Next month we are featuring Andi Marcus, CEO of Mistura.
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Featured Woman of Wonder for: February 02, 2012
President & CEO, Business Sherpa
What is Business Sherpa?
The name has some history. My background has been in Human Resource in typically medium to large size enterprise doing all areas of Human Resources.
In 2000 I was co founder of Meriton Networks. I actually quit my job at the school board in order to go to Meriton. I liked the idea of adding the business side to my HR background and being part of a startup. I actually went back to school to get a business degree (MBA) because of this passion (1991-1997) which I did part time while working and with a young child (son). By the time I graduated in 1997 I then had my daughter; it was a busy time.
The Meriton opportunity was both exciting and challenging and it allowed me to be a part of business operations which was exactly what I wanted. Meriton eventually became one of Ottawa's most successful startups. It raised $200 million and had offices worldwide; I set up a development facility in China.
The experience was phenomenal; I loved it. I was doing corporate services/business operations and it allowed me exposure outside of HR which I had always wanted.
In 2008 Meriton was sold to Xtera out of Dallas. Because I enjoyed starting companies and building them so much I knew I wanted to continue to do this. The idea of having a Senior level Executive resource on a contract basis was becoming more acceptable (i.e.Virtual CFOs). I wanted to offer my business operations experience anchored in HR to small/medium sized tech companies.
Instead of accepting a severance package I negotiated a 6 month contract with Xtera and they essentially became my first client. And thus became Business Sherpa. The idea is that I will share the load; companies can hire me to take care of this aspect of the business for them.
you have to be your own person first; whoever that is, that's where happiness lies
What startups have you worked with?
I have worked with a number including Kindsight. I also have a few in Toronto.
Toronto has become a marketplace where I have been able to obtain a lot of clients. There are a lot of technology companies in Toronto; it is a lucrative market and I didn't want to work only in the Ottawa area. This also supports my virtual model proving I can work with companies whether they are in Ottawa or not.
I did a lot of marketing with Mars Discovery District. I have a very rich relationship with them.
What other industries do you work with?
I work with an Ottawa based NGO as their HR expert and support, as well as business operations. This lead to more and more work with NGOs and this has become a strong vertical for me.
A recent vertical has been small independently owned business. There are a tonne of these types of companies in Ottawa and the model of a virtual executive works perfectly for them.
In the past year my workload has increased terrifically and this has lead to adding 4 Associates to my team roster. All of the Associates work for themselves but are available to work on my projects and contracts as necessary. Two of them are very senior level Associates with HR degrees and backgrounds, while the other two are recent Carleton graduates. The opportunity to mentor the Carleton students is wonderful. I like the thought of helping give them the experience and exposure they need to move their careers forward.
We will shortly be rebranding to Business Sherpa Group to include the Associates. Clients now have the ability to have a full formed HR team equal to what any large company would have but do it in a way that is affordable and appropriate for them.
I have a high degree of risk taking. I just go for it
Tell me about your family.
I am a single bread winner. My husband is an engineer who once worked at Nortel.
He was laid off at one time, then I was at home due to an illness (2004), and then he was laid off again. During that time we realized how important it was for us to be home and present for our children (14 & 17) at this time. And although he is at home I have never felt more secure with my life. I am directing my fate and my efforts are directly connected to my own security.
My work with Business Sherpa is incredibly satisfying. I love keeping fresh and new, along with now being able to help others launch their careers. I would never change it. And I can't imagine not ever working, but I also have the ability to work on my own terms.
What do your kids think of the arrangement?
It's what they have always known given the layoffs and me being home with breast cancer. I think they have a real sense of comfort; someone is always home. They know we are there.
As a result our house is the centre. Every Friday night since my son was in Grade 7 a group of his friends come over to our house for games, food and to hang out. They are now in Grade 12 and they still do this every Friday night.
I think it's something that years from now they will look back and realize the positive impact.
Tell me about your illness
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 41. I was working at Meriton at the time but was off for about 8-9 months for chemo and treatment. But getting back to work was a big part of my recovery.
We had a tough couple of years (2004-2006): my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my nephew (6yrs old) had leukemia and then my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died 5 weeks later. My mom passed away almost a year to the date that my dad died.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer we would go to our oncologist appointments together. It was neat in a way to do this with my mom. It was hard, but I didn't make it the centre or focus of my life. I just carried on; I had a normal life. My kids knew about it of course, but it didn't interfere with their lives. They saw that we supported each other and carried on.
How much can one person take?
You think you can't, but you have to. What choice do you have? My kids have learned that family supports each other and you are there for each other.
Have you changed because of it?
My mother was very wise she would say "you have to be your own person first; whoever that is, that's where happiness lies." And this affirmed the choices I had made in my life. I was very comfortable with my path and the passions I followed. I rid myself of that question and doubt; that point in your life where you evaluate your life looking back and I was able to get a peek at that. And I feel good about the decisions I made. I am at peace with this.
1) travelled across Canada in a camper with my family (British Columbia to Newfoundland and the Yukon)
2) I did a Geography degree and interned in the Yukon where I lived in a tent and helped students study permafrost
3) I am a breast cancer survivor
Are you fully recovered now?
Yes, I am fully recovered.
I was always actively involved in CIBC Run for the Cure, prior to my diagnosis. I won the Top Fundraiser in Ottawa one year with $25,000 raised. But haven't participated recently.
Why is that?
I felt like I had tapped people out and I also had a lot of other causes I wanted to put my focus and attention on.
One of my causes to be perfectly honest is my kids. If I have any spare time it is going to be spent on them. They are at an age where it is very important for my husband and I to be there. I coach my daughter’s sports team and try to be there for my son.
I am also passionate about CHEO, particularly given my nephew's experience with leukemia. He was in the isolation unit for over 100 days and eventually had to have a bone marrow transplant.
Do you have hobbies?
Hobbies: I like sports and activities. I have always been very athletic. I love cross country skiing and have been very involved in the Nakkertok ski club. I was the President of the club for 3 years.
I also love Photography.
The following are questions submitted by oWOW viewers:
1. How have you kept your incredibly positive outlook on life despite the significant health issues that you and your family have faced?
Life's challenges you don't 'get over' or 'come through'; nor do I think that they define you. They simply become part of the fabric of your life - and once you place these events along side everything else - the positive, the negative, the dull and the exciting - they just become part of your story. You simply can move along and continue to add to the chapters. A long time ago I made a choice about being a positive person and this choice has never ever betrayed me. I like to laugh.
2. Do you do much speaking in Ottawa? Can you share your speaking schedule so I can attend?
In fact most of my speaking to date has been in Toronto. I would like to do more in Ottawa and plan to entertain more opportunities. I will try to keep this schedule up on my web site and Linked In. My next event is in Toronto on February 9th.