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The Power of Women Entrepreneurs: Leadership and passion at work

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Women Entrepreneurs Breakfast
Saskatoon Club
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Friday, November 5, 2004

Kelly, thank you for the warm introduction…and a very good morning to all of you.

I must start with a big confession…I'm a huge advocate and fan of women entrepreneurs. My early family environment fostered an eagerness to champion this market several years ago. When you grow up with six sisters, you learn pretty darn fast about the importance of women in families, society, communities and business. And believe it or not, the Women Entrepreneurs of Canada Foundation named me an honourary woman in 2001 - that's truly fact not fiction! I wear the distinction with great pride…

Yesterday, during the flight to Saskatoon (and with this event on my mind), I thought about the 4,000 Canadian women who turned out for the Royal Bank Power of Women Conference in Toronto a few years ago. I thought about what Gloria Steinem, the most recognized voice for modern feminism, said: "We often feel crazy and alone and that's why we come together for days like this." And I thought about another one of her comments, "I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career." I see many heads nodding in agreement, including my own!

Getting back to Gloria's remark about often feeling crazy and alone and coming together…I couldn't help but wonder if this sentiment, in part, drew women entrepreneurs to this breakfast - a need to connect with people who "get it" and "get you." By the way, Gloria Steinem was among a powerhouse roster of speakers at this conference. What most of these high-profile women had in common, is a strong vision and a relentless passion in pursuing dreams. Their stories didn't focus on their success so much as the path they each took to get there. In translating their personal experiences into lessons learned, they had some insightful tips for women entrepreneurs - for all of us: Paula Nelson, a best-selling author and entrepreneur, known to millions for her financial commentaries on CNN Business News, talked about focusing on strengths and managing weaknesses. Paula said, "The goal is not to be superwoman but strategic woman, not to have it all but to have what's important, not to do it all but to do what's important." Talk about the power of leadership and passion at work!

When reflecting on the power of women entrepreneurs, it seems appropriate to talk in the context of "we've come a long way." It also seems appropriate to mention last month's recognition of the 75th anniversary of the 'Persons' Case' - as you know, the Bank of Canada launched a new $50 bank note featuring the Famous 5 - Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Irene Parlby, as well as Thérèse Casgrain. This was the first time that female Canadian leaders appeared on Canadian currency. "The Famous 5 are best remembered for their work as suffragists, legislators and champions of the rights and welfare of women and children, and for their successful appeal of the 'Persons' Case in 1929. They were largely responsible for securing the right to vote for women, to run for public office, to serve as school trustees and to serve as Senators." In many ways, they also paved the way for women entrepreneurs - for "celebrating women's achievements, while commemorating courage, tenacity and conviction, and encouraging women's leadership." Yes, we've come a long way all right…and we have a way to go!

The impact and influence of women on the prosperity of Canada is not lost on RBC Financial Group or me. Although business interest and opportunity led RBC to pursue the women entrepreneurs' market about ten years ago, I saw other agendas at play - the big one being the critically and strategically important contributions that women make in advancing a civil society. There's been a common thread all along.

The thousands of women I've met over the years have given me insight into the intrinsic connection between the economic and social agendas of our country. And RBC's work in this market has made it crystal clear to us (call it self-enlightenment if you will), that Canada's prosperity is contingent on the key link between these two agendas.

On Monday, Gord Nixon, RBC Financial Group's President and CEO spoke about "Achieving Canada's potential in the 21st century" at the Princeton Investments Distinguished Lecture in Finance in Edmonton and was also in Saskatoon the next day. He said, "There are three key ways for an economy to grow and prosper. The first is to invest in improving human skills through education and training - investing in the most advanced technologies. The second way is to pursue international markets through foreign trade and investment - identifying our niches and specializing in those things that we do best. The third way is to promote economic growth - stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship." This is a room filed with passionate leaders who stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship every day.

  • Did you know…that a recent report, "Women-Owned Businesses in 2004: Trends in the Top 50 Metropolitan Areas, from the Center for Women's Business Research in the U.S., reveals that women-owned businesses in the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. are growing faster than the economy in general? Between 1997 and 2004, women-owned businesses with employees in these areas grew by 30%, compared to only a 10% growth rate for all firms with employees in these cities." I suppose Kim Weimer, of Fastener Warehouse Ltd. right here in the city, and one of PROFIT magazine's 2004 top 100 women entrepreneurs, knows a good deal about growth and success, as do all the women entrepreneurs in this audience. Talk about the power of leadership and passion at work.
  • Did you know…that a recent RBC Financial Group study concluded that Canada is heading towards an era of unparalleled diversity that will transform the face of this country's small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)? The new group reflects changes in immigration patterns and social attitudes and is comprised of higher educated owners, more women and visible minorities, including new Canadians.
  • Did you know…that the move towards women business ownership is economically empowering women around the world…and Canada is among the leaders in this regard. You may be interested to hear that entrepreneurship is an important way that women in Afganistan are contributing to rebuilding their country after years of war and economic devastation…and a team of Canadian and American businesswomen has already traveled there to teach them business skills. Talk about the power of leadership and passion at work!
  • Did you know…that the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs (CAWE) projects women entrepreneurs to make up 30% of all entrepreneurs in China within three to five years? It also urges women to study strategies for managing a business as well as study skills to achieve domestic happiness. "A recent survey by the association showed that 85% of women executives look after their kids' education and 60% look after their parents." We cannot underestimate these findings (including the impact of child care), which have wider spread application… I understand that Monica Kreuger of Global Infobrokers Inc. is quite interested in doing business in China…
  • Finally, did you know that Prime Minister Paul Martin foresees "a Canada where the increasing number of women entrepreneurs has every opportunity to succeed and contribute a vital new dimension to our economy - a Canada where there's no glass ceiling for women entrepreneurs." Since close to 821,000 women entrepreneurs contribute $18 billion to the Canadian economy each year, women need to raise the bar and raise their voice. Talk about the power of leadership and passion at work!

When RBC targeted the women entrepreneurs market some ten years ago, our initial strategy was community/grassroots-based…we created advisory councils. Women told us to put dollars into learning - provide education and support, break down barriers and help build networks. Knowing we had to change the culture and mind-set of our staff, we embarked on training our workforce - small business account managers - men and women across the country. The program taught gender communication but it also served to raise market awareness within our sales force.

We also needed a way to sustain and spread the learning, so we created local champions - the cornerstone for delivery of our programs. The national network comprises approximately 100 women entrepreneur market champions. They are our relationship account managers…individuals like Marlene Miller and Leanne Cory in this region, who share a passion for serving women entrepreneurs. Kelly will mention other members of the RBC team following my remarks.

RBC also wanted to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to find useful information faster, as that's what good relationship building is all about. This was on our minds when we launched the web site for women entrepreneurs and our Champions newsletter. These resources provide information, association listings and news, as well as tips about access to markets, networking, financing, growing your business and much more. Copies of our newest edition of Champions are available here, so please pick one up at your convenience. You'll see that we feature stories about dynamic women entrepreneurs, so if you have a great story you'd like to share, let Marlene, Leanne and others know.

We realize that access to expertise/financing is essential for any business, so we created partnerships both in and outside the country to help support the development of small business. RBC also initiated and participated in trade missions and alliances with the federal government. These initiatives have opened the exporting door for many women entrepreneurs.

RBC sponsors many networking events, like this one, because this is where relationships are started and the deal making and alliances are formed! It's also one of the reasons we established a virtual network on our web site. This is an online community that entrepreneurs can join to receive helpful resources and free publications. Community associations and organizations such as Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WES), are also doing wonderful work in helping women to access information and facilitate networking. It's great that Terri Parent and Jill Salamon, from WES, have joined us this morning.

Needless to say, RBC is proud to be the #1 bank for women entrepreneurs in Canada, with 22 per cent market share. We know the women entrepreneurs' market is the market of the future: consumer spending accounts for two thirds of the economy and women make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Women entrepreneurs account for 70% of new business start-ups. Clearly, women are important to Canada's economy and to RBC's business. Although we still have a way to go to meet all the needs of women entrepreneurs, we're proud of our accomplishments to-date. Through our activities, initiatives and feedback from you, we're generating more awareness about the economic power of businesswomen and women consumers. We believe very passionately in serving and supporting women entrepreneurs.

And now I want to focus on the real success stories - if only there was time to single out all of you:

  • For Janet Keim, flying and the flight training industry is her passion…she's very involved as an activist and lobbyist within the industry. As you may know, Mitchinson Flying Service Limited has grown to be the largest Flight Trainer in Saskatchewan and one of the largest in Western Canada. What an impressive achievement Janet!
  • For Barb Stefanyshyn-Coté, the livestock nutritional consulting service operation - designing and promoting feed ingredients both domestically and overseas, is her passion. Both she and her husband operate a 3200 acre grain farm and a bulk fuel and fertilizer dealership in Prince Albert. In 2001, Barb and John were recognized as the "Outstanding Young Farmers of Canada". In 2004, Barb was awarded "Outstanding Young Agrologist" from the Canadian Institute of Agrologists. She currently lectures at the University of Saskatchewan and is a public speaker on management and motivation. Perhaps Barb can give me some tips about passion at the podium!
  • Garnette Weber is the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Itracks, a company that provides online data collection services to the word's leading market research companies. Itracks was the winner of the 2002 Exporter of the Year with the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership (STEP) and also earned the 2001 Chamber of Commerce Achievement for Business Excellence (ABEX) award in the Job Creation Category. Garnette was awarded the Saskatchewan Young Entrepreneur Award in 1999 and the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2001. Sounds like you have more than a full plate Garnette, but an exciting one at that!
  • For Monica Kreuger, Global Infobrokers Inc., a private educational institute, is one of her passions. As a developer and provider of entrepreneurship training, Monica has assisted over 500 companies to get started. She also teaches Entrepreneurship in the College of Commerce at the University and is working with the College to launch Canada's premier business plan competition in Saskatoon. The company is also doing groundwork to develop an international high school in Saskatchewan that will provide its teaching model to students from all over the world. Monica, we'll be watching you with great interest, especially the China connection!
  • For Cathy Allen, of Redline Cycles Ltd., Harley Davidson and Buell motorcycles are her passion. Last year she received Harley Davidson's Trev Deeley Retailer of the Year Award for superior performance as a Canadian dealership. Mentored by her father - a successful car dealer, Cathy treats her customers the way she would like to be treated: promptly, fairly and with dignity and respect. Cathy has participated in RBC's small business advisory committee, enabling her to give input into bank services and to meet and brainstorm with other business owners.

Janet, Barb, Garnette, Monika and Cathy, we're very proud of your successes and confident of your bright futures. I'm sure I can speak on behalf of Kent Petrovicz, Joe Clavelle, Michelle Robstad, Tammy Bodnarek and Terry LaRocque - when I say we share in the pride. Talk about the power of leadership and passion at work!

Special thanks to Marlene Miller for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event - and to Linda Perozuk for helping to organize my involvement - and to the entire RBC team - you truly make me proud!

And special thanks to all the women entrepreneurs who have shared breakfast with us this morning…I'll have lots to think about on my flight home to Toronto - and it won't be about Gloria Steinem this time - it'll be about all of you! The power, leadership and passion of women entrepreneurs is alive and well in Saskatoon!

Thank you…and now let's hear from you!