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Sarah Thomson

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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

KEEPING TO STRATEGY

Creating a business plan, setting our goals and developing a strategy to reach them, was perhaps one of the most important steps we made for the Women’s Post, and the media company that is growing up around it. Our goals are simple: To create a media company designed to inspire professional women across North America to be all that they can be; to reach as many women as possible with informative, inspiring, and intellectual ideas designed in a format that recognises the difference between how men and women collect information. With these goals in mind we developed a strategy. My CF0 (and husband) is perhaps the greatest contributor. Helping to focus my ideas, and align opportunities, he keeps every whimsical notion I come up with in perspective, asking always, “Does it work to enhance the outcome we want? Does it keep with our strategy?” A few months ago, I came up with the idea of creating a business club that would host events, dinners, discussions, and strategy panels. We have named it the “Post Club.” The idea came out of my talks with executives and entrepreneurs (both male and female) who want to communicate better and network effectively. The men I spoke with told me the number of female managers is increasing and the men need to learn how to communicate with the women and build a more welcoming atmosphere for them. Executive women have told me they need to network more with men because 70 percent of people at the senior executive level are male. The basis of all media is communication and the root of that is community. As media companies grow bigger they often lose sight of the community they serve. The Post Club will serve as a way of enhancing our contribution to the community of businesswomen we serve, as well as connecting the advertisers that support us with customers who will support them. It will allow us to keep our sights on the business community and the changes that are constantly occurring. Although I had to go through much debate and a lot of discussion, my management team finally understands the value of the Post Club and how it will help us reach our end goals. They weren’t so compromising on my idea of creating a chain of car dealerships for women, which was rejected within a matter of hours, as my argument that they might provide great distribution opportunities was weak at best and the idea simply wasn’t a good fit with our strategy. It has taken some time, but I too have learned to look at opportunities in the context of our strategy. If they fit we usually end up incorporating them. But having a strategy has also given me the structure, the foundation, for new ideas to flourish. It all comes back to setting goals, writing down the path you are going to take to reach them, and then sticking to it. To learn more about the Post Club, Sarah Thomson can be reached at 416-964-5850

WOMEN WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The sun beats down, heating up the sand. Barbados in January. Men walk the beach offering their trinkets to tourists. I wonder about their lives and think about what it takes to truly accomplish something with one’s life.

The waves crash in, their endless repetition reminds me of how fleeting life is and how difficult it is to make a difference. They wash away my footsteps.

Time erodes so much of what we build. What truly lasts? Even knowledge can disappear, as it did in the Dark Ages.

When my father died, I remember thinking how he had spent his life trying to make the world a more beautiful place, not only for his family, but on a larger scale, by designing buildings to shape the lives of those who used them.

I inherited his need to do something significant, but I wonder sometimes if I am truly achieving anything. A letter comes in from a reader thanking us for inspiring her and I’m reassured. I know that this newspaper is causing change, but I constantly question myself. Am I truly working to my fullest? Could I do more?

I find reassurance in the words, the letters, people write to us. Perhaps it is my belief that thoughts traded between individuals is what civil society is all about.

My father instilled in me the belief that civilization, and the civility that it rests on, is one of the most important foundations for human achievement. Without civil society war and plunder can limit or destroy all that a culture might achieve, as well as the ability for knowledge to flourish. And without knowledge human simply become animals scratching out their existence time and time again.

Do all civilizations collapse? I wonder if something can be done to stop this seemingly natural evolution of society. Need and excess seem to drive so much of the evolutionary process. Need pushes communities to maintain strong ethical principles, while excess diminishes that need.

I want to do something significant with my life, and the older I get the more I realize how many people there are who truly care about the world around them, who want to make a difference with their lives and who want to give as much as they can to making the world a better place.

Many of them recognize the importance of civil society; they seem driven to build and care for it. They strive to do something significant with their lives. I think it is those people, the leaders, thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs, who truly lead civilization.

In this issue we focus on 25 women who have indeed contributed to the world around them – from founding charitable organizations to building successful businesses. They are women who have excelled in their field. They are women who deserve recognition.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

LOVE CONQUERS ALL

It is Saturday afternoon, the fire crackles in the hearth and the heavy snow falling muffles the world outside my window. My boys have just gone down for an afternoon nap. I want to write about love and passion – about how it can change and grow, push and pull, about how our children seem to carry this love that we have further out into the world, grounding it in who they are and who they become.

I don’t write about love as much as I used to when I was first married and just discovering its intricacies. I’ve grown beyond the dazzled state of wonder and awe it used to put me in. Instead I’m aware of my dependence on the love that I have for my husband. Like the air that I breathe, it is a vital part of who I am.

Love continually pushes me to succeed. It makes me want to take the hard road, tackle the most difficult task. It drives me to be more than I could ever be on my own. That’s the thing about love, it pushes and sucks one out into the glaring world, like a child at birth. Without love, it is so easy to cave in and turn away from the dazzle of life.

A woman writes that she enjoys reading this newspaper but she can’t find the words to explain why. I want to tell her that it is because the pages are bathed in love. That sometimes I think the love I have in my life overflows and touches everything that I do. But that sounds completely corny and a bit smug. Is it? My husband just has to smile a certain way and I’m filled with this belief that I can do anything. It’s as if I’m charged up, engines roaring and ready to take off, ready to soar. And then I do.

Last week a business colleague asked me if this media company we’re building is simply a hobby I’m doing for fun. He couldn’t understand why I was doing it, because I never speak about how I’m going to “cash out.”

I thought about all the long hours I have put into this business, about the enjoyment I get out of it, about how much it has taught me and how much more I have to learn. I thought about the number of people who write in thanking us for the words and columns we publish. I thought about the 40 or 50 people who rely on us for a paycheque every month; about how my husband has grown to become a vital part of the company, building an effective strategy and carrying it through in our business plan. I thought about the offers we have had to sell the business to some of our larger competitors. I thought about how we have helped build a client base for so many of our advertisers, and about how many friends I have made along the way. I realise now how important this media company we’re building is to the person I am and the person I will become.

How do I explain that we don’t want, or need, to “cash out”? Although my job isn’t easy, it isn’t like work to me either. It all comes back to this thing called passion and the love that allows it to flourish. I’m driven to grow, to learn, to think so that I can offer my husband more of life than he would ever know on his own.

I know so many who are driven to succeed, and so focused on becoming wealthy that they actually end up limiting their personal growth. There is something that connects learning and growing to one’s ability to love deeply, feel more, and appreciate beauty more vividly.

Love has a way of making me feel like I have a huge debt to pay back to the world. I want to help more people now than is possible. I want to be good and do good things; perhaps I’m just superstitious, but I feel like the good I do will somehow keep this love I have safe from harm.

Love is like a cloak that protects me from insults or cutting remarks: Although I am told they are said about me, I never seem to notice them anymore. Love has given me the courage to act on my impulses, to trust myself, and to inspire others.

My youngest son is awake and my husband brings him down from his crib. They cuddle in the chair across from me. My husband brushes his chin over our son’s soft blond head, our eyes meet and once again I see that smile that makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.

Sarah Thomson can be reached atpublisher@womenspost.ca.