The Next Generation of Leading Canadian Businesswomen
Young, ambitious, smart. Call them mavericks. They write their own rules, and no one stops them. In collaboration with Glenfiddich’s new Experimental Series, which is all about next-generation flavour, pushing boundaries, and trailblazers, four of Canada’s leading women in business tell their stories—their climb to the top, and the hurdles they’ve overcome along the way.
Written by Christina Gonzales
Photography: Mauricio Calero
Hair and makeup: Demi Valentine
Stylist: Talia Brown
Stylist’s assistant: Kristina Diclemente
Shot on location at The Good Son, Toronto.
Beth Havers, 38
National Brand Ambassador, Glenfiddich
My love affair with Scotch whisky started in Edinburgh, at a pub called the Haymarket. The bartender poured me a Glenfiddich® 12 year old served neat and I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth it was. Amazingly, eight years later, I joined the William Grant & Sons team as a whisky brand ambassador sharing my love and passion for Glenfiddich® with Canadians one dram at a time.
Back in 2012, I was one of very few women globally to be in a whisky brand-advocacy role, educating both men and women about the brand. Now, I’m joined by a number of women in similar roles.
Initially, it was never my intention to recruit women into the category, but I believe that by being a woman of influence in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I’ve helped minimize the stigma that Scotch is a man’s drink. The number of women who are interested in Scotch increases every year—female attendance is growing at whisky festivals and in our education seminars. It’s wonderful to see women discovering the awesome world of whisky.
To further support this movement, I started “Women and Whisky” tastings with Donna Wolff, a Scotswoman, whisky enthusiast, and the owner of The Caledonian pub in Toronto. Our first event was in 2013. It was supposed to be a small, intimate tasting of 20, but 60 women showed up and it’s continued to grow in popularity.
On top of advocating for the brand, I’ve been lucky to influence some of the new whiskies coming into market as part of the Experimental Series by Glenfiddich. This highly anticipated, next generation of groundbreaking whiskies, combines the brand’s passion for pushing boundaries, and allows for collaboration with trailblazers from the whisky world and beyond.
Each year, a new experiment will be released. I was directly involved with Experiment #02, dubbed “Project XX”, and Experiment #03, which is coming soon. Project XX is collaboration with 20 whisky experts from around the world—each person hand selects one cask to go into this delicious single malt. The end result was 17 bourbon casks, two sherry casks, and only one port pipe, selected by me.
It felt great to watch Project XX come to life and to continue to be involved in future experiments. It’s an example of the innovation women can bring to the world of whisky. Join me for a wee dram next time I’m in your neighbourhood.
Nicole Verkindt, 33
CEO of OMX and Dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den Canada, Next Gen Den
Before I started OMX, a procurement technology that measures the social and economic impact of supply chains, I was an entrepreneur in the manufacturing industry. Our clients were governments around the world. Traditionally, governments have been slower at adopting new technology and innovation.
I was in my 20s at the time, so technology was part of my everyday life—I used QuickBooks for bookkeeping, eBay to shop, and LinkedIn to network.
When I left the business at 27, working with government clients was all I knew. I had this feeling that I could take the technology I was using everyday and apply it.
The idea of OMX seemed like a no-brainer to me. But innovating within the government sector was a lot more difficult than I expected, especially for a young woman like me. I was prepared to put in the hard work, but I wasn’t prepared for the criticism and ridicule I’d receive from prospective customers and investors. They thought, “This girl won’t change this industry.”
While I focused on blocking out the naysayers, I’d constantly have nightmares about people mocking me. One day, after a series of unsuccessful meetings with potential clients, I locked myself in a bathroom at the office for 20 minutes and stared at the wall. I wondered whether I should just quit right there. When I finally told a friend and fellow entrepreneur that I felt like quitting, she recounted all the times she’d felt the same. It was comforting to know there were other women out there pushing for innovation and struggling with what felt like an endless series of “no’s.”
Women need to talk about the realities of being a disrupter, so others on this path understand that overcoming self-doubt is an essential part of the job. I associated all of the criticism and ridicule with being unlikeable, but that wasn’t it. I believe that women have a hard time dealing with the idea of not being liked.
But none of it is about likeability. In order to innovate, I needed to overcome barriers—that’s a normal step in the process. It’s hard to not to take everything personally, but enduring the blows is the key to success.
Astrid-Maria Ciarallo, 30
Senior Communications, Kinross Gold Corporation
I’ve always been fascinated with public affairs and international relations. That’s why I studied political science in undergrad. After graduating, my desire to make an impact in the community led me straight into a political campaign office as a volunteer. Not long after, I was offered a job in fundraising.
Emotions run high in politics. Conflict is the default method of communication, with people often screaming at each other to get their point across. But conflict was never in my nature, and the unsolicited advice I’d often get was, “One day, we’ll break you in.”
It didn’t help that I was a female in a male-dominated field. I was young, and right out of school. I’d work intense, 12-hour days in heels and a floral-print dress, which was regarded as impractical and unconventional. But I stayed true to myself and didn’t waiver.
I grew thick skin, and learned that there was a way to stick up for myself without resorting to conflict and raising my voice. For me, kindness isn’t equated with weakness. Still, I worked long hours to prove that I had the chops.
In the moments when I doubted myself, I would focus on the impact I was making within the community. I’d also remember the advice my grandfather gave me: “always stay positive,” he said.
My grandfather was my rock and the most important guiding force in my life. He was an avid whisky drinker, and as a child, I grew to recognize its smell. The first time I tasted whisky was with my grandfather, so drinking it brings back memories of evenings spent enjoying each other’s company. Through him, I learned the power of positivity, which I take with me every day.
Jen Lee Koss, 39
Career is what defined me before I had any children. That’s who I was, and how I defined myself, and there is nothing wrong with that. The thing is, you don’t know how you’re going to be or how you’re going to feel until you actually have kids. And then once you do, it could totally surprise you.
With my first child, I was like, “What happened to my life?” It was nuts. I wanted my old life back. I definitely wasn’t encompassed by feelings of wanting to cuddle my baby all the time. I was overwhelmed, and it was probably due to a number of things like sleep deprivation, hormones, and just trying to get through each day.
The sense of urgency I had about going back to work increased with every child. After my second child and third child, there was no rest. I’d get back to work days after giving birth—I really didn’t skip a beat. I just had my fourth baby, and it’s only now that I find myself taking a breather.
There’s this idea of having “mom guilt.” The feeling that instead of working, you should be with you kids. But I know myself, and I’m a better person and a better parent if I’m doing something for me. That’s something I’ve come to understand.
BRIKA, both an e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shop of artisan-crafted goods, is what I can now describe as a side hustle. Today, it’s very rare to meet someone who doesn’t have a side hustle, whether it’s teaching yoga or designing a T-shirt line in addition to having a full-time job. When we started back in 2012, the side hustle was unheard of.
After my second child, I was working in finance, and I guess you could say that I was searching for a creative outlet (I’d been a Juilliard-trained cellist for most of my life). I was dreaming of starting a business, and wondering if I could ever do it. Meeting my partner, Kena Paranjape was definitely a catalyst.
Twenty percent of the time I’m doing things I actually know how to do. Eighty percent of the time, I have no clue what I’m doing. When people ask me how we grew BRIKA, it’s hard to point to one thing. We’re executers. We never doubted we could get this done; we just did it.