The day Nadja Piatka scrawled her business goals on a pantyhose package was the first step on her journey from struggling single mother to president and CEO of a multi-million dollar global food company.
Starting her business with $100 in 1993, Piatka began selling her home-baked, low-fat muffins to local coffee shops. Now Nadja Foods, with operations in the U.S. and Canada, sells low-fat and gluten-free desserts and vegetarian stuffing to the food service industry, restaurant chains and retail stores under private label, and as brand products internationally.
"I believe in the power of goal-setting," Piatka says. "I had lost my big house and moved into a little house in Edmonton. Bill collectors were coming to the door. I wrote my goals on that pantyhose package liner and within a year, all but one came true."
Those goals included starting a national company, having her own newspaper column and TV show, as well as writing a best-selling cookbook. The only one left out was the TV show – but she was frequently interviewed, and also landed an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Building a business
Sue Bennett also believes in goal-setting. She started Bennett Design in 1997 in the small town of Uxbridge when she was on maternity leave with her third child. Today, Bennett Design is an award-winning firm with 40 employees that designs for corporate, retail and institutional clients across North America.
Bennett built her business through referrals and relationships with everyone from former employers to clients and suppliers. She also wasn't afraid to do whatever task was required.
Both she and Piatka were raising young children when they started their businesses. Today, the "mompreneur" is a growing force and working women are aspiring to have a work-life balance.
To further inspire women and support their dreams, Piatka started an annual women's networking weekend called the Ultimate Girls Getaway. For 20 years, the event has focused on empowering participants personally and professionally. It also raises funds to sponsor female survivors of war.
An inspiring vision
Piatka and Bennett agree that selecting the right team is important. "A leader is someone who gets a vision, can see the path ahead and can inspire others working with them to share the dream," explains Piatka, who outsources everything from production to marketing to accounting. "I have always used this philosophy because everything the company does is project-based."
After Piatka develops a recipe, scales it for production, selects the production facility and puts the marketing and production together, she is ready for the next project and may have multiple teams working simultaneously.
"This business model allows me to use the best resources in the industry without employer responsibilities."
Bennett does have employees and gives careful consideration to the people she hires. "We want superstars. We want to make sure they are fun, are open to and like change. I want people to feel empowered and make decisions. Leadership comes from believing in your people and supporting them."
Bennett says that the consulting and management services she offers has helped set her firm apart.
Her company can do real estate optimization strategies and advise clients who want to renew their lease, or provide feedback on how to optimize space.
"If you don't stop moving, they can't catch you," she says. "You need to be totally progressive and thinking what the next big thing is."
Piatka shares that philosophy. Nadja Foods' latest innovations include low Glycemic Index (GI) foods, and a GI Reducer that doesn't increase blood sugar levels when added to white flour bakery items.
"You can't sit back and be a one-hit wonder," says Piatka. "You have to find a hole in the market and pursue it with passion."
Fostering female leaders
While women who own their own businesses are growing in numbers, 92 per cent of top executives at Canada's largest companies are still male, according to the annual report from the Rosenzweig & Company Inc. talent management group.
American Express Canada is one company that is fostering and supporting female talent. In Canada, almost half of its senior leadership team and 59 per cent of its Canadian employees are women.
"We know that fostering diversity broadens the talent pool and ensures we have the most qualified candidates leading our company," says Rob McClean, president and CEO of American Express Canada. "I work alongside many smart, well-respected women whose strategic minds and authentic leadership have had a direct impact on the company's success."
From McClean's point of view, more and more companies are supporting female talent – and the efforts are paying off.
"There are a number of outspoken senior female leaders, such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) for example, who have really moved the dial and caused a shift towards a culture that is more encouraging of women taking on powerful positions. We're seeing this change not only at a global level, but within Canada and also within financial services."
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.