How a telecommunications executive is making healthcare more accessible.

Juggy Sihota

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

“Right now, some five million people don’t have access to a regular family doctor across Canada,” says Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Consumer Health at TELUS. “That varies from province to province. It’s a pretty disturbing stat.”

The pandemic has shone a light on the inequity of access to healthcare, but Juggy knows the issue has been around for decades — with COVID-19 exacerbating it. When you take into account wait times to see a specialist or mental health professional, the current state of healthcare, especially for those living outside of urban centres, is untenable. 

It’s an issue Juggy is committed to help solve.

Having worked at TELUS for many years and in charge of the consumer health division, she’s the person who has been behind the rapid expansion of the company’s virtual care app. By using TELUS Health MyCare on a smartphone, a user from anywhere in Canada can connect to a doctor, mental health counsellor, or dietitian to seek medical care. The service can be used for all non-emergency services, and if the caller has a regular family GP, the information discussed will be securely sent to them. In short, it breaks down barriers to care.

“It’s become emphatically clear what we’re doing is vitally important,” she says. “We want to improve healthcare for all Canadians — and we can, and we are.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, Juggy says there’s been an almost 10-fold increase in demand for the service. It’s pushed her entire department into rapid acceleration mode; her teams have been extremely busy hiring physicians and clinical staff while expanding to other provinces.

“It’s become emphatically clear what we’re doing is vitally important,” she says. “We want to improve healthcare for all Canadians — and we can, and we are.” 

What’s even more inspirational about this growth is it’s all being propelled by a diverse team, with 73% of team members identifying as women and 47% identifying as a member of the BIPOC community. Juggy admits achieving such diversity was no easy feat, but it was a task she was passionate about as a BIPOC woman, and having been the “first” in so many situations. 

“I always say as soon as you are in a position of authority, you need to make the changes you know needed to be made before you got there,” she says. “As I ascended in my career and my influence increased, I quickly did that. I’m really proud of how diverse we are. We are now far more representative of the markets we are serving.” 

Beyond just being diverse, the team works together to create an inclusive environment. She has men on her team who have been some of the most amazing champions of women, and women who support BIPOC men. The end goal is about creating teams that help build momentum to support the DEI movement — only then will it multiply and amplify as new leaders enter organizations. 

One way to make this task easier, Juggy says, is to hire people who share your values and who are driven by the purpose of your team and organization. “Seek out people who have shared values. Their values should align with where you work, too,” she says, adding you don’t need to be a VP to spark change. There are often resource groups within companies — TELUS has many of these including Connections for women-identified employees and Reach for Black team members — where shared experiences can be discussed and ideas can be voiced. 

“Don’t let perfection be an enemy of the good or let that be the reason you don’t start pushing for transformation.”

“If you’re in an organization that lacks these groups, start one and demonstrate the value they bring to employee engagement and progress.” 

Juggy knows many feel trepidation about starting something new or pushing for progress and change — both are scary when you aren’t sure who supports your ideas. In the early days of her career, she struggled with the notion that success is often at odds with a person’s need to be right. The latter, she learned, can be alienating. 

“Don’t let perfection be an enemy of the good or let that be the reason you don’t start pushing for transformation,” Juggy advises. “You’ll feel good about starting and can just tweak your idea and scale it and make it better as you move along. Force yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and learn.”

In the end, she says, we should all be striving to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. 

“I believe in social capitalism and so does my organization. I am purpose driven; I want to leverage my own leadership to do as much social good in the world as I can. My team is purpose driven to make healthcare more accessible for Canadians. TELUS is purpose driven to solve this public health challenge,” Juggy says. “I think we are living in a historic time and great things can come from tragic circumstances like COVID-19 — society can become stronger and better if we are willing to work together for that.” 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani made it to a VP role by knowing when to rebel — and sticking to her values.

Shazia Zeb Sobani

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani learned at an early age she would have to rebel against the status quo to get where she wanted to go. 

“I grew up in Pakistan and went to an all-girls boarding school. There were always separate rules and social norms for girls and boys,” says Shazia. “I became passionate about challenging those norms. I didn’t see my values or what I wanted to be doing reflected in many of the things I was being offered.”

Those values — respect, equity, and curiosity — are things Shazia has used to guide her career decisions ever since completing a marketing degree at the University of the Punjab. It was following her MBA from the University of Calgary (where she now lives) that she accepted a role at TELUS. Today, after 15 years with the organization, Shazia is Vice President of Customer Network Implementation, accelerating fast and high quality broadband connectivity to minimize the digital divide while motivating a team of almost 600 people. She encourages them all to do what she did: challenge the norm. 

“Because of my tech-oriented position, I am very often the only woman at the boardroom table, whether that’s at an international conference or a stakeholder meeting,” she says. “But that also means I’m now in a position where I can advocate for change and the support of marginalized groups, and to create a level playing field.” 

Shazia says her position at TELUS has also given her the opportunity to create solutions that will establish technological equity for two distinct population groups within Canada: those living in rural areas and the Indigenous. Her team is at the forefront of two projects that will see the company’s Purefibre technology brought to millions of previously underserved individuals. 

“Everyone has to have access to high-speed internet, so we are rolling up our sleeves to close the digital divide,” she says. “It’s been infeasible in the past to bring connectivity to these areas, but if we don’t invest we are handcuffing these communities to forgo participation in the global economy, which is something that will have tangible impacts on their social and economic well-being.” 

“If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

This is just one of the projects that allows Shazia to break down barriers for others — while also affording her the ability to challenge herself on a daily basis. She’s an advisor to the TELUS Diversity & Inclusion council, a coach and mentor at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the University of Calgary, and on the board of Women in Communication and Technology. In all her efforts, Shazia encourages younger generations to dream about going into roles they’ve only seen previously held by men. “They can aspire to be engineers and data scientists.”

Curiosity is key, too; Shazia believes having a growth mindset can help women evolve their careers and move into positions where they inspire and spark change. Women leaders also need to embrace who they are and to stand up for their values, regardless of what those may be.

“We need to learn to be ourselves. We have to stop trying too hard to fit in and eschew stereotypes that women are too emotional or can’t make decisions,” says Shazia. “If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

Shazia also advises that developing a support system will help women leaders persevere through challenging times, like COVID, “because whether anyone likes it or not, women are still expected to do too many things — from managing households to running teams and even taking care of friends and family.” Relying on similarly situated peers you respect and confiding in them when things get to be overwhelming will help you sit more comfortably with the idea that no one can do it all. How and where you need to direct your energy day-to-day will constantly change, she adds. 

“There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect.” 

Don’t try too hard to fit in or be perfect,” Shazia says. “There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect. One day your family will have to be a priority; another you might have to devote more time to your career. We always need to weigh the tradeoffs and ensure what we’re doing aligns with our values.”

Most importantly, she encourages any woman — especially those seeking a career change post-COVID — to do a deep dive into what matters to them on a daily basis before taking a leap. This will ensure their next move lets them create the change they want to see, both personally and professionally. 

“What are you passionate about? What do you value most in life? Does the work you would be doing keep you close to your values?” she asks. “If something doesn’t align with the things you value most, it might not be the ideal role. Be intentional with your choices. Don’t rush. Focus. This will help you do what you love while helping others around you.”

How Suzanne Trusdale’s personal journey has shaped her small business role at TELUS.

Suzanne Trusdale

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

For the last year and half, entrepreneurs have faced numerous, varied, and entirely new challenges — all thanks to COVID. 

Suzanne Trusdale, Vice-President of TELUS Small Business Solutions, can relate. Early on in her career, she ran her own small business — a restaurant and catering company in Western Ontario. Now, she’s leading a team that not only provides everyday support to TELUS’ small business customers, but also creates initiatives and programs to enable entrepreneurs to thrive. 

Running her own business has brought her closer to those who want to follow an entrepreneurial path. “I always wanted to have my own business, long before university,” Suzanne says. “I went to Ryerson University in Toronto to study hotel administration and believed that one day I was going to have my own restaurant and hopefully a catering company.”

After graduating, Suzanne spent a few years working for a prominent restaurateur. When they announced they were going to sell one of their locations, she seized the opportunity to get her start as a small business owner. Alongside a business partner and team, Suzanne built a strong brand and continued to grow the catering side of the business enjoying every exciting moment and challenge of her journey. That was until the recession of the late 80’s hit. After months of trying to stay solvent and keep things afloat, she realized that she needed to make the very difficult decision to close the business.  

“This all happened before I was 30,” she says. “If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

Ready to start again, she left Ontario for British Columbia, and eventually took on a role at BC Tel, a telephone company that merged with TELUS in 1998 to become the second-largest telecom company in Canada. 

“If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

“I thought I would go there for a bit, but that I would eventually get back to what I was passionate about: hospitality and starting another business.” Instead, Suzanne was given the opportunity to grow her position at TELUS and to bring some of her passion for small business to the roles she took on. “I’ve been able to build a tremendous career for myself in a space I’m incredibly passionate about. Some may say I have the best of both worlds.”

Suzanne credits mentorship and sponsorship — having internal champions that helped guide her and connect her to opportunities — for playing key roles in her career growth. It’s become a passion point for her as well; she regularly volunteers her time with organizations that look to advance opportunities for women and girls, especially in STEM. She’s also taken on the role of global co-chair for TELUS Connections, a resource group that looks to empower and create development and leadership opportunities for women within the organization.

As of late, Suzanne’s focus has been on leading her team to help support small businesses as they navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. “There was a lot of panic last March. What’s been so inspirational is how quickly the majority of small businesses were able to pivot. Some were able to move faster because they had great digital infrastructure in place, and we saw an influx of organizations come forward with products enabling small businesses to connect with their customers in new ways,” she notes. “TELUS is one of those key partners for small business owners. We’ve been able to offer tools and products to help small businesses and entrepreneurs go from brick and mortar stores to digital, or vice versa.”

Suzanne served a key role in advocating for TELUS’ small business customers through the ideation of the now viral campaign called #StandWithOwners. The initiative has done everything from surprising business owners with gift certificates to giving them the funds they need to enhance their digital presence or improve their advertising. Since mid-2020, TELUS has invested $1.5 million (and counting) in the entrepreneurial community.

“I am proud of so many things that we have done this year, but this one is near and dear to my heart,” Suzanne notes. “TELUS has done so very much to give back and that is so important to me as a team member, as a Canadian, and as a woman in business.”

“It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

The “she-cession” — a term coined to describe the unequal impact COVID has had on working women — has been difficult for Suzanne to witness first-hand. “If you think about the pressure of balancing home and work, especially when the sectors that have been impacted the most are sectors led by women — everyone has a breaking point,” she says. “It’s been unfortunate to see so many women forced to choose between supporting their family and career. It’s the wrong direction we need to go in Canada.”

The two big things Suzanne wants women entrepreneurs struggling in these COVID circumstances to know is they are not alone, and “this too shall pass.” 

“I do think so many women entrepreneurs feel they’re alone, but they’re not. Women aren’t really great at saying ‘I’m on the cusp of giving up or shutting it down and I just need some help,’” she notes. “It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

Her advice for small business owners is to take a step back and assess the stress of the times and the “tyranny of the now.” She says it’s always better to “stop, calm down, breathe, and step back for a second,” so you can figure out who to lean on for support. 

“If a person doesn’t have a mentor or coach and isn’t actively working with an organization that can provide education and advice — organizations like local chambers of commerce and Women of Influence — they need to start taking advantage of them,” she says. “There are so many people and companies that want to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. All someone needs to do is reach out and ask.”

How two moms built a grassroots to global program at TELUS.

TELUS Mama Bears Founders

As ambitious, career driven women and first time moms, Angelica Victoria and Kate Evans saw an opportunity to build a way to connect mothers in their workplace: creating a community, cultivating a culture of support, and driving positive change. The grassroots program that they started has now turned global across TELUS, and they are leveraging their platform to create a legacy of change by amplifying the voice of the mother as they advocate to improve the lives of working parents. Their vision is to reimagine and institute a world-leading experience for moms at their organization and beyond.

by Angelica Victoria & Kate Evans

 

We call it the “Mama Bear Magic”: the instantaneous, unspoken connection and easy rapport built when sharing our experiences, vulnerabilities, challenges, and joys as mothers in the workplace. 

After having returned from our respective parental leaves and serendipitously becoming teammates, we both understood the ups and downs of managing a household with a small child, while also managing our demanding day jobs. Quite quickly it was evident that we were both equally passionate about our families as we were about our careers. We’re also immensely grateful and lucky to have joined a team with fantastic, world class leaders, and our immediate support person was a mom herself who was incredibly kind, understanding, and empathetic to our needs and aspirations. 

We discovered early how incredibly powerful it was to have fellow like-minded women and allies to lean on and learn from, not only for day-to-day parental tips and tricks, but also for navigating our career journeys, workplace nuances and norms — both from an emotional and tactical standpoint. This gave us the idea to build a program focused specifically on the niche of mothers within our workplace, where we could get career/life guidance, mentorship, and alliance from women who have been there before us, and share our own learnings and best practices with those who have yet to embark on the journey that is motherhood. And thus was born: The Mama Bear Program

And then COVID hit. Suddenly, the challenges of working mothers were exacerbated even further, with the pandemic creating even more pressure and workload for parents across the board. It was time to launch our side-of-the-desk project as we knew having a community of support was needed more than ever.

Within only a few short months, the grassroots initiative garnered a groundswell of support and expanded nationally and globally across TELUS, resonating incredibly strongly with many, many mama bears across the organization. It was a poignant, pragmatic offering that addressed a long-standing gap and aligned in many ways with broader issues gaining societal traction across various platforms. We shared it proudly and gained leadership support and advocacy to progress our impetus for change, sparking thought provoking conversations, and fueling ambitious goals and the vision of a world-leading team member experience for mothers at our organization and beyond.

Looking back, here’s what we learned:

Start with the why: drive a vision and dream big.
  • Be thoughtful, strategic, and articulate about the purpose you want to pursue, and the opportunity you want to address. 
  • Embrace challenges and vulnerabilities. Realize that you’re not alone and speak to these to connect a community and create an authentic voice. 
  • Set the bar high and create a strong, compelling, connecting brand for your program and platform. Be inclusive and welcoming, but focused on your niche market.
Bring a myriad of strengths to the table.
  • It’s been a true partnership between us — the power of our working relationship is that we balance each other out, we have our own unique strengths that we bring and exercise, we teach each other so much, and we are stronger together.
  • Thoughtfully and intentionally build a team and invite trusted voices to join you. We started with a couple of mamas working together at launch, and over time we’ve grown into a fantastic working team with various incredible skills. That’s been instrumental in allowing our program to scale.
  • Seek out advisers and champions — they are there! Look around, share your story, garner support, and tap into brilliant minds. We are so humbled to have our steering committee, VP sponsor, and various other passionate advocates to guide us and enable us to be better. 
Advocate for the community.
  • Take the lead and start the conversations. Timing is key, focus on progress over perfection, and begin even before you feel like you’re ready. Trust us — you got this!
  • Welcome and listen to the voice of the mother: no one person has the perfect answer. Learn, listen, and iterate as you go to build a meaningful program for the community.
  • Understand that every journey is different, but collectively, we are stronger together. The wonderful thing is that in spite of all the differences and paths we take, the thread that connects us all is the journey of motherhood.

It’s been an incredible, amazing journey to create and build up this program and scale it to where it is today. We’ve truly also surprised ourselves with how much we’ve been able to achieve together as a team. We never dreamt things would unfold the way that they have, with humbling challenges and phenomenal wins, and we are so grateful for it. The fuel that’s kept us going is our purpose, and at our core, we’ve found a way to stay empowered and inspired by the wonderful women around us in this community, by our children, and especially by our own moms who raised us and have been such a strong role models in shaping who we are, the women and mothers we’ve become — teaching us the importance of harvesting strong relationships, being committed to our values, living with strength and grace, and being our own personal women of influence. 

Meet Carinne Chambers-Saini Founder of Diva International And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Winner

Carinne Chambers-Saini

Founder, Diva International

TELUS Trailblazer Award Winner

 

Carinne Chambers-Saini has led a 15-year journey to create and market the revolutionary product and brand, the DivaCup. As the only real innovation in feminine hygiene in decades, the DivaCup has completely disrupted the industry by providing the most eco-friendly, clean and comfortable way to address menstrual care on the market today. In addition to working towards her business dreams, Carinne is also a wife and mother of two kids, who continually motivate her to push for more.

 

My first job ever was… working as a fifteen-year-old at my mother’s retail jewelry kiosk in our suburban mall.

 I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was inspired by my mother and father’s entrepreneurial spirit—and I always knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

My proudest accomplishment is… creating a company that has changed the way people worldwide handle their menstrual experience.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I’m a dance mom, on the road on weekends to competitions with my 9-year-old daughter Maliya.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to be persistent and to push past fear, never allowing the naysayers to stop you from pursuing your dream.

My best advice from a mentor was… to celebrate the small victories, savouring each step along the way, even if it feels like your miles away from your goal.

 

“Surrounding yourself with a tribe of people who are just as passionate about your vision as you are will go a long way toward helping you stay committed.”

 

My biggest setback was… experiencing executive burnout during the same period I had two children in quick succession.

I overcame it by… prioritizing my health and self-care, while trusting the team around me to provide needed support.

I never go a day without… reminding myself how grateful I am.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… take a Salsa class!

I stay inspired by… reading health, leadership, parenting and/or spiritual-based books that help me become the best version of myself

The future excites me because… when it comes to menstrual care, we’re creating An Inner Revolution for people everywhere, and we’re really just getting started!

 

 

Meet Jesse Finkelstein Founder of Page Two And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


 

Jesse Finkelstein

Founder, Page Two

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White have 35 years of combined experience in book publishing. The pair worked together at D&M Publishers until 2012, when the company went into creditor protection. With their backs against the wall, they choose to take a leap of faith and found Page Two — a company that helps non-fiction authors navigate all of their options for publication, and helps organizations with their publishing activities.

 

 

My first job ever was… camp counsellor at a bilingual camp. I loved helping kids build friendships with one another across a language gap, forging lasting bonds while they learned English or French and breaking down the “two solitudes” barriers we often experienced growing up in Quebec.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was convinced that there was a better way to provide an exceptional publishing experience to subject-matter experts, thought leaders, organizations, and other entrepreneurs, and I knew that no one else was doing it the way that I wanted to. I also saw an opportunity to build the company with the person I admired most in the publishing landscape: Trena White, who is Page Two’s co-founder and the best business partner anyone could ask for. The mutual admiration and respect that Trena and I have for one another is the heart and soul of Page Two, and I believe that it’s laid the foundation for our success. 

My proudest accomplishment is… learning to own my sense of accomplishment and ambition as an entrepreneur, and doing it while raising a family. When we launched Page Two, my kids were old enough to understand that I was doing something bold and new, as well as trying to earn a good living for our family, and I know they appreciate that even though I’ve chaperoned very few school field trips and always take my laptop to hockey practice. They see that I can take great pride in work and great joy in raising them, and those things aren’t mutually exclusive. That feels like a big win for me.     

I surprise people when I tell them… I used to be terribly shy and introverted. I worked hard to overcome that and now I love reaching out to new people and spending time among strangers who might become colleagues, clients or friends. This is a good thing because Page Two depended on my (and my business partner, Trena’s) ability to do that!

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… hold on to your vision, but not dogmatically. As a disruptor, you’ll face naysayers and others who resist the way you’re challenging their practices and assumptions. Listen to the thoughtful ones; their responses will help you refine your offering so that it’s even stronger than it otherwise would be. And of course let yourself be uplifted by those who believe in you from the beginning – they’re the wind in your sails.

My best advice from a mentor was… my mom told me that every problem will have its own solution (which I call faith), and my dad told me that people will respect me if I stand up for myself, even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient for them (which I call chutzpah). Those two pieces of advice have guided my life and career, especially in challenging moments. 

 

 

 

“Self-care is a big buzzword these days in business and only now am I realizing how critical it is for my own sense of peace and well-being. Sleep, exercise, healthy food, and downtime — they are not optional.”

 

 

My biggest setback was… working at a company that went through a bankruptcy process. It was heartbreaking to see the end of a beloved independent publisher and it was a time of great professional strife for all of us who worked there. 

I overcame it by… relying on the wisdom of a great mentor and role model, Anne Giardini, who phoned me as soon as she heard the company news. She told me that if I could hang on through the grinding months ahead as we dealt with selling assets and dealing with creditors while losing our jobs, I would find it to be an invaluable learning experience that would help me build more resilience than I even knew I had. She was right; I think that experience emboldened me and gave me the courage to become an entrepreneur.

I never go a day without… feeling grateful for the privilege of the loving, prosperous family into which I was born, and feeling grateful for my mental health and that of my kids. 

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… read for fun instead of for work! 

I stay inspired by… spending time among my female friends and colleagues. Their strength, resilience, and creativity are astounding and I love learning from them.

The future excites me because… Page Two has been very successful in its first six years yet I feel like we’re just getting started. We now have an amazing team who are poised to run the company so Trena and I can find new ways to build on and refine our offering. Recently, one of our employees said she feels that the possibilities at Page Two are “limitless” and it thrilled me to think that our team members feel that way too.  

 

 

Meet Trena White Founder of Page Two And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist


 

Trena White

Founder, Page Two

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White have 35 years of combined experience in book publishing. The pair worked together at D&M Publishers until 2012, when the company went into creditor protection. With their backs against the wall, they choose to take a leap of faith and found Page Two — a company that helps non-fiction authors navigate all of their options for publication, and helps organizations with their publishing activities.

 

My first job ever was… working in a berry-processing plant in my hometown in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. It was mind-numbing work and physically tiring to stand up at a conveyor belt for hours on end, with the shifts ending in the early-morning hours. It taught me about perseverance and opened my eyes to my own privilege because I was just working there for a summer, not for a career. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had worked in book publishing for many years and believed that if we created a new model that engaged the author in a meaningful way from the very beginning of the publishing process, extraordinary things might result. I also met the right person at the right time, my brilliant now co-founder and dear friend Jesse Finkelstein, which made launching a company seem possible after years of my private dreams of starting something. Together we shaped the vision for what Page Two has become.

My proudest accomplishment is… building a thriving book publishing company while raising two little boys (now 3 and 6). That’s also been my biggest challenge, and I learned early on the best way to reduce my anxiety and guilt about whether the business or the boys were receiving my attention at any given moment was to create clear boundaries: for the most part, when I am with my boys I am unavailable for work, because I want to give them my full focus.

I surprise people when I tell them… that we started to build Page Two when my first son was two months old and I was still adjusting to motherhood.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to stay focused on solving your ideal customers’ problems with the status quo. We’ve refined our model and our offering many times over the years in response to feedback from our customers, both on our own services and on their other publishing experiences.  

My best advice from a mentor was… from my dad, who has emphasized over and over indirect advice to me and through stories from his own career the importance of building a team you can trust – and then supporting them however you can so they can do their best work. My mom always told me “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and I think I absorbed that belief in the power of determination and hard work.

 

“Self-care is a big buzzword these days in business and only now am I realizing how critical it is for my own sense of peace and well-being. Sleep, exercise, healthy food, and downtime — they are not optional.”

 

My biggest setback was… experiencing the bankruptcy of a company that I previously worked for. 

I overcame it by… starting to think about what my own business would like if I were to launch one

I never go a day without… feeling grateful for my co-founder and the unfailing support of my husband.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… daydream more.

I stay inspired by… each conversation I have with an author about their big ideas. Publishing non-fiction books is humbling because I’m constantly connecting with people who are far smarter than I am. For me, it’s a great joy to be surrounded by leading experts with deep knowledge in their fields, and it’s a privilege to learn something new from each of them.

The future excites me because… we have made it through the chaotic start-up years and we have an incredible team who are exceptionally talented and creative and are bringing Page Two into its sophomore stage.  

 

 

Meet Natalie Voland Founder of Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis And 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

Natalie Voland

Founder, Gestion Immobilière Quo Vadis

TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

With a background in social work, Natalie Voland created a unique vision using real estate projects as a tool of economic development and urban regeneration, leading to the creation of over 3,000 new jobs. A Quebec leader in social innovation, Natalie works collaboratively with strategic partners to redevelop communities — earning her B Corp Certification based on her triple bottom line practices. A faculty professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, she has developed a new paradigm of real estate called Yield Development.

 

My first job ever was… my first official job was working at a video store where they also sold ice cream at a mall that was close to where I grew up.  I had many smaller jobs like babysitting and childcare since I was 11 years old. I wanted to work at the video store as I wanted to learn how to sell and be part of a vibrant community- everyone wanted to hang out at the video/ice cream store and I was in the full action.  I got to understand the preferences of the customers, and have suggestions for them when they came in. I learned the ropes on the paperwork, ordering, profit margins and “up sales”. I was 16, I was in a car accident that severely damaged my leg- my employers and the staff were super supportive during my surgeries and held my position for me until I was ready to come back to work.  I learned what loyalty was in business even in such an entry position, that when I came back to work early on crutches as I wanted to show the team my dedication to them. These valuable lessons helped me to become the leader that I am today- my team and their wellbeing is at the core of our company.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… entrepreneurship chose me.  I was a social worker in the health system for trauma and critical care, and my father fell ill and asked me to come to work in his Real Estate company. I agreed to come for one year “to help out”, as long as my social values would not change because I was going into Real Estate Development.  I had a pencil, calculator, and a stubborn will not give up. With zero training. I was not aware that companies I just took over were actually in precarious condition financially, that we had difficult staff and a negative partner, matched with being severely underfunded. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  The school of hard knocks almost knocked me out so many times, yet the loyalty of the staff and our growing client base made me get up every morning to show that socially responsible entrepreneurship is the solution to growing social and environmental crises. I chose to use my social values to push forward “re-inventing” that Real Estate and demonstrate that you can make a profit while serving the communities that we work in.

My proudest accomplishment is… hard to say what my proudest moment is; because there are many.  I have dedicated the last 23 years of my business life to lead by example and to make decisions that if reported back to my daughters, I would be proud of. I am proud that I choose to give my staff the room to be their own leaders and entrepreneurs in our company so we together that create a meaningful life in and out of the office.  However, when I teach or give speeches on my work, and someone comes up to me and says that my road has inspired them to work differently, or create their own company, or that in a dark moment, something I said to them made them get up and keep going to the path that they have chosen for themselves.  I could also add that I am proud when my two daughters see my example that life is not fair, that it’s hard but worth to stick what you believe in as my greatest accomplishment.

I surprise people when I tell them… that, even today, after all these years and leading a successful business that creates inclusive communities and new jobs, I count my accomplishment how many “no’s” I have turned into “yes’s”.  It always seems that people think you are an overnight success; that took 23 years in the making. It never becomes easy to be an entrepreneur; the very nature of being a business leader is that you must continue to innovate, adapt to continuing market conditions, so you are never “done”.

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… to understand your responsibility as a trailblazer or a disrupter.  You must understand the “why” of what you wish to use business to solve and then figure out the “how” along the way.  However, this concept that it’s ok to fail is a fallacy: pivot, don’t fail- one road does not work, try another. To compliment this point, my follow up advice is- “never disrupt without replacing a solution to what you have disrupted”.  When you disrupt and walk, you have left a vacuum to showing what does not work in an industry that can lead to instability. As an entrepreneur, it is our job to find other ways and solutions.

My best advice from a mentor was… Nelson Mandela said many amazing things, however, my favourite advises from him is the saying “ It always seems impossible until it’s done”.  When you think of that for a moment, you can realize that looking back some of the best solutions to challenges are obvious. However, when you are in the thick of a huge new innovation or disruption of an industry, many traditional forces will push back at you.  The more successful you are at moving the ticker a little, the more you will get push back from the industry leaders that stand to lose market share because of your ideals. Like for us in Real Estate, we are proving that you can make market-rate returns and have a triple bottom mandate that includes social and environmental leadership.  Traditional forces in Real Estate often would see the concept of “profit now” as their rule of thumb. Then they would set up a foundation to funnel tax credits to donate to the very causes that they have been partially responsible for creating through their industry decisions. Mission alignment in investment strategies are now bearing the time of day- market-driven consumer and employee choices are making many industries realize the impact that they could have that could be positive and lucrative.

 

“You must understand the ‘why’ of what you wish to use business to solve and then figure out the ‘how’ along the way.”

 

My biggest setback was… oh gosh, there are so many!  I would say access to capital and finance our Real Estate projects were my biggest setbacks in realizing our projects.  We do not fit in the box of “Mr. Credit” in underwriting, and if our projects don’t get funded, we cannot make the impact that we can make.  The biggest recurring challenge is to convince people that doing right in business is actually a lower risk than traditional industries. The social values we hold will also not allow us to fail.  So over time banks and lenders are starting to realize the value of the B Corp movement as an asset to reducing their risk to be paid back their loan.

I overcame it by… I had a three-tiered approach. At first, I used many awards to demonstrate the ability of my company to be a credible leader in the industry. Over time we were awarded accolades in building reconversions, to community development, to sustainable leadership strategies, to entrepreneurship awards to show that we are making a difference. These awards we won continued to grow in stature and scope and helped the bankers to realize that we were moving forward and would not go away. I also chose to have private investments, even ones that were aggressive because an interest-only, non-recourse loan is better than closing my company. The last approach was to be the best in the industry and get our occupancy rates to speak for themselves. We are currently holding a 165,000 square feet waiting list, all our 1.5 million square feet of our current portfolio are rented and we are in final stages to launch three new projects that are another 1 million square feet of socially inclusive, environmentally responsive constructions.

I never go a day without… having great conversations with my daughters.  They are my inspiration and my grounding force. They guide me with their world views and make me realize why I do what I do.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… funny enough, if I had an extra hour in a day I would sleep!

I stay inspired by… teaching our work to others.  I teach in universities, speak to community groups, work with urban planners, and entrepreneurs.  These experiences often always teach me more just by forcing myself to stay current and challenged.  My speeches also allow me to see many other cities and I use those opportunities to learn new best practices in our field of Impact Real Estate that I can apply to my own work in my company.

The future excites me because… as we finally see the momentum of “Using Business As A Force of Good” as the motto of the B Corp movement.  We are finally not “crazy” but “inspirational”. We have an amazing and growing team, bankers and investors that have seen our success and are working with us to scale our work.  The phone is ringing off the hook for new projects and we can apply our knowledge to new challenges while our prior projects continue to prove through the test of time that our type of Real Estate makes great returns, loyal clients and staff and moves the ticker for social inclusion and making a statement to attack the growing climate crisis.  It’s a win-win-win-win proposition we are offering. We hope that our hard work for all these years will trailblaze the road for others to follow and inspire others to make their own way without having to leave their values at the door to their office. It’s a very exciting time for us!

 

 

How Toni Desrosiers found success fighting plastic pollution with Abeego, the first beeswax food wrap

When she first launched Abeego, Toni Desrosiers was met with skepticism — people couldn’t imagine giving up plastic wrap. She persevered through the challenge of creating a new market, and now the award-winning entrepreneur can boast years of explosive growth, and her reusable beeswax wrap can be found in more than 1,500 stores, 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of kitchens worldwide.

 

 

By Karen van Kampen

 


 

In 2008, when Toni Desrosiers launched Abeego with the first beeswax food wrap, “people literally laughed in my face,” she says. “They thought it was just ridiculous.” It was too hard to imagine replacing trusted plastic wrap with a reusable, all-natural alternative. 

“We all have an intimate relationship with plastic wrap, even if we don’t realize it,” says Toni. “It’s something that’s been passed down from your mother. Nobody questions it because it’s been so habitual for the last three generations.” 

Eleven years later, with food waste and the plastic environmental crisis looming, Abeego is successfully taking on the multi-billion-dollar plastic wrap market with its mission to “keep food alive.” 

The average household throws out 40% of its fresh food, “and it’s no fault of theirs,” says Toni. “It’s simply because people don’t understand how to keep food alive once it’s been picked, pulled or plucked. With Abeego, you get to eat the food that you buy,” explains Toni. “You eat it all.” 

Fresh food has always been an integral part of Toni’s life. Growing up in Olds, Alberta, Toni was given her own garden plot to tend where she grew strawberries and peas. Her mother was an herbalist who made tinctures, teas and natural remedies. 

At 24, Toni moved to Mexico, living in small beachside communities in a camper van with only the necessities. Toni shopped locally at small butchers and tortilla shops and fruterias. The experience “taught me to be fully aware of my surroundings, as risk and opportunity are around every corner,” she says. 

The following year Toni returned to Canada, enrolling in a holistic nutrition program at Ottawa’s Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Completing the two-year program in six months, she graduated in 2005 at the top of her class. Her next move was to Victoria, B.C. where she took a job at Lifestyle Markets. Working at the natural food store helped Toni realize that fresh food is the best supplement for good health. 

An entrepreneur at heart, Toni says “I was always thinking about what business I could create that would solve a different problem.” Her big idea came after asking herself, “If nature was going to wrap food in my kitchen, what would it look like?” Toni knew that plastic wrap wasn’t the answer. “There isn’t a single peel, skin or rind in the natural world that is air tight and transparent,” she says. Toni set out to make an all natural, reusable, breathable food wrap to keep food fresh. 

 

“We all have an intimate relationship with plastic wrap, even if we don’t realize it,” says Toni. “It’s something that’s been passed down from your mother. Nobody questions it because it’s been so habitual for the last three generations.” 

 

After extensive experimentation, Toni invented a formula of beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil that created a sealable barrier akin to plastic wrap while also keeping food fresh. In 2008, Abeego was born in Toni’s kitchen.

Offering advice to other inventors, Toni says, “You might have an idea that’s going to change the world. But if the market is not ready for your idea, it might take either a really long time and a ton of work — and if you believe in it, keep going — or it might never go anywhere.” 

Despite initial customer skepticism, Toni never gave up. In fact, meeting customers face-to-face proved to be one of her most valuable marketing experiences. Toni quickly realized that she couldn’t position Abeego as an alternative to plastic wrap. 

“Immediately I could see people put up their defensive guard,” she says. “They felt attacked, guilty, afraid.” So Toni created a positive marketing message by focusing on how people could make a lasting change. 

Starting a business is very challenging, says Toni, especially when you are creating an entirely new category. “It took a lot of storytelling, convincing, and trust from people who were willing to give it a shot,” she says. 

Around three years ago, customers began adopting a more open, environmentally conscious mindset. At the same time, competitors entered the market. “At first I was terrified,” says Toni. But Abeego was ready. With systems in place to scale quickly, they could easily handle the volume of new customers. 

“When you set yourself specific boundaries and then give yourself the freedom to build within those boundaries, you build something sustainable and scalable,” Toni says. 

Abeego has had 100% year-over-year growth for the past two years, and is on target to double again in 2019. Its reusable beeswax wrap can be found in more than 1,500 stores, 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of kitchens worldwide. The success has been recognized: Toni was the 2018 winner of the TELUS Trailblazer Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has identified and captured a new market while setting standards for originality, quality and successful management. 

For Toni, the journey is more rewarding than the destination. Looking back, she says, “I’d tell my younger self to enjoy the doing, because just trying to get to the end goal is thankless. It’s just too hard. You have to enjoy the things that you’re doing along the way, regardless of the outcome.”

Five Minutes with Arlene Dickinson, CEO of District Ventures & TELUS Pitch Judge

Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most successful — and recognizable — entrepreneurs. Best known for her role as a Dragon on the multi-award-winning television series Dragons’ Den, she built her fortune with Venture Communications, and just a few years ago, launched District Ventures — an accelerator, venture fund, and communications firm focused on turning successful Canadian companies in the food and health space into globally respected brands. She is a two-time bestselling author, an accomplished public speaker, a television and podcast host, and the winner of multiple awards for her leadership and entrepreneurial success. Arlene sits on several public and private boards and is actively involved in supporting the community. We caught up with her after the TELUS Pitch contest — she serves as a judge — to get her top tips for entrepreneurs.

 


 

When it comes to business advice, there is so much out there that it can be difficult to know what to trust. What is the best business advice you have ever been given?

I get that question a lot. And so I can tell you that, when I think about it, I think it really comes back down to my dad’s advice, which really wasn’t business advice — it was life advice. And I think, at the end of the day, they’re the same thing. His advice to me was to always trust yourself. Always believe in yourself. Make sure that you listen to your instincts and make sure that you believe that what you’re doing is the best possible you can do. 

 

It’s safe to say that you have perfected the art of the pitch — after years of pitching for your own businesses, in your capacity as a Dragon on Dragons’ Den, and with your own fund and accelerator, District Ventures. What makes the perfect pitch for you?  

For someone to be successful when they’ve pitched me an idea, there are three things they’d have to demonstrate: they have to be honest, they have to be genuine and authentic, and they have to understand what a win-win means. In other words, tell me how I’m going to make money, tell me how you’re going to succeed as well.

 

If you had to pick two characteristics that have helped you to excel in your career, and are important for all entrepreneurs to possess, what would they be?

The two qualities I think are incredibly important are tenacity and persistence. You have to stay at it and you can’t let something stop you or get in your way.