Inspiring, engaging, these five enterprising women are driven by challenges and have achieved the highest echelons, their success owed to unfailing energy, ceaseless determination, and bottomless passion. Despite their different fields and very distinct paths, their ascendancy describes a similar trajectory. For these women, there’s no question of resting on one’s laurels, as their hearts are still full with dreams.
Johanne Bourque is less shy and reserved than she would like, but takes full ownership of her boundless energy. She is accustomed to short nights, is light-hearted, but decisive and sure of herself when it comes to business.
Her love affair with garden furniture began in 1956, when her father ran a small business with her mother. Thus was born Patio Rama Bourque. It was at this time that Johanne was introduced to business: “I followed my mother everywhere. My youth was marked by my mother selling furniture.” Ever since then, Johanne expresses her sensibility and flair for design, offering high-quality products, with an impeccable and exclusive look.
It was in 1977 that Johanne and her sister bought the family business from their father. At age 17, this woman knew she possessed entrepreneurial flair. As a child, she gave her opinion on everything. Her parents listened, and she gained the sense of confidence that has proved essential all her life. With the approval of her father, she created the first catalogue, distributed to 100,000 subscribers. “This is how we became known… store traffic increased. Over the years, we became Jardin de Ville, where everything is made to order.” A visionary, Johanne also abandoned synthetic resin once it became available in pool stores. “I went to Chicago and I bought all kinds of products, including forged aluminum. I made my own designs. We then launched new trends and completely altered the course of garden furniture in Quebec.” A true globetrotter, Johanne travels widely, acquiring finds for her stores and surprises for her clients. She combines the pleasures of living and discovery!
What drives this passionate CEO? Her quest for distinction, her willingness to break with established trends, and certainly perseverance, a quality Johanne considers fundamental. “When I wake up, I always want to reinvent myself. At the end of the day, I’m always happy with what I have accomplished.” What motivates her the most is the pleasure of working with people she loves. “I can never express sufficient gratitude to my sister Marcelle, who is an extraordinary partner.” Family is a word frequently used in Johanne’s vocabulary, and an essential element of her success and growth. She always wanted to have children. “Growing up, I felt like I would never have time to have children.” She finally found the time. The secret, she says, is to be surrounded by good people. “I have a wonderful husband. We complete each other. He is rational and I am emotional, instinctive, and a go-getter, a winning combination!”
A trendsetter for years, Johanne Bourque has become a leading figure of design in Quebec. Today, her success has surpassed all of her ambitions. She is deeply pleased that customers proudly declare that they own a Jardin de Ville piece. With her six stores and mischievous smile, she has earned a place among the major players in the market space. She tickles the fancy of the most contemporary lovers of luxury, and has definitely made a name for herself as an influencer.
jardin de ville, jardindeville.com
Brigitte Giasson builds aircraft interiors for the jet-set crowd. An unusual job that wasn’t exactly on her radar: “I was attracted to the arts and sciences. Naturally, I looked at architecture, but along the way, I discovered industrial design.” Following graduation, Giasson joined Innotech Aviation, a global leader in the field of refurbishing business aircraft. Her talent and dynamism allowed her to climb the corporate ladder, but this did not tamp down her desire to fly solo. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I always dreamed of my own business. Even though, oddly enough, people discouraged me, I was convinced that I would succeed.” Impressed by her talent, Giasson’s former superiors entrusted her with her first contracts, and Giasson Design took off.
To start a business, Giasson maintains you must first and foremost have a vision, and know what you want. “Nobody is there to push you, so you must be able to motivate yourself and plan for the future.” Early in her career, Giasson headed the only company of its kind in Canada. Her success was naturally a source of envy, and generated competitors. With no desire to dampen her spirit, Giasson avoided considering the competition. But it became clear, she says, that the lean contract periods in business are more difficult when one is no longer the sole player. The industry also carries its own challenges. For reasons of profitability, manufacturers are increasingly standardizing models, representing a serious threat to a business focused on customizing aircraft. Despite strong headwinds, Giasson has stayed the course. “I understand the needs of my clients. I invest myself completely in all of my projects as if I was the client, and treat each and every client the same way I would expect to be treated.” Her greatest pride: the clientele she serves, and new business prospects created by word-of-mouth referrals.
Giasson loves this work, which requires patience and an incredible attention to detail. “I always get a flutter in my heart at the time of delivery.” She enjoys less, however, the stereotypes which prevail in the industry, like the boy’s club, that accepts women as long as their standing does not surpass that of the men; and a certain complex Quebecers have for entrusting their projects to foreign designers. To succeed, you must be well organized. For this, Giasson counts on her team, on her spouse, and on an exceptional nanny. If she is happy to have a little time, she wishes she had more for her friends. Retirement is not on the agenda, as Giasson’s contracts extend until 2017, and, at 50, she still tackles challenges head on, but will perhaps one day satisfy her passions for sculpture, reading, golf, and travel.
giasson design, giassondesign.com
Her grandfather was a lawyer, as were three other family members. Leaning first towards architecture, it was in university that Caroline Biron realized that law was definitely her passion; she was seduced by its rational and analytic character. Biron chose litigation as her specialty, quickly discovering that it opened a window on the world, while providing the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity and acquire a wealth of knowledge on various subjects, including insurance, finance, construction, industry, telecommunications, aerospace, real estate…
Caroline admits she was strongly influenced by two mentors. First, Claude-Armand Sheppard – an extraordinary man, an intellectual, and a great strategist, who trusted her completely, and provided Caroline with her first mandates, thus confirming her career choice. Sheppard also taught her the importance of taking the time to live as a counterbalance to work. Later, she would meet James Woods, of the law firm, Woods, renowned for litigation. This outstanding lawyer, and a progressive figure in law, provided a springboard to Caroline’s career development, exposing her to major national and international legal affairs.
The first years were difficult and full of compromise. “I loved what I was doing, but I had to make choices. I had the opportunity to set my limits, but I was also ready to have my career monopolize me at times, especially in trial months. That said, balancing my work and my family is a constant struggle, but that balance is essential to my personal and professional development.” Equally necessary is the time Biron allots to sports and relaxation: “During the week I practice yoga and run. This allows me to think clearly, and to be more effective. I also read a lot. I go to museums, the theatre, shows, and, most importantly, I see friends. Life has to be lived every day in order to avoid being consumed by work. This acquired culture is also useful to me in connecting with my clients.“
Over the years, Caroline has gained extensive experience in litigation, particularly with regard to disputes involving companies, and also shareholders, and has developed a strong expertise in professional liability. Increasingly, she’s aware that it’s human relations that really drive her as a lawyer, and the relationships she forms with clients lie at the heart of her interests. She laments the public perception of lawyers, which is not deserved in her opinion, and deplores the fact that legal services are not more accessible. In the future, she would like to evolve her practice towards societal challenges, issues beyond the law – such as ethics – which are presently preoccupying decision-making bodies; and to counsel directors and officers in how best to deal with difficult issues and dilemmas that inevitably arise. She also plans to eventually accept invitations to join Boards of Directors.
The trajectory of Liza Kaufman is far from ordinary. Born in Peru, raised in Toronto, and educated in Los Angeles and Paris, Liza has also lived in Greece and New York. Liza Kaufman, chartered real estate broker and founding partner of Sotheby’s International Realty Quebec, started in the working world as a consultant in Toronto, honing her professional management and negotiating skills. She next moved to Los Angeles where she held a part-time job as a public relations coordinator at the Oscars, and demonstrated her ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously. Next stop, Montreal.
Over ten years ago, Liza decided to accompany a friend enrolling in brokerage courses. Her friend did not continue. But Liza persevered despite her first inclination not to work in the field… until a neighbor decided to entrust to Liza the sale of her house, which she managed to achieve in a week. She had found her profession. She first worked with a large realty banner but the work process did not suit her. She decided to open an office affiliated with the Sotheby’s International Realty network, “the real estate extension” of Sotheby’s, prestigious auction house. The company had several advantages: its marketing approach, its leading Web presence, and its close links with exclusive decorating magazines. But especially its humanist vision: the philosophy at Sotheby’s International Realty is that a home reflects the value of the lives lived therein.
Like many women, Liza began working at home, monitoring homework while scrubbing dishes, ferrying the kids to hockey games and ballet lessons, while doing the shopping. “The faster a company grows, the quicker one must become a professional organizer and multi-tasker. To launch a business, and to succeed is no small matter. It takes vision, determination, a willingness to work hard, and a capacity to treat frustrations as an opportunity to grow. You also have to absolutely love what you do. This increases the prospects for outperforming others. And occasionally requires that we put work before family, or our own needs.” For being a woman in business involves compromise. But it’s also an asset in disciplines where human relationships are paramount and where problem solving requires a particular point of view.
At its inception, the Sotheby’s International Realty brand was little known in Quebec. Liza Kaufman became its most devoted promoter. What inspires her in her role as a broker is the opportunity to interact with a multitude of people and to make a difference in their lives. Wherever luxury real estate is sold you will find evidence of Liza’s marketing presence or hear her name. Looking into the future, Liza sees a beautiful house perched on a mountainside overlooking the sea, and she dreams of the day when she’ll have more time to study, travel and employ her artistic talents to painting, sculpture, and fashion photography. In the meanwhile, she applies her creativity to presenting beautiful homes in the best possible light.
liza kaufman, lizakaufman.com
Owner of a publishing house at 22, event planner, magazine director, business development consultant, website designer, holder of a degree in public relations, Louise Martin has more than one string to her bow. But her roots run especially deep in the world of advertising. “I’ve always been in advertising. And I’ve always enjoyed getting people together. Now my passion is to introduce people to each other.” No wonder she feels at home with her company, Le Rezo Québec inc. “Our goal is to create new ways to put business people in contact. Magazines, websites, conferences and events: all this helps entrepreneurs come together.”
Supporting, assisting, facilitating, and producing are all terms that recur in Louise Martin’s vocabulary. They say a lot about her personality. Her greatest pleasure: realizing that her initiatives have been beneficial. Notably impressed by her interpersonal skills and persuasive abilities, Paul Delage Roberge, who in 2005 published an agenda cataloging his contact coordinates, called on Martin as a consultant. “We clicked so well that he offered me a job, when I was only there to sell him Internet services!” Louise Martin contributed significantly to the network’s growth. “I asked him to start a magazine. And a year later, I offered to buy the company.” A ‘go-getter’ you might say, but, she would add, a bit naïve. “I dove in head first without thinking. But I must say that I have entrepreneurship in my blood. My father and grandfather were entrepreneurs.
And I know that to start a business, you have to be passionate, otherwise it’s too hard to get through the day. I go to bed and get up with my clients on my mind. I’m at a stage in my life where I can afford to work a lot. My weekends are reserved for family: I unplug, but not totally.” Fortunately, she is surrounded by a great support team. “Accounting firm, communications agency, clients who believe in me, and now, my daughter, who works with me… it is often these people who give me the energy to keep going.” She is particularly proud of her daughter, Annick, with whom she has a close rapport. To be a good intermediary, one must listen, and be mindful of details. This sometimes helps to keep the record straight. “I’m very frank regarding unrealistic expectations and for explaining why I wouldn’t do the work proposed if I was the client… but I must admit there is an aspect of mothering in my work.” A strong-minded woman, she is offended that a certain amount of familiarity is permitted to men, but not to women, and that men are given a larger share of credit, even today. Her biggest challenge is to find the money to realize all the projects she has brewing in her mind because she has many. Including possibly retiring to the sun in France, surrounded by loved ones. But that’s for another day!
Le rezo québec inc., lerezo.ca
Photos Peter Morneau