Three local self-help gurus are making their mark by helping other entrepreneurs reach their potential
She is not what you'd expect for a successful executive coach— diminutive, visible minority, single mother. But then that's always been the way for Sheeba Varghese—you never quite know what's inside until you go looking. "Everything about me is an anomaly," says the Oakville resident. "I'm from India, but my family's Christian and my dad's a minister. I'm from a divorced family. We grew up as the only brown family in all-white communities. I wasn't raised by a mother; I was raised by four brothers and my dad. I don't speak Malayalam but I'm bilingual in French and English. Nothing fits about me. When you come from that, and nothing is clear, I was forced to make sense of life. So I always focused on the idea of had things been different, what would I have become? I started thinking, 'How often do people live the lives they want?' People are less living the lives they actually want and more the lives that they inherited, whether it's due to family tradition, society or culture."
Having returned from Belgium as a rotary exchange student, Varghese's inclination for self-analysis was stoked by a life-changing accident five days before her 20th birthday. While driving her brother back to Western University, a tire blew and her car hit a tree. Varghese was in a coma for two weeks and in hospital for four months after undergoing facial reconstructive surgery, while also experiencing double vision and frontal lobe brain damage. One would never know. Nattily attired, well-coiffed and bejewelled, including large hooped earrings, with a few gold sparkles on her face for good measure, Varghese is quick-witted and bubbling with positive energy during an interview at Artisano Bakery Café in Burlington. "I walk the walk. I'm in their league. That's why CEOs hire me," she smiles.
It's been a decade since Varghese founded Forward Focus. As a profiling and executive coaching specialist, her motto is "Because there's more."
"I have this intrinsic need to believe, to be positive, getting deeper and deeper into it," Varghese explains. "Negativity offers nothing more than what you've already got. I see people dragging their asses to and fro, just going through the motions of life. We get comfortable with the status quo. We have to start with a blank slate of possibilities."
To that end, we have to be willing to ask for help, says Varghese. "Many people are just looking for the low-hanging fruit. Sometimes we need someone to hold the ladder and the basket if we want to reach for the fruit at the top of the tree. Unfortunately, Canadians are private people. Most aren't willing to say, 'My foot's on fire—pour water on it.' We tolerate it instead." There is a difference between motivation and inspiration, though, Varghese cautions. "When you're motivated, external obstacles have a chance of getting in the way. When you're inspired, it becomes part of your belief system. I'm not a rah-rah Tony Robbins type. My clients work with me because I give it to them between the eyeballs. I hold up the mirror and ask how they like what's looking back at them. I ask what they believe in and I seem to get to the soul level so that they feel the inspiration to have a better life."
Testimonials on her website from such people as Ron Foxcroft and Blue Rodeo lead singer Jim Cuddy suggest that she's more than making an impact. Cuddy even wrote a song entitled "Sheba," inspired by a plane ride he shared with Varghese four years ago.
The best testimonial, however, might come via Steve Williams of Suncor Energy, who replaced Rick George as CEO in May. "When Steve and I began working together, his mandate to me was to make him CEO of Suncor," Varghese relates. "Because of our work together,Steve better owned his genius and masterfully assumed Rick's seat. It's always beneficial to be reminded of who we are so that we can see the possibilities again.
"As author Jim Collins says, you have to get the right people in the right seat on the right bus. I'm not into making short people tall or tall people short. We work with what we've got. But too many people are living mediocre lives because they're being someone other than who they are."
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Finding ways to pass the time in McMaster's ICU, where his daughter Emma has just undergone a major operation, Gerry Visca's appreciation of the virtues he extols as a profession is more heightened than usual.
"I am blown away by Emma's determination and persistence," he writes. "She just underwent an eight-hour back surgery and she is in excruciating pain. However, she is fixated on that which she wishes to create. She understands the power of her mind and that everything that she desires comes from within."
Visca practises what he preaches. In 1999, inspired by another calling, the Niagara-born Hamilton native left the architectural profession after 10 years and founded Redchair Branding. He also authored his first of five books, including the bestselling Get Creative, and formed a web-based software company. Visca has since launched more than 1,000 branding campaigns and captured multiple international branding awards. Advising companies in fields ranging from health care, medical technology, hospitality and tourism to marketing, innovation and branding, the passionate, high-energy speaker has inspired over 100,000 people worldwide and has been sought out by Fortune 500 companies.
"We are all creators with untapped potential and the ability to create what we want most," says Visca. Dubbed "Canada's Creative Coach," Visca encourages organizations to identify their core essence. "Strive to connect with hearts and you will win your customers for a lifetime," he declares. "Focus on building a thriving brand culture and a culture of initiation by emotionally connecting with your customers in new and engaging ways."
In Visca's fourth book, The Innovation Gap, he researched the changes facing organizations today and why the top companies continue to thrive. "They step in, lean forward, screw up and fail. They get off the sidelines and create new market opportunities," he notes. "Take Starbucks, Apple and P&G as examples of organizations that continue to drive innovation into their brand. They're focused on creating a thriving community of brand ambassadors. They design strategies that continually help them stand out from the competition. They zig when others zag. Organizations today need to recognize that simply promoting features and benefits no longer cuts it. If you simply connect with people's minds then you risk being viewed as a commodity. Strive to create new market opportunities. Do something new that you didn't already do. Differentiate by incorporating fresh branding strategies that help you connect with your clients and customers."
As part of his unique focus, Visca takes on a maximum of 25 entrepreneurs each year, "eventually lifting them to a new level that I refer to as 'defyeneurs.' I then celebrate them through multiple channels, helping them reach the world with their message.
"So many great ideas start off with a little dream and gain momentum through inspired action," Visca adds. "Every great idea started off with a little dream by individuals who were told their idea was impossible to realize. The first night FedEx was in business they only moved 15 packages. The Beatles were turned down by the Decca recording studio. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
"Everything I do, whether it's writing, coaching, consulting, facilitating team think tanks or inspiring audiences worldwide, my core purpose is to creatively inspire people to take action. I love pouring myself into others, knowing that they will go on to become stellar leaders."
Persistence pays off
When Lori Raudnask talks about inspiring a sales staff, she has the resumé to back it up.
The sales team she assembled has generated over $100 million in direct sales for Fifth Avenue Collection, a home-based jewellery business she started to represent in 1988 after that little hobby began generating the same money as her salary at Stelco. The Stoney Creek native promptly quit her job with the steel company to become a fulltime entrepreneur.
"I have been training and motivating my team for 24 years and always have believed in personal development," notes Raudnask, who has also since become an international speaker and author who has coached, trained and mentored thousands around the globe.
"As a (business) leader, I read motivational books and took courses and in 2005 attended Blair Singer's four-day sales and leadership program in Arizona," recalls Raudnask, who shortly thereafter partnered with Singer in a business that helped grow small and medium- sized businesses. The team embarked on a globetrotting tour that took them to Australia, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, Colombia, the U.S. and Canada, with Raudnask overseeing the creation and implementation of franchise field training systems and directly supporting the successful launch of more than 65 offices in just fourand- a-half short years. Under her direct leadership, franchise field offices reported significant revenue growth from start-up, with the majority seeing profitability in nine months or less.
In 2010, she left the franchise business to devote more energy to keynote speaking, training and developing products. "I genuinely want people to be better at who they are, as I believe inside each of us is a bigger, better person waiting to get out," says Raudnask, who radiates personality. "And I would never ask you to do something if I hadn't done it myself. My motto has always been, 'If I help enough people get what they want, what I want will automatically happen.'"
Having dedicated her skills to mastering and improving the sales experience, Raudnask has worked with an international clientele, while along the way helping launch hundreds of successful women entrepreneurs.
Author of Persistence Pays and creator of a pair of audio CDs, Mastering The Art of Networking and Beating Burnout For Women, Raudnask's training system engages participants and readers in hands-on experiential learning that clearly identifies the limiting patterns, behaviours and beliefs that are holding back their professional and personal lives, and assists them in identifying what they can do to achieve their desired results. She also showcases business leaders in the community as host of the online Persistence Pays TV.
"Lori's words to inspire us to persistence and focus are right on the money," says Paul Bates, Dean and Industry Professor at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business. "In the end, you only have to be slightly ahead of your competition to win, but it can take every ounce of your energy and conviction to get ahead. Read it, and then do it."