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Sarah Thomson

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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.

THE GIFT OF TIME

The greatest gift I’ve ever received, or offered, is time. Time is the one thing you give and never get back. The busier life gets, the more I take on, the more valuable my time seems to become … and the more I realise what a gift it is for someone to give their time to me.

Over the years there have been a lot of great people who have given me their time. When I first started Women’s Post I went searching for advice from others in the publishing industry. Michael De Pencier, previous owner of Toronto Life magazine, was a fountain of information. Back then I was having trouble gaining national advertisers, and Michael advised me to avoid the ad buying agencies because they are filled with people dedicated to detail and data. They need studies, surveys, history, and research and they often take years to make decisions. They are not risk takers and truly shouldn’t be.

Instead, De Pencier suggested I go directly to the heads of companies. My assertiveness, passion and determination would be an asset. And at the time, it was. I will never forget the time, advice, and encouragement Michael De Pencier gave me when I needed it most.

A few weeks ago a friend called. He is one of the busiest people I know and yet he took the time to tell me something I needed to know. It wasn’t an easy call for him to make, and it took a lot of courage. But I respect and value his friendship, even more now because he took the time to tell me that people were not seeing my passion and assertiveness in a positive light. That one phone call made me understand the importance of learning to negotiate with people who need more information, data, and research to come to their decisions. I was reminded that the need to stay top-of-mind with a customer is not as important as understanding their needs, wants, and decision-making process.

And I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful friend who took the time to tell me what I needed to know most. Today I was given a few hours from an entrepreneur who has managed to become quite successful in the corporate world, despite his entrepreneurial nature. He is a busy man who heads up a huge company. But not only did he give me his time, he also gave me some very helpful insights on how to negotiate properly with what he calls the “controller-types.” They are people who are precise, accurate, and detail-oriented, usually in the position to control a decision. Controllers need history, data, and research before making any decisions and the best way to work with them is to give them the data and time they need to come to a decision.

Time seems to be creeping into every sentence I write, but it is the one thing that people lack most of, which is why it is one of the best gifts to receive. Over the years I have gained some terrific mentors and friends who have given me their time and who I hope someday to repay. I struggle to find ways to help them, but then perhaps I just need to give things a little time.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote: “There is a time for some things, and a time for all things; a time for great things, and a time for small things.”

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

HAPPY FAMILIES AREN’T ALL ALIKE

It’s late in the evening and I’m just getting home from an event. My two boys are fast asleep. They’ve had dinner, a story, and were tucked in by their father hours ago. I can’t help going into their rooms to check on them, kiss them, and hope subconsciously they know I am there and that I love them. I know I may have missed some good moments with them tonight, but I know too that I can offer them more by excelling at what I do.

I have never felt the guilt that some women do when they go back to work. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I’d never be happy staying at home. I’m totally unqualified for teaching young children. So, I’m very lucky to have met a wonderful woman who I trust completely with my children. She is a much better caregiver and teacher than I could ever dream of being, and I know they are safe, loved, and learning.

Times are changing quickly and stay-at-home mothers are a shrinking demographic, while men have taken a much larger role in raising their children. Some believe these changes will wreak havoc with the family unit, but I tend to think that these cultural changes will actually cause more people to live happier lives … and make valium mothers a thing of the past. A strong family takes more than having one parent at home.

This past weekend we celebrated my aunt’s 75th birthday. All her children and her sisters, as well as, extended family were there. A lot of us hadn’t seen one another since we were kids; yet, there was an acceptance, a sense of wanting to know about the other despite the distance. Perhaps it is just curiosity, wanting to see how the “A” student turned out as an adult, or how the sensitive child grew into an artist. But I think there is more to it.

I still feel connected to the cousins that I knew as a child, despite the distance and time that has passed. The shared memories create a connection between us. One of them has a successful career as a banker, another is a lawyer, while another is a passionate artist, but they all come together and enjoy time with one another. It’s due to this connection we share called family.

Family pulls people together who wouldn’t normally choose to connect, but so too does work. This newspaper allows me to be with people I don’t share much in common with. And yet I am able to learn and grow from them because of the time we spend together. And over time, I have grown to respect and appreciate the people I work with – each one of them tries to excel at what they do.

I’ve always believed diversity enhances creativity. The more backgrounds and experiences people have, the more ideas they bring to the table. Diversity can be very profitable in a well-run business, but only when everyone shares a common desire for the success of the business… and maybe that is the key to building a strong family.

My husband and I both want to build a strong happy family, but we know this depends on each of us growing and learning as much as we can in order to pass it on to our children. A strong successful family is one in which all members can learn, grow and find happiness. The cultural changes that are driving more women out of the home, and more men into the home, may indeed help build stronger families, so long as all members share the common desire for success.

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

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

I have a friend, Robert Bick, who operates a gold mining company. He used to play the flute for a living and now he’s the CEO of Evolving Gold, a mining company based in British Columbia. It went from 10 cents a share to as high as $2.20 a share last week. His strategy is simple – invest in the best geologists money can buy and combine them with a diverse portfolio of properties. Bick, like his father (the founder of Bick’s pickles) is a strong marketer and understands the flow of the mining business. Continual momentum, timing, and a little luck have made Evolving Gold a company to watch. Bick has even made this easy with a monthly newsletter and refined website that allows investors to check in every week or two. He understands that the mining industry, like any other business, is about building expectations and delivering on them.

When Robert told us about his company, I wanted to invest in him simply because I know how important it is to support a friend. Robert is a combination of an artist and ideas man. I understand – intimately – how difficult it can be to make an idea work when the odds are stacked against you, and how vital it is to have the support of your friends and family when you have little else behind you, but an idea. Sometimes I think the emotional support is much more crucial than the actual investment.

When I learned that the president of Robert Bick’s company is named Lawrence Dick something about Bick and Dick gave a sense of whimsy to my investment in the company, and whimsy is crucial when backing a friend. Whimsy thwarts expectations and if things don’t work out it protects the friendship.

I remember my father telling me years ago to invest in myself because that is the only thing I can truly rely on. His words have stuck with me. Every time I question myself I hear those words. Perhaps that is why investing, for me, isn’t so much about what I do with my money, but about taking what I value most – time – and putting it into something or someone.

Investing well means that I must balance my time perfectly, but it isn’t easy. Sometimes I invest my time in people who don’t deliver and it’s wasted. Yet, more often than not, it turns out to be a good investment.

I like to invest my time in doing things that make some sort of difference in the world. Over the past few weeks I’ve worked on creating an organisation that will give back to the community of businesspeople who read our pages. What I’ve discovered is that businesswomen want and need to connect with men. They are short on mentors and are quickly climbing the ranks. I expect women will hold the majority of senior executive positions within the next 10 to 20 years – meaning, business leaders (80% men) will need to communicate well with women. Now, more than ever before, there needs to be an organisation designed to enable women and men to connect on a professional level. Thus my idea for the Post Club began.

The Post Club is designed to bring business leaders together into confidential strategy groups which will allow them to discuss their businesses, share ideas, and help each other with the challenges the market throws at them. Discussion and debate evenings will also help create meeting grounds for leaders to connect and share their ideas. I suppose it all comes back to my interest in communication. True understanding only occurs when knowledge and communication work effectively together, but more often than not the latter is compromised by time.

So my goal is to bring senior level women and men to the table, have them discuss their businesses, debate ideas and connect on various levels through events, strategy groups, debate and discussion dinners, creating a fertile ground for innovation and productivity to flourish.

I’ve invested a lot of time into the Post Club, but it has allowed me to meet with presidents and CEOs from many different industries. Some have surprised me with their immediate support as if they were waiting for this to come along; while others who seem to need this more than anyone, are hesitant to join.

Investing is about so much more than the amount of money you’ll make once your investments pay off. Investing is about inspiring innovators in the world to hope, dream and continually strive to make this world a better place in which to live.

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

If you are a CEO, President or Senior Executive of a business with over $1 million in sales annually and would like to learn more about the Post Club, please contact Sarah Thomson atpublisher@womenspost.ca

THE HUMAN SPIRIT

This morning we took our two little boys to meet some close friends at Casa Loma (Casa Loma : Toronto’s Fairy-Tale Castle and its Owner, Sir Henry Pellatt) in Toronto. I’ve attended a number of events there over the years, but today we went for a pirate show that had us looking for treasure all over the castle.

I have a thing for old buildings. I sometimes imagine that I can feel a personality about them, lurking behind a doorway, or winking at me from an upper window. If I were to describe the personality of Casa Loma, I would liken it to that of a dear old uncle who loves to play hide and seek. I picture the kind of man who dresses well but doesn’t mind getting down on his hands and knees to play horsey with his nieces and nephews. It seems fitting that the old mansion is now a place where children can go and dream of being pirates, princesses, or ghost hunters. It is a building designed to celebrate life; so far it is fulfilling that design perfectly as host to weddings, company celebrations, and events for children.

Today we followed a pirate leader who read directions from his treasure map. I watched my boys stride and roll from side to side in his path, and for a brief moment, I too was in that childhood place where anything is possible and the world ahead seems magical. We wandered through bright bedrooms, dark hallways, and up winding staircases in our search for hidden treasure.

My favourite room in Casa Loma is the conservatory at the east end of the building — its huge windows fill the room with sunlight and warmth. The floors are polished marble and plants line the walls, giving the air in the room an almost tropical quality. The room seems to be enchanted. Was I feeling the beauty of the craftsmanship, or could I somehow be touching the soul of the architect playing in the spaces we too played in?

I don’t know if I will ever truly understand what art is all about, but there seems to be a kind of duel between a spirit of excellence and outrageousness in the halls and cavernous rooms of Casa Loma. I’ve always thought of art as something that beautifully captures a human universe. Art takes an idea that we all relate to (hardship, grandeur, magnificence, peace) and captures it in one beautiful instant or a sequence of instants. A building, for example, captures the spirit of art when it is able to cause a sense of grandeur, harmony, or create a feeling of peace in those who walk through it. So too music, or words, a painting, or sculpture can capture and portray in one moment a universal idea.

Over the centuries, people have debated the definition of art, partly I think because it isn’t easy to create, and only a few every century actually achieve art. But the importance of art is in its ability to value ideas that give us a sense of humanity – love, knowledge, ethics, beauty, excellence.

Perhaps I connect to the human spirit in buildings more easily because I am a writer and buildings are in some ways very much like words — they give shape to ideas and protect them against time and the elements.

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