeling great, you can’t expect them to perform,” she says.  

With a small team and the ability to pivot, Retainify continues to weather the pandemic under Yvonne’s leadership. She in turn has turned to other entrepreneurs for support and guidance. She joined the Tech Undivided program through ventureLAB which she says helped her build a supportive group of women founders she can relate to. “Being part of ventureLAB has always made me feel like I have someone to fall back on, like they want me to be successful,” she says.  

It is support such as this, which Yvonne says is key to success. Whether that’s through mentors, other founders, or customers, this unwavering support allows you to make mistakes, learn, and grow. “My customers continue to fuel me to be better, get better, and do better with our software and business ideas.” 

Looking forward, Yvonne has a clear view of her mission. “I want people to really know what it means to harness the power of data, leverage feedback, and continue to improve,” she says. “We all need feedback to improve — and I want to normalize that process.” 

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

How Lulu Liang became CEO of Luxy Hair at 25 — and then started a side hustle.

Lulu Liang

By Hailey Eisen

 

At 25, Lulu Liang was named CEO of Luxy Hair, a global beauty brand with more than 300,000 customers in 165 countries. She had joined the company just three years earlier as an operations assistant. 

While such a quick leap up the corporate ladder may seem unusual, Lulu insists she joined the premium hair extensions e-commerce company with the intention of rising to the top. Now, just two years into her tenure as chief executive, Lulu has added a side hustle, with the launch of Evergreen Journals, an entrepreneurial collaboration with a friend and former colleague. 

She credits her drive and success to the way she was raised — though the entrepreneurial nature of her career was certainly not what her parents expected. 

“They had really high standards for me growing up,” Lulu says. “I lived in Beijing until I was seven, and in those days, my parents would quiz me on my multiplication tables every night over dinner.” 

When her family moved to Toronto, Lulu didn’t speak any English, but her math skills were beyond what was taught in the grade three class she joined. “They were multiplying four times five using apples, but I had already learned my times tables up to 12 when I was five years old.”

Not speaking English, however, made things tough for Lulu. Plus, her parents were starting over in a new country and were working constantly. “They couldn’t afford after-school programs or care, so I stayed home alone a lot,” Lulu recalls. “Those experiences helped me to become really independent.”

As she grew up, Lulu found her footing, working extra hard in school. “I once got an 88 per cent on a math test, and my mom told me I was hopeless,” Lulu recalls, laughing. Thankfully, her mom was wrong. And, while Lulu thought about becoming an optometrist, she found herself stronger in math than sciences and enrolled in the Commerce program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. 

In her first year, Lulu went to a recruiting event for consulting firms and decided that she too wanted to be a consultant. “I was sold,” she recalls. “My goal was to launch my career in consulting for a few years, then do an MBA at an Ivy League school before working in leadership in the beauty or fashion industry.” 

Her love of fashion came from the movies. “As a kid growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I’d wear the same outfit five days in a row. But I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fell in love with that lifestyle,” she says.  

“Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life. The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”

At Queen’s, Lulu co-chaired the Queen’s Business Forum on the Fashion Industry (now the Queen’s Retail Forum), a student-run conference that explored the multifaceted world of fashion and retail from a business perspective. This hands-on experience, coupled with a summer internship at L’Oréal in Montreal, solidified her love of the industry. 

When Lulu secured a consulting job with Accenture at the beginning of her fourth year, it took the pressure off finding a job upon graduation. With that peace of mind, she decided to take on a more extensive course load. A year later, Lulu graduated with two bachelor’s degrees — the commerce degree and another full degree in math. “Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life,” she says. “The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.” 

After a summer of travelling in Asia and Europe, Lulu started at Accenture, expecting to thrive in her role. “I had always done well in school and I wasn’t used to failure,” she recalls. “I guess I had a big ego back then, but consulting certainly humbled me. And to be honest, I hated it.”

In the midst of what she referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” Lulu realized that she’d been working so hard toward this one particular goal that she hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen if it didn’t work out.   

It was around this time, while watching “morning routine” videos on YouTube, that she discovered Luxy Hair. “I had been following Luxy’s co-founder, Mimi Ikonn, on her YouTube channel,” Lulu recalls. She watched all of Ikonn’s videos in two weeks, then reached out to learn more about the companies that Ikonn and her husband, Alex, had founded. 

“They were hiring for a social media position with their other company, Intelligent Change,” Lulu recalls. “But, as I got to know them, they decided they wanted to bring me on to Luxy Hair and train me for a GM role they needed to fill.” 

Leaving consulting for the new venture world was risky — but Lulu was ready for the change. Luxy had grown from a startup created to fill a gap in the market for quality hair extensions to a scale-up with a million dollars in sales in its first year. In 2017, Time.com named Luxy’s YouTube channel as one of the 15 best to watch. Today, with over three million subscribers, the company’s videos have accumulated nearly half a billion views. The Luxy Hair channel has become a go-to source for tutorials, hairstyles, hair hacks, extension tips and more. 

“When I started with Luxy, we were a small group working from a co-work space,” Lulu recalls. “Now we have a beautiful office and an amazing team and we’re world class in what we do in terms of people and culture.” The company was named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work in Canada, something Lulu is especially proud of. 

“While there may be a stigma attached to hair extensions, and it’s still a niche industry, I know that lipstick was once taboo, too,” Lulu says. “Our goal is to empower women to lift each other up and make it okay for any girl or woman to change up their hair, make it longer, fix a bad haircut, create a natural balayage look without dye, or do something special for an event.” 

In 2018, Luxy Hair was acquired by the American beauty conglomerate Beauty Industry Group, and Lulu, then the GM, led the company through the entire sale process. One stipulation of the sale was that she’d stay on as CEO, while the Ikonns left to start another business. “Overall, we run the business autonomously, but the owners are really supportive and helpful when we need it,” she explains. 

“I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day — the moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life, in fact your life is everything that happens in between.”

While 2018 was certainly a milestone year for Lulu (selling the business, becoming CEO, getting engaged and travelling a great deal), she says it was actually one of the most anxious years of her life. “I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day. The moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life. In fact, your life is everything that happens in between.” 

Lulu began to think critically about her own habits, and what she did have control over in her life. Then she and her best friend created a tool they could use to build better habits. With the entrepreneurial drive lit within her, Lulu decided to take this tool and create a product she could share with others. 

Together Lulu and her friend launched Evergreen Journals and their first product, The Habit Journal, in May 2020. “Our journal is available online and will be in the Goop holiday gift guide,” Lulu says. “It feels really good to have created something of my own, and we have more products and ideas in the pipeline as well.” 

Looking back on her career to date, Lulu is proud of her successes and excited for what the future holds. “I’m so grateful I hated consulting, because I don’t think that if I’d been successful I would have had the courage to take the leap,” she says. “My greatest lesson in all of that was, sometimes you have to let go in life. It’s important to have goals and work toward your dreams, but you also have to let go of expectations and focus on what you can control. And don’t take anything for granted.”

How Luan Tolosa went from commercial real estate professional to fashion entrepreneur.

By Hailey Eisen 

 

Luan Tolosa’s entrepreneurial journey was set in motion during the first few weeks of her MBA at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. Standing in the halls before their next class, Luan and her female classmates, all of whom were preparing for the next phase of their careers as the next generation of business leaders, lamented that corporate clothing had not changed much since their undergraduate degrees. What would begin as a school project would go on to reignite an old passion and prove to meet a real need in women’s fashion.

“I had always assumed that as we progressed in our careers, we would have more corporate clothing options,” says Luan Tolosa, CEO and Founder of SEWT — Suits Especially for Women Tailored — a women-led business based out of Vancouver and Toronto. “But as I started to have more conversations with women that I admired, I realized that we were still all struggling with the same lack of choices and lack of well-fitting, accessible, tailored clothing.” 

Having started her career in commercial real estate straight out of undergrad, Luan hadn’t had much time to explore entrepreneurial ventures, but always had an entrepreneurial desire. Born and raised in Winnipeg to first generation immigrants, Luan often had thoughts about creating her own clothing, having grown up around sewing machines and even having visited a garment factory during Take Our Kids to Work Day. 

When she enrolled in the Accelerated MBA program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in 2018, she had the opportunity to put her ideas on paper and have her peers vet her business idea.  While Luan had gone into the program with the intent of continuing her career in the corporate world, she fell in love with entrepreneurship and finally got the courage to pursue something of her very own – a tailored suiting business especially for women. 

“It was in January 2018 that the idea popped into my head, it was May when we started the Entrepreneurship and Innovation class, and by October I had a full business plan with the vetting and input of my classmates. The hardest part is always getting started and my MBA put my idea on a rocket ship,” she recalls.  

By the time Luan finished her MBA classes in December 2018, she had a business plan, funding, and the support to launch. 

“I gave myself a goal to launch the business before convocation, which was in May 2019,” she says. “I knew if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it.” 

Over the course of five months between finishing classes and convocation, she followed almost exactly the business plan she’d created in school. Ten days before graduation, Luan launched SEWT. She went to Kingston to walk across the stage as an MBA grad and a business founder.  

“Everything from my MBA was strategic, and the last piece to launch was the practical, nitty-gritty stuff that I had to figure out,” she says, recalling that first part of the journey. “There were the many moving pieces all the way from legal, bookkeeping, tax structure and shares to how to setup an e-commerce store. It was literally a five-month crash course in taking theory and strategy and executing.” 

Establishing and maintaining corporate values was of the utmost importance to Luan, who also completed her Certificate in Social Impact while at Smith. “My mission is bigger than suiting; it’s about how I can help and what impact I can have when it comes to building women up to the next level of their careers.”  

She’s also woven sustainability into all of her practices, from the overall belief in “slow fashion” to sourcing materials, producing products on a made-to-order basis to avoid waste, and committing to donating or reusing all returns. 

Collaboration and support are a big part of Luan’s success. While she started SEWT on her own, she credits the people who have helped along the way. “There were classmates, professors, fashion industry heavy-weights, among others, that were so giving of their time and expertise in helping me. What I learned was that everyone wants to help if you are willing to share your idea and vision,” Luan says. 

With COVID hitting Canada in March, things have changed a bit for Luan, but she says the pandemic has given her the opportunity to look at her company in more creative ways.  

“We moved our head office to Toronto and I’m excited to have two new partners in Toronto, which will allow us to serve the market more broadly.” With a ready-to-wear line of suits launching soon, pop-up locations in cities across the country and a new e-commerce strategy that will open SEWT’s platform to support other women entrepreneurs, Luan hopes to scale her business while remaining true to her core values. 

Luan’s personal mission is to also inspire others to explore entrepreneurship. “I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial family – it was the get a good education and get a good job story – but I want others to have the courage to explore entrepreneurship and take risks. I think everyone should try becoming an entrepreneur at least once – it’s the most difficult, scary and rewarding thing I have ever done.”

To support other entrepreneurs, Luan also works as a consultant in the entrepreneurial ecosystem with Spring Activator, a global incubator, accelerator and advisory firm in B.C., sharing the knowledge she’s gained along the way. “I love helping others launch and scale their businesses, and it’s always a symbiotic relationship because I’m still growing and learning too.” 

Her advice for women looking to start their own business? Take the first step. “So many people have great ideas and ambitions but are scared to get started,” she says. “For me, if a goal or vision seems unattainable, I do the smallest most achievable things first. Small actions turn into big moves. And I’m always reminding myself that it’s a marathon not a race.” 

 

The TELUS VP of Consumer Health has had a busy pandemic — but it’s not the first time in her career she’s had to be resilient.

When Juggy Sihota enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Smith School of Business back in 2004, she had just been promoted to director. It was a significant challenge in her career, but certainly not the only one she’s had to overcome. The Vice President of Consumer Health at TELUS shares her story.

 

By Hailey Eisen


As a child, Juggy Sihota wanted to be “everything” when she grew up — from a doctor, to a foreign service officer, to a world leader, and a business person. She was raised to believe the sky’s the limit. But growing up in a suburb of Vancouver in the early 80’s, Juggy’s childhood wasn’t without challenges. 

“Being one of the only minorities in our community was not easy,” she says. Still, she credits childhood disappointments for much of the grit, resiliency, and personality she has now. 

For example, she remembers a childhood audition for a district production of the musical Annie. “What I wanted more than anything in the early years was to be an actress and a singer,” she recalls. “And my music teacher, Donna Otto, was one of the most incredible allies I’ve ever had.” While Juggy aced the audition for the lead role, it was instead given to another girl who ‘looked the part.’ 

“I’ll never forget how furious my teacher was when she said to me, ‘The only reason you didn’t get that part is because you’re brown,’” Juggy recalls. “I was just happy to have been in the final two, but my music teacher was helping me see something more important.”

That wasn’t the last time Juggy experienced racism. But it certainly strengthened her resolve. “With everything going on in the world today, I look back on that moment and the impact it had on my life.” While she talked herself out of a career in acting, she went on to study political science with the goal of making the world a better place.  

She got her first job with TELUS (BC Telecom at the time) as a way to pay off her university tuition. It marked the beginning of what would be a decades-long career with the Canadian telco, during which she’s led several emerging technology businesses and operations spanning service development, operations, strategy and marketing. In late 2016, she took on her current role of vice-president, consumer health. 

“My love of technology comes from my father who, as an immigrant working in a lumber mill, never got to realize his dreams in terms of his career, but whose hobbies always revolved around tech,” Juggy says. Today, she looks back on her career with a fond view but knows there is much more to do yet. 

That’s not to say she hasn’t experienced her own professional challenges. The first big one came when she decided to go back to school. “I’d always wanted to do my MBA, and while I didn’t want to stop working and move to Kingston, Queen’s was my number one choice.”

Juggy chose a pivotal time in her career to begin the Executive MBA program, having just taken on a new role as director, technology and operations, managing a team of 200 field managers, leaders and technicians and launching the new TV service for TELUS. “There were many who told me not to do an MBA with a new role starting and a lot on my plate professionally, but I remember thinking, if you believe in me, let me make this decision for myself. ”  

With her family’s support, Juggy set out to tackle the new position and the MBA simultaneously. “The last five months of the MBA were the hardest in my career,” Juggy recalls. At the time, TELUS experienced the largest labour disruption in its history. “It was culturally challenging and hugely emotional and I was writing exams, flying back and forth to Kingston, working 14- to-16-hour days and trying to support hundreds of team members who were out of work and on the picket lines.” 

While Juggy says she felt like she’d reached her “breaking point” many times during those five months, she discovered new reservoirs of grit she had, and the experience taught her a lot about perseverance.

 

There have been times, on occasion, where my age, gender or my ethnicity have been called out in some way. Those moments can teach you what you may be up against, and so I’ve taken the responsibility of being a strong role model for other young women, minorities even more seriously.

 

Upon completing her MBA, she stayed in that director role for a few years, and despite the challenges it presented, she says it has been her favourite job at Telus to date, primarily because it taught her so much about people. The teams she led taught her a lot and helped shape her leadership view well into the future. 

“One of the most important things I learned during the MBA was in Dr. Julian Barling’s leadership class, where we talked about employee engagement and studied Gallup’s elements of a great workplace,” Juggy recalls. “This is something I’ve applied to every leadership role I’ve had since.”

Juggy has also had to tap into the lessons she learned as a child. As a young, female director, Juggy said she was prepared for challenges she’d face but still had much to encounter. 

“There have been times, on occasion, where my age, gender or my ethnicity have been called out in some way.”  Juggy says that while she only saw herself as a leader, some of those experiences helped her see how others may see her, rightly or wrongly. “Those moments can teach you what you may be up against,” she says, “and so I’ve taken the responsibility of being a strong role model for other young women, minorities even more seriously.”

Juggy’s move into healthcare was inspired by a personal experience and motivated by her original career objective to make the world a better place. “My mom, who had otherwise always been healthy, had a heart attack and required surgery. She’s fine now but it was quite an ordeal to get timely access to care,” Juggy recalls. “After that whole experience, I decided I wanted to spend my time doing something more meaningful — something that would help others facing similar challenges my mom had gone through in the health-care system.” 

Wanting to make access to health care better for Canadians, Juggy says she had a number of choices. “I could go back to school to become a doctor, find a job that would influence healthcare policy, or look to TELUS Health, a new division of the organization at the time.” 

In 2013, Juggy joined the TELUS Health team as vice president, shortly after expressing her interest to people within the organization. “I’ll give this advice to anyone who asks,” she says. “You’ve got to tell people what you want to do and why you want to do it — because that puts people in a position to be able to help and I think people generally want to help if they can.”  

In 2016, she became the vice president of consumer health. The digital health practice became even more interesting when the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year. “The demand for digital health, particularly virtual care, has skyrocketed in 2020, and it stunned us in March when we didn’t have enough supply to support the demand,” she says. Very quickly her team expanded across Canada and took digital healthcare to a whole new level. They worked tirelessly to onboard more doctors and clinical staff to meet the demand spike. “There were several weeks this year when the pandemic hit that my team and I were working 24/7 non stop,” she recalls. 

This all proved to be just another challenge and another learning opportunity for Juggy, whose commitment to civic good extends well beyond her career. Despite the busy work schedule, she still finds time to volunteer as Vice Chair of Vancouver General Hospital and is a member of a number of boards including the Vancouver International Airport, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation. She also advises the City of Vancouver on race and social justice issues. She’s also a mentor and role model, committed to showing other young women in particular what’s possible. 

“I am a glutton for having a lot on my plate,” she says with a laugh, “but I feel I am spending my time on what is most meaningful to me so it doesn’t feel like too much. It’s purposeful for me.”

Seven years into her career in health and months into the pandemic, Juggy feels as though she’s living what she set out to do as a child — but she’s nowhere near done. 

“My advice for young leaders, especially women and people of colour, is that the time is now,” Juggy says. “Be ambitious, bring the power of both your intellect and compassion to bear — this is an important time for diverse leaders to emerge and to step into meaningful leadership roles in communities, in government and certainly in business. The time is now.” 

How Barbara Marinoni ignited change — both professionally and personally.

After fighting sexism and the status quo in her early career, Barbara Marinoni decided enough is enough, changed jobs, and started on a personal journey to focus on her health. Now she’s an Ironman triathlete and the National Director of Supply Chain at Ricoh Canada — where she’s encouraged to change business for the better. 

 

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Barbara Marinoni has never let convention dictate how she lives her life. The drive to do things differently started when she was young, thanks in part to her atypical upbringing. When she was five, her father and mother divorced and her father was the one who opted to raise her and her sister alone. 

“Can you imagine an Italian man choosing to raise two young girls in the ‘70s by himself?” she asks. “It was unheard of, and definitely against social and gender norms.”

But with those unique circumstances came valuable lessons about breaking down barriers, ignoring preconceived gender notions, and working hard to get what you want. 

“My father always told us you get out of life what you put into it,” she says. “He instilled a strong work ethic in us. We knew we had to push ourselves, especially when faced with problems.”

For Barbara, that meant challenging herself to take on roles in industries that were, in many ways, difficult for women. She started her career as a Quality Manager for a 3rd Party Service Provider to a leading automotive manufacturer in the ‘90s, and eventually worked her way up to the highly regarded position of Operations Manager. Barbara’s rise was almost unheard of given the gender inequality that often existed in the automotive industry at the time. 

“I fought gender battles every day,” she says. “I had to fight my way through to keep growing my career.” Many times that included working 15 to 16 hour days. It also meant trying to shut out nasty comments that jealous colleagues hurled her way. When asked, Barbara admits she never sought to change the culture she worked in (“it would have been impossible given how ingrained certain things were”), but she did seek to evolve how she led her teams.

“Even ten years ago, managing was more about just getting the work done and there was really no regard for people,” she says. “It didn’t matter what it took to get the work done, you just needed to get it done. In my automotive days, it was accepted to call people names if they did something wrong. It was a hard, difficult environment to work in, but I knew I could learn and grow from my experiences.”

That’s not to say that Barbara handled the stress of being the lone woman in a “boy’s club” well; it was the opposite. As her career took off, so too did the abuse she suffered at work, and to cope she turned to food. At one point she weighed 300 pounds, all because she had started to internalize the discrimination she faced. 

It was after one particularly awful incident that Barbara decided enough was enough — everything needed to change. 

“One day a young woman I worked with said she had heard there was a drawing of me in the men’s washroom. I checked the bathroom once it was empty, and on one stall’s wall there was a picture of me in the driver’s seat of my BMW — I knew it was me because I was the only one in the facility driving one. Whoever drew the image, did so in a way that accentuated my weight… they made it seem like the car was collapsing under me. Shortly thereafter I left and made a promise to myself to change a few things.” 

She started with her career. After leaving automotive, Barbara spent a few years working for a logistics company as a senior manager, and in 2012, landed at Ricoh — a “dream company.” Today, as National Director, Supply Chain, she says Ricoh has given her opportunities many other companies would not: the ability to grow teams, to learn from each other, and to change how business is done. 

 

“My advice for people who want to change their circumstances or to those who are facing challenges like I have is to never let your gender, or anything, get in your way. Allow yourself to be in difficult situations. Don’t be afraid to fail. Speak up.”

 

“We at Ricoh put more into the people than the process, because if you put more into the people the processes will follow,” Barbara says. “I have an amazing team and mentors within Ricoh; if I’m not sure about something, I have the support system to go to my executive team or my manager and run the ideas or thoughts by them to get some feedback to make sure I’m on the right track.” Because of this environment, she says she’s constantly learning, especially about how to grow as a leader, and as someone who empowers others. 

Barbara also began to focus on self-care. She started by changing how and what she ate, and by walking more. She also began to talk to someone about the mental abuse she suffered in her past roles. The weight slowly started to fall off, and she set new exercise goals for herself. Barbara went from walking to jogging then eventually training for half-marathons then full marathons (of which she’s now run eight). In 2016, she decided she wanted to challenge herself further by trying triathlons. “I knew I could run and ride a bike, and I was an OK swimmer, so I thought why not? Go big or go home,” she says. “It’s all or nothing for me.”

To date, Barbara has participated and completed three Ironman triathlons (an athletic feat that includes a 3.9 km swim, 180 km bike, plus a full marathon) and she’s scheduled for her fourth in August. She also has two half-Ironman triathlons on the books, with a third coming in July.

“My advice for people who want to change their circumstances or to those who are facing challenges like I have is to never let your gender, or anything, get in your way. Allow yourself to be in difficult situations. Don’t be afraid to fail. Speak up.” 

She adds that it’s key to define what success looks like for you, because it’s different for everyone — and that with effort, you can achieve whatever changes you need to reach that success. 

“At Ricoh, one of our values is GEMBA — a Japanese word with the literal meaning of ‘the actual place; the place where things happen; the place where work gets done and where value is created,’” explains Barbara. ”But for our company, and certainly for me, it really translates into having this outlook that we all have the ability to drive positive change, whether in ourselves or in society at large, and that we should all take action, and never give up.” 

GEMBA also encourages everyone to be aware in order to learn and grow, Barbara says, which resonates with her own personal and professional journey. 

“It’s funny because I think back to my childhood where my father would always say ‘you get out of life what you put into it.’ Truly, anything is possible. Change is possible. You just have to embrace it and not let anything stand in your way.”

How Marjorie Dixon is redefining the journey of fertility

 

Marjorie Dixon knew from a young age that she wanted to get into reproductive medicine. It was her experience running a cycle monitoring centre — and going through three rounds of IVF herself — that led her to open her own holistic clinic, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health. A recent winner of the RBC Momentum Award, her business has been growing rapidly, and redefining caregiving in the fertility space.

 

By Karen van Kampen

 


 

In grade 10, sitting in the library of her Montreal high school, Dr. Marjorie Dixon stumbled upon an article that would change her life. It was a story celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization. A story of hope, possibility, and the future of reproductive medicine. “I thought, this is me. This is my life,” says Marjorie. “Still to this day, when I think about what I do, I’m astonished.”

Marjorie’s career is its own story of inspiration. She has made it her mission to offer equal access to fertility care, regardless of a person’s orientation, identity, geography or socioeconomic status. Her company, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health, uses the most advanced technology and a holistic approach to patient care. She has created a Canadian business with a global reach — with patients as far as Japan, Australia and Qatar — and an impressive track record of growth.

Her success has not gone unnoticed. As owner and founder, Marjorie was the winner of the 2018 RBC Momentum Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has delivered 10% or more year-over-year growth for at least three years while creating a flexible, responsive business that adapts to a changing market.

While Marjorie didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, she says she always wanted to be a reproductive specialist. As a little girl, Marjorie spent countless hours in her dad’s laboratory where he taught high school reproductive biology. “I’m an obsessive learner,” she says. “I love to learn.”

After graduating from McGill University’s School of Medicine, Marjorie did postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. She then pursued a subspecialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Vermont. During a gynecology internship at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Marjorie earned the nickname Gyne Spice for singing in the operating room.

As a fertility specialist at Sunnybrook (where she is still an active member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology), Marjorie is known for belting out the tunes including Queen, Air Supply and Stevie Nicks. Marjorie also takes song requests from patients and has their favourite music playing when they wake up from anesthesia. And she gives women “fertility lucky socks” so their feet don’t get cold in the stirrups. One sock reads “hope trust” while the other reads “baby dust.”

Her thoughtful, patient-centric approach can partially be attributed to being a patient herself. After undergoing IVF three times, Marjorie knows first-hand how stressful the fertility journey can be. Her experience running a cycle monitoring centre also highlighted how the medical system was disjointed, with patients having to travel to a variety of fertility sites for different services. “Continuity of care is a critical thing,” says Marjorie, “particularly when you’re dealing with women’s health.”

 

“When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”

 

It was the start of her entrepreneurial journey. Marjorie envisioned patient-focused fertility care under one roof, delivered by the same team of care providers to create a calm, comforting environment, “because the journey of fertility can be disarming on the best of days and disenfranchising overall,” she says.

Marjorie was also determined to be a culturally conscious and sensitive provider so that everyone could identify with their caregivers. “The fertility journey is the ultimate equalizer,” she says. “If you look in our waiting room, we have people from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and they sit together with one thing in common: they just want a legacy of their own. A family of their own.”

In 2016, she opened Anova. Launching with nine staff, Marjorie had to learn how to manage her own practice. She hired an operations manager, set up an electronic medical records system and continuously set new goals and created new strategies to keep moving forward. Most importantly, she kept her thoughtful approach; for example, Marjorie gives each of her “baby graduates” a onesie that reads, “I’m so cool I used to be frozen. Made with a lotta love and a little science.”

She also relied on a solid business plan. “You can’t pull it out of the sky and say, I think this should work,” she says. Anova Fertility now has more than 80 employees, offering a range of services that include cycle monitoring, IVF, and diagnosis of menstrual disorders. There is also the Anova Integrative Wellness group of naturopathic doctors, massage therapists and acupuncturists.

The road to success “hasn’t been this Pollyanna-esque perfect path,” says Marjorie. To succeed, you need grit and determination — which she certainly has. (When Marjorie was a kid, her dad used to say, “If you want to get Marjorie to do something, tell her she can’t.”) And you need to recognize the demands of an entrepreneurial life, she adds. “You can’t have it all, but you can definitely design life the way you see best for you,” says Marjorie. “You can have a family and work and follow your passion and do great things. You just have to make a path. Nothing happens by accident.”

It’s also important to ignore the “propaganda,” warns Marjorie. “Your competitors will propagandize and deprogram some of your novel thoughts, and discourage as opposed to mentor and build you,” she says. “When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”

For Marjorie, it’s incredible to think that before she opened the doors to Anova Fertility, “there were no babies growing on the sixth floor at Yonge and Shepherd,” she says. “Now every day in their sweet way, little cells are dividing into people. It’s fantastic. It really is.”

 

 

 

Why the CEO of YWCA Greater Metro Vancouver is Mobilizing for Gender Equality

As CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver, Deb Bryant is working to bring economic independence and wellness to vulnerable women. She’s also dreaming big about a better future through a global vision for change. That’s why Deb and the YWCA are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voices with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

Deb Bryant intended to have a career in fine arts. But in the early 1980s, after working for a few years, she realized the economic opportunities for women in the field were next to none.

“I discovered that there were very few female artists making a living at the time,” says Deb, “so I made the decision to move into the non-profit, education sector.”

The decision turned out to be a good one for Deb, who was named CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver last year — the culmination of two decades spent in rewarding leadership roles. For Deb, the ability to envision herself as a leader early on and work toward her goal came from the many strong female role models in the field, leading the way.

“I was very fortunate to have had access to a privileged upbringing, a good education and mentors who provided support,” she says. And, despite a few bouts of imposter syndrome, Deb has felt comfortable going after her professional aspirations. Today, at the helm of the YWCA, she’s helping to provide opportunities for other women, equaling the playing field wherever possible.

The organization’s focus is supporting single mothers and their children, providing housing (the YWCA operates 10 housing communities across Metro Vancouver), affordable, quality childcare, and wrap-around services to ensure these women can work and take care of their families. They also serve as vocal advocates around affordable housing and early learning and childcare — both required to achieve economic independence. The YWCA is also focused on stopping violence against women by raising awareness, educating youth, and fighting for reforms and supports to help women make successful transitions to personal and economic independence.

“We’re fortunate to have a huge network of women and people of influence that have come through the YWCA over decades, who understand our mission and are taking every opportunity to speak up for the policy changes and cultural shifts needed to bring about continued change,” Deb says.

With the YWCA’s 125th anniversary approaching in a few years, Deb says she has been looking back over how the circumstances have changed for women over the past several decades and the supporting role the organization has played. “To be part of that positive change,” she says, “that’s what gets me up with gusto every morning.”

Being in Vancouver and entrenched in the advocacy of women’s equality, it only makes sense that the YWCA was an early champion of hosting Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality, in Vancouver. The YWCA is also focused on having a strong local voice and movement alongside the Conference. To this end, they helped form Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada — the national movement to improve Canadian leadership on gender equality and drive progress globally and domestically in the lead up to the conference.

Through the Mobilization campaign, the YWCA is working with other Mobilizers to ensure the Conference results in real progress on gender equality. It is a unique opportunity for organizations traditionally active in this space, such as the YWCA, to connect with other sectors, including the financial, technological, educational and academic sectors, to bring about positive change together. It is also an important platform to strengthen the link between local and global issues.

“This opportunity to look at women’s issues from a global perspective will not only help our community, but also make the world a better place,” Deb explains, noting the YWCA’s network of 125 countries, servicing 25 million women and girls internationally. This global conference serves as a reminder of the importance of supporting women and girls as a way to support entire societies. “I hope this conference will leave behind the legacy of connecting the work we’re all doing locally with a global vision for change.”

Deb says the timing of this conference is significant. “So many issues around women’s equality and voice, as well as the day-to-day challenges women face, are on the public agenda right now, and I believe this conference will help to further amplify these issues and move us toward solutions focused conversations.”

Beyond having a delegation from YWCA Metro Vancouver at the Conference in June, Deb and her team have been involved in a series of events as part of Mobilization Canada, which are happening across the country to engage more Canadians in the gender equality conversation. They also have a Youth Advisory Council which will take part in these events with the aim to amplify the voices of young women and bring youth into public discourse and civic engagement.

Hosting Women Deliver in Vancouver, Deb says, is an incredible opportunity to welcome the largest international gathering of feminist thinkers here in Canada. “I know the insight, vision, and information they bring to the conference will ripple out through local networks and organizations — and allow us to put those to work here in Vancouver and beyond.”

As for the work she’s doing with the YWCA, Deb is looking toward the 125th anniversary with an eye to the future. “The question I’m asking myself as we move toward this milestone anniversary is: ‘if we were to be outrageously successful, what would the female experience look like 125 years from now?’”

 

To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.

Why the founder of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network is mobilizing for gender equality

Sophia Jacob, an award-winning event planner and founder of three networking organizations, is working to see more women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across Canada. That’s why Sophia and her organization, the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voices with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

Six years ago, Sophia Jacob was working as a personal support worker when she decided it was time to make a career change. “There were cuts coming down the pipeline in healthcare, and I knew I had to get out,” she recalls.

As a single mother, she had decided to wait until her son was grown before looking toward her own career ambitions — and he was well on his way. With a passion for event planning and networking, Sophia leapt into her new career.

“The best way to establish myself in the events space was to throw an event,” Sophia says. “So that’s exactly what I did.”

Sophia chose a name, brought on some speakers, and hosted her first event with the Black Ottawa Business Network. “We had about 40 to 60 people show up — and we’ve managed to keep all of our events around that size, giving me the opportunity to really connect with everyone in attendance.”

The aim is to fulfill a need in the community: providing networking opportunities for business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to meet other like-minded individuals with whom they can do business, partner, or collaborate.  

Around the same time, Sophia launched her own business, Sophia J Events, for which she’s won awards as an event planner and marketing strategist. “As I grew as a professional, I realized I wasn’t seeing enough women of colour in leadership positions, and I wanted to make a difference in that area as well,” she recalls. That’s how her second initiative, The Ottawa Opportunities Network, was born.  

With both organizations hosting events and becoming more well-known within the Ottawa area, Sophia felt it was time to expand her reach. “I decided to launch the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network because I have a strong desire to see women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across this country,” she says.  

A main focus is on the younger generation, who Sophia believes needs to see women who look like them in positions of power and have role models they can look up to and turn to for support. “If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?” she says.

Mentorship will be a big part of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, which is in its infancy right now. The plan is to establish a Mentorship Matters program which will connect women of colour in leadership roles with young women who will benefit from their guidance.

 

If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?

 

“Mentorship is one the best tools you can have in your pocket,” says Sophia, whose own mentoring efforts are now second nature. “I’ve shared my own story many times and mentored many young women looking to make changes in their own careers.”

As the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network works toward building capacity and reaching out to other like-minded organizations, Sophia is thankful for the opportunity she’s had to join the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign, built around the global conference being hosted in Vancouver this June. “This is a perfect opportunity for us to reach new audiences and to connect with other organizations doing great things for women,” she says.

Sophia has taken advantage of some of the events being held by the Mobilization in Ottawa — using them as an opportunity to connect with like-minded businesses and expand the reach of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network. She has her own event in the works as well for the end of May, which she says will give women who can’t attend the conference in Vancouver a chance to still get involved.

“There are so many great opportunities to collaborate, connect, and communicate with others through this mobilization — and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be part of the conversation,” she says.   

She’s also quick to point out that the diversity conversation must include women of colour, and Sophia’s committed to making this happen. “I became a mother when I was 18, and I didn’t get the opportunity to go to university or to network with other young professionals, or to follow my passion when it came to work,” Sophia says. But she did have the confidence and support to go after her dreams later in life.

While growth may be slow, Sophia says organically she’ll build the reach and capacity to take the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network to the next level, keeping in mind the mandate of meeting, connecting, and promoting women of colour who are looking to advance their careers as entrepreneurs, professionals, and community leaders. They’re active on social media and their website is in the works, and people are getting to know their name and — more importantly — their message.

“There are a host of reasons why black women are often underestimated and undervalued in their careers, and we want to change that and have more people looking at things through our lens.”  

 

To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.

Why Olympian Jennifer Heil is mobilizing for gender equality

As the most successful freestyle skier in Canadian history, Jennifer Heil understands the positive impact that sports can have — and not just measured by Olympic medals. Girls who play sports have been shown to have higher confidence, greater academic performance, and more career success later in life. That’s why Jennifer and viaSport, where she is VP Sport Development, are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voice with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

When Jennifer Heil was 14, just before starting high school, she walked into her soon-to-be principal’s office and told him she planned to go to the Olympics. In order to achieve her dream, she told him, she’d have to be absent for at least three months during her Grade 12 year.

“I needed their support and they rallied around me,” says Jennifer, now lauded the most successful freestyle skier in Canadian history and an Olympic Gold and Silver medal holder. “That support was a beautiful thing, and it allowed me to graduate on time and with honours.”

Jennifer’s story, it seems, is not the norm. While Canada is a leader when it comes to women’s representation at the Olympics, we are falling behind on the broader national scale. Only 19 per cent of Canadian women participate in sport, compared to 35 per cent of Canadian men. “The issues women in sport face today are representative of challenges women face in everyday life,” Jennifer says. “These include stereotyping, sexualization, and lack of safety.”

While Jennifer admits she was very lucky to have been raised in a family that valued physical activity and sport, and in an Albertan community that provided her with many opportunities to play a variety of sports and lead an active lifestyle — not all girls are so lucky. The issues they face are varied and expansive, from a shortage of women coaches at all levels, to women’s sporting events getting second billing, to a lack of resources allocated to girls’ leagues, to gender-based violence, and girls not feeling confident or comfortable in their own bodies.

“If we’re going to move on these issues, it’s going to take more than the sporting community to do so,” says Jennifer, who now works as VP Sport Development with viaSport British Columbia. “I didn’t think I’d stay in the sporting world after my retirement, beyond volunteering, but then I realized how important this issue really was.”  

 

“Everyone needs to be involved in bringing about change, if we don’t have a collective effort, change won’t be sustainable.”  

 

viaSport focuses on granting all British Columbians equal access to sport through social innovation, education, standards and evaluation, and leveraging investment. With Gender Equity and Sport one of Jennifer’s main portfolios, she’s is committed professionally and personally to bringing about a shift in culture and behaviour. Under her leadership, viaSport recently joined the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign, built around the global conference to be held in Vancouver this June. The Mobilization is rallying Canadian players, including those not traditionally focused on women and girls, to turn their focus toward gender equality.

“I see great opportunity through the Women Deliver Mobilization for dialogue and alignment with our allies,” Jennifer says. “We know that 94 per cent of female executives have had formal experience in sport and that participating in sport has undeniable benefits both on and off the playing field.” Studies point to higher confidence, greater social and economic mobility, decreased likelihood of drug abuse, and better school performance.

The Mobilization, she says, will help them garner champions on the ground in other sectors, such as business, and find partners to support and fund the work that’s essential to bringing about change. “We’re taking a human-centred, design approach where we don’t know what the outcomes will be, but we’re looking to redesign girls’ sports and shift toward a more inclusive sports system on a national scale.”  

While many people don’t think of sport as part of the gender equality conversation, Jennifer says, “if girls aren’t confident and don’t have a sense of agency in their bodies, it will go on to impact the rest of their lives, from their academic achievement, to the way they show up in meetings, and their ability to support their families.”

While systemic changes must be made, there’s also a need for a change in attitude which begins in homes and schools. “We’re starting to see some of these changes, from teachers taking kids outside for movement breaks, to parents socializing daughters to realize the value of physical education,” she says. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Currently, only 2 per cent of girls ages 12 to 17 receive the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily. This stat alone speaks volumes.  

As a mom of two young boys, Jennifer says boys have as big a role in all this as girls do. The key is to influence their beliefs and values and shift the dialogue to be more inclusive from an early age. viaSport is also engaging men, who make up most of the leadership and executive director roles in sport.

“Everyone needs to be involved in bringing about change, if we don’t have a collective effort, change won’t be sustainable.”  

 

To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.

How She Did It: Joanna Griffiths, Founder & CEO of Knix Wear, Built One of the Fastest Growing Companies in Canada and Globally in Just Five Years

Joanna Griffiths launched Knix Wear when she became aware of a need in the market for underwear that could handle “little leaks.” She solved that problem, and for the next five years focused on building a brand that helped women get over their insecurities and facilitate conversations. The strategy paid off. Not only is Knix a wildly successful global business — they sell an item every 10 seconds — Joanna can feel good about having a positive impact.

 

 

 

By Sarah Kelsey

 


 

When Joanna Griffiths launched Knix Wear in 2013, she never anticipated the company would achieve the success it has — and in only five years. Starting out as a crowdfunding campaign, these days one Knix item is sold every 10 seconds. In 2018 alone, the company launched six new products, 18 new colours, acquired over 300,000 new customers and shipped over 500,000 packages.

Part of the reason Joanna feels her company is doing so well is because she made it a priority to create something that addressed a real problem. “Life is so much easier when you are selling something that a large number of people need,” she explains. “We started with leak proof underwear. Was it a sexy idea? No. Was it needed by millions and millions of people? Yes.”

But it is more than meeting a need that has led to Joanna’s success — she’s also striving to change people’s lives. In October Knix launched #FacesofFertility: a series of articles, videos and social conversations about fertility, infertility and their impact on women. Over 1,500 people shared their personal stories with Griffith’s team. The content will soon become a podcast.

“We really found our voice in 2018,” Joanna says. “We pushed ourselves. We did a lot of team-building, and inevitably what happens is a lot of building the boat while you’re on it. You’re doing everything at once. I think what I’m really proud of is that we’re constantly evolving.”

She’s also incredibly proud of how her and her team strive to “mirror the world,” and to give back to the community.

“There are a few things we’ve been doing since 2013, like showcasing diverse body types and featuring real women in our ads and sharing their stories in a much bigger way, that have shown us some great results. We want to continue to do that and to reach new markets,” she notes, adding 2019 will see the company launch their first swimwear and maternity lines. “Our success has really surpassed anything I had anticipated.”

 

“We did a lot of team-building, and inevitably what happens is a lot of building the boat while you’re on it.”

 

It also earned her and her team a 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in October 2018. “I think when you first start a company you read about these awards and you put them on a pedestal. To kind of be at the stage now where we’re getting that kind of recognition, it’s insanely valuable,” she says of receiving the Staples Start-Up Honour in October. “It’s amazing to know that people are connecting with the work we’re doing.”

Griffiths says it wasn’t until a couple years ago that she started to see the potential of Knix as a brand. Minor successes started to happen, sales began to grow and, eventually, the work became less about her and her goals, and more about doing work that would have a positive impact on the world.

“What I want to inspire other businesses and leaders to do is to give back and to make a positive impact on their community — locally or at a scale of tens of thousands of women globally,” she says. She also wants small business owners to know that though her company is successful now, she still has good days, and bad ones.

“At the RBC awards ceremony I bumped into people I had met before — other female business  founders — and I chatted with one woman who was having a hard time. I told her, ‘I cried last week!’ I have hard days, too, because being an entrepreneur is hard. It’s part of the process.”

She adds: “If you’re feeling like it’s challenging, that’s because it is. If running a business was easy, everyone would do it. I’ve been at this for five years, and I still haven’t figured it out. But what happens over time is you build up your resistance. Troubleshooting gets better. You build your confidence.”

You also learn how to fight for something bigger than you.

“It’s about facilitating conversations, and getting over insecurities and pushing boundaries. And when you’re operating in that space, anything is possible.”

Thinking inside the box: Emily Lowe’s approach to innovating for the future

Founder of Lowegistics International, Emily Lowe, developed a love for shipping containers at a young age. At 17, she turned that passion into a business, launching a global supply chain data analysis company that leverages innovative solutions to transform the economics of construction, material and equipment logistics.

 

By Kristen Sears

 


 

Travel was a big part of Emily Lowe’s youth. By the time she graduated high school, she had lived in seven different countries, among them Qatar, Switzerland, France and Australia.

So much travel during one’s formative years leads some people to crave a permanent place to hang their hat. In others, like Emily, it inspires just the opposite. She developed a passion for both travelling and meeting new people, and… shipping containers.

“While I was growing up, my whole life was being transported from one country to the next, like a shipping container, so I guess it was very natural for me to take a liking to them very early on,” she says.

At 17, Emily turned that passion into a business. While watching an episode of the Discovery Channel series, Mega Builders, she was struck by the tediousness of loading and unloading a shipping container, and was inspired to come up with a solution.

“I took a business trip to China to be a part of the process from concept to creation for an invention called the IWS or Intermodal Warehouse System, and like that, my world changed forever,” she recalls. “I fell in love with construction and supply chain and logistics and all things that would eliminate material handling lifts.”

That trip marked the beginning of Emily’s consulting business, Lowegistics International.

By the end of 2017, after several iterations, the design of the IWS had been perfected thanks to a partnership agreement with Sea Box, a company with over 30 years’ experience in the design, customization and manufacturing of ISO containers.

The IWS is a steel cargo carrying platform that essentially slides into a shipping container. Fit for trains, ships and flatbed trucks, the platforms can be used individually or stacked to maximize cargo space, and, upon arrival at the destination, slide out and function as a cargo storage solution.

 

“I think we should really be innovating in ways that allow us to think inside the box as opposed to outside the box, and utilize what we already have instead of creating things that we want.”

 

The system provides significant procurement cost savings to the companies who adopt it, Emily says, by eliminating the need for cranes and break bulk ships, reducing labour, cutting down the time to unload and cargo, and maximizing space in warehouses and storage yards.

“I think we should really be innovating in ways that allow us to think inside the box as opposed to outside the box and utilize what we already have instead of creating things that we want,” Emily says, noting that her vision is to “transform the economics of construction material and equipment logistics through innovation, standardization, mobility and analytics.”

Such was the focus of some new innovations she began working on with the help of the Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship program (MMIE) at Smith School of Business.

“I think the greatest takeaway I got from the program was definitely getting a new community of peers and like-minded individuals,” Emily says. “You go into the MMIE program and you have 70 people who speak your language… I have so many wonderful friends from that program and a lot of peers that I will probably start companies with one day, and we bounce ideas off each other.”

Her current project is an innovation first conceived while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in Global Development Studies at Queen’s University.

“I took our course content, which primarily focused on the housing crisis in northern Canada, and tried to design a solution around that,” Emily explains. “So, within the past year, I’ve developed a home that can be transported pretty much anywhere around the world, but particularly Canada because it’s rated for negative –70 C, and it costs less than $100,000.”

She’s currently looking for investors and construction partners to pilot these homes. “All the engineering is done; we can start manufacturing it tomorrow,” she says. “I just need someone to come knock on my door and be like, ‘Emily, let’s get this going and see where we can take it.’”

In the meantime, she’s decided to stay in Canada — her company’s headquarters are in Houston — and is sharing her expertise and knowledge from the MMIE program with other startups and scale-ups in the Calgary area and expanding her professional network.

“I just want to be among people who also love what they do, but are also experts in their field,” she says. “I’m a big believer of it being not just what you know, it’s also who you know.”

 

It is a fact that almost 50% of all new ventures or innovations fail within the first three years. Smith’s Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship is designed to provide the business acumen and practical support you need to greatly improve your odds of success. Learn more about the program here.

 

How Ravina Bains became the “Top Under 40” in the investment industry

Although Ravina Bains’ interest in finance started at a young age, she still took a circuitous route to her present role of Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank. Recently awarded the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada Top Under 40 Award, she’s proof that following your passion pays off.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

You could say that Ravina Bains has been preparing for a career in banking since she was a child.

Growing up in Vancouver, B.C., Ravina remembers waking every morning and turning on the TV before school. It was usually tuned to BNN (Business News Network), a channel her dad liked to watch before heading into work. Over breakfast, her interest was sparked.

“My parents were immigrants from India, so the investment and financial industry was where they turned to not only reach their own financial goals, but also to support their children’s goals,” says Ravina, Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank.

“I even remember my parents taking me to meetings with their financial and investment advisors. So, for me, very early on, the financial and investment industry always represented an industry that helps improve the lives of families and helps them realize their dreams.”

 

“As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

 

Those early days of inspiration would ultimately lead to Ravina becoming a rising star in the financial services industry. She was recently selected out of 28 nominees to win the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) Top Under 40 Award. This annual award recognizes talented young professionals whose accomplishments have brought distinction to the industry and their local community.

“I was shocked, but also very thankful,” says Ravina, of receiving the honour. “As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

Ravina took a somewhat circuitous route to get to her current role at Scotiabank. After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Ravina completed not one, but two master’s degrees — a Master of Science in Law from Oxford and a Master of Arts in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from UBC. She spent the first few years of her career in government, working in the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. After another three years at a public policy think tank, Ravina brought her expertise to Scotiabank, joining the bank as National Director, Aboriginal Financial Services.

Even now, as a busy executive, Ravina is pursuing her PhD. “Education has always been an important part in my life,” she says of her zest for academia. “I like to be constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge.”

 

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry. It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.

 

In her current position at Scotiabank, Ravina builds processes and strategies to help the commercial banking and wealth management services teams address their clients’ needs — a position she finds “extremely rewarding and exciting.”

Her leadership extends beyond her official role as well. Ravina is Co-chairwoman of the Commercial Banking National Women’s Group, which aims to advance gender diversity within the commercial bank. She’s also a committee member of Impact at Scotiabank, a group that promotes mentoring and professional development in the bank’s Wealth Management division.

Ravina has this advice for other young women hoping to emulate her success: “Trust your intuition and believe in yourself,” she says. “Have confidence in your abilities and decisions.”

She also suggests that in order to advance, women need to “be in the driver’s seat” of their careers. “Invest time in your career development, network, seek out a mentor.”

It’s also important to remember to pay it forward, says Ravina.

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry,” she says. “It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.”

As for her own career goals and ambitions, Ravina says she wants to continue to work in positions where she can lead a team toward a common goal and help her organization advance. But she also hopes for roles that allow her to give back to the community and help individuals realise their dreams.

“That’s why I love the financial services industry,” she says. “There’s great purpose to the work that we do.”

 

The Successful Life of Pets: How veterinarian Trina Bailey turned a lifelong passion into a thriving business

 

 

By Karen van Kampen

 


 

As a five-year-old girl growing up in a farming community on the West Coast of Newfoundland, Dr. Trina Bailey knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian. Surrounded by a “menagerie of pets” that included a bunny, dog, cat and gerbils, the veterinary surgeon says, “I don’t think I ever thought about doing anything else.”

Trina has built a successful, award-winning business on her lifelong love and compassion for animals. In 2015, she launched The Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador (VSCNL) — the first veterinary hospital in Newfoundland dedicated to emergency and specialty services. As owner, , Trina was the 2017 winner of the Staples Start-Up Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has developed a thriving business that’s poised for the next level of growth.

Steadfast determination and dedication is the foundation of Trina’s inspiring career. “When a goal is important, you should do whatever it takes to achieve it,” she says. The advice comes from personal experience: Trina applied four times to the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) before she was accepted in 1996. Being admitted into the competitive program gave her a newfound confidence. “I was finally able to show what I was capable of,” she says.

Trina graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2000. Two years later,, when her son was 10 months old, she and her family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to complete her surgical residency as well as a Master of Science at Louisiana State University. Trina gained experiences that she still reflects on to this day. “I learned to take skills, ideas and previous knowledge and apply them to a situation that I may never have seen before,” she says. “This happens frequently in the O.R — almost every day when trying to run a hospital. It also happens in daily life!”

She also learned early on that veterinary medicine is a challenging field, and a very emotional, high-stress business, she says. “You care for the owner as well as the patient,” Trina explains “These pets are part of the family.”

There are people who decide not to have children and develop a strong bond with a pet. And there are the owners whose spouses have bought them an animal before passing away. “So this is the last link to that loved person,” she says. When clients convey their gratitude for helping them through a pet’s sickness or injury, “it makes it all worthwhile,” says Trina.

In 2006, Trina returned to AVC as a professor, where she taught until 2014. During this time, she travelled regularly to Newfoundland to perform specialized surgeries, an experience that was the catalyst to launch her own practice. Veterinarians in Newfoundland were doing the best they could, says Trina, but the need for specialty and emergency services wasn’t being met, forcing sick animals to travel great distances for critical care.

In 2015, Trina launched the VSCNL with eight employees — including her husband, John MacKenzie, who pitched in by working the reception desk for the first few months of operation. “He’s been a huge support and is a big part of me being where I am now,” she says.

While Trina recognized the need for her business, she says that starting her own practice wasn’t an easy decision. “It was nerve-racking. I was a tenured professor at the university. I could have easily stayed there for the rest of my career and had job security.” But Trina knew that if she didn’t take a risk and venture out on her own, “I think I would have always felt like I gave up and just settled.”

Today, with 44 employees — including John, who is the Chief Financial Officer — Trina’s practice has tripled in size. The new 6,500-square foot facility has two beautiful operating rooms, an ICU that is twice as big, a space dedicated to rehabilitation, and a CT scanner.

At her new facility, Trina cares for trauma and neurologic patients and performs specialized procedures including cancer and heart surgeries. Trina sees Newfoundland and Labrador patients referred by their family veterinarian as well as animals from New Brunswick and the neighbouring French archipelago, Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

When asked what advice she would give to other women entrepreneurs, Trina doesn’t hesitate: “Have no regrets. The things that people regret in life are the things that they didn’t try. If there’s something that you really want to do, then make it happen.”

As you make your entrepreneurial dream a reality, “Don’t try to do it by yourself. Allow yourself to be supported,” says Trina, adding that you also need to support your team by communicating your goals and objectives. “Don’t assume that other people know what you want and what you’re thinking,” she says, even if you have a history of working together. By documenting policies and procedures, “this minimizes confusion and makes everyone happier and less stressed,” explains Trina.

Trina already has her next goal in sight: to expand her emergency services by hiring more doctors, encouraging them to move to “stunningly beautiful” Newfoundland. Trina, John and their two kids spend summer weekends at their cottage on the south shore, kayaking with whales and puffins. And she still has a “menagerie of pets” that includes two dogs, two rescue cats, a lizard and a Chilean degu named Velma.

 

About Staples Canada/Bureau en Gros
Staples Canada/Bureau en Gros was founded in 1991. The company operates over 300 locations across all Canadian provinces. Through its world-class retail, eCommerce, mobile and delivery capabilities, Staples helps customers shop every day, however, and whenever they want. Staples is dedicated to offering customers the latest products and expertise on everything from technology to school supplies, facility, breakroom, as well as business services and print production through Staples Print & Marketing. The company invests in a number of corporate giving programs that support environmental, educational and entrepreneurial initiatives in Canadian communities, including the Staples Start-Up Award at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards presented by Women of Influence. As a company, Staples recognizes the important role women play as drivers of stronger communities and leaders in business, and is proud to recognize female entrepreneurs through this award. Visit www.staples.ca for more information, or visit get social with Staples by following @StaplesCanada.

 

Learning and Leaning In: How an EMBA gave Darielle Corsaro the confidence to take her career to new heights

 

 

Darielle Corsaro was looking for a new challenge. On the advice of a mentor, she enrolled in an MBA program — and returned to work not only with added knowledge, but also a newfound confidence. The former controller is now VP of finance and operations, and embracing big-picture thinking.

 

By Kristen Sears

 


 

Darielle Corsaro never once thought about getting her MBA. Ever. The 33-year-old, who grew up in Irma, Alberta, spent her twenties working full-time in Edmonton — first as an accounting assistant at a car dealership, then as a controller with the Summit Group of Companies, a manufacturer and distributor of valves and control systems.

Along the way she got a degree in accounting from the University of Lethbridge and also completed her CGA.But after revamping Summit’s accounting department, by 2015, Darielle felt she was ready for a new challenge. She just wasn’t sure what to pursue.

Fortunately, her mentor had an idea: He suggested she get her MBA.

“He told me that I was pigeonholing myself into accounting, that I had so much more to offer,” she recalls. “I thought I was done with school at that point. But I love learning. That’s always been one of my strengths.”

Three years ago, Darielle enrolled in the Queen’s Executive MBA Americas program and was the recipient of a tuition-based scholarship awarded by the business school in partnership with the 30% Club, a global organization dedicated to accelerating the representation of women at senior levels in business.

“The whole experience was life changing,” she says. “It was mentally and intellectually stimulating — and when I finished the program I’d evolved into someone completely different.”

During the program, Darielle realized that her heart and soul was no longer solely in accounting; she wanted more.

I really realized that I could bring value and make an impact in a lot of different ways, over and above just the financial side of the business. It’s almost like I needed the encouragement or permission that it was okay to offer my input in areas that weren’t 100 per cent in my wheelhouse,” she explains.

Prior to entering the EMBA Americas program, a dual-degree program offered jointly by Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business and Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Darielle says if she was in a meeting she shied away from engaging in discussion outside of her field of expertise.

“As I progressed in my EMBA, I found myself giving my opinion and input more and more outside of the accounting department, and it was very much welcomed.”

 

“It was mentally and intellectually stimulating — and when I finished the program I’d evolved into someone completely different.”

 

With newfound confidence, Darielle set to work with a colleague and developed a plan to restructure Summit and create a VP position for herself. She then presented the plan to the company’s owner. “If it wasn’t for the MBA, I would never have had the moxie to do that — not in a million years.”

Darielle says her new position as VP of finance and operations goes beyond financial statements, cash flow, KPI’s, metrics and reports. It involves big-picture thinking and strategic decision-making.   

“As a controller, my job was always very transactional. I did love the black and white of accounting, but now I’m in a much more transformational role,” she says. “Questions I would have before would be, ‘how can we get the financial statements completed faster?’ But now, questions I have are, ‘how can we structure ourselves so that we can achieve double growth?’”

Outside of the office, Darielle has more free time than she’s had in years — having graduated with her MBA this past spring — which she is taking full advantage of.  She’s taken up meditation, reconnected with friends, and is catching up on some reading. She’s also found a new way to satisfy her desire to learn by volunteering on a board of directors for Northern Light Theatre, an Edmonton-based theatre company.

“I’m really focused on giving back, I want to pay it forward in any way I can,” she says.

 

Are you looking for your next challenge? Each year, Smith School of Business, in partnership with the 30% Club, offers two scholarships to highly-qualified women entering its Executive MBA programs. Here, you’ll find more information about the scholarship and Smith’s other initiatives in support of the advancement of women in the workplace.

 

Liked this? Read more articles on preparing for senior leadership.

 

What’s Needed: how one talented tech innovator — turned bank VP — sees female founders getting ahead

 

 

As a veteran of the tech start-up world, Nicole German understands what’s needed to help female founders get ahead. Now, as vice-president, enterprise digital marketing, at Scotiabank, she’s helping to get those resources into the right hands.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

Every day, talented female entrepreneurs across Canada are innovating — pushing the boundaries of their creativity. But what needs to be done to help women-founded startups survive, thrive and take their businesses global?

“Women have amazing ideas and concepts. We need to bring them to fruition,” says Nicole German, a woman who knows a thing or two about success in the startup world.

A global brand-builder and digital marketing guru — and current vice-president, enterprise digital marketing, at Scotiabank — Nicole has spent more than 20 years helping companies scale and grow, from scrappy tech startups to powerhouse players like SAP and LinkedIn.

To build successful companies, women founders need courage and resilience, she says. They also need a strong network of support. “The most important thing is supporting and advocating for each other,” says Nicole. “Leveraging our networks, mentoring, making introductions, to carve paths and support each other.”

 

“The most important thing is supporting and advocating for each other.”

 

That’s why Scotiabank and its direct banking subsidiary, Tangerine, have partnered to support the DMZ at Ryerson University’s Women Founders Accelerator, a national program to help early-stage tech companies get to the next level. Selected companies will benefit from connections with seasoned mentors, hands-on support in areas like hiring and pricing, networking sessions with peers and advisors, a dedicated workspace, and the opportunity to pitch for funding prizes up to $50,000.

Nicole says the DMZ’s Women Founders Accelerator was a natural fit for Scotiabank and Tangerine because of their shared mandate to promote diversity and inclusion in Canada. “We want to help female founders launch and grow their businesses, and provide much-needed access to capital for female entrepreneurs,” she says. “We believe strongly in the startup ecosystem in Canada and want to support that, but we see the need for females to have access to capital as much as their male counterparts.”

Research shows that investing in women founders is good for business. U.S. venture capital firm First Round Capital found that companies with at least one female founder outperformed all-male founding teams by 63 percent over the last 10 years.

But at the same time, women entrepreneurs aren’t getting the funding they need. A 2016/2017 Crunchbase report looking at global rates of investment in women-founded businesses found that only 10 percent of venture dollars between 2010-2017 were invested in businesses with at least one woman founder.

The time is right for initiatives like the Women Founders Accelerator to even the playing field in the Canadian startup ecosystem, says Nicole. It’s a world she knows well — she spent much of her career immersed in it.

Born in Toronto and raised in Brazil, Nicole traveled extensively at a young age with her family and was exposed to many different cultures and languages. Those early years would have a big influence on her future pursuits and her interest in international business and marketing. “While it took me awhile to figure this out, a lot of my fascination was around culture, whether that was business or pleasure,” she says.

After attending Queen’s University back in Canada, Nicole knew she wanted to leverage her international experience and languages. So she went to work for a Canadian startup that had just landed some large customers in South America. “They really needed someone who was able to step in, understand the cultures and speak the languages, so that’s really how I fell into tech,” she says.

Nicole says working in the male-dominated tech environment did sometimes present career roadblocks, but she learned to take risks. She took a new job every two or three years — whenever a new growth opportunity presented itself. “I really just recognized that there are multiple routes to get to a destination, so you often have to take unexpected turns to get to that destination,” she says.

 

“I really just recognized that there are multiple routes to get to a destination, so you often have to take unexpected turns to get to that destination.”

 

In fact, Nicole says she never imagined she would work for a bank because of her tech background. But after six months, “I’m incredibly inspired,” she says. At Scotiabank, Nicole is responsible for leading the evolution of the digital marketing function globally, as well as contributing to the bank’s overall digital transformation.

“As any business goes through a digital transformation, they are transforming the way they work,” she says. “The goal is about: How do we be more nimble? How do we collaborate more? How do we break down silos and traditional walls?”

Her advice for women founders aiming to succeed is to surround themselves with the best, at work and at home — building a “powerhouse network of personal and professional people, so you’re always learning and growing,” she says. “Know what you’re good at and where you need to find support in other areas.”

Another crucial element in helping women founders reach their goals is sharing their stories, says Nicole. Talking about successful female-led organizations educates the industry that there are great success stories to be celebrated, and also shows younger women that it is possible.

She hopes that accessible programs like the DMZ’s Women Founders Accelerator will help women push their ideas forward, taking them from the home office to the global marketplace.

“Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”

 

Scotiabank is Canada’s international bank and a leading financial services provider in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America, and Asia-Pacific. Our culture of inclusion is the heart of our global community of Scotiabankers. It is a big part of the Bank’s success and what makes us a global employer of choice.

Learn more about Scotiabank’s commitment to inclusion and Say hello to a career with Scotiabank.

 

Dressed for Success: How Stephanie Ray is redefining the work wardrobe for women

 

 

As a law student, Stephanie Ray couldn’t find work-appropriate clothing that was comfortable, affordable, and stylish enough to carry her from day to night. So she started her own fashion line, Grayes, to fill the gap.

 

By Sarah Kelsey

 


 

Stephanie Ray, the founder of Grayes clothing, had an inkling she was onto a great business idea when she was a busy law school student applying for jobs and internships. Like many people who want to dress to impress, she went on a bit of a pre-interview shopping spree. Her clothing checklist was simple: the items she bought had to look good, make her feel good, and had to take her from day to night, and into the weekend.

“I always felt forced into awkward suits that didn’t give me the confidence that I was putting my best foot forward going into interviews or jobs. I always struggled to find professional attire that I loved and felt like myself in,” says Stephanie. “I wanted outfits that reflected me and my personal style, and that I could mix and match to wear outside of a professional context. I just couldn’t find anything that met my needs at an accessible price point.”

That gap between supply and demand became even more apparent when she spoke to her brother, an investment banker, about what he wore to work. He found shopping easy.

“He had so many options for suits that were modern and stylish, but still appropriate for an office or meeting. His clothes fit his personality and worked with other aspects of his life, too. His suits gave him that extra boost of self-confidence walking into the office every day,” she says. “There was nothing like that at an accessible price point for women.”

It became clear that someone had to take on the task of creating a line of professional attire for women that met their needs. Still in law school at the time, Stephanie says she never considered dropping out to pursue the idea. “It wasn’t until I started thinking about what I wanted to do after law school, that I realized I was much more passionate about the idea of starting a clothing line than about a career in law.”

She began researching what it would take to start a business focused on work wear for women. She read a lot, met with a lot of people and tried to figure out what tools she’d need to bring her idea to life. She spoke with friends and female colleagues who all excitedly shared ideas about what they wanted in professional attire, and she eventually convinced her brother to quit his day job to help her launch the line.

“I have an amazing team who taught me everything that they know about the industry,” Stephanie says. “In the beginning, I spent time learning since it was all totally new to me. It was an industry I knew nothing about and had no prior experience in, so I was really lucky to find a design team early on that could guide me through that process.”

 

“It wasn’t until I started thinking about what I wanted to do after law school, that I realized I was much more passionate about the idea of starting a clothing line than about a career in law.”

 

Just over a year after she graduated, in 2016, the first garments from Grayes made their debut at pop-up shops and customer events. The clothing line was everything Stephanie had envisioned — and more — and consumers raved about the quality of the garments and the need for a brand focused solely on women’s work wear. The instantly iconic blazer dress was a particular hit.

Today, the brand offers women on-trend items they can wear to the office as well as brunch, including their popular pencil pant, notch blazer and tunic dress. Even though all of the garments are made locally (with material sourced from international mills), everything is reasonably priced — nothing costs more than $400. What’s more, everything can be purchased online at the company’s recently launched website. “Knowing the Grayes customer is very busy, my goal was to create an easy shopping experience with features like free shipping and returns, and online experts on hand to offer tailoring and styling advice,” says Stephanie.

“Seeing my vision for Grayes come to life and customers wearing our clothing in their day-to-day lives motivates me to keep evolving Grayes — developing new products and growing the brand,” Stephanie notes. “I love when customers tell me how great the clothing makes them feel going to work everyday and that they can’t wait to see what we have planned next. That customer affirmation has been so encouraging.”

And what’s next is really a push to grow Grayes into the go-to destination for women looking for high-quality, modern work wear. Stephanie wants to continue to evolve the company’s offerings and to expand to the U.S. (in the near future). But she’s also learning to relish and celebrate the success she’s seen over the past few years.

“In the beginning I didn’t know what I was getting myself into! When you’re starting a business you are so excited and passionate about it. You really do everything and anything in your power to make it work,” she notes. “But nothing’s a straight path to success, there are always ups and downs along the way. So learning not to get discouraged, to persevere and to keep on pushing forward is key. It’s so important to find a business you love and will be just as excited about on those days when it feels like nothing is going your way.  It’s an amazing feeling to bring an idea from conception to fruition.”

 

 

 Could your work wardrobe use an upgrade? Shop the collection at grayes.com.

 

Mission Possible: Sitting down with globally renowned cybersecurity expert, Diana Burley

Cybersecurity is critical to how our society functions. It is also evolving as quickly as it’s growing, and in this industry dominated by white men, Diana Burley is making sure her unique voice is helping to shape the future.

 

By Stephania Varalli
 


 

Diana Burley is a globally recognized cybersecurity expert. She has consulted with corporations and government agencies, conducted international cybersecurity awareness training on behalf of the U.S. State Department, testified before the US congress, co-authored a textbook and written nearly 80 publications on cybersecurity, information sharing, and IT-enabled change, to name a few of her accomplishments. She is the current executive director and chair of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (know as I3P, it’s a research consortium of 26 different institutions), and a full professor of human & organizational learning at The George Washington University (GW).

While her impressive resume is enough to set her apart in her field, there’s something else that makes Diana stand out from the majority of her colleagues. She is a woman. “And I’m not just a woman, I’m a woman of colour,” she adds.

The resulting discrimination has been both overt and subtle, and present through all stages of her career. “I can still remember the first class that I taught as a young professor in I.T.,” says Diana, “and having to walk into the room and run down my credentials just to make sure that the students would be respectful of me as the professor.”

It’s not fair, she acknowledges, but it’s also not something she dwells on. She credits her mentors for helping her deal with the discrimination and loneliness she’s encountered. “Mentors that were both male and female, and who helped to toughen me up, helped to instil in me a confidence in my own value — because one of the best defences against being isolated or discriminated against, or even having the perception of being discriminated against, is to have a great deal of confidence in your ability.”

That confidence has also helped Diana to recognize that the attributes that set her apart from her colleagues also provide her with a unique perspective — one that needs to be heard. “At a certain point I started to look at my role and responsibility in the room as one of critical importance,” she explains, “because I was the lone voice.”

 

“One of the best defenses against being isolated or discriminated against, or even having the perception of being discriminated against, is to have a great deal of confidence in your ability.”

 

Diana understands better than most how the people in charge of creating the technology have an impact on the technology that’s created. After taking programming classes during her undergraduate degree in Economics, she started to realize that her interest in technology was associated with its interaction with people not only how technology influences their behaviour, but also how their behaviour, in turn, influences the way that technology develops. When she got into graduate school she discovered it was something she could actually study. Continuing on this path, Diana earned a PhD in Organization Science and Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University.

It was this focus that eventually led her towards cybersecurity. “I was in graduate school at a time when there was a considerable movement towards paperless government,” she explains. “I became very interested in the notion of government providing resources through technology, and how that influenced citizen’s behaviour.” This inevitably led her to questions related to cybersecurity. “How do people access services? How do we ensure that their data is safe? How do we get thinking about privacy issues? Overtime those questions became the bigger part of what I did. It was a natural evolution. It wasn’t purposeful. It was just a steady march towards understanding this interface between people and technology, and the path led me into the cybersecurity space.”

The evolution hasn’t stopped. Cybersecurity is a constantly changing landscape, and it takes hard work and dedication to just keep pace — let alone stay ahead of the curve. You have to be a continuous learner in order to be successful, Diana says, aware of new threats that emerge in the environment, and new ways of addressing those threats.

“It’s extremely challenging just trying to maintain the level of currency and knowledge needed,” she says, but for Diana, this is a positive aspect of her chosen career. “I think that it is the notion of a very dynamic field that has kept my interest. There is always something new to learn, something new to explore.”

This constant change also creates a problem, however: the academic institutions trying to develop programs for this new discipline must balance fundamentals with flexibility. Add to that a limited pipeline of high school graduates ready for a STEM career, and an industry that’s growing exponentially — and it leads to a global shortage of two million cybersecurity professionals by 2019 (according to ISACA, an international professional association focused on IT governance).

“We are actually seeing the gap between supply and demand growing,” says Diane, “despite the fact that there are people around the world who are working very hard to fill those needs,”

Not surprisingly, Diana is one of those people. She currently co-chairs the Joint Task Force on Cybersecurity Education, which has undertaken the project of producing the first set of global cybersecurity curricular guidelines. The aim is to enable institutions to develop programs that meet a set global standard, producing graduates that have a common knowledge base and set of skills. It not only helps government and industry to have a sense of what they’ll be getting in a new hire, but also helps to guarantee students that they’ll be receiving a practical education.  

 

“At a certain point I started to look at my role and responsibility in the room as one of critical importance, because I was the lone voice.”

 

And what is Dian’s advice to all those students — especially the girls — that hope to follow her into this “very tiresome and rewarding a nerve-wracking and exciting” field?

“While all of the other things are important, the most important thing is to do your work. When you get a break, and when you get a mentor, and when you get to the table, you want to have something of value to contribute,” says Diana. “The second thing is to begin to develop a tough skin that allows you to put setbacks in perspective. As a scientist, failure is not a negative. Failure is simply a notation that says ‘this experiment does not work, and so I will try this next one.’”

She’s also quick to point out how rewarding a career in cybersecurity can be, as a field that has an impact on how society operates. “We really have to develop the human resources, the technical resources, to ensure our collective ability to function as we get more hyper-connected,” Diana points out. It’s a sentiment she believes she shares with her colleagues.

“One thing that I have found in this field is that most of the people that you interact with are all doing this because they really believe in the mission,” says Diana, “That mission might be securing a system, that mission might be developing a workforce, or that mission might be simply being someone that someone else behind me might look to know that if I can do it, they can do it too.”

 

“I want to be CEO” — How Heather Kernahan voiced her dream to make it happen

 

 

Heather Kernahan ended up in Silicon Valley when the Toronto tech company she was working for was acquired by its largest competitor. Her next steps — which eventually led her to becoming President of North America for Hotwire PR — were entirely under her control.

 

By Joanne Fedeyko 

 


 

Heather Kernahan found herself in an MBA class in her new home of California being asked: “If you’re not here to be a CEO, then why are you here?”

It was a question that would eventually change Heather’s career path — by putting her in charge of it.

Originally from Truro, Nova Scotia, Heather was working in marketing for a tech company in Toronto when it was acquired by its biggest competitor, Autodesk. She was devastated. Heather and her husband, Mike, decided to return to the East Coast and regroup. But right before they officially settled, she got a job offer from Autodesk and decided to take the opportunity and move to the Bay Area in 2006.

Heather focused on sustainable marketing at Autodesk and decided to go for an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise. She went on to work for a cleantech company and had the opportunity to work with bankers and board members while crafting a marketing strategy that would support a successful IPO.

After that ‘aha’ moment during her MBA class, Heather set out for a CEO role. It was then that she met Barbara Bates, Founder & CEO of Eastwick, an award-winning PR agency that worked with exciting tech companies at all stages of growth in adtech, security, enterprise, cleantech, and cloud/saas.

When Barbara asked, “So what are you looking for next?” Heather remembered what her MBA professor had said to her. She decided to be bold and respond with the thought that scared her most to say out loud: “I want to run a company — either start one or find one to run.”

At the time, that felt really out there — especially to say to someone that was an accomplished CEO that she looked up to. But to Heather’s amazement, it wasn’t. Barbara ended up becoming her mentor and taught her the business side of running a company. They set up a three-year plan to grow the business, working Heather towards the role of President of the agency.

“Be a conscious leader and take advantage of your unique style.”

Over the course of those three years, Heather helped double the size of the agency, increased its brand equity, and sold it to Hotwire PR, becoming President of North America and part of the Hotwire Global Leadership Team that now oversees strategy for the global Hotwire business.

I spoke with Heather about her role as a leader in Silicon Valley, and the advice she has for others ready to voice their own goal to follow in her footsteps:

 

How far ahead should a CEO plan?

“I like three year plans — because I love setting goals” says Heather. After a brush with a debt collector early in her career, Heather learned how to set goals, accomplish them, and enjoy the rewarding feeling that came with crushing those goals. Everyday, Heather and her team work with exciting global technology companies whilst working towards a Hotwire 2020 three-year plan that is broad yet inspiring — exactly what is needed for the team to rally behind. And Heather does what all great leaders do: she wakes up every day with a critical sense of urgency, thinking about how she can make the company better, and how she can create the best agency a company would want to work with.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring CEO?

“Be a conscious leader and take advantage of your unique style.” Heather also recommends deep 360-degree feedback to help every team member’s professional development.

 

What is it like working in Silicon Valley?

Working in Silicon Valley is different every day, says Heather. “I work a lot — and I love it, and it’s also exhausting. There is every opportunity here. You are limited only by your own energy and imagination.” But for all that work — and exhaustion — Heather admits that the global tech perspective you receive from sitting in Silicon Valley is well worth it.

 

What makes Silicon Valley work so well?

“The Bay Area is a community of people that helps each other” says Heather. “It’s this unique network where you help people you don’t know and they will do the same.” And Heather’s words ring true to those that live and experience Silicon Valley — it truly is the secret sauce of this innovation hub — super competitive yet very collaborative at the same time.

 

How can women elevate their own brand?

Heather can tell within five minutes of talking to a female leader or founder if they are ready and confident enough to take their business (or themselves) to the next level. Heather has helped elevate many female professionals and works with startup founders through Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Women’s Startup Lab and Grand Central Tech.

“Stop thinking you don’t have anything to say. Write down what you think is interesting. It starts with the right mindset,” says Heather, when asked how one goes about elevating their brand. The worst thing we can do is over complicate it. Heather also suggests that you figure out three areas or platforms to share your voice — and then go after them.

“Stop thinking you don’t have anything to say. Write down what you think is interesting. It starts with the right mindset.”

 

How do you maintain balance with your family life?

Heather’s success has been supported by her stay-at-home husband, and she has brought her entire family along with her on her journey. Heather’s 13-year-old daughter Madison has joined her for a Dell Women’s Executive Network event in South Africa and had the chance to attend their “Girls Track” tech session, for example. “Everyone in my family is paying attention to Women in Tech.”

When I asked Heather what was the next scariest thing that she was thinking, she said she has something in mind, but I’ll have to wait. That’s fine — I am confident that it will be worth the wait. Until then, Heather continues to give back as an advisor to startups and women leaders while she continues to build the best communications agency you’ll ever work with.

 

 Joanne Fedeyko is the CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, an organization that helps companies collaborate, connect, innovate and partner with Silicon Valley’s world-renowned technology ecosystem.

 

 

 

The New Queens of Comedy: Meet the Baronesses von Sketch

 

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

If you’re a fan of comedy, you’ve likely heard of The Baroness Von Sketch Show. If you haven’t, you really ought to Google it. Airing to critical acclaim in Canada and the US on CBC and IFC, the show is written, performed, and executive produced by four Canadian women over 40 — a demographic typically under-represented in the sketch comedy world. This foursome has found a hole where their voices and perspectives were needed, and are filling it with hilarious, insightful, and exceptionally relevant content. We sat down with two members of the brilliant group, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen, to chat about their work on the show, the challenges facing women in entertainment, and making comedy in dark times.

 

You’re being billed as “The New Queens of Comedy.” Do you think you’ve earned the title?

AB: I don’t think we’ve ever aspired to be more than Baronesses, which is one of the lowest aristocracy titles you can have. But, I do feel like a very happy participant in the world of sketch comedy.

JW: It’s so flattering. Listen, does it come with ceremonial robes or something? I always thought I could rock a scepter.

AB: I would love a tiara.

 

In all seriousness, you’ve obviously hit on something big here. Perhaps the world needs comedy now more than ever. Do you ever find it hard to be funny, though, when the issues you’re addressing are quite serious?

JW: When I used to write for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, there were stories I felt too angry about, too invested in — and those you just had to avoid. But with this show, I find it’s more social political humour; it’s about how we interact with each other. And human dynamics are always funny. And comedy provides a great opportunity to talk about issues in a way that’s not so emotionally or politically loaded. Sometimes a great joke can make you see a different side, make you really think about something. I think humour is a great way to deal with the hard things, because once you have a laugh about it, it doesn’t seem so impossible.

AB: Humour is a fundamentally generous thing, it reaches a hand out and says, “You’re not the only one, we’re in this together, in this crazy dark world.” And, that’s where the release comes.

 

What’s it like collaborating as a foursome?

AB: Sitting with these women and talking about life, and laughing together, is one of the things I enjoy most — almost as much as eating! We are rigorous and ruthless in the writing room, but we trust each other’s perception and intelligence.

JW: There’s something magical about the combination of the four of us. We’re greater than the sum of our parts.

 

“We have just as much ego and ambition as any other performer. We want to keep getting pay cheques and feeding our families. And it’s OK for women to want those things. It’s OK for women to have ambition.”

 

As women in comedy — and the entertainment industry for that matter — what challenges have you, or do you continue to face?

JW: Women have experienced tremendous growth in comedy since I started. Still, the challenges are what you’d imagine them to be. When you’re the only woman in a situation, endowed with being the wife, the mother, the girlfriend; when you’re in a writing room and you become the voice of all women; when you’re there for the “female perspective,” that’s pretty hard.

AB: I’ve been in writing rooms, and we’re casting scenes, and I’ve had to say, “you know, women can play the judges and the lawyers and the doctors too!” And, that just wasn’t happening.

JW: But we’ve really been so fortunate with this show. We’ve had a lot of support from our production company and CBC. We’ve never had this much creative freedom — it’s remarkable.

 

How do you think the work you’re doing is helping to bring about change?

AB: We revel in the fact that we’re getting to put the experiences of women in their 40s on CBC. As far as TV goes, that’s new for this country. We know that we are four white women who live in the city, so we speak very clearly from what we know, and don’t try to speak for every single woman.

JB: My hope is there will be a whole generation of up-and-comers who don’t see themselves represented, and they go out and create their own shows that speak to their own experiences. It’s so huge and powerful. If you look at Hollywood, and the Weinstein of it all, a powerful producer like him is really controlling how we are seeing women. And if that’s how we are represented in our culture — as the girlfriend by the side of a strong man — then that’s how we’ll be treated: like we’re accessories, like we’re disposable. I think it’s important that we’re allowed to be seen as humans who have interior lives, and haven’t just aged out and disappeared after 40.

 

Being in your 40s, has that changed things at all for you?

JB: Well, I know for sure that I’m better at this now than when I was in my 20s and didn’t have crow’s feet. But it would be disingenuous to say we’re doing this only for lofty ideals. We have just as much ego and ambition as any other performer. We want to keep getting pay cheques and feeding our families. And it’s OK for women to want those things. It’s OK for women to have ambition. The thing about having success in your 40s is you appreciate it way more. If this had come in our 20s, we would have had our eye on the next big thing. Now we revel in this — because it doesn’t come along every day. I love that our job is to make people laugh. We’ve really been very fortunate — and we’ve worked really hard.

 

 

Catch the Baronesses on our Evening Series stage on February 27th, 2018!