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Woman of the Week: Kathy Milsom

When asked to use three words to describe herself, Kathy Milsom quipped, “ethical, high-integrity and committed to making a difference. That’s more than three, but these are hyphened words.”

Milsom was elected the new CEO of Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) nearly a month ago, and tries to run her office using the same mantra as mentioned above. Milsom is responsible for managing over 110,000 tenants as well as the maintenance of each building or facility, making her role one of the most challenging jobs in the city.

Toronto Community Housing has a mandate of providing safe homes for vulnerable people throughout the city. Before accepting the job, Milsom, looked at all the challenges the housing board had faced over the years and wanted to be the person who tried to help solve them as well as help make a difference in the community.

Milson has the benefit of international experience. She traveled the world with her parents, who were engineers, and learned a lot about each community and culture.  “I think it enabled me to be more independent when I was growing up and this helped me in my career,”she said.

When it was time for university, Milsom enrolled at the University of Toronto with the initial intent of studying medicine to become a doctor. Life threw her a curve ball when she lost both her parents. She found it hard to concentrate on medicine and therefore switched to civil engineering — just as a temporary change. This change, however, became permanent as Milsom re-discovered a fascination with buildings, design, and maintenance of structures. remembered why she was so fascinated with building, design and maintenance of structures.

“As a child or as a young person, I was always playing around with mechanical things. I was rebuilding engines of cars after I turned 16.” Civil engineering felt natural to Milsom.

 After working both full-time and part-time to put herself through school, Milsom began gaining as much professional experience as she couldMilsom has served as a chair of the advisory board for Direct Construction Company Limited, the Civil and Mineral Engineering Department at the University of Toronto, and was member of the Canadian National Exhibition and on their finance committee. Milsom is also been a member of the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority since 2013. In 2016-17 she served as a director of Thermal Energy Inc.

But one of her most memorable shifts was just around five years ago when she stepped down as CEO at the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. Milsom worked for the TSSA for nearly eight years, managing 13 different sectors over Ontario. This experience taught her a lot about responsibility as she ensured the safety of citizens in public spaces.

“I enjoyed it because being a CEO for so many years,”she said. “I really came to value what a well-functioning board can do to constructively challenge you to be the very best CEO that I can be.”

When the opportunity to get involved with Toronto Community Housing came up, Milsom knew she wanted the job. Housing and community building was linked closely to her civil engineering background, and she was also ready to interact with different communities across Toronto.

Milsom was also excited to get er hands dirty. Her experience on boards didn’t allow her as much of an opportunity to interact with employees and customers.  “The higher up you go — the less you do hands-on,”she said. As CEO, she would be active in the organization

In her initial weeks as CEO, Milsom implemented new steps to ensure she was making a difference to all her employees as well as tenants. The first week was all about learning and getting out in the community to speak with tenants directly about some of their concerns. She also took the time in the first two days on the job to meet approximately 600 of her 1600 employees.

“I’m very proud of the people I get to work with,”she said. “I’ve met a good portion of them and I’ve seen some of our re-developments. For example, Regent Park, which I haven’t been by in a long time, as a citizen, but I went out there to see what the community is doing and I am extremely proud of what our team has created in partnership with the private sector, to really bring the community together.

What Milsom heard from her discussion with tenants and employees is that TCHC needs to communicate better and work towards faster processing and improved information systems. This means a better relationship with the tenants and the housing board, where there is a clear flow of information and where concerns are heard.

It is no secret that the TCHC has been plagued with a backlog of repairs. Billions of dollars are needed to help with the daily operations, maintenance, and general upkeep of the buildings. In response to this, Milsom said her main commitment is to provide clean, safe and well–maintained homes for tenants to thrive. It is a key priority and her board recently approved the request to the city for a $160 million budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 to deal with the repairs as well as prevent the permanent closure of any more housing units.  Milsom is hopeful that, if approved, this should help to solve a lot of the repair issues and complaints they have received over the years.

For the future, Milsom hopes the people of Toronto will recognize the Toronto Community Housing as an agency that everyone can be proud of. Milsom is also humbled to be in a position where she can mentor and guide people. She is set to be inducted into the Engineering Hall of Distinction at U of T this year.

 

Woman of the Week: Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin is a testament to perseverance. After facing a hostile takeover of her business and a serious health scare, she returned with force, rebuilding and rebranding her business with immense success.

“When you think your worst nightmare has hit you — it can sometimes prove to be a blessing in disguise,” she said.

Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Hear for Life, a healthcare network that provides diagnosis and preventative hearing services throughout Ontario, including hearing tests, evaluations, hearing aids, and rehabilitative counselling.

It all started with Martin’s sister, Rhonda, who is in the hearing healthcare field and decided to open up a clinic in 1988. As Martin puts it, her sister is the “heart and the hand” of Hear for Life. She takes care of the patients while Martin takes care of the business operations.

In 2013, the company had what Martin calls a near-death experience.  According to Martin, their business associate abruptly and without warning gave away their licence to a competitor, with the support of a supplier. Martin lost everything — their telephone numbers, their locations, their website, but most of all, their money.  They lost about $14 million overnight and were given three months to leave the premises.

“They just gave away my licence agreement [to a competitor] – which is everything. It is where we built our business, housed our clinics,” Martin said. “Lots of my suppliers turned their back on me. They weren’t sure if I was able to make it.”

The worst part of this transition was the confusion. Most of Martin’s patients were seniors in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and all of a sudden the clinic they visited was no longer the same.

“[Our employees] spent a year phoning people telling people we moved, sending letters with pictures of staff to remind patients who they are. That took, I would say, five to 10 different mail outs and thousands of phone calls to the patients. We even did robocalls to hit everyone, to remind them we have their file – because we owned all the patient files.”

It took Martin and her sister two years to stabilize the company in different locations. By the third year, they had managed to re-brand and recapture the values they held when they first opened the clinics.

“We managed working with our own brand and we were able to capture a whole bunch of new business. But, in the third year there was a little hiccup,” Martin said. That hiccup: she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to undergo seven months of chemotherapy following a surgery.

Martin should have had a routine colonoscopy in 2013, but she waited three years until the turmoil with the company was over. During the transition, she was hardly sleeping and was plagued with anxiety. She didn’t want to bother with routine medical examinations.

“You can’t let your life get in the way of every of health issue and that means making sure you get screened when you need to get screened. Colon cancer — people don’t think they will get it.  If a girl like me — someone who eats organic, does world games championship-training, runs three times a week, can get it…I was fit, so how did this happen to me?”

“If you are 50, get a colonoscopy. No matter what — don’t miss it.”

But, with the help of her incredibly loyal employees, Martin was able to get better while still keeping her new business afloat.

Martin and her sister have now sold their new company, Hear for Life, and have retained their position and all their staff. “The company that acquired us is an amazing organization nation-wide. You get the same personalized boutique style care, but now we have the backing of a huge organization so people don’t have to worry about being here tomorrow. I get to continue in my role, and my sister continues to work. Nothing has changed except we were able to realize [the company’s] value and have our exit strategy.”

“The Hear for Life brand is here to stay,” she said proudly.

Martin hopes that once the new transition is done, she will be able to help the bigger company grow in the marketplace. She is considering writing a book about her plight with cancer, and she has been asked to do some public speaking events on business for women’s groups.

Martin continues to be active and is considering taking up hockey and running again for the first time since her chemotherapy.

 

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Woman of the Week: Manjit Minhas

Be concise and know your financials — that’s Manjit Minhas’ advice for young entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas.

Minhas is the co-founder and CEO of Minhas Brewery, Distillery, and Winery, and is one of Canada’s new Dragons on the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den. She is a straight-forward and blunt businesswoman with an incredible passion for innovative ideas. When she speaks of the new products she is constantly exposed to on Dragon’s Den, she does so with tremendous respect and excitement.

“I see myself in a lot of these entrepreneurs,” she says. “I know there is no book to map these challenges. I love that I can help guide them and, on the flip side, help people stop when I think they are dumping their own money, and sometimes other people’s money, on something that in my experience is not going to work.”

“If I can save someone’s livelihood, that’s necessary and my role as a mentor and venture capitalist.”

The 36-year-old started her own business at the age of 19 after her first year of university, where she was studying petroleum engineering. At the time, her father had been let go from the oil patch and decided, with much pushing from his friends, to go into the liquor business. He purchased three stores in Calgary. Minhas and her brother grew up in the industry and both realized there was an opportunity for growth.

The siblings sold their car for $10,000 and launched Mountain Crest Spirits. “I discovered that bars and restaurants were not brand loyal,” Minhas says. “They were looking for cheapest bar stock that week.” The idea was to create good quality spirits that, because of the low price, restaurants would become accustomed to and the result would be loyalty. Tequila and Irish cream were some of their best sellers.

“Our goal was, service, quality, and volume volume volume. That was the start of our real big empire story.”

In 2002, they launched into beers. Their first beer, a classic mountain lager, was made with only four ingredients and sold for only a dollar, which was unheard of at that time. They eventually purchased their first brewery in Wisconsin — the second oldest brewery in the U.S. — and since then, the company has grown immensely. Minhas and her brother now have breweries in Calgary and Mexico, as well as two wineries in Chile. Their products are sold throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario, and Manitoba, as well as 43 states throughout the United States and 15 other countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

In 2016, Minhas’ companies made over $187 million in revenues. Minhas has been honoured with several industry awards for her success, including PROFIT magazine’s “Top Growth Entrepreneur”, Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, Canada’s Top 40 under 40, and the Sikh Centennial Foundation Award, among others.

“I can say I didn’t have much of a typical university life, but no pain no gain,” she says. “My sacrifice was my 20s, and I guess I say my education because I could have done better. I had other dreams and passions and I’m glad that I did. I don’t regret the last 17 years.”

Minhas is constantly looking for ways to expand and grow her thriving business. They started to fashion new beer flavours, even appealing to the gluten-free crowds and the boxer beer enthusiasts. When Minhas purchased her first brewery in Wisconsin, she also happened upon the rights and recipes to the old-fashioned soda the facility owner made during prohibition. This inspired her to continue that business, selling soda and soda-inspired nano-filtration boxer beer. This summer, they are adding new flavours of boxer beer, including black cherry and ginger. Last year, they added hard root beer, grape, and cream soda to their repertoire.

“We had a great award-winning soda line that we added clear malt base too — a proprietary method we have discovered,” she says. “We clarify it and it becomes colourless, tasteless, odourless and we add alcohol to the soda. There is no bad aftertaste of beer because we’ve taken that taste out in order to taste the soda, unlike other brands in the market. Innovation is key to success.”

In 2015, Minhas was invited to appear in Dragon’s Den, a Canadian reality television show that allows entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas to potential investors — known as “the Dragons”. She prides herself on her bluntness and her honesty, but above all else, she loves the mentoring aspect of the show. Minhas says she was surprised by how many products she has seen that didn’t already exist in the market. Her investments are plastered proudly all over her website.

“I do believe it’s important for women to support each other and people in different industries to talk to each other,” she says. “In my industry, there is not a lot of women. It’s about guiding a newcomer, a new entrepreneur through the challenges everyone has — work-life balance, finances, regulation, all those things that are really generic to any business, human resources. That, I feel, is my biggest contribution.”

Minhas starts filming season three of Dragon’s Den at the end of this month.

 

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Are Canadians investing in women?

March 8 is International Women’s Day. During this time, it’s easy to think back to all of the trials and tribulations women have experienced. Just last week, there was a tragic case in Halifax in which the victim of sexual assault was wronged thanks to an outdated definition of consent. There has been a large investigation into “unfounded” sexual assault cases by the Canadian police. And of course, there is the incredible sexism women are facing in the United States from their own politicians.

No, Women’s Post is not going to focus on that this March 8 (at least, not too much). Instead, Women’s Post is choosing to celebrate this important day by speaking with successful business women, gathering their advice for other women, and learning about who they invest in. Here is a teaser with some of the results:

 

Visit our women of the week page for profiles of successful Canadian women.

Here’s the first step in getting ahead in your career

Those who know me best know that I take a decidedly flowerchild approach to the way I conduct myself in business. As focused as I may be on success and financial rewards, I try my best to create and operate within a universally free-spirited domain, and I encourage those around me to do the same. I’ve never responded well to the rigidity and formality of the mainstream corporate sphere. So, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to my little circle that one of the main contributing factors to my business success is also touted by new age, likeminded flowerchildren like myself as a means to living a successful and fulfilling life: visualization.

Visualization is powerful. In my own day-to-day experience, I find that visualizing my business goals is often a foolproof way to attract the outcome and energy that I want.  But the practice itself, at least for me, is not as free-spirited and whimsical as some might believe.  For me, it’s actually pretty practical and methodical.

Before I visualize what it is that I want, I really have to sit down and work out exactly what that is. I set concrete, specific goals for myself, and I always make sure to include timelines. Writing them out so I can refer to them whenever I need to is also really important to my whole process.

Then I just use my imagination! I put myself in the center of it all, and visualize everything as if it’s happening right now, in this very moment. I imagine what it feels like and looks like to have achieved the goals I have set for myself, and I picture everything to the tiniest detail. I know what colour my office walls are, I know what artwork I have hanging, and what plants I have on my desk. I picture myself doing work that I love, working with my ideal clients, making my ideal income, and having enough time off for my friends and family.  I think about how I’ll feel – the sense of security and confidence I’ll feel as my bank balance increases. It’s not a snapshot or a photo, but my own little mini movie that allows me to breathe in the positive feelings that I experience as I imagine my ideal life.

The result? When I take the time every once in a while to indulge in a little visualization, I often find myself more prepared, more confident, and more believing of the fact that I can achieve any goal I set for myself. I’m energized and completely ready to start my day!

Of course, the simple act of visualization is really just a starting point – actually, maybe a pre-starting point.  The real fun comes in activating that vision and turning it into reality.