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Putting you first: Empowering women entrepreneurs

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Women in transition Seminar
South Calgary Community Association
Calgary, Alberta

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Judy, thanks very much for the warm introduction. In all the years I've been with RBC, this is the first time I've been introduced by a member of my extended family at an event. I'm pleased it was you Judy and I'm not just saying that because your mother - my sister Patsy - is in the audience!

You know, "always earning the right to be our clients' first choice" is more than RBC Financial Group's vision - it's the way smart organizations and people succeed in business - it's the way Judy succeeds in business. Over the last twelve years, Judy has endeavoured to make a difference in her career as a real estate professional and founder/co-owner of an inner city home building company. A commitment to excellence is her trademark with every client and with every deal. And she also makes a point of donating a portion of each sale to the Alberta Children's Hospital via the Children's Miracle Network. In the words of Christina MacWilliam (who's here today): "Judy helped my elderly parents sell their last home and move into an assisted living manor. She took the time to listen to their concerns and fears about moving, she helped them get the best value for the home they were selling and she left a lasting positive impression upon them." Needless to say, Judy leaves a lasting impression on many people, especially her two marvelous daughters, Lydia and Hannah - and certainly on me.

I so enjoy visiting Calgary and getting a sense of the "extraordinary quality of life" here. As your Mayor Dave Bronconnier said in last year's annual report: "Calgary's reputation as a leading North American city is growing." And I couldn't agree more. This is a great city for women - for mothers, executives, educators, professionals, administrators, community leaders, financial services providers, real estate agents and entrepreneurs - not to mention, for women in transition.

Although my remarks will focus on women entrepreneurs and RBC's support of this growth market, I want to assure you this seminar's theme, women in transition, hasn't been lost on me. I started asking myself some questions about our women entrepreneur clients: do we (at RBC) know if they've recently lost a mother/father or a spouse/partner? Do we know if they're caring for both children and elderly parents? Do we know if they're considering care-giving or retirement home facilities for loved ones? Do we know if they're going through separations or divorces? Chances are we don't always know. What we do know is this: there are psychological, legal and financial considerations for women in transition, women who may very well be entrepreneurs. Perhaps women in transition need to consult with a counselor, lawyer or investment adviser along the way…and this begs the question: are most women prepared for transitions? In our case, what role can a financial services provider (like RBC) play, to help support smooth transitions for clients?

Let's step back a bit, to address both questions. Starting/growing/selling a business, applying for a job, taking a new class, re-locating, getting married, raising children or as US-based entrepreneur Kelly Smith says, "playing on a field previously zoned, men only" are all examples of stepping outside of the comfort zone - more examples of transitions. And to reinforce part of Geli's message from this morning: "…the strength of your emotional reactions to any given situation is directly related to the strength of the charge that your emotional memory carries. By reconnecting with your feelings…you can reduce the strength of these emotional memories. This allows you to move towards a place where you experience choice rather than an automatic reaction. Lightening the load of your emotional baggage is re-energizing, allowing you to move forward in new ways that you never thought possible."

And moving forward is a good thing. Effectively managing transitions involves certain mind-sets and skill-sets - tools that aren't acquired or learned overnight. There's no manual on how to handle transitions - it's often a one day at a time scenario with peaks and valleys along the journey. So for RBC, it appears an appreciation of a client's overall circumstances and psyche is key. Ensuring clients have the right information at the right time helps pave the way to better financial choices and outcomes, and helps avoid spur of the moment decisions that can adversely affect short and long term goals. It's all part of putting you first…

Just this week (February 15), "international entrepreneur, author (and CEO) Laurel Delaney announced the release of Global Guru: Shaking Things Up, Making Things Happen, a manifesto which enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to expand internationally. The timing has never been better for business owners to get out of their own backyards and transition from local, regional or national firms into global players." The use of the word transition caught my immediate attention. Delaney's book goes on to describe, "12 key qualities of the spirit and intellect essential to pushing boundaries." They include:

  • "Learning about the culture in which you are about to do business;
  • Being adaptable…and innovating;
  • Valuing a relationship more than the deal;
  • Taking action when needed and implementing relentlessly."

I got to thinking that these qualities also make sense in client/banker relationships. As bankers, we can always learn more about our client's business, we can always be more flexible and innovative in our thinking, we can always focus on building stronger connections and we can always be more proactive in our approaches. We can also be more upfront about perceptions and myths. In other words, the skills we use to best serve our clients can also be honed to support women entrepreneurs in transition. Again, it's all part of putting you first…

When RBC targeted the women entrepreneurs market some eleven 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 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. And we also have relationship account managers such as the outstanding team in Calgary, several of whom have joined us today: colleagues like Aileen Rycroft, Christine Miller, Pam Korniat, Marshal Cohen, Wendy Sunderland, Helene Carron and Al Block, who share a passion for "always earning the right to be our clients' first choice." I know members of our team will introduce themselves to you throughout the day if they haven't already.

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. It's all part of putting you first…

It's no surprise there's several myths about obtaining financing for women entrepreneurs. The reality is that, when it comes to financing their businesses, women and men are both approved at the about the same rate. The size of the company, length of time in business and the type of industry are just some of the factors that influence decisions made about financing - and these are non-gender specific.

For example, a common perception is that women entrepreneurs are approved for credit less often then men. In fact, women are more conservative when they approach their financing requirements - and they borrow less. When we surveyed our customers, 68% of women-owned businesses reported they have business borrowings versus 75% of male owned businesses. This includes borrowings from RBC or any other lender whether they are company loans, lines of credit, leases, or commercial mortgages.

Women-led businesses also tend to have a more conservative capital structure with less debt. As a result, women get approved at the same or better rates than their male counterparts. In a survey, Statistics Canada found that 85% of female owned businesses were approved for credit vs. 80% for men. And a Thompson Lightstone survey found the approval rate for women to be 91% vs. 82% for men.

We realize that access to financing/expertise 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 types of initiatives open exporting doors for many women entrepreneurs.

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 continue raising the bar and raising their voice.

RBC also sponsors many events, like this one, because this is where relationships are started 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 are also doing wonderful work in helping women to access information and facilitate networking.

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 and the future is now: we also know that consumer spending accounts for two thirds of the economy and that women make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Women entrepreneurs also account for 70% of new business start-ups.

Clearly, women are important to Canada's economy and to RBC's business. And although business interest and opportunity led RBC to pursue the women entrepreneurs' market, I saw other agendas at play - the big one being the critically and strategically important contributions that women make in advancing a civil society. This has been a common thread all along.

The countless 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 diverse agendas. The impact and influence of women on the prosperity of Canada is also undeniable…

RBC still has a way to go in meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs (and women in transition), yet we're proud of our accomplishments to-date. Through our activities, initiatives and feedback from clients, 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 speaking of women entrepreneurs and women in transition…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.

As we head to the final stretch of my more formal remarks and into my favourite part - hearing from you, I want to focus on a few success stories of women entrepreneurs, including some RBC clients; you'll see elements of transition in each story:

  • "Manishi Sagar, a post-graduate from Punjab University (in Pakistan), is the brain behind the Kinderville group that runs 12 childcare centres and two private primary schools in Quebec. She's been honoured as one of Canada's 100 Most Powerful Women by the women's executive network and the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivy School of Business. In her words: The inspiration for Kinderville came by accident. (My husband and I) were looking for a centre for our own children, but found none. The worst thing that could have happened was that the government did not recognize our degrees. But that inspired us to create opportunities for us. Once we decided to go into business for ourselves, the opportunities were endless. She's also the Founding Principal of Kinderville Real Estate Inc, a company that owns, develops and manages real estate investments, primarily commercial buildings and shopping plazas, plus the Founding member of the Kinderville Foundation, set up to assist disadvantaged children." ( Talk about an empowered woman entrepreneur taking a transition to a whole new level!

  • "Alberta Fancy Sausage is a third generation family-owned business that's now owned and operated by Mary Bendzik (and Bert Klein), with the top selling beef jerky in Alberta and third biggest seller in Canada. According to Bendzik, "We were just starting to move into the U.S. market and we were getting some nice results when the BSE crisis hit." Since the border closure, Alberta Fancy Sausage has had to refocus on the domestic market and decided to build up its market share in Alberta, already its biggest market", with plans for eastern Canada expansion. (Apparently) Albertans consume more beef jerky than in any other province. (from the Jennifer Cockrall-King article in Alberta Venture magazine, November 2004) Talk about an empowered woman entrepreneur taking a transition to a whole new level!

  • "When the company they were working for announced they were closing North American operations, Michelle Stroo and Sara Hamilton noticed a need for their experience and expertise in the safety sector of the geophysical industry so they decided to start their own business. Five months later their company, Aegis Group Inc., was not only established in a male-dominated industry, it was successful enough for them to pay themselves a salary. Aegis Group has (already) won an award for the best Emerging Business from Alberta Women Entrepreneurs - AWE." (from AWE web site) Talk about empowered woman entrepreneurs taking a transition to a whole new level!

Obviously Calgary (and Alberta) has more than enough women entrepreneur success stories to boast about. Here's one more that's about to enjoy increased public attention. The 10th annual Rotman Women in Management Breakfast is being held on Tuesday March 1 at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Not only is RBC Capital Markets the proud presenting sponsor, we're thrilled that one of the keynote speakers is Manjit Minhas, President, Mountain Crest Liquors Inc. "Her company produces, develops and markets 90 brands of spirits, wines, beers and cordials in Alberta. These products are manufactured for the company in Kentucky, New Jersey and Wisconsin, as well as Holland and Germany. Manjit was recently named to Profit's Top Women Entrepreneurs list and Alberta Venture's Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies and was nominated for the "Top 40 under 40"in Canada." All I can say is wow!

In closing, I want to share a little "blue and pink" food for thought. It may shed some communications light on building business relationships, making the deal, gender issues and managing transitions. You may have read Wallace Immen's article in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday (February 16). It focused on author Ronna Lichtenberg's premise that the key to career success is, "understanding the contrasting styles and needs of blue and pink -- the two colours…that stereotypically identify how men and women approach interactions with other people… People with blue styles, according to Ms. Lichtenberg, define their identities by their credentials, achievements and where they stand in the hierarchy. Conversely, people with pink styles want to connect on a personal level before they get to the agenda…once they connect, they continue to build a long-term relationship." Here's some advice (in excerpted form) from Ronna Lichtenberg (Pitch Like a Girl: How a Woman Can Be Herself and Still Succeed), for best reaching people of both colours:

"Pitching to a blue: cover one topic at a time; get to the point quickly and agree on an action before moving on; back up statements with numbers; when listening, don't react with facial expressions or verbal affirmations; stress the advantage of your proposal in performance terms; use visual illustrations, such as charts and graphs."

"Pitching to a pink: use examples to make abstract concepts more real; tie the benefit of your proposal to people; show you are listening by using facial expressions or verbal affirmation; make points with stories; appeal to senses using colour, sound or images."

In that note, special thanks to Wendy Sunderland for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event and coordinating my involvement - and of course to Judy for orchestrating this seminar.

And special thanks to everyone in this room - by putting your "blue and/or pink" self first and being here today, you made an investment in yourself and in your future! At RBC, we promise to put you first too!

Thanks very much…and now let's hear from you!