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Sarah Thomson

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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.

LEARNING EVERY MOMENT

Sunday: It’s a quiet day at the cottage. We discussed theTwitter phenomenon last night around the dinner table, all of us wondering why so many people use it. Today as I sit on the deck, a raven squawks as he flies past me. He’s telling me he’s here, that he exists. Perhaps that is what Twitter does. It allows people to claim their moments, to say to each other, “I am here.”

Monday: Read The Secret and found it a bit simplistic in a pop culture, repetitive, sort of way. But can’t argue about its message of giving thanks and having a positive attitude to attract positive events. I’ve always believed in that, although I tend to take it a step further into action. Doing good attracts good.

Tuesday: Woke up and thanked the world for giving me all that it has. Then I asked the universe to give me more, and felt a bit greedy.

Wednesday: Great lunch meeting with Robin Powell, who runs the Sony Stylestores. I had a chance to get to know Robin a little better and realized that he too has the desire to learn, create, and put ideas to the test. But his true generosity showed when he told me that I under-value myself and my ideas. It was such a subtle compliment but it now moves me to tears when I think about it. I wonder if he realizes how much his remark meant? It’s given me confidence and made me aware of how little emotional support I get as a CEO. There isn’t anyone telling me that I’ve done a good job, but now I have his words and that moment of realization on the patio to draw from. Words can be such a wonderful gift.

Later in the day I met with Corrine Sandler, president ofFresh Intelligence, one of the best research companies in Canada. As she puts it, they can survey thousands of Canadians in the morning, build a report, and deliver it by mid-afternoon. This is useful if you want to find out exactly what people think of your product. Corrine taught me how vital it is to get unbiased information directly from your market as well as how a survey can be a great form of communication.

Thursday: Met an old friend who I haven’t seen since we were 11. We went back and shared our childhood memories, touching on who we were then and realizing that underneath we are still the same, even though life has dragged us about quite a bit.

My meeting today with Andrea Clair, founder of Wink Intimates, went very well. She’s so alive and passionate; her eyes sparkle when she discusses her unique business-bras that cover up cleavage. I’m always inspired by women who see a need and create a solution (the 9to5 bra). We shared stories of men getting sidetracked by cleavage in business meetings and their attempts not to look at it. I met a young woman at an event who complained about not being taken seriously. I suggested that perhaps it was because people were sidetracked by the long, open valley that went down to her navel.

Friday: Dropped into Opulence Events, a new shop in Port Carling (right beside the Home Hardware Store). Edith creates healthy dishes from locally grown ingredients. She uses organic whenever she can get it… and her chocolate brownies are, I think, the best in the country. We ended up chatting about her new store and her catering company, with offices in both Toronto and Muskoka. She is a dynamo entrepreneur, the kind who lives her work and loves what she does. I meet so many great women. I think I have the best job in the world.

Saturday: Love changes everything. I remember the first song my husband ever sang to me. “Love, love changes everything, how we live and how we die.” And indeed it has. My life used to be full of searching — trying to find that elusive place where joy, peace, and confidence merge. Today, I sit on our deck looking out over the lake. My husband sits next to me reading and I can hear the voices of my little boys chatting away inside the cottage. Love changes everything, but I never dreamed it would be this good.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

INCOMPETENCE, LOVE, AND MY GOD OF LAST RESORT

July 29, 2009

Sunday: My mother had a stroke tonight. She and her partner Michael walked into the emergency department at Lakeshore General in Montreal just before 8 p.m. Michael told the clerk that he is a retired doctor and he thought my mother had or was having a stroke. The clerk told them they were busy and they’d have to wait. 10:30 p.m.: A nurse finally did an urgency evaluation and determined my mother may have had a stroke. While my mother and Michael waited politely, I know I wouldn’t have. I can’t help thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’sOutliers; he describes the younger generation as having a sense of entitlement to proper health care. Gladwell calls it entitlement; I call it the result of growing up with incompetence that is prevalent in unionized environments — like hospitals. When given the opportunity, people gravitate toward doing less and quality of work usually drops. I’m thinking we should offer a course to senior citizens teaching them how to cause a fuss when they receive horrible treatment from an incompetent hospital staffer. Monday: 1:30 a.m.: The emergency doctor finally evaluates my mother (5.5 hours after she entered the hospital) and orders a CT scan (that she doesn’t get for another 8 hours). I speak to the emergency nurse later in the day and she tells me my mother is resting and has slight numbness in her right hand and face, but the stroke seems to have been a minor one. Since the chances of another stroke are high within the first 48 hours, I pray for the first time in 10 years. I pray that if she has another stroke the nurses in the ER will catch the signs and act immediately. I realize I haven’t prayed since just before my father died. It didn’t work very well for me then. Tuesday: My mother woke up this morning to find herself completely paralyzed down her right side and it looks like she may have had another stroke overnight. She must have been scared although she didn’t show it, but then again maybe she wasn’t at all. Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen another side of my mother. She is one of the most fearless women I have ever known. She approaches everything with passion and makes the most of every moment. I know the stroke is a challenge and she will take it on without hesitation. I hope that over the years her character has rubbed off on me, and will continue to do so. Michael noticed that my mother couldn’t move before the emergency nurses did. I am beginning to think that some of Toronto’s striking city garbage collectors are secretly moonlighting in Montreal as temporary nurses in the emergency room at Lakeshore General. I looked over my mother’s file to find that the ER nurse simply took her pulse and made sure she was breathing. She didn’t wake her to check for signs of another stroke. I must find out if this is standard practice. My god of last resort didn’t listen — or she’s working in ways I’ve never quite managed to respect. Sunday: The day was hot and sunny. It was a long but beautiful drive through Algonquin Park to Montreal. The weight of worry got to me a bit. I cried, dried my eyes while getting gas in Renfrew, and proceeded on determined to create such a stink at the hospital that the staff will be filled with terror should they make another mistake. I remember how I used to hide behind my mother’s skirts as a child, so shy and afraid of strangers. I’ll remind my mother that she made me the woman I am today. I arrived at the hospital late in the day to find my mother propped up in her hospital bed with Michael holding her hand. She will have a tough road ahead, but she is alive and determined. My mother has a life filled with love and a wonderful man beside her — and for that I’ll thank my god of last resort. Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

MARRIAGE AND MASOCHISTIC MAYOR MUSINGS

October 9, 2009

It’s hard to believe that seven years have passed since my wedding day on the hill beside the lake. I remember the very strange marriage vows we were made to repeat, and watching my husband’s eyes grow in disbelief as he realized that the minister was reading the wrong vows. My husband gave a slight shake of his head, indicating we shouldn’t say anything, and from there, every line the minister said made us giggle, until he finally said something meaningful for both of us to repeat: “I promise to love, honour, and respect you.”

After seven years, I know I am just beginning to understand how important that promise is. Marriage isn’t easy, but with those three principles, I grew into it. We both understand that truly beautiful moments must be cared for and nourished.

Statistics Canada announced that, for the first time in history, more women in Canada are working than men. This has a huge impact on the need for women to marry, with fewer women today choosing that option than ever before. I wonder if having fewer marriages will actually alter our ability as a society to be innovative?

Growing up with a twin brother taught me how different women and men are. I saw the world through my brother’s eyes and it was a very different world than what I saw through my own. By combining our views, the world seemed much bigger. Perhaps I am just reflecting my own experience, but when you combine the masculine and feminine vision with the strong emotional support that a healthy marriage gives, productive energy is hard to stop.

Before I was married I used to wonder how women could change the very way they defined themselves. I feared change. I know now that it doesn’t mean you lose yourself, but that you grow bigger. A good marriage adds to who you are; it creates a shield around you and a springboard to launch from. I think marriage has made me much more open to other points of view and able to see the various ladders of inference that people so often get on. I know it has made me a much better negotiator than I was before and I think a much better leader.

Today I asked my husband if he would mind if I ran for Mayor of Toronto. I know deep down he’ll support me in whatever I choose to do. But I also know it is a big choice that both of us must make together. He looked at me and asked why I would want to surround myself with special interest groups, unions, and politicians. He has a good point. But my goal is to inspire and motivate women to step up to the plate, to take action, to lead. How can I preach this without doing it myself?

Our marriage has given me strength, determination, and vision, but also a huge sense of gratitude. I must somehow give back what I’ve been given …and then some.

Sarah Thomson, CEO and Publisher of Women’s Post ran for council in West Hamilton at the age of 29.

THE STRENGTHS OF A LEADER

December 13, 2009

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult. E.B. White The older I get, the more driven I am to contribute to the world around me, to make a difference, to “change the world and to have one hell of a good time.” I don’t understand why people fear change – I’ve found it to be the only constant that I can rely on. To know that change can, and will, always happen gives me hope when times are tough, and makes me realize that my actions make the world a better place and effort will have an actual impact on the bigger picture. With the current Mayor of Toronto announcing that he will not be running for re-election, the door has opened to a flood of possible candidates. I tend to appreciate the candidates who first find out what the voters are concerned about, and take the time to listen, instead of trying to manufacture issues to suit their agendas; and it is often those more interested in being first out of the gates who fail because they never truly listen. I have a great love for Toronto. I was born here, my parents were born here, and I have had a great life here. Toronto is a safe place, made up of wonderful communities, beautiful parks, amazing cultural events, and the friendliest people in the world. I believe I have a huge debt to pay back to this city for the opportunity to raise my children in such a safe and culturally rich environment. But I, like so many others, am frustrated with the lack of strong leadership in this city – so I am determined to do something about it. The first step is to listen and learn. I have asked as many people as I could find (leaders in business, the arts, and education, and some fantastic people who reside in this beautiful city) what they think are the primary challenges facing Toronto and what could be done to overcome these obstacles so that we can determine what strengths the next Mayor will need. What I learned is that the next Mayor of Toronto will be saddled with a huge debt ($3.3 billion) and she will have to find ways to not only reduce it but to sustain the economy. To accomplish this, she will need to have a strong sense of what it takes to be fiscally responsible. She will need to listen, to seek advice, and be strong and proactive in designing a strategy for cutting expenses and creating more efficient government departments. The next Mayor of Toronto will need to push hard to improve relationships with both the federal and provincial levels of government. She will need to find real incentives to attract business to this city. And, above all, she will need to be determined, inspiring, and open-minded. The next Mayor needs to have a strong moral compass in order to take the lead in creating a productive, efficient, and motivated work environment for the city. Perhaps now is not the time for a career politician with a business-as-usual attitude. Perhaps now is the time for true leadership and vision. These are just a sampling of the major issues that the next Mayor of Toronto will have to grapple with while, at the same time, protecting the interests of all those living and working in this city. I believe the passion to inspire is what the next Mayor of Toronto must have to make our city a better place to work and live. I wonder if such a person would ever love this city enough to take on this enormous challenge…I love Toronto.

Ben of Ben McNally Books

This article was originally published on October 11, 2009.

My brother-in-law Ben is a quiet genius. He has a strong moral compass and a gentle soul. Ben is deep yet calm, he is wise and thoughtful, with a sense of timing and humour that can be brutally funny.

Ben is, without doubt, one of the top booksellers in North America. He listens and finds out what people like to read, and what they are interested in, before suggesting an author. He’s a great resource for those wanting to dig further into a subject or author. It’s important for Ben to know his customers by name, to know what they like to read and to be a source of tailored information to them.

I’ve watched Ben fill a summer weekend reading five or six books in sequence; his belief is that he must know a book before he can recommend it. Ben has an uncanny way of knowing what his clients will enjoy.

Ben’s store is located in downtown Toronto on the west side of Bay Street just south of Richmond. The entrance is subtle and as the door shuts behind you, the noise and bustle of Bay Street disappears and the quiet thoughtfulness of Ben McNally Books takes hold. The reclaimed wooden floors, the large but warm space with hidden nooks and cosy chairs, all add to the sense of learning and discovery offered up on his shelves.

Ben McNally Books has a broad focus. As Ben would say, they like to carry “good books” and they have a lot of beautiful hardcovers; the kind people treasure and pass along. The store is well stocked in history, biographies, and fiction and has a number of signed editions from authors Ben has worked with over the years.

Ben McNally Books also has numerous evening events with authors from around the world. Ben has made the store into a hub of culture in Toronto. It is a place where intelligent discussion and amazing intellect thrive, and you might run into Rick Mercer, David Adams Richards, Margaret Atwood, or Lisa Moore. But be warned: Once you walk in to Ben McNally Books, it is very hard to leave.

How to run for the Mayor of Toronto: The first steps

This blog post was originally published on October 28, 2009.

The first steps to starting our campaign for mayor are very similar to the first steps in starting a business. I researched the issues, from studying the city budget and future plans, to finding out where things have gone wrong in the past and the solutions taken. I prepared myself for discussions with those involved in running the city, with people who contribute and other interested parties. And I found that the deeper I got into the issues the more passionate I’ve become about bringing vision and leadership to city hall.

The next step is to interview and create a good campaign team. I have met some terrific people which has made the selection process extremely difficult. But once the team is formed, we’ll begin building our strategy.

The support I have had from women across the city is energizing. I think the city is ripe for change.

Sarah Thomson is a fan ofElect Sarah Thomson for Mayor of TorontoCreate your Fan Badge

Preparing for the Mayoral Race

This blog post was originally published on November 29, 2009.

The first steps to starting our campaign for mayor are very similar to the first steps in starting a business. I researched the issues, from studying the city budget and future plans, to finding out where things have gone wrong in the past and the solutions taken. I prepared myself for discussions with those involved in running the city, with people who contribute and other interested parties. And I found that the deeper I got into the issues the more passionate I’ve become about bringing vision and leadership to city hall.

The next step is to interview and create a good campaign team. I have met some terrific people which has made the selection process extremely difficult. But once the team is formed, we’ll begin building our strategy.

The support I have had from women across the city is energizing. I think the city is ripe for change.

Sarah Thomson is a fan ofElect Sarah Thomson for Mayor of TorontoCreate your Fan Badge