Some of Ottawa’s most outstanding female business professionals were recognized for their hard work, perseverance and success during a cocktail reception hosted Tuesday night at Lago Bar & Grill for this year's finalists of a Businesswoman of the Year Award.
The 12 tenacious trailblazers were selected from hundreds of submissions based on their business acumen, leadership skills, notable achievements, area of expertise and community engagement.
The finalists will gather April 11 during the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa gala dinner at the Infinity Convention Centre, where one winner from each of the four categories will be announced.
The finalists in the emerging entrepreneur category are: Amy Frieson, owner of Tea & Toast Inc., Jennifer McGahan, owner of Jennifer McGahan Interiors, and Stayci Keetch, CEO and creative director of On Brand by Stayci Keetch.
In the established entrepreneur category, the top picks were: Allyson Chisnall, CFO and COO of MediaStyle, Jennifer MacKinnon, CEO of Fenix Solutions, and Pierrette Raymond, owner/coach of 1-800-GOT-JUNK/Moving Forward Matters.
In the professional category, chosen were: Katherine Cooligan, regional managing partner of law firm Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG), Lynn Ferron, principal with HOK Architects, and Trina Fraser, partner at Brazeau Seller Law.
In the organization category, the finalists were narrowed down to: Christyn Cianfarani, president and CEO of The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, Christina Hlusko, president and CEO of CAA North and East Ontario, and Amy MacLeod, vice president of strategic communications and corporate diversity officer for Mitel.
PWL Capital, which has offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo, was the presenting sponsor of the the cocktail reception. Nancy Graham, portfolio manager with the wealth management firm, told the room how proud they were to get behind the awards. "It really speaks to my heart," said Graham. "I love this event. I think it's really important.
“My hope is that all of you ladies who are finalists tonight will find this recognition leads to new business connections and new motivations to continue to grow your business and to give you a moment to pause and recognize what you have accomplished.
"Within this network there is a shared passion, a belief system and a drive to carry through the vision of helping women succeed in their businesses. We’ve come a long way; we all know there’s more work to be done.”
Also present at the reception was PWL's new president and CEO, Brenda Bartlett.
Dr. Nicole Fournier, a chiropractor with Wellness House, has returned to chair the Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala, joined by Heidi Duchesne, commercial account manager at RBC. Also on hand were WBN board president Eugeniya Tsetlin, senior relationship manager at CIBC in the real estate finance division, and its new executive director, Soula Burrell.
The evening's emcee, Ottawa writer and publicist Julie Beun, introduced each finalist while spicing up her remarks with the occasional forthright and witty aside. Only finalist Amy MacLeod, who was out of the country, couldn't make it.
The room also heard from honorary chair Sandra Tisiot, founder and CEO of the Women in Business Conference. She praised the finalists for showing clear focus in their goals and for raising their levels of risk when it came to advancing their careers.
OBJ.social chatted briefly with several of the finalists to learn what it meant to be recognized by the WBN, a network for women entrepreneurs.
While McGahan got a late start on her career, she's managed to grow her high-end interior design firm to $1.4 million in annual revenue. “I stayed home for the better part of 10 years,” the mother of two teenage boys told OBJ.social.
“I think that’s really tough, for women to enter the workforce after that amount of time. You have to believe in yourself and not let anyone tell you that you can’t do it," said McGahan, who had by far the largest and loudest cheering section supporting her that night.
Ottawa lawyer Trina Fraser, whose practice is focused almost exclusively on the cannabis industry, was feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride in being a finalist. She’s a partner at Brazeau Seller and also a busy mom of two.
She told OBJ.social how it's next to impossible for her to find work-life balance in her life these days. The night before, she had one board meeting, one client conference call and two kids’ hockey games, all scheduled at the same time. “I’m constantly juggling,” said Fraser, who managed to pull through her scheduling conflicts (she postponed the meeting, drove one child to hockey while her husband drove the other, and held the conference call after the game). "You got to do what you got to do."
"Just to be a finalist is a great honour," said Allyson Chisnall, who works behind-the-scenes at MediaStyle, a strategic communications and public affairs agency. She's watched founder Ian Capstick and CEO Caitlin Kealey win Forty Under 40 awards and has seen the company make the OBJ list for Fastest Growing Company. She acknowledged that it's an unusual feeling to find herself in the spotlight, for a change.
"It feels strange to be singled out as a successful business owner because MediaStyle is a team effort. We work together and I am successful because the team and the company is successful."
The audience heard about some of the struggles entrepreneurs face when trying to launch a business. Jennifer MacKinnon, founder and CEO of Fenix Solutions, described her humble beginnings “doing 40 calls and being rejected by 41 of them”.
Her first client, many years ago, went bankrupt and was unable to pay her for her work, despite the fact that she’d already shelled out money to her sub-contractors. It was her husband who encouraged her to keep her chin up and to soldier on. The bankrupt client was so impressed by MacKinnon's degree of professionalism that he recommended her for a much more lucrative contract, which was subsequently awarded to her.
“I feel very blessed," said MacKinnon. "I love what I do.
"It's really nice to be recognized."