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Woman of the Week: Li Koo

There need to be more women in politics.  Li Koo is one woman in Toronto working hard to change this reality and level the playing field. She is in the running to be the Toronto-Danforth’s next MPP. When I met Li, I immediately was drawn in by her charisma, humour and warmth. She shook my hand and chatted  with me as if we were old pals and I felt comfortable to ask for an interview right away.

Li explained what first drew her to politics, stating that experience is what shapes us, and adding that she has known from a young age that it’s “not a level playing field, even in a great province like Ontario.” She shared how her parents arrived in Canada with only $8 in their pocket and that “they worked twice as hard as everyone else around them to get half as far.” Admitting that she was once an underdog, Koo now vows to make a positive change through politics by creating a more “open, inclusive and fairer society.”

“Fighting for positive change that will make other people’s lives better is what this is all about for me,” she said.

 Politicians by times seem out of reach and disconnected from the public they are representingThis is not the case with Li. She admits that the best part of campaigning as a candidate is knocking on doors of people in her community and learning about the issues of most importance to them. Li even admits that she wishes she had the superpower of time travel to help her meet more people from her community, ahead of election day.

“It’s incredible what we learn by listening to our neighbours,” she said. Li was raised to be conscientious to others around her and to give a voice to those who may not have the benefit of a platform. Her parents instilled a strong work ethic in her and taught Li to always hold the door open for others and assist in anyway she can.

She is clearly quite close to her family and wishes that more time with loved ones could come along with achieving her goals. “I’m so fortunate to have such a supportive partner and such strong support from my extended family and friends. I could not do this without them. “

As a young Chinese mother, Li has faced roadblocks. She admits that women have made strides and shifted workplace cultures, but  adds that barriers are still there, keeping women from getting ahead.

“We need to shift what qualities are valued in our workplaces to create spaces that are creative, collaborative and kind. And most importantly – fair,” she stated.

Li recognizes that women often let competition get in the way, and that this needs to be replaced with collaboration and kindness, reminding that “together we stand, divided we fall.”

Despite her success so far, Li has experienced challenges in both her personal and professional life. She shared these and about how she moves forward and pushes past them daily.

“I’m a woman, I’m Chinese, I’m gay, I’m a parent. I’m a new candidate. As a result of this, I’ve never taken anything for granted and have always worked hard to overcome many systemic barriers. I also recognize that the sacrifices my parents made and the education and experiences that I have gained is a privilege that I hold now and it’s my duty to pay it forward to my community.”

She says Joan of Arc and Hua Mulan are two women in history who inspire her.  Her own fighting spirit is reminiscent of these figures’ strength that saw both women rise up courageously for their ideals and values.

The MeToo movement has swept across North America, uniting women on the issue of harassment. Every woman has experienced a #MeToo moment and Li shared that each of her own moments are a reminder and a “wake-up call” that change must happen in the workplace and beyond, to make ours a nation that is safer for girls who are growing up. Li reminds that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals have given full support to the movement

She is a person for the people and may soon be a Member of Parliament. For more about Li Koo, visit hello@LiKoo.ca .

Woman of the Week: Laurie Young

Caring is the word that first comes to mind when reflecting on my meeting with Laurie Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather. She has a strong handshake and a big smile. Not pretentious, rather a combination of thoughtful and spirited.

We met to discuss the #MeToo campaign in Canada and the role women leaders must take to bring about social change.

Young’s office is orderly and functional. In jeans and a blouse, she is relaxed and open. She told me about her family – two kids, aged 24 and 28, and her husband of 30 years (a rarity in the media industry). She describes him as “amazing” and explains that his hero status comes from his consistent and unwavering support through all the ups and downs in her career – “the cancelled vacations and 2 am talks.”

Laurie graduated with an Arts degree and was immediately attracted to a job in advertising, where she found the commercial and creative successes appealing. “I could use my creative side but it also fed my competitive side. And I was constantly meeting interesting people.” The advertising industry is all about building relationships and it is obvious that she enjoys getting to know people, but this isn’t what drives her.  “Others would say I am driven by success, and I am competitive, so I’d have to say they are right.”

I asked Young about the gender balance in the advertising industry.  She explained that the industry still has men dominating board positions, but she’s hopeful it will change as more women gain leadership roles.  Laurie spoke about a week-long conference Ogilvy held in Saville – their “creative cadre” – a meeting for their top offices from around the world to share their current campaigns. Each office presented their campaigns on stage and when it was Young’s turn to present, she decided to go off script… and focus on the fact that it was International Women’s Day. Her speech began “What has struck me today is the number of campaigns about domestic violence, sexual harassment and gender equality that have been presented from around the world, but especially from India, South Africa and Indonesia. On the eve of International Women’s Day, we should not only celebrate great work, but we should strive to ensure that these campaigns make it to market and that they change attitudes and behaviours, so that fewer of these are needed in the future.” The room was silent for a few very long seconds, but then one woman, followed by another began to clap and then the entire room suddenly broke out in applause.

Young isn’t afraid to lead on tough issues like sexual harassment and gender equality. She acknowledged that her industry still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality and admits her desire to break down the barriers. As CEO of Ogilvy she hosts networking events for her women clients that are specifically designed to help them develop leadership skills.

We talked about how society still expects women to dismiss sexual harassment and assault, how women are still blamed if they speak out about it.  I asked Laurie to tell me about some of her #MeToo experiences. She remembered a time she was sitting in a boardroom full of her colleagues (mostly men). She had just landed a big client and was excited to share the news with them until one man joked that her male client signed on because he “wanted” her. Laurie remembered her raw anger and the snickering from all of her colleagues.

When I asked her if she had ever been groped, Young remembered a time years ago when she was 16 and backpacking. She was travelling by bus and had picked out a window seat. As she settled in a hand from behind her slipped in between the window and her body, grabbing her breast. She remembered her anger, jumping up and yelling at the man while people tried to calm her down. She remembered that the colour of the seats on the bus were blue. Our conversation touched on emotional moments and how they seem to embed themselves into your memory. To what extent do these embedded memories of harassment or assault cause women to lose confidence, hesitate, or pull back from experiencing the world fully? Young didn’t view her sexual assault as a #MeToo moment because she didn’t hide the experience, rather she had the courage to turn on the man and expose his actions. And that is what the #MeToo movement is about – women finding courage to expose men who behave badly.

Laurie Young has the courage to face adversity with confidence and grace. And whatever her next challenge might be, I know she will rise to it with a twinkle in her eye.

 

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Turliuk

Jennifer Turliuk is the CEO and founder of Makerkids, the first and largest facilitator of programs, camps, and parties focused on the idea of creation rather than consumption. Topics like coding, minecraft, and robotics are explored through fun and games, in hopes of encouraging more young people to take interest in STEM-related careers. She began coding at the age of 12 and has dedicated her life to opening up possibilities for young people interested in being creators or makers.

Women’s Post spoke with Turliuk about entrepreneurship, Makerkids, and being a DJ for Redbull:

Question: When did you learn you had a passion for business and entrepreneurship?

Answer: I realized I had this passion early on. I started my first business at age five. It was called Jenn’s Card Company and I made greeting cards

When you finished school, it looks like marketing was your path. What drew you to that part of business?

I love marketing because I believe it can make a huge impact on society. Everything from what products and services we buy, to who we select as leadership, to what we believe – comes down to marketing

Why change and found Koru Labs?

I found myself dissatisfied in the corporate job I took and I wanted to do something meaningful. Marketing has continued to be part of all of my roles though.

As an entrepreneur, have you ever experienced challenges as a woman? If so, how did you push through them?

Yes! I’ve been hit on by men who I thought I was meeting as potential mentors or investors. I’ve been told by organizers, after being selected for a prestigious speaking opportunity or award, “And it’s great that you’re a woman.” I hated that they insinuated that a major reason for selecting me for the opportunity was my gender. Even though it probably wasn’t, them saying “And it’s great that you’re a woman” made me feel as though it was and made the accomplishment feel false or hollow. I pushed through it by realizing that if an award or speaking gig is a great opportunity for my business, I should take it regardless of what the organizers happen to mention about my gender. Why bother to bring up gender? I want to be selected for things because of my accomplishments, not the body type I was born with.

How did Makerkids come about?

When I was 12 years old, I was being bullied and was disengaged at school. Then my teacher said that for my book report project, I should make a website, so I taught myself how to code, and made a website about Harry Potter. A few months later I found out my website had hundreds of thousands of views and was featured in a magazine. This was a very empowering moment for me. Suddenly the bullying didn’t impact me as much, and I became more engaged at school. Later on, I was selected for a program based at NASA called Singularity University, where I learned how to apply technology to education. It was afterwards that I got started with MakerKids, with the goal of helping more kids have transformative experiences like I had as a kid. We’re excited that thousands of kids have gone through the programs and some have started businesses, been featured on TV, and had positive mental health outcomes.

Why is it so important for young kids, young girls especially, to be exposed to the “maker” philosophy?

Studies show that kids decide between ages 7-12 whether or not they’ll consider STEM as a future career option. A positive exposure to STEM experiences is the key.

 How has Makerkids evolved over the last four years? What’s next?

MakerKids has grown from teaching five kids per week in 2013 to 500+ kids per week in 2018. We won the NextGen in Franchising competition at the International Franchise Association as the next top concept in franchising. We learned about the IFA competition and many other opportunities through the Canadian Franchise Association (shout-out to CFA) who have supported us and helped us grow. What’s next? More locations!

 Bria mentioned you DJd for Red Bull? When, why, and how!

Haha, I DJ’d for them for a mini-sticks tournament in Kingston once. I was on top of their Red Bull truck. Very fun! I used to be a DJ in university, DJing up to four times a week.

How have you helped other women?

I mentor other female entrepreneurs, and also many girls go through our programs and benefit from them.

What are you reading right now?

Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave & Creative Life

Woman of the Week: Kathryn Hayashi

By Katherine DeClerq

Kathryn Hayashi  is the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, a commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, dedicated to linking science and technology to business opportunities. The company provides physics-based projects with connections in industry partnerships, licensing, and business development.

Hayashi has a background in accounting and finance. Prior to joining TRIUMF she served as founding Chief Financial Officer for the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD). She holds the position of Director and Audit Committee Chair of the Center for Commercialization and Cancer Immunotherapy at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and serves on a number of CDRD spinoff companies.  and has served on the boards of several CDRD spinoff companies.

Hayashi spoke with Women’s Post about her role at TRIUMF Innovations and her vision for the future.

Where did you develop your love of numbers from?

Answer: I think numbers are logical and they solve problems; that’s what I love the most about them. As a child, I quite enjoyed the satisfaction or the sense of accomplishment I felt after solving mathematical problems.

Your resume includes a number of non-profits and private companies within the health, science, and technology field? Why not become a traditional accountant with your degree?

In the early days of my career, I did work as an accountant in an auditing firm. With time, I became more inclined towards innovative projects that can help make the world a better place. That’s when I decided to venture into the world of innovation.

Working as the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations and formerly as the CFO , I have had the opportunity to work with the brightest talents who are continuously working towards building new technologies and drugs that help people in need. The feeling of being part of a group that is bringing real and positive changes in peoples’ lives, is very satisfying.

What drew you to TRIUMF Innovations specifically?

TRIUMF Innovations is the commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s national particle accelerator centre. TRIUMF truly enables and puts Canada on the world map. It symbolizes a scientific excellence that is admirable.

Innovative technological solutions that have the potential to help people, but are only available as research are no good. Commercialization of those technologies is vital and that’s exactly what we do at TRIUMF Innovations. Today, there are many research projects in Canada that fail to progress beyond the planning stage due to lack of funding. Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to help these researchers who are working on possible future cures for hard-to-treat diseases or clean technology that can revolutionize the mining industry advance towards commercialization.

You have been CEO of TRIUMF Innovations for about a year now, what have you learned?

It’s been a very exciting year for me. I have learned more in this past year than in my entire career. I met many talented people, especially researchers and scientists from around the world. It is fascinating to hear their stories, their research and potential future technologies. The world is changing for the better; technologies and cures that didn’t exist earlier are available today and there is something new being created every day in the world of science.

Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to be a part of that amazing journey, work with these fascinating people and look into the possibilities of the future. It also makes one realize how little we have done and there is so much more that can be done.

I heard TRUMF has helped five spin off companies get off the market – any our readers may recognize?

A few years ago, as part of a plan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power, Canada announced it was decommissioning the nuclear power reactor in Chalk River, which used to produce 30 percent of the world’s medical diagnostic isotopes. This created a new problem: Where would Canada get its annual doses of technetium-99m, the most commonly used medical isotope for cardiac patient scans that was a by-product of the nuclear reactor operations?

That’s when TRIUMF collaborated with its partners, the British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA), The Centre for Probe Development, and the Lawson Health Research Institute to develop a new cleaner, greener technology to produce technetium-99. As a result of this collaboration, ARTMS Products was created, to fund and develop this technology. ARTMS has been providing cleaner, greener isotopes to hospitals and patients around the world.

Where would you like to see the company in another year – or even five?

As the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, my goal is to continue connecting science and innovation with society by identifying research that can offer new and innovative treatment to patients around the world with diseases that are currently deemed incurable, help secure funding for these technologies and ultimately launch them as commercial products. I would like to continue building new partnerships with research institutes, universities and investors around the world. So far, we have launched five spin-off companies and would like to launch many more.

What do you do to help other women?

I spend a lot of time mentoring on formal and informal platforms. In association with the UBC Sauder School of Business, I mentor female students and help them make better-informed career choices.

I also like helping women who are trying to build their career in STEM through career advice, networking and helping them identify their skills to build a solid future in the industry.

What advice would you give to women in finance looking to branch out?

Networking is the key. Once you have identified where you want to be, it’s important to develop an extensive and strong network to find the right opportunities in any sector. 

What are you reading right now?

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis.

 

Woman of the Week: Danielle Robinson

Danielle Robinson is the CEO and President of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, an organization that promotes and invests in programs that help improve physical and mental wellbeing of children. The goal is to empower kids to stay active and be engaged in the community. In 2016, 530 kids were equipped with new skates, helmets, and skating lessons on outdoor community skating rink through the foundation. It also donated about 3,000 autographed merchandise, 2,000 game tickets, and 45 hockey suites at the Canadian Tire Centre.

As CEO and president, it is Robinson’s job is to develop the strategic vision for the organization, manage administrative, financial, and communication priorities, act as community ambassador for the foundation, and report on community investment, among many responsibilities. She has a background in communications, public relations, and corporate communications.

Robinson sat down with Women’s Post to talk about her role and her experience working for the community and about learning to love the sport of hockey.

Question: You studied communications throughout your post-secondary education — what was it about this field that interested you?

Answer: For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about how people gather, share, and use information for intentional outcomes or results. Throughout primary and secondary school I was always involved in student council, athletics, fundraising events, and volunteering within the community. I also enjoyed relationships with a diverse cross-section of the student body and faculty. This continued into university and after an Introduction to Communications course in my first year of studies, I was enthralled by the notion that one could use communication, emotional intelligence and leadership centralized around intersecting interests, to create change for good.

What was your first job after graduation?  

Communications & Development Officer, Let’s Talk Science. Let’s Talk Science is an award-winning, national, charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development. The organization creates and delivers unique learning programs and services that engage children, youth and educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

You made the jump from working in private financial companies to more altruistic charitable organizations – why?

I actually only spent four of the last 20 years employed in the private sector. Even then, the focus of my work was community investment and employee engagement. Like in my previous roles, my work was focused on helping people within the community live better lives by providing opportunities otherwise not available. My passion for corporate social responsibility and strategic philanthropic investment was inspired while employed with Clarica Life Insurance Company. I was introduced to the notion of business requiring a “Social License to Operate” in order to be both successful and differential from its competitors. This work very much tapped into my Communications and Sociology studies as a “Social License” is rooted in the beliefs, perceptions and opinions held by local populations and other stakeholders about the business and therefore granted by the community. Finding that intersection between business success and a community belief system is fascinating and rewarding.

What drew you to the Ottawa Senators Foundation?

 While I had never played hockey growing up, sport was always part of my life and provided many opportunities for growth and social learning. When I saw the job posting for the role at the Ottawa Senators Foundation, all I could do was think about how incredible it would be to have access to an NHL brand and its unparalleled marketing resources and audiences to raise funds, and then be in a position to strategically invest them back into the region. I also thought the role would be a terrific fit with my educational and professional experiences to date.

Are you a hockey/sport fan?

I’ll never forget having to admit to the president of the Hockey Club during my interview that I’d never really watched much NHL hockey and that I wasn’t really aware of who the players were on the team. Once in the role, all that changed very quickly. The energy in the arena and entertainment on a game night is infectious. Pair that with a love of sport and the great work the hockey club, its players, alumni, corporate partners and fans are achieving, I’m proud to say I’m a fan of the game of hockey and the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club.

You have been with the Ottawa Senators Foundation since March 2006. What is it about the work that keeps you there year after year?

 Each morning I wake up knowing that at least some part of my day will be spent on activities that change the lives of people within my community. It’s a pretty great feeling and keeps so many of the “distractions” in life in perspective. When I started with the Foundation, we were a team of four who finished the 2005-06 season having raised $2.5 million. Fast forward to the end of the 2016-17 season, with its terrific playoff run, we’re now a team of eight raising more than $6 million each year. The ability to grow the staff team, reconstitute the board of directors, and create a strategic mission and vision aligned to the business priorities of the hockey club have kept me fully engaged. My passion for corporate community investment and communications has enabled the Ottawa Senators Foundation to create a powerful network of partnerships that result in measurable community investments resulting in the most beautiful storytelling opportunities of lives changed.

How has the Foundation changed during that time? What would you say has been its biggest accomplishment? 

As social and digital mediums have expanded throughout the past decade, so too has our ability to communicate rapidly and effectively. An NHL brand comes with an inherent level of trust and credibility. Using a brand platform like this to advocate for change, create awareness or breakdown stigma is a privilege and one I believe the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club and Foundation have accomplished on several important issues. By way of example, in November of 2010, Daron Richardson, the daughter of former NHL player and Ottawa Senators assistant coach, Luke Richardson, died by suicide. Instead of keeping these tragic details to themselves, the Richardson family worked with the Club to share their story and in Feb. 2011 the Ottawa Senators Foundation hosted its first Do It for Daron Youth Mental Health Awareness Night. The majority of in-game announcements and score clock imagery for that game was dedicated to creating a conversation around mental health promotion, education, and youth suicide prevention. Eight years later, the conversation continues to evolve into a powerful dialogue of action and now every Canadian NHL Team hosts a game night in Jan/Feb known as Hockey Talks Mental Health. This has been a pretty proud accomplishment among many.

How are you helping other women? 

In recent years, I’ve made an effort to be more involved in a variety of women’s networks. I’m always happy to share my time with young women looking at careers in communications, the charitable sector, or other related fields. When approached to speak or participate in forums related to women in business I try my best to participate. I also think it’s important to be authentic in sharing both stories of success and learnings that have come from failure. Being available to female leaders within the community is also important to me. Having a network of peers to support, celebrate and champion within the community is time well spent.

What are you reading right now?

For business, I’m just about finished “The Art of Doing Good – Where Passion Meets Action” by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon. Personally, I’m on a Fiction book break at the moment, instead opting to binge watch a variety of Netflix original series. 

What’s coming up next for you career wise?

I’m approaching my mid-40’s and have been in my current role for more than a decade. Succession planning has been a priority the past 12-18 months. I believe this is a vitally important piece of leadership work within all organizations. I’m not actively looking to make a career change just yet, as I still have some personal goals within the work of the Ottawa Senators Foundation I want to accomplish, but I do know my next move will require community, communications, storytelling, and leadership be at the core of the role.

Woman of the Week: Sharon Vinderine

Sharon Vinderine wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, makes herself a cup of coffee, and reads a minimum two chapters of a business book.

“It’s a struggle to constantly try to build up your information base,” she said. “But, if there is some tiny tidbit you can learn, you’ve gained a whole lot.”

Vinderine is the founder and CEO of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA), a seal-of-approval award for products that were reviewed by real families. She has worked with a number of iconic brands like Johnson’s Baby, Gerber, and Harlem Globetrotters among others, to help promote and market their merchandise based on the experiences of parents who actually tried their products.

The idea behind peer-endorsed products was the result of Vinderine’s experience with her first child. She spent a ton of money on products she saw on television or in magazines she thought would work the best. Turns out, the products were less than perfect. “I then called friends and asked what products you can’t live without,” she said. “They were the best products!”

With that idea in mind, Vinderine started working on the PTPA Seal of Approval. An entrepreneur herself — she invented the Kangaroo Towel, a bath towel that acts as a pouch to hold your wet baby, as well as helped found MIPPS, one of the first wireless Internet providers in the 90s —she understood the challenges of promoting a product. She actually submitted the Kangaroo Towel to a U.S. company for review and certification; yet, the only feedback she received was “it was a pretty colour and very soft.” The certification did not include marketing or inclusion in press releases.

“I remember sitting at my kids Gymboree classes and starting a plan of action: I was going to develop a program that was going to actually accomplish all of the things that a new entrepreneur needs — a better way to market, differentiate your product, a better way to get your product on magazines or TV. I wanted to change the way moms were shopping, which was not based on what advertisers say.”

According to the PTPA website, 54 per cent of consumers say the Seal of Approval has a positive impact on their purchasing decision. Over 80 per cent say the seal made them feel more confident about both their purchase and the brands associated with it.

How does it work? Parents are given products for free in exchange for detailed feedback that is shared with manufacturers. PTPA will also provide help in magazine and television advertisements, as well as other forms of creative marketing techniques that are affordable and effective. Vinderine and her PTPA seal-approved products, was featured in over 150 shows, including The Rachel Ray Show, Extra!, The Steve Harvey Show, as well as ABC and Fox.

“From a business perspective, I feel like we are really impacting the way consumers are shopping,” Vinderine said. “When a mom sees our seal of approval on a package, it is almost the equivalent of her calling 20 of her best friends and asking what they think. That seal of approval says it all.”

PTPA now has a database of about 85,000 parents to pull from. Vinderine said that helping families, especially those with a low income, is one of the biggest benefits of the business. Based on one of her favourite quotes from her dad — “I don’t care what you do in life, but whatever you do, make sure it has an impact on the lives of others” — she would try to find low-income families to test cribs and dressers. All products are delivered and assembled, and families can keep them for free after the review.

Vinderine said that launching her own business was a challenging experience. How do you convince people this new seal is important? How do you convince television shows to feature your products? Vinderine encourages entrepreneurship through mentoring, but urges young businessmen and businesswomen to consider the reason behind their idea.

“If you are doing it to launch a second source of revenue, that is not a good enough reason. If you are passionate about what you are launching, it will get you through the rollercoaster of launching a business.”

Vinderine was recognized as one of RBCs Canadian Women Entrepreneurs and one of Canada’s Rising Stars according to Profit Magazine. The PTPA Seal of Approval is one of the three most recognized awards in the U.S., leading to seven new certifications such as “Santa Tested.”

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Woman of the Week: Alexa Samuels

Alexa Samuels is the founder of Mercartto.com, a Toronto-based, female-led e-commerce startup that helps connect people with handpicked artwork based on their personality type. With a background in Latin American art and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Samuels knows what it takes to run a business. Her idea — to offer original art to those who may not know what to look for — sprang from her own personal experience and desire to fuse technology with culture.

Samuels responded to some questions from Women’s Post about how she founded Mercartto.com and what advice she has for young entrepreneurs looking to run a startup:

Question: Your background is in Latin American studies and art – when did you decide to make the jump into business – and what was your interest in Latin America specifically?

Answer: I went to McGill University not having a clue what I wanted to do. When we had to declare a major, the cross-disciplinary nature of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program intrigued me. I’ve had a long-term inexplicable interest in Latin America since I was young, perhaps stemming from the region’s history/archaeology, art, music, food and languages. As for jumping into business, it just seemed like the thing to do. My grandfather built a successful toy manufacturing business, so perhaps entrepreneurialism is in the blood.

Your career is a bit all over the place – marketing, social media, non-profits – what drove you towards entrepreneurship?

Initially, my career began after completing my Master of Arts degree when I joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. I stayed there for over a decade until taking a Global Executive MBA that stoked my interest in going independent. In 2009 I felt the time was right to make the change.

How did the idea for Mercartto come about?

The idea for Mercartto literally sprouted from an “aha moment” when out with a friend for lunch.

Years ago, shortly after I moved from a tiny home with no wall space to a house with a two-storey front entrance, I knew I wanted a significant piece of art to make a great first impression. But, I didn’t want to spend extensive time searching for art, especially wading through art that was out of my price range or art that just didn’t resonate with me. I had also spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) contemplating my own art decisions: Why am I drawn to certain types of art? What are the common elements? Finally, I wanted to create an experience which surprises and delights the user, but within a selection of art that she is more likely to enjoy. Mercartto’s been evolving ever since that lunchtime epiphany.

In terms of your personality quiz – is there a kind of art that is most popular?

Our data set is still small, so it’s hard to make generalizations this early, but if I had to narrow it down I would say that landscapes have the edge. What’s more interesting to observe is how diverse our users’ tastes are. I can tell you that at current, out of the 31 different personality types, the most popular are the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector and the Closet Daredevil. I’m also happy to observe that so far we have one Nonconformist.

How has the company evolved in the last three years? 

The last three years have seen the evolution from idea to a product. The most significant milestones have been:

  1. Narrowing down the Mercartto differentiator and refining the art personality quiz;
  2. Launching the beta as an iOS app in 2016; and
  3. Integrating tester feedback into an updated web version launched end of 2017.
Frida Kahlo her Wished For Child Arsema by Jane Murdoch Adams

Tell me about the scholarship aspect of Mercartto?

When considering who is going to be drawn to Mercartto, we think of someone who is interested in introducing original art into their space, whether for the first time or to build upon a small collection, but might be unsure about “the whole art thing”. Our mandate is to help people learn more about art, both from general concepts and from things related specifically to Toronto. We want Canadians to learn about themselves, and others to learn about us. Our blog serves as an ongoing repository of this information, and once a month we send our subscribers a curated newsletter summarizing the best content of the month.

What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs? Did you experience any drawbacks or challenges in the creation of Mercartto? 

Ha! There are days (weeks!) when you’re an entrepreneur and everything you do feels like a drawback, challenge or learning experience. It’s especially difficult taking on a technology project when you don’t have the technical skills to build the platform yourself. If I had to narrow down my advice to a few points, I would say:

  1. There will be rough patches. Lots of them. You will make mistakes. Expensive, painful mistakes. If you want stability and predictability, work for someone else. But if you love the challenge of creating something the world has never seen before, you believe in what you’re doing and you accept that the buck stops with you and you alone, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding.
  2. It’s okay to change. Don’t be so rigid with your idea that you’re not willing to change. Really listen to others and not just hear what you want to hear.
  3. Listen to your gut. If something is gnawing at the back of your brain, there’s probably some truth to it. Honour your misgivings.
  4. Be very, very careful with whom you do business. As much as possible, set expectations up front. Deal directly with issues.

Tell me about #artistsneededhere.

#artisneededhere is our inaugural promotion to help build awareness. We’re on a mission to make your walls happy! Until Feb. 28, we’re giving people a chance to enter to win one of two prints by Toronto artist Jane Murdoch Adams’ wonderful Frida Kahlo series. Entry is done by sharing a photo of your sad, bare wall on a public Instagram account with the hashtag #artisneededhere, posting a comment to our #artisneededhere thread in Facebook, or signing up to receive our monthly curated newsletter. More details at http://ArtIsNeededHere.com.

Frida with Diego in Love by Jane Murdoch Adams

How do you help women?

I knew I wanted to build my business if not directly targeted at women, at least in a way that women would feel like it was made for them, but not at the expense of excluding men. It’s a true “feminist” approach: one that believes in equality for everyone. I am particularly interested in ensuring we have female artists represented on the site – again, not to the exclusion of men, but by at least making an effort to be consciously aware that female artists are being approached on an equal basis to males.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I don’t understand the question (just kidding.)

If I’m not working, my time is generally spent with my husband, daughter, and extended family. Now that my daughter is getting increasingly independent, I’ve realized that I need to invest in spending time with myself, particularly doing creative pursuits like painting, writing, piano playing. And on Sunday nights you can find me playing hockey at my local rink.

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Woman of the Week: Leslie Woo

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, approaches everything with curiosity. With an extensive background in both the private and the public sector, Woo is the kind of person who will move to a new position to fill an education gap and learn how everything connects. She calls it design or systematic thinking, something she acquired through her architectural background.

“Every time I twisted and turned in my career, it was because fundamentally, in my work, I identify something that drives me to solve some other underlying problem somewhere else,” she said.

Woo grew up in Trinidad with a middle class family surrounded by poverty, something she says is one of the reasons why she went into architecture and urban planning — to give back to the community. Architecture, Woo said, is an “interesting bridge between community and planning.” Her mother, who was interested in interior design, encouraged Woo in her love of math, art, and language, leading to a study abroad in in Canada.

When she arrived in this country, she found a hostile climate and a foreign landscape. Even the language was difficult, as she had a thick accent. But, Woo pushed through the culture shock, falling in love with environmental studies and city building.

“In reflection, everything in my life and career is about creating roots and being grounded and establishing a place for myself and for my kids and family,” she said. “This interest in urbanity and quality of space and access, that’s where it comes from.”

Woo’s career is extensive. Prior to joining Metrolinx, she worked with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust as well as Waterfront Revitalization, helped shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and acted as strategic policy director for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

At Metrolinx, Woo developed a large and expanding portfolio. She is responsible for the long-term vision of the provincial transit agency, based on The Big Move, a vast plan to create one of the “largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” She is responsible for $31 billion worth of capital public investments and drives corporate sustainability and innovation.

“I don’t know that I have a love for transit planning to be honest,” she said. “I have a love for city building, and you can’t build a city without mobility. This job has changed three, four times as the organization has grown, as we have continuously demonstrated our capabilities and our expertise, and we have been rewarded to be a larger contributor to the success of the region. That energizes me. Transportation planning is part of the puzzle I have spent the last 10 years trying to solve.”

She is currently leading the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan, which will build on the foundations created between 2008 and 2018, and help create a fully integrated transportation system across the province. Woo says her biggest challenge was to separate herself from the original Big Move plan and take an objective view, focusing on fresh ideas. The first round of consultations has just finished.

“The people using the system, municipalities and public, they have real insights that are important,” she said. “Now we are focused on the ‘how’ – we feel like what we’ve got is a strong validation of the ‘what’ – the direction, the vision. The ‘how’ is about who is making the decisions, how will you prioritize, how will you develop the evidence, where is the money going to come from, what is the role of municipalities?”

In addition to her work, Woo is deeply interested in mentoring and building up women. She said she was blinded about the gender divide in her early career, as a woman from a matriarchal family. But then, she took part in The Judy Project, an executive program within the Rotman School of Management in Toronto that helps prepare women for executive and CEO positions. The program really opened her eyes to the challenges women face in business.

For example, she said data showed that when someone was meeting a woman for the first time, they judged them 60 per cent on how they looked, 30 per cent on how they sounded in terms of their voice, and only a small percentage of what they actually said. “That for me was disturbing but really helpful in how I speak with other women,” Woo said. “It’s a great time to be a woman right now, but it is going much to slow.”

She continued her development at Harvard through a custom designed leadership program. As part of this fellowship, she founded She Builds Cities, a website where she showcases female city builders, people she has admires within the profession. She also leads Metrolinx’s network for women in management, which includes a mentorship program.

“I have formally and informally mentored younger women, older women, I have been mentored myself – I’ve been reversed mentored by younger women, which is refreshing,” she said. “Coaching, sponsoring, those are all things that are important. In my career, I had many mentors…men and women!”

Woo celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Metrolinx this week.

 

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Woman of the Week: Lisa Grybowski

Lisa Grybowski is a licensed customs broker and vice president of Hemisphere Freight and Customs Brokerage. Her role is mixed, everything from taking care of the company’s billings and government claims, setting up technology systems, troubleshooting issues with clients, and helping clear shipments for specialized boats and cars.

Hemisphere is a boutique firm with only three licensed brokers, but it prides itself on top quality 24-hour service. They take one-time clients, are fluent in US customs brokerage, and are responsible for a number of temporary imports.

“Our biggest competition is the large carriers like UPS and FEDex. As an in-house brokerage firm, they can do it cheap and increase prices in our freight where we charge per clearance,” she said. “We hold our own. We have five employees set up at home so they can clear shipping. Not 1-800 numbers. Why would I come to you if you are more expensive? You pay for service.”

Hemisphere is a family-run business. It was started when Grybowski was born in 1986 by her mother, Penny Downer. Downer was a secretary for a customs broker and, after a while, she thought she could do it herself.

“Hemisphere was her second attempt,” Grybowski said. “My mom is an incredible story. She started this company as a single mom with three kids, and in this industry, when she started she was one of three women in the entire industry in Canada.”

“She started it on her own and by the time Charles and I took over the company, she had tons of clients. They all ask about her.”

Downer was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and her health deteriorated quickly. Grybowski and her brother were thrust into the business, forced to learn the ropes quickly in order to keep the company afloat.

Grybowski has a background in general finance, so she was able to take on a portion of accounting at Hemisphere, but she had to learn a lot on the job. She eventually completed a course and received her brokerage license. It’s her job to be aware of what is happening internationally with trade agreements and how it affects the Canadian dollar, a challenge with the current political climate.

Now, we just got a free trade agreement with the EU,” She said. “That has increased business for us because there are no more duties between Canada and European countries. A lot of our businesses importing clothing has drastically increased.”

Over half of the employees at Hemisphere are women, something Grybowski is proud of. “My mom was keen on giving women opportunities. I sit at her desk now, and I try to keep that in mind. Trucking and operating is still a manly world.”

Grybowski is a part of the Women Presidents’ Organization, which is made up of women who have ownership of a company or hold the role of President. “We do roundtable discussions each month and that is where we can start generating ideas on how we can help other women,” she said. “We can talk about if we have problems with an employee and everyone gives their two cents; what we give for bonuses or gifts for clients; what do we think of new taxes on small to mid-size companies; a lot of things. My mom never had something like that.”

Grybowski said that while she never hears from a female customs broker, and all of the executives she works with are male, she doesn’t like to think of those barriers. “I think you need to have a voice, show persistence, and not really think of any barriers like the glass ceiling or whether you are the only woman in the room…If I know what I’m talking about and I can do a great job for [these executives], they become loyal business partners.”

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Woman of the Week: Marie Bountrogianni

Marie Bountrogianni is the Dean of G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University as well as a former Ontario parliamentarian. She has a wide variety of passions and a true desire to make a difference in the world, which makes her the ideal candidate for both government and academia.

Dr. Bountrogianni was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2007, representing the riding of Hamilton-Mountain. During that time, she served as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Democratic Renewal, Children and Youth Services, and Citizenship and Immigration. Prior to entering the public life, Bountrogianni was the chief psychologist for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She has a doctorate in Applied Psychology from the University of Toronto and was recognized as one of the top 10 most influential alumni at the University of Waterloo. Last year, she was honoured with the Gabby Award in New York City for her contributions on behalf of refugees, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Bountrogianni reached out to Women’s Post following the Golden Globe’s and Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring speech to discuss women in politics. As an educator, she hopes to inspire young women to be more active in world affairs, and discusses why academics and leadership go hand in hand. 

Question: Do you think Oprah’s speech and presidential campaign rumour will spark an interest in politics in young women? Do you think Oprah should run?

Answer: I am hoping young women – indeed, women of all ages – will consider running. It is very important for a democracy to be truly representative of its citizenry. If Oprah’s speech inspires women to run, then she should make more speeches. As for whether or not Oprah should run, that is really up to her and the American people. The fact that, like Trump, she is a billionaire TV celebrity (similarities stop here) may actually be an obstacle for her. Will the people accept another wealthy celebrity or will they want someone more experienced in governance?

Why do you think more women don’t run for office here in Canada? What are the factors?

As a former parliamentarian I can say it is challenging for women – particularly those with young children – to run for politics, for obvious reasons. My advice to young women is this: do not think of it as a life long career. Think of it as a term of service (or two or three terms), much like a military service to your country. Do it when you can “give everything you’ve got”, then leave. You will not only have made a significant contribution to your community but the benefits of your political experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. You learn how the system works. How it REALLY works. You will be able to assist any organization you work in or volunteer at.

You have a background in psychology and education, what made you run for office?

I ran for office because at the time I was the Chief Psychologist with a large school board and was frustrated by the effects of cut-backs on children’s lives. I was also on a hospital board and was similarly upset at how the cutbacks were affecting patients. I did not hold a party two membership and was never involved in politics before I ran. I had to ask, “How do I run?” I highly recommend the experience.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman?

The challenges I experienced are faced by working mothers every day. The guilt of long hours away from home, combined with balancing work and family life, etc. I did notice that younger male politicians experienced similar challenges related to their familial responsibilities, as it was more practise common for both partners to be in the workforce.

What needs to change?

Society has to once again respect the role of the politician. It is a challenging role when done properly. Politicians need to continue to remember why they entered politics and go back to basics. It was not (or should not be) for the partisan fighting, career and games – it was to represent their constituents. Social media often makes this difficult as everyone is under “a not so always fair“ microscope. We will all be better off if we bring civility back to politics. This takes leadership, however; when a leader takes part in rogue, self-serving and pedantic tweeting, “he/she poisons the well”.

How do we compare here in Canada to the U.S.?

Canada and the U.S have very different histories and political systems. We were born out of compromise and negotiations — the U.S out of revolution. There are pros and cons in each country. I am biased, of course, but I have to say that I am proud of our “just society“. We are a serious country.

As Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, you must witness the interests and drive of many students — do you think more women will run for politics in the future?

I hope more women will run. Ironically, what is happening south of the border has attracted more interest in politics and more chatter everywhere. I do believe, like Oprah, that things are shifting – the strong (finally) response to allegations of sexual aggression is a promising step in the right direction. This may lead to women feeling more empowered to enter fields that are predominantly held by men.

Why return to education after politics?

I don’t think I ever left education entirely when I was in politics and did not entirely leave politics when I went back to education. Politics comes from the Greek word that means “citizen”. We are responsible for each other and we have an obligation to one another. Education is a tool. Political knowledge is another tool. Both are needed to affect change. I have been very lucky to have both in my toolkit.

What advice do you have to women interested in politics?

Do it. Get support from family and friends. Be prepared to exhaust yourself. But I promise you this: it will be an experience like no other. You will potentially impact the lives of thousands of your constituents and if get into cabinet, millions of citizens. It will shock you. Next to being a mother, it is the best decision I have ever made. It was truly an honour.

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