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A composite image of Laurie McCurlie, Janet Cockburn and Penny Chapman. These businesses endured hardships - including a divorce, cancer and a devastating fire - and bounced back stronger than ever.
A composite image of Laurie McCurlie, Janet Cockburn and Penny Chapman. These businesses endured hardships - including a divorce, cancer and a devastating fire - and bounced back stronger than ever.

Bouncing Back

Through fire, divorce and cancer, businesses turn setbacks into success Add to ...

But as fortunate as the company had been during the recovery period, Mr. Chapman says they failed to protect their data. Despite having an IT department and infrastructure, the backup tapes of business transactions weren’t taken off site as they should have been, resulting in a loss of all their information, including customer pricing, invoicing and contact lists. The company now takes hard copy backup off-site every day to store in a secured location.

Mr. Chapman’s advice: Don’t take chances with your data infrastructure. Don’t overextend your credit lines or expansion. Borrow the least amount needed from the bank. Make sure you have an excellent insurance broker and go with a major player with the experience to put together these very complex insurance policies.

MJM Media Inc.

When Laurie and Mike McCurlie divorced 13 years ago, they decided to continue jointly running the audio and video production company they co-founded in 1981. Being in business together took its toll, according to Ms. McCurlie, who feels that the long hours with no breaks away from each other contributed to the marriage breakdown.

But since business was thriving – and has continued to do so, with revenues increasing by 70 per cent since the divorce in 2000 – the couple didn’t want to lose their income as well as everything they’d worked to build together. So they divided the business into two separate distinct departments – with one set of books – still the way they do it now.

“In the beginning we both did everything, but when we divorced, that became difficult,” says Ms. McCurlie. “So we literally split the company in two. I had my own staff and we did video production and Mike had his own staff for audio production, although he continued the post-audio production on my videos. Over the years, it’s become easier. We respect each other for our differences where as in the old days, we were chafing at them.”

While the new arrangement was awkward at first, they tried to keep mutual eye rolling to a minimum, so staff relations and business didn’t suffer as a result. The biggest difficulty for Ms. McCurlie in the first few years was trying to separate the business from the emotion.

“You know each other so well and you each have your little hot buttons of how to get under the skPein of the other person, so we had to remind ourselves to just forge ahead,” says Ms. McCurlie. “You just put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t really stop to think about a strategy. It was more, how do you get through the next month?”

The McCurlies didn’t have a shareholders’ agreement until a few years ago when Mike McCurlie got remarried. Ms. McCurlie says the level of trust she has with her ex is still there, but when other people are involved, it has to get a little more structured.

“It hasn’t really changed anything, but we know there’s a binding agreement in place that protects both parties,” says Ms. McCurlie. “We’re just starting a long term succession plan now which has made us come together a lot more.”

Ms. McCurlie’s advice: I have a friend who’s going through divorce with a business partner and there’s a lot of animosity. It’s a business. It’s best not to get emotional about it. Emotional duress doesn’t help you make the best decisions.

Janac-Mastectomy Wear

After her recovery from cancer in 1995, Janet Cockburn joined a group of breast cancer survivors who were starting a dragon boat team. But the women soon discovered that the sports bras on the market had no pockets to tuck in a prosthesis.

Encouraged by her teammates, Ms. Cockburn started up Janac-Mastectomy Wear, a sole proprietorship, to manufacture sports bras as well as a prosthesis she christened the Been-A-Boob, designed to react more like a natural breast during exercise than the silicone type.

After doing the research and finding a local manufacturer, she funded the business herself and launched in 2004. Janac currently supplies about 60 retailers across Canada as well as stores in the United Kingdom, U.S. and Switzerland.

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