Shelley Stewart – Bar S Ventures (East Merritt, BC)
Shelley Stewart does not need to look very far to determine the inspiration for her business. Her father is a logger and her mother is an accountant. Founded in 2004, Shelley’s company, Bar S Ventures, evolved from a trucking company into a full-phase conventional logging operation that includes log harvesting, log hauling, road building and low bedding. “As a young girl, I was really driven to become a log truck driver someday because my dad is a logger. I really wanted to be able to go to work with him, not realizing back then that a logging truck driver and the skidder operator don’t actually work hand in hand. But in my little eight-year-old mind, I thought, I would like to be able to work with my dad.”
When asked about the male dominance of the logging industry, Shelley was optimistic about the in-roads that women have already made into many industries, including logging. “Women are starting to dominate in many industries. We have proven time and time again that we are very valuable to have, and I think that’s not just the forestry industry but every industry. I feel that most people are very welcoming to women being part of what used to be a man’s world.”
Shelley notes that the forestry sector is very volatile. Market changes, forest fires and floods have significantly impacted operations. This volatility does not go unnoticed by lenders, making it difficult to get into the business. As such, Shelley appreciates financial support from the various commercial lenders she has worked with, including the All Nations Trust.
Shelley recommends that entrepreneurs fully understand their business plans. “When the person knows their business plan, and they’ve done their research, and they understand and see the passion pouring through the pages, I guess that is what makes a really good business plan.” While Shelley studied accounting in college, she worked at an Aboriginal Financial Institution, which helped her build her business plan. “I’ve written my own business plans because I always wanted to be right in the heart and the nitty-gritty details, because to me, knowing my business financially is very important.”
Shelley then flashes a wide smile. “I absolutely love villains. They might not always have the best of intentions, but they always have a plan. They see it through, and I really adore and admire their tenacity to follow through with that plan. Plus, I respect that villains aren’t some doe-eyes princess who’s lost in the forest waiting on a man to come save her!” She recommends this tenacity to hopeful entrepreneurs. ‘No’ is not the final answer. It is a stepping stone. So maybe a lender does not want to work with you, or you are not going to get the contract you want. Move on from that. It’s not the end. You can apply with other lenders. You can change your business plan. If you are willing to change and be open, there is no reason that you cannot be successful moving forward.”
Shelley has won several awards for her business ventures, and she is quick to note the support of her husband Rob, who has been with her since the purchase of her first truck in 2004. However, for Shelley, the most significant rewards are the benefits she can provide to her family and community. “I think the biggest reward for myself and my family is just being able to provide the life that I envisioned for my children and for my husband. It’s very rewarding for me to be able to employ people and provide good sustainable jobs, jobs that they can be proud of. Just being part of somebody’s life and influencing them. I don’t really realize full picture how much our company influences people, but we support thirty families, and to me, that’s a lot to be proud of.”
Elizabeth Garg – Worksolute (Toronto, ON)
Libby Garg talks excitedly about work, her new son Theodore and her love of being a mom. With a background in both law and business, as well as operating active businesses in two seemingly very different industries, she is no stranger to starting new adventures.
“Please call me Libby,” she laughs. “Only my mom calls me Elizabeth when I’m in trouble!” Down to earth and full of energy, she talks about her journey, her passions, her dreams, and how she made them come true—and then some.
“My company operates in two different areas,” she recounts. “On the one side, we operate Freshii franchised restaurants. On the other side, WorkSolute is an HR technology. So two very different fields, but they are actually really symbiotic and work quite well together.” She goes on in greater detail, “On the restaurant side we offer healthy fast food. We also have the privilege of employing people. WorkSolute helps connect employers and work seekers, and then rewards professional behaviour driving better employment relationships in industries with high turnover.”
“The genesis of why I started into business was in memory of my late sister. We lost my younger sister, Kitty, in 2014. At the time, I was practising law. After her car accident, I took some time off, probably the only time I’ve ever taken off in my entire life. I reflected on what was really important to me. My sister and I always dreamed of creating a healthy quick service restaurant. Freshii was a way of keeping the dreams alive that my sister and I shared. It was through operating our restaurants that we noticed some pretty compelling challenges in hiring and managing our team that we wanted to solve. And that was how WorkSolute was born. It all started as a legacy to my sister. Not a day goes by that I don’t say a little ‘thank you’ to her for how she continues to inspire and encourage me.”
Libby talks about growing up, and how she and her sister were raised by a single mother. “I didn’t really have anybody to ask about becoming an entrepreneur. I don’t even recall ever hearing the word ‘entrepreneur’ growing up—that wasn’t a thing in my family.” Even so, she mentions how it was important to her to learn as much as she could and keep a curious mind because “you never know when you’re going to stumble into an area that really gets you fired up.”
Libby dealt with the Two Rivers Community Development Centre, part of the Aboriginal Financial Institution network, when she was first starting out. “They provide a great alternative to the regular charter bank system. Two Rivers doesn’t just provide loans. There is also an additional layer of support and guidance, which was incredibly helpful. They provided assistance on business projections, how to access capital, and general knowledge on how to maintain financial oversight of my business. They were a fantastic support.”
“I don’t think that I would change anything,” she states, “because I’m so fortunate. I feel so much gratitude for where I’ve ended up, and I love the results that my work has yielded. Of course there are individual mistakes that I’ve made along the way—I make mistakes all the time!” she laughs. “But it’s incredibly humbling to be able to wake up every morning and do something that I love. I’m grateful to be able to say that.”
Then, pensively, she adds, “It’s not only for my family that it’s important for me to continue to grow my business endeavours, although this is my primary driving motivation. But it also creates a better me—and when I’m a better me, it means that my community, and everybody around me, benefits from my ability to ultimately give back. And to me, that’s a magical and wonderful place to be for everyone.”
Learn more about some of the Indigenous women entrepreneurs that the Aboriginal Financial Institution network has supported at nacca.ca.