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Sarah Thomson

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CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

June 15, 2010

Change is never easy to bring about because most people prefer the safety of what they know to the uncertainty of what comes with change.

I’m not sure if it was the short time I spent couch surfing and sleeping on park benches as a teen, or the experiences I have had since, but I have learned that the one and only thing I can truly count on is change.

I remember hitting what I thought was rock bottom when I was just 15 years old. I was demoralized, alone, and realizing that I wasn’t the centre of the universe, and the people who passed by my huddled form in a doorway would go on despite me. It was then that I understood that change would happen with or without me, but the decisions I made would impact it. I could influence change, but I had to own the responsibility of making myself into the person I wanted to be.

I started pumping gas at the age of 16, and at 18 started my own company leasing service stations across Ontario. At 24, I won recognition as the top dealer in Canada and by the time I was 30 I had built a multi-million dollar company that focused on turning around failing service stations and making them successful.

The key to turning around each business came from changing the predominant attitude of failure to an attitude of success.

I wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo; to change the way things had always been done. I was one of the first to bring a retail component, to break from the traditional products like oil and windshield washer fluid and bring in different items like chips, chocolate bars, and juice. I was highly criticized for it and taunted by my counterparts for being a silly woman who didn’t know what I was doing.

I persisted and eventually others realized that by adding this additional retail component to my locations I was offering convenience to the local area residents and attracting them back. Combine this with cleaning up each location and motivating the staff to be friendly, and it seemed a simple recipe for success.

But the fact is that bringing about change is never simple. It is one of the most challenging tasks one can do, but also one of the most rewarding. Service stations with stores are now common and it is in part because of my desire to change the way that industry went about doing business.

I launched Women’s Post Media, a business publication – in newspaper format – designed specifically for women. I believed that businesswomen wanted and needed something to promote and unite them. I went to industry experts to get their backing, but was told that my venture was a long-shot and not likely to succeed because women were more interested in gardening and fashion.

Again I challenged the status quo, and despite having no experience in the industry, I managed to build a successful company turning the newspaper into a magazine and building a large community of businesswomen both through the print and online publications. Today it is a highly sought after community and I am glad I did not listen to the “industry experts” and those who told me I wouldn’t succeed.

And yet, despite my desire to constantly challenge the status quo, in my early twenties I took up the hobby of restoring old homes and have never given up. Maybe it is the stability of returning an old home to its original beauty that attracts me to this hobby. The reassurance of knowing that despite the changes, what lies underneath – the strong foundations – will always remain. Having solid foundations is the key to navigating through the inevitable changes that life entails.

MY TORONTO, YOUR TORONTO, OUR TORONTO

October 5, 2010

Every time I fly, drive, or take the island ferry back to Toronto, I feel a sense of coming home. There is something about our city – its beauty and its flaws – that makes Toronto the place that I will always call home.

I was raised to fix things that break, to build things that last, and to make long-term decisions rather than short-term mistakes. Over the years I developed a hobby of restoring old homes to their original splendor. I know how to use a drill, a chop saw, and a hammer. I can do electrical, plumbing, and drywall.

My calloused hands are rough compared to the soft and often sweaty hands of the politicians I shake after each debate. I am the only woman on stage and yet the only one with rough hands scarred by hard work. I’m often asked what makes me different from the other candidates and I usually look down at my hands before answering.

I am the only candidate who has experience building companies from the ground up, bringing change to an entire industry, forming a vision, and leading others towards that vision – and the only one with calloused hands.

Like that of most entrepreneurs, my leadership style is collaborative – it takes collaboration to build a business from the ground up. And like most entrepreneurs I’ve learned how to sell good ideas and build consensus. I know the importance of negotiation, and I value change for the opportunities it can bring.

Before putting my name on the ballot for Mayor of Toronto, I approached the role as any entrepreneur would. I studied the city, looking for opportunities to do things better, for areas where change would bring huge success. I met with all sorts of people – from bus drivers, parks workers, and maintenance crews to neighborhood associations, and people in management positions at the city.

I discovered the main problem with our municipal government is the lack of communication between city council, management, front-line workers, and the people of our city. It is the cause of all our over-spending, our poor planning, and our failing transit system.

Without strong communication between city council, our front lines, management, and our people, most decisions – whether they be spending, planning, or transit – are uninformed. We must restructure the communication process.

It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing is easy. It will take re-engagement with the people of Toronto, who have had the doors of the city locked to them for years. Public consultation must come first and foremost – before planning, before policy, before any city decisions are made.

I have a vision of a Toronto where our youth, our business owners, our entrepreneurs, and our people get a better shot at achieving their goals. A city where an extensive subway system joins mixed-income communities; where mixed-use zoning and lower business taxes allow our businesses to thrive; a city where our high-priority neighbourhoods become strong, flourishing communities.

Join me in working towards this vision.

To find out how you can help achieve this vision please go to www.sarahthomson.ca or call the Sarah Thomson for Mayor Campaign office at 416-964-5850.

Approved by the CFO of the Sarah Thomson for Mayor Campaign.

PUBLISHER’S JOURNAL

October 25, 2010

Stepping down was not an easy decision, especially with the growth in ego required to lead and protect a campaign. But with only two staff, two full-time volunteers, and no funds my chances of winning were slim given the fact that the other leading teams had over 20 staff and even more volunteers. That we made it up to third place at one point was a huge achievement that shows the amazing talent I had on my team.

I ran for Mayor because I was fed up with the status quo, the locked doors at city hall, the lack of long-term vision, and the wasteful spending. I ran because I believe that the people of Toronto deserve an expanded subway system that would enable us to achieve so much more. I ran because I love Toronto.

I stepped down because I love Toronto.

With over 80 per cent of my support coming from Toronto’s left-leaning voters, I was creating a division. If I remained in the race the left wing vote would be split between myself, George Smitherman, and Joe Pantelone – giving Rob Ford an easy win and leaving Toronto without the expanded transit system we so desperately need.

I could not do that to my city.

Over the months I’ve watched the top four candidates closely both on- and off-stage to the point where I know their stump speeches so well I can repeat them. I can tell when Joe needs more sleep or when something is amiss on Rocco’s campaign just from the way they answer debate questions. I grew to respect George Smitherman and found his budget blueprint to be a smart, balanced plan. Like me, George believes in expanding our transit system to strengthen our economy. He understands that our diversity is our strength, and that we must make Toronto into a much more efficient business-friendly city. George has the vision Toronto needs to excel forward.

I hope my sacrifice will be enough to get George elected, but male pride could be the wedge that guarantees Ford a win. Joe Pantelone is a kind and friendly man, but he refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong with city hall and that people are angry about it. That Miller chose to endorse him to try to protect his own legacy may very well backfire by splitting the left wing vote thus guaranteeing Ford a victory.

Gentlemen, don’t let the glory of winning get in the way of doing what is best for Toronto. Joe, if George is still ahead of you in the polls by the 18th, as he has been this entire campaign, I implore you to put Toronto before yourself and stand behind him as I have. It is the right, reasonable, and responsible thing to do for our city.

It was an honour to be a candidate for Mayor of Toronto, and I was very fortunate to have such an amazing experience. I set out knowing that I had much to learn. Over the months I made mistakes, had some achievements, and learned a great deal about people. I learned to have a sense of responsibility when dealing with the press and to be careful about late night tweets after a glass of wine.

Again thank you to those who considered supporting me as Mayor. I will work to give all I can to strengthening our city in other ways.

MY AFFAIR WITH TORONTO

Originally published on December 14, 2010.

A year ago I decided to run for Mayor of Toronto because I wanted to give back to a city that has given me so much over the years.

I set out hoping that I might influence the discussion and get people talking about subway expansion and the need for a restructured, fiscally responsible, government. But I didn’t expect how much the experience of the campaign would change me.

In some ways it was very much like falling in love. During the spring, my first dates were at churches and community centres, and through the heated debates and passion-filled evenings my affection grew, and over the summer the love blossomed. I spent days and nights canvassing the city, attending events, and developing a huge respect for the creativity and humility of our people. I walked through sun-scorched streets, listened to the children laughing and playing in our tree-filled parks, and became devoted during quiet summer evenings downtown.

I think my husband caught on, but he chose to accept my affair with the city – indeed he believed I’d be a better woman for it.

He put up with the days and months I wasn’t there, filling the void by donating extra time to the charity he works for. He put up with my late nights and my restlessness after the evening debates and he learned to sleep through the typing I did on my laptop late into the night.

Since the election, we have spent many evenings drinking wine and talking all night long about everything and nothing at all. We’ve both grown and changed over the year. There is a sense of newness, like the first time – but with none of the shyness.

I learned so much over 10 months: how to debate; how to speak easily with crowds; and the importance of humility. I developed a way to ignore those who threw insults. I faced a number of editorial boards and overlooked the bias of a few individuals who should not be calling themselves journalists.

But most of all, I learned how truly exceptional my small team was: Robert Perry, Kinga Surma, John AD Tory, and his brother George Tory, who joined us halfway through the campaign. We grew together, we learned together, and we created some terrific memories together.

My love affair with the city came to an abrupt end on October 25, and although sad, and a little heartbroken, I know the relationship isn’t completely over, and I’ll always remain a good friend.

Sarah Thomson is a former Toronto mayoral candidate and the publisher of Women’s Post.

Running for Mayor of Toronto: Step 2

This blog post was originally published on January 9, 2010.

I’ve spent the past few months studying the challenges facing Toronto. I have learned the issues, met and had discussions with lawyers, doctors, business owners, bankers, politicians, and cab drivers. I found that most people love this city, but they worry about the fact that businesses are leaving and our city run services are getting worse.

Over the last two weeks I have worked with policy advisors and developed a unique platform that reflects what the people of Toronto want to see changed…and there are a lot of changes.

The Facebook (Elect Sarah Thomson for Mayor of Toronto) and Twitter
(@ThomsonTO) pages are up and our website should be up by the middle of next week. We have begun the video taping, and photo shoots.

Life has changed quite a bit – instead of standing behind the cameras I’m now in front of them.

My press launch

This article was originally published on January 29, 2010.

The launch on Tuesday was a terrific success. My team did a great job and we’re still answering emails and calls of support. I knew people would like my platform but I didn’t expect such an overwhelming wave of support.

But I have to admit the best moment wasn’t having the cameras and lights on me, but came in the moments just afterward when my husband whispered in my ear that he was proud of me. I’ll continue to climb mountains just so I can hear those words from him. Love can conquer all…

As the publisher of Women’s Post I also didn’t expect to get much print support but the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star gave me some pretty terrific mentions. Thank you and I tip my hat to you.

This week has reinforced what I have known all along about the art of writing. The best writers (true artists) are honest people and do not allow their politics or personal views to distort their words. They don’t have ego problems and are able to remain honest and true to their work. All of the writers I have hired for the Women’s Post are confident people with integrity. A writer without integrity is a sad thing to behold.

I had an interview with a writer who asked me where my confidence came from and warning bells went off in my head. A writer who doesn’t understand where confidence comes from is a dangerous one. I wondered if he would take my words and twist them. And he did. It is such a shame when art gets compromised by the loss of integrity.

Some people have warned me not to be so open and honest because the political world will eat me up. I heard the same warnings when I started the Women’s Post. What they don’t understand is that true strength and confidence comes from never compromising who I am.

Dignity to the defeated

This article was originally published on December 16, 2010.

I attended the Mayor’s inauguration last week with Don Cherry in his bright pink jacket as the guest of honour. People in the room smiled the same way they smile when a clown walks into a circus ring.

I don’t know Mr. Cherry well, but I was looking forward to a positive, team building type of speech from the former coach.

The inauguration is a ceremony designed to recognize the Mayor and the responsibility that every councilor will hold for the next 4 years. It is a moment when all councilors are recognized for winning their seat, but also an acceptance of the political agenda the Mayor will set moving forward.

There is no doubt that everyone in the room, councilors and guests, acknowledged that the left wing political agenda was defeated. The councilors were humble, they accepted Mayor Ford’s leadership respectfully, and the ceremony seemed to fulfill its intention, that is, until Don Cherry spoke.

Instead of speaking about building consensus and working together, Cherry pretended to be angry at the press and called them a bunch of “ left-wing pinko’s.” So desperate to grab a headline, he ignored the importance of the ceremony and instead chose to piss all over those on the left side of the political spectrum. The conservative in me cringed at his complete lack of humility.

After spending 10 months in front of the media, I know very well that with the spotlight comes prodding from the press. Anyone who has spent years as a public figure learns how to ignore bad press. Thus I found Mr. Cherry’s anger questionable at best, but it paved an easy path for him to launch his attention grabbing headline — “put that in your pipe you left-wing pinko kooks.” A line he so obviously and desperately wanted to use. Classy or pathetic — you be the judge?

I hope Mayor Ford noticed the humble and accepting faces of each councilor prior to Mr. Cherry’s speech because it may be a long-time before he sees them again. To build consensus he will need to understand the value in protecting the defeated and allowing them to hold onto their dignity – it will go a long way in turning a few of them into supporters.

WHY WOMEN’S POST?

December 15, 2008.

A few months ago, I received a call from a woman with agoraphobia. Her fear of being in public places meant that she couldn’t even do her own grocery shopping. She told me that she forced herself to go out regularly to pick up a copy of Women’s Post. There was something about the way our columnists wrote about the world from their own intimate perspective that she absorbed. The more of our publication she read, the more she realized how sick she was and needed help. The inspiration she found in our pages made her find help and she was calling me to let me know that she had just landed her first job in over five years. She told me that she owed her life to the writers at Women’s Post. That is why I publish Women’s Post, and that is why I am asking for your support.

Our goal is to inspire women to be all they can be. Instead of simply offering vacuous beauty advice, or fashion focused on runway clothing designed for tarts with attitude, our aim is to provide information and ideas to women who want to do more, women who want to lead, create, and build the world around them. Our fashion is focused on useful styles for businesswomen who want to be treated seriously. Our business, finance, and news commentary is designed to help women navigate through the sea of information bombarding them daily. We have become a trusted source of information, ideas, and recommendations for Canadian women and I do hope you will help us to continue bringing this resource to women across Canada.

Unlike the frivolous fashion magazines that depend on advertising, Women’s Post relies heavily on the support of our subscribers. I do hope you will help me continue to build the only magazine in Canada designed for businesswomen.
If there is a woman in your life who like to explore the world around them, I hope you might consider giving a subscription to Women’s Post during this holiday season. Not only will it supply her with information, it will serve to connect her to a larger community of women leaders doing inspiring things in Canada.

You can subscribe online atwww.womenspost.ca/buyonline/subscribe.phpor click on the subscription icon in the top right hand corner of the homepage.

Thank you for all of your support.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

THE WOMAN AND HER CLAWS

February 5, 2009

I was reading over some statistics the other day. Not that I’m one to follow statistics, but sometimes I feel this need to see how I fit into the world. I discovered that women own 34 percent of small and mid-sized businesses and they are likely to have fewer than 20 employees. Women also tend to have businesses in the service sector. What stood out most, however, was that women-owned businesses are not producing the revenue of their male counterparts. The truth is that businesswomen have a handicap and very few women seem able to get around it.

A few years ago, one of Canada’s most successful female entrepreneurs told me the key to her success was her mandate to give to others and build long-term relationships. Since meeting her, I have made it a point to study successful leaders and what I notice most is that successful leaders aren’t always concerned with immediate returns. They will often back people to gain long-term, committed support. In contrast, bad leaders tend to have a much more narrow vision, looking only at the task at hand, the immediate gains, while completely ignoring the opportunity a long-term relationship might offer. The fact is that men seem far more aware of the need to build support networks and create strong relationships that feed into them.

Businesswomen tend to have a harder time teaming up; they don’t go out of their way to truly help each other or collect favours the way men do. Women network far more than men, but very rarely develop the relationships they make further by supporting each other’s businesses. And this may be why male entrepreneurs tend to build bigger, more successful businesses than women. Good leaders pay it forward so they will get help from others when they need it most. Successful men and women work to build strong relationships; they give real support, not just lip service, and I’ve noticed that the very best make sure they give more than they receive.

This year we are analyzing companies, their business strategies, and the people who drive them, in order to pass on helpful business ideas to our readers. So far what has stood out most is that the leaders of successful businesses are all people who pay it forward.

The one thing we can’t fail to discuss this year is the fact that men, in general, are still better at business than women. It’s not easy to keep to our mandate of inspiring women while facing such a harsh truth, but dealing in truth is the only way to see the obstacles that need to be overcome.

If you know a successful woman, one who gives to others and builds strong relationships with all those around her, please let us know about her by filling out a Woman of the Week nomination form available at womenspost.ca.

We have just launched our event gallery, featuring photos of past events and a listing of what’s to come. If you have an event and would like us to be there, please fill out the request form in the event gallery section of womenspost.ca.

Speaking of events, one of the best networking opportunities in Toronto (okay, I’m a little biased) is our Courage to Lead event. Our next one will be hosted by Swarovski at its Bloor Street Gallery Store in Toronto from 6 – 9 p.m. on March 4. The focus: “Is real estate a good investment?” I do hope you will join our editor-in-chief Justine Connelly and me as we put the question to industry experts (Ann Bosley, Elli Davis, and Gareth Seltzer). Tickets are available on our website.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

Image by HK James Ho. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

April 1, 2009

Opportunities abound in this economy. I have a shameless sense of optimism that I find myself holding back because I feel the weight of worry in the air. This holding back reminds me of seeing an old friend at my father’s funeral. His death brought horrible change to my life, and the thought of living without him locked my jaw tight. But then I saw my friend. The warm memories pushed my grief aside and relaxed my jaw into a smile. She tried not to smile back, but some things must never be stopped.

The beach is almost empty. The mid-afternoon sun heats up the sand, creating a mirage that ripples the air above. Without people, this Florida beach has a serene beauty.

There are great travel opportunities available, but my mind turns to the actual property value of these great beach vacation spots, like here in Florida or the Bahamas. As people wait out this recession, they grow anxious as their need for cash increases and the value of owning a second home decreases. The U.S. market is already flooded with houses. Property values in some areas of the U.S. have fallen 40 percent, and this is just the first round. With another wave of mortgage defaults expected to hit the U.S. in 2010 and 2011, property prices should decline even further. The five-year “Alt A” and “option arm” low interest mortgages are due to reset (and the principal will have to be repaid) in 2010 and 2011. With house values at current levels, many homes carrying these high risk mortgages are no longer worth the principal amount owed on them. So even if interest rates remain low, refinancing may be impossible. Financial analysts expect about 70 percent of these mortgages to default. From then, it will be three to five years before the mortgage issue gets cleaned up and back on track.

Losing a home is extremely hard on families — I remember the foreclosure on my childhood home. But looking back, I think there is also a sense of relief as the weight of worry that is tied to the debt disappears. There is a psychological impact and when those stressors are gone, creativity can once again flourish, both in a family and in the economy.

My thinking is that there will be huge opportunity in 2010-11, when the next round of high-risk mortgages comes due. And I have a feeling the large beach villas or small highly leveraged hotels with property valuations propped up by now-crumbling rental revenues will begin to flood the market. So now all I have to do is convince a few friends to pool our resources and create a private fund to buy up these unique beachfront properties. It would work as an investment, but it could also allow us all use of the property while we wait for the real estate market to come back on track.

Opportunities do exist; at times it’s just a matter of connecting with others and pooling your resources. My father used to say that change is the only truth you can rely on, and no matter how bad life gets you can always count on change. In this economy, I think the real issue is seeing change as an opportunity. It isn’t easy, especially when loss is connected to it. But the more I fear change, the harder it is to deal in it.

Sarah Thomson can be reached atpublisher@womenspost.ca.