What is female leadership today? Here is a glimpse of the exceptional path taken by women entrepreneurs whose accomplishments are an inspiration to us all.
Even though each has her own story and experiences, Nathaly April, President and CEO of April Super Flo, Karine Bourque, Partner and Executive Director at Ronam Constructions, Annie Gauthier, a St-Hubert restaurant franchisee, Suzie Talbot, President and founder of Diex Recherche, and Virginie Théberge, Co-owner and Executive Director at Gagnon Frères, all agree on this key message: they’ve succeeded in reaching their current positions because they’re open to collaboration and aren’t afraid to be bold!
These women entrepreneurs learned to surround themselves with the right people and find inspiration from their circles. They dared to be themselves. They weren’t afraid to ask for advice on how to get ahead and chose to view obstacles as stepping stones.
Thanks to women like them, a new practice is emerging: multidimensional leadership. While this style is primarily characterized by a flexible and participative approach, self-expression and self-insight are also important aspects of it.
Here are the stories of five women business leaders and entrepreneurs working in different industries and regions across Quebec. Each of them is passionate, inspiring and ambitious. Each of them is driven to make things better. And each of them is succeeding!
President and CEO
April Super Flo
Nathaly April is the president and CEO at April Super Flo. And yet, when it was time to choose a career, she never thought she’d take over her father’s role in the family business. Established in 1980, April Super Flo is the largest independent manufacturer of lubricant in Eastern Canada. The company makes more than 250 products and exports to 14 countries.
Instead, Nathaly became a chiropractor and spent 12 years working in that field. Then in 2002, she decided to join the family business and take over her father’s position. Working in a male-dominated field doesn’t intimidate her: “When I enrolled in chiropractic studies in 1987, there were just 25 women in a cohort of 150 students. It’s the same in the oil industry. It’s a real boys’ club, but that never put me off. I’ve had the chance to cross paths with certain people—women in the field—who welcomed me and provided useful advice.”
From an early age, Nataly’s mother emphasized the importance of being independent, while her father taught her to be a go-getter. “He always told me: if you come up against a closed door, open it! I inherited his determination and my mother’s empathy. That pretty much summarizes my leadership style.”
“I have big ambitions for the company and I need my team to get us there. We need to diversify our offer in order to succeed in such a mature market. We want to become Canada’s leading independent maker and distributor of automotive and industrial lubricants and maintenance products. You need drive to make that happen—and I’m not short on drive! I can be intense. I’ve accepted that,” she admitted with a laugh. “I take full responsibility for my ambition, as long as my employees are happy!”
Executive Director and Partner
Karine Bourque has been the executive director at Ronam Constructions since 2019. After studying architecture at CEGEP, she spent three months working as a draftsperson. “I quickly realized that I need to be where the action is!” she chuckled. Karine then became a project manager for a construction firm in Montreal.
In 2005, she moved to Lévis and knocked at the door of Ronam Constructions, a company that specializes in commercial, industrial, residential and institutional projects. They hired her as an estimator. “I climbed the ranks from there,” she explained. “It’s been nearly two years since I became executive director and I definitely feel like I’m in my element. I love it!” She has also become one of the shareholders over the last few years.
The company, which was founded in 1990 by Jacques Laflamme and now has 5 partners, has grown rapidly in the past few years. It now employs 60 people and posts annual revenues of $75 million.
“I spent a lot of time observing Jacques, his habits, his methods and his soft skills. I’m obviously different from him, but he has been a big influence and source of inspiration. Like him, I hope that I can inspire my team and show them that anything is possible.” What’s a hallmark of Karine’s leadership style? Her emphasis on work/life balance. “Personal life is really important to younger workers. And with today’s labour shortage, companies need to adapt. In the end, everyone wins,” she said.
Her dream for the future? “I’d like to see Ronam Constructions continue on a path of controlled growth and last over the coming generations thanks to a structured succession plan, like the one that Jacques Laflamme created for my partners and me. And I’d also like to convince women that they have a place in the construction field.”
Annie Gauthier owns a St-Hubert franchise in Val-d’Or that is “the highest-selling franchise in Quebec,” she said proudly. Not bad for someone who started at the bottom of the ladder as a server and then went on to become a manager, shareholder and finally franchisee in 2011.
However, this graduate from the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec never thought she’d end up at the head of a franchise. “People often study hospitality because they want to be creative. We’re artists. Running a franchise is the polar opposite of that.” But she was won over by the values of St-Hubert Group: being part of a big family, mutual assistance, community engagement, etc. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of these values. “The franchisees were given a lot of support,” she explained. “At our location, it really brought the employees closer together.”
Jean-Pierre Léger, the former owner of St-Hubert Group, significantly influenced her management style. The way he brought people together, listened actively to others and made himself available—all this left a big impression on Annie. “I love numbers. I love reading financial statements when they’re published. It’s like candy for me,” she laughed. “But I don’t manage by the numbers. I do it by focusing on people. Always. Leveraging employees’ strengths, making sure our customers are happy, paying attention to every little detail to make sure their experience is outstanding… That’s how I manage.”
But Annie’s role is changing. A succession process started five years ago. “After spending a lot of time on the floor, I’ve moved into more of a coaching role. It’s my turn to mentor others, just like my predecessor did for me. It’s different, but very rewarding.”
President and founder
Suzie Talbot is the president of Diex Research, a clinical research firm founded in 2006. Nothing in her background suggested she’d become an entrepreneur, even though people often told her she had the profile to be one. “Leading teams and successfully completing projects have always come naturally to me,” she explained.
This former nursing student with a passion for research wanted a challenge. She got the opportunity to do so 15 years ago, after earning an MBA at the University of Sherbrooke. She had 24 hours to decide whether she would seize the opportunity to start her own business. She dove right in and never looked back. “I love it!” she said.
After serving as president and CEO for the company’s first 14 years, she now focuses on strategy and business development. “I look for opportunities, industry contacts and partnerships for successfully completing research projects. It’s exciting for me. I can use my creativity to coordinate certain initiatives.”
What motivates her? To help develop new medications and improve the quality of treatments offered in Quebec. The company does research in a wide variety of fields, including diabetes, migraines, osteoarthritis, cognitive health and more. She is especially proud of a new study on COVID-19, which began last spring, and progress made on fighting Alzheimer’s disease.
After opening a fourth research centre in Quebec, the firm has the wind at its back. Of course, there are still some obstacles, especially due to the pandemic. “Our challenge right now is that we’re racing against time,” she said. But it’s clear that she’ll rise to the challenge, while continuing her work on several boards of directors and with the Club des jeunes entrepreneurs de demain, a group that aims to develop the region’s next generation of leaders. What a great way to give back to the community and hopefully inspire girls to leap into STEM fields!
Executive Director and co-owner
Before she became Executive Director of Gagnon Frères, one of the biggest furniture retailers in Quebec, Virginie Théberge was a continuous improvement consultant. “While I was in that role, I saw I had a certain ability to move things forward, motivate teams, organize information and implement action plans,” she said.
But the job’s pace didn’t suit her. “I needed to be in the ring, not coaching from behind the scenes,” she said, laughing. So she went back to school for an MBA at the age of 34. Then she was hired by Gagnon Frères to be their marketing director. The company needed to update its image and reposition the brand. Her efforts quickly produced results and sales shot up quickly.
“It was a defining moment in my career. It gave me credibility and helped me climb the ladder. I then started a massive store renovation project: expansions, moves, and so on. It was huge,” she said, clearly relishing the challenge.
She became CEO in 2015. The company’s business model had to be revamped. “I spent time talking with employees. When you introduce big changes, such as reorganizing your logistics, centralizing operations, standardizing procedures between stores, and so on, you really need to be clear about why you’re doing it and what the benefits will be down the line. That’s one of my strengths.” It’s certainly one of the strengths that led to her appointment as Executive Director. Since 2018, she has also become co-owner of the company.
Competition is fierce in the retail industry. E-commerce is a big part of the business, and Gagnon Frères has adapted accordingly, but for Virginie Théberge, “making sure customers have the best in-store experience, understanding their needs and giving them the right advice is still the most important thing of all.”
Resources for Women Entrepreneurs
Are you a woman entrepreneur looking for financing or coaching to support your development efforts or to make your business project a reality? Resources have been put in place specifically to help women advance in the entrepreneurial sector and solidify their network. The main programs available are presented below.
Loans for Women-owned and -led Businesses
This flexible financial instrument is designed to consider women’s specific context and support entrepreneurial equity in Quebec.
Le Réseau des femmes d'affaires du Québec (RFAQ)
This network offers training and assistance in developing new markets and facilitates networking for women entrepreneurs in Quebec.
Export Assistance for Women Entrepreneurs
Export Development Canada (EDC) is dedicated to helping Canadian women-owned and -led businesses succeed on the global stage.
Business Women in International Trade | Government of Canada
This portal provides financial resources and support to open doors and create opportunities for women-owned businesses to help them develop their business for international markets.
Agri-food and Technology
Women Entrepreneur Program | Farm Credit Canada (FCC)
This program is specifically designed for women and offers loan financing as well as access to resources for advice, training or networking in the agri-food sector.
Women in Technology Venture Fund | BDC
This venture capital fund is designed for women-led technology companies to help build a robust ecosystem to support women entrepreneurs in this field.
Moreover, in the current context brought about by the coronavirus, several financial assistance measures have been adopted by governments and institutions to support Quebec and Canadian businesses and organizations. They are listed and regularly updated on our site on the page below.