Ottawa lobbyist Jacqueline “Jacquie” LaRocque was fêted recently at a swanky gala in Toronto as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100, hosted by the Women’s Executive Network.
She normally shuns the spotlight, so stepping before a large crowd to collect an award was definitely outside her comfort zone. As was sitting down for an interview to discuss how she grew her public affairs firm, Compass Rose, from a one-woman show into a team of whip-smart former journalists, political staffers and public servants.
It’s hard to know where LaRocque’s career story begins. Maybe in the small Northern Ontario town where her dad supported the family of four kids through his job at the pulp and paper mill. Or, during her eight years as a public servant, developing her love for shaping public policies that can benefit all Canadians. Certainly, her two years as director of communications for International Trade Minister Jim Peterson was some of the best training she’s ever had.
As Ottawa residents take a tour through the 2023 Minto Dream Home for CHEO, teams behind the scenes are already gearing up for next year.
LaRocque is the first to acknowledge that, even while building skills, knowledge, experience and long-lasting relationships, she didn’t always know in which direction she was headed. Maybe it’s fitting that she named Compass Rose after a symbol of safety and guidance.
“The path that I’ve taken, in building this company, my career and my family, has generally been non-linear,” said LaRocque in the bright and bustling headquarters of Compass Rose, located in a beautiful heritage building in the ByWard Market. “I followed my instinct and I just feel so fortunate that the plans I made brought me to where I am now.”
In 2015, LaRocque stepped away from her position as managing principal at public affairs firm Ensight Canada to go out on her own. She got married later in life, at age 39, and became a mom at 43.
Many people assumed her career change was about achieving better parental work-life balance. However, it was more about her wanting to be in a position to make professional decisions based on her core values and principles.
“For me, it’s about honesty, truth, empathy, finding the common good,” said LaRocque. “I wanted to chart a path for myself and bring those beliefs back up in the lobbying ecosystem.”
Public affairs professionals work to influence legislation, regulation or other government decisions on behalf of their clients. LaRocque remains proud of the work she does because it’s so strongly driven by her desire to find solutions to challenges faced by Canadians today, she said. “Being a lobbyist is a big word for a lot of people. It’s a badge of honour for me.”
Compass Rose serves businesses and organizations in critical sectors of Canada’s economy, including agriculture, creative industries, natural resources, green industries, fintech, digital, tech, transport, communications and trade and commerce.
Key to her success, she believes, has been building a strong foundation for Compass Rose, as well as expanding to a full-time equivalent of 22 staff through smart, incremental growth.
“But, you can’t do it alone, which is where the team and the kind of team that I’ve gathered over the years comes in,” said the University of Ottawa graduate. “I am known to work with a lot of amazing women and some of my colleagues are also really smart men.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, LaRocque shone as a leader. She was adamant about not laying anyone off and, in fact, hired and promoted. “We all need each other right now; we don’t need a pink slip. I was very determined to make sure the team was taken care of, that our business was protected and that the clients were supported.”
Compass Rose also transitioned to a remote workforce “without skipping a beat” as soon as offices started shutting down.
Of priority to LaRocque was everyone’s mental health. She did daily video check-in calls with employees during the thick of things. “We were deeply flexible with the team, with how and when they worked, but never compromising the output.”
It wasn’t always easy for LaRocque, who put in long, hard days. “We always keep staff top of mind, but this was a different level. I admit, it really tested me as a manager.”
As for clients, Compass Rose kept them in the loop with regular updates based on the whirlwind of government announcements and new developments of the day. “For about four months, every single client of Compass Rose received a deep and detailed dispatch. Not something general, like a PR tool, but geared strictly toward them, based on their needs. We also lobbied for supports.”
She credits her team’s resilience and work ethic with the firm’s ability to come out on top. “We have people here who show up. They’re deeply accountable to themselves and each other and to our clients. I just can’t say that enough.”
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT JACQUIE LAROCQUE
- Her Top 100 award included glowing reference letters and testimonials from members of her staff, as well as Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt, Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder, former NDP strategist Kathleen Monk, Carleton University chancellor Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, and journalists such as Paul Wells and Evan Solomon.
- One cause she really enjoyed being part of was the Hope Live fundraisers for Fertile Future. The concert benefit gala featuring top Canadian performing artists was led by her good friend and fellow lobbyist Heidi Bonnell from Rogers Communications. LaRocque was sponsorships chair.
- Her French Canadian heritage is important to her. Growing up in Espanola, she travelled an hour each day to and from her French-language high school in Sudbury.
- Her favourite piece of advice is: “It’s as important to know who you are not, as it is to know who you are.”
- She’s a community leader, especially when it comes to small business. When the Freedom Convoy blockades shut down huge swaths of downtown in February 2022, she led a fundraiser for the staff of Stephen Beckta’s Play Food & Wine, located at 1 York St. in the same building as Compass Rose. It raised $17,000.