It’s in her nature: Why Allison Christilaw chose serial entrepreneurship over partnership in a professional services giant

When Allison Christilaw and her husband sold their successful management consulting firm to Deloitte, she was taken on as a partner in the firm. A few years later she was striking out on her own path to create Reddin Global — and she’s still on that journey today.  

 

 


 

By Shelley White

 

Allison Christilaw is a born entrepreneur.

She and her husband, Doug Emerson, successfully ran a management consulting firm, Managerial Design Corporation, for 18 years, helping leaders across five continents run their own organizations more effectively. When they sold their company to professional services giant Deloitte in 2011, Allison joined Deloitte for a few years as a partner. Deloitte was a great company, she says, but the fit just wasn’t right for her.  

“My sister-in-law at one point told me, ‘You’re a terrible employee,’ because I just kind of like to do my own thing,” laughs Allison, now CEO of Reddin Global in Oakville, Ont. “I work well with my partners. And in a smaller business you can you have a huge influence over the organization, whereas you feel like just a number in a large organization. I like to strike out on my own path, and my husband’s the same way.”

After leaving Deloitte, there was only one thing to do: start a new business to develop and grow.  

“As entrepreneurs, you don’t ever say, ‘Let’s just go to the beach,’” says Allison. “You say, ‘What do we do next?’”

Allison and Doug created Reddin Global in 2015, with the aim of creating tools to help managers run their teams more effectively. Doug has largely left the business to do consulting, and Allison is at the helm of Reddin Global as CEO. The company’s main product is the Emerson Suite, a SaaS mobile platform that helps companies manage their teams more collaboratively, with objective-setting, action-planning, time management and other prioritization tools at their fingertips.

“It’s designed so that there’s transparency across the team,” says Allison. “So if you and I are teammates, we can see each other’s objectives. It’s a tool to get everyone focused on the right things and holding each other accountable.”

Allison says their clients tend to be medium-sized organizations, though they work with some smaller and larger enterprises as well.

“We’re still new, so we’re still trying to get our marketing and targeting right,” she says. “It’s hard starting a business and getting all those things clear. It’s an ongoing journey of learning and pivoting while trying to keep investors happy.”

One big source of support for Allison in her entrepreneurial journey has been BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada). She first got involved with BDC when she and Doug were looking for some funding for Reddin Global in the first year of the business, says Allison.

“We took a loan out from them, and the terms were very favourable for us given where we were as a business,” she says. “And I must say they’ve been great about staying in touch and keeping an open door. They’ve been quite supportive.”

On recommendation from BDC, Allison got involved in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC), an initiative that aims to help women become more successful entrepreneurs by addressing some of the obstacles they face. According to Industry Canada, female-owned SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) exhibit lower growth than male-owned SMEs. And the 2013 Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) showed that the majority of women founders struggle to access the capital, technology, networks and knowledge they need to scale their business.

Allison is participating in WEC’s Circle of Innovation program, which pairs female entrepreneurs with engineering students from the University of Waterloo in order to help them build their digital strategy and scale their business.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” says Allison of being involved with the Circle of Innovation program. “I’m also a huge believer in supporting young people and helping them get started in their career the right way. It felt like this was a good thing for us, but also for the student that we are bringing on.”

They’ve been working with their intern, 19-year-old engineering student Kira Wadden, since May, and Allison says it’s been a positive experience for all. “She’s fantastic,” says Allison. “We’ve had her working primarily with our UX [user experience] developers and she’s very capable. Without a lot of direction, she’s undertaken some projects, such as an accessibility audit of our website, and she’s done some really great work for us.”

Allison says she would definitely recommend the program to other entrepreneurs.  

“If all of the students are like Kira, you have nothing to lose,” she says. “And it’s great to have a young person on the team, sitting in on conversations, contributing their views on the product.”

As for Allison’s future plans for Reddin Global, she says they will continue to grow the business and expand their client base. She says the support of organizations like BDC and Cisco has been important, especially as she navigates the many challenges of marketing and scaling a growing technology company.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun too. I wouldn’t change anything,” says Allison. “I remember when I was leaving Deloitte, one of the partners said to me, ‘Are you nuts? Why are you giving this up?’ But I need that freedom of driving something forward, and knowing that it’s mine to drive.”

 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

How Scotiabank and Shirlie Delacherois are empowering Canada’s Aboriginal community

As a young girl, Shirlie Delacherois was aware of her Aboriginal heritage, but didn’t fully appreciate its value until much later in life. It was after a 20-year career at Scotiabank that Shirlie had the opportunity to continue the bank’s long history of supporting Aboriginal Peoples — by stepping into the role of Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant. She has been connecting Aboriginal Canadians to career opportunities at Scotiabank ever since.

 


 

By Shelley White

 

Shirlie Delacherois remembers the day she discovered her passion for Aboriginal recruiting.

While working as a manager with Scotiabank’s Western Canada Recruitment Team, Shirlie’s boss suggested she go to Inclusion Works, a national Aboriginal career fair in Saskatoon. Shirlie was managing the Scotiabank booth at the fair when a young Aboriginal woman shyly approached.

“She was staring down at her shoes, not sure if she should talk to us,” recalls Shirlie, now Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant for Scotiabank. “I asked if she had any questions about a career in banking, and I remember the look on her face when she said, ‘Oh no, I could never work in the bank. I don’t have a degree.’”

Shirlie says she recognized a little bit of herself in this young woman.

“I took the opportunity to share my story with her and explained that people who work at Scotiabank come from many diverse backgrounds with their own unique skills and education. If you are determined enough, you can do anything.”

It felt good to share her story with someone and inspire them, says Shirlie, a feeling she’d not felt before. “And from there I wanted to do more. It’s rewarding to give somebody the same opportunity that someone gave to me.”

Shirlie grew up with her mom and two sisters in Vernon, B.C., located in the province’s lush Okanagan Valley. Her paternal grandmother was a member of the nearby Westbank First Nation (WFN), but had given up her land and Indigenous status when she married. Because of that, Shirlie didn’t know much about her Aboriginal heritage growing up.

“To be honest, I’m still learning about my community and my culture,” says Shirlie, who now lives in Salmon Arm, B.C., which is about 1.5 hours from WFN. “I grew up my whole life not knowing where I belonged or what it means to even be First Nations. It’s only been in the last few years that my dad has started to open up about his life being a young native boy.”

As a high school student, Shirlie excelled in her studies, winning scholarships that would have helped pay for post-secondary education. But she says she lacked the confidence or support to take advantage of those opportunities.

 

“I grew up my whole life not knowing where I belonged or what it means to even be First Nations.”

 

In 1994, she applied for a position as a bank teller with a Scotiabank branch in Penticton, B.C., and was thrilled when she got the job.

“I still remember asking my first supervisor, an amazing woman named Stella, ‘Why did you hire me?’ I was young, and nothing on my résumé shouted banking by any stretch. Stella said, ‘I had a gut feeling, and it’s never been wrong yet.’ She believed in me even when I didn’t.”

That was the beginning of a nearly 25-year career at Scotiabank. Shirlie worked her way through various roles at the Penticton branch and in Williams Lake, B.C., and then jumped at the chance to move into a recruiting role.

During that fateful experience at the Inclusion Works career fair in Saskatoon, Shirlie met Scotiabank’s National Director for Aboriginal Financial Services. “She had been putting together a case for Scotiabank to have an Aboriginal recruiter, and so my timing to meet her was perfect,” says Shirlie.

In 2013, Scotiabank created the role of Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant for Shirlie, with the goal of attracting and hiring more Aboriginal talent for the organization. In her role, Shirlie travels to events, organizations and schools across Canada to promote Scotiabank as an employer of choice within Aboriginal communities. She also runs a microsite for job candidates who want to self-identify as Aboriginal, giving them one-on-one recruitment support such as résumé reviewing and mock interviewing. She co-runs a diversity internship program to provide meaningful employment opportunities at Scotiabank for Aboriginal people.

Scotiabank has long been recognized for its positive relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal community, including receiving the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Gold standing from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). Some of the Bank’s initiatives include providing scholarships and bursaries to Aboriginal students through the INDSPIRE program and sponsoring Aboriginal youth sports teams and cultural events. Shirlie says Scotiabank understands that building trust is important when working with Aboriginal communities.

“Sponsorships and philanthropy are part of that process,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to have our employees in the community actively participating in the events, growing that relationship organically.”

Shirlie points out that the Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing demographic in all of Canada. “They really are going to be the next leaders in our country and a huge stimulus to our economy going forward,” she says.

At the same time, Shirlie notes that Aboriginal students can face barriers on the road to their careers. The high school graduation rate of Aboriginal youth in Canada is lower than non-Aboriginals (though it is rising). “We do presentations to the broader Scotiabank recruitment teams once or twice a year as a reminder of the struggles and the barriers that Aboriginal Peoples face,” says Shirlie. “A candidate’s resume may not look the same as some of the other candidates in the pool, but you have to consider transferable skills.”

When it comes to the advancement of Aboriginal employees within an organization, companies can reduce barriers by creating mentorship programs and employee resource groups (ERGs), says Shirlie. Organizations should also learn as much as they can about their local Aboriginal community by researching and volunteering.

 

“I can’t really put into words what it’s meant to me to have this opportunity to gain this knowledge and meet these people, to hear their stories.”

 

“Sometimes, it can be something as simple as displaying local Aboriginal art in the workplace, which can really help an employee feel welcome and included,” says Shirlie, “Or even providing Aboriginal employees a place to smudge.” (Smudging is a spiritual cleansing ceremony involving burning sacred plants, practiced by some Aboriginal peoples.) In the Toronto headquarters of Scotiabank, you’ll find a Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Legacy Room — a space where non-indigenous and indigenous people can talk together about their different experiences and further the aim of reconciliation.

If an employee feels safe and appreciated, they’re more likely to stay, notes Shirlie. They’re also more likely to refer family or friends to work for a company, or perhaps become a customer. “It’s good business sense,” she says.

Of all her responsibilities as Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant, Shirlie says the best part has been travelling and meeting Aboriginal people across the country.

“I owe a lot of my reconnecting to my past and culture to my job,” she says. “I can’t really put into words what it’s meant to me to have this opportunity to gain this knowledge and meet these people, to hear their stories.”

She’s continuing to explore her roots and getting to know Westbank First Nation better.

“It’s a beautiful community – I love where we’re from,” she says. “In 1992, my dad moved back, and slowly the rest of our family started to move back and get involved in the community. I think I’m one of the only ones that doesn’t live there yet. But I’m getting closer,” she adds with a laugh.