The following is a post from Mandy Gilbert that she originally shared in our Women Powering Business Network group on LinkedIn. At my request, she’s agreed to let me share it with the larger audience here.
Last year I had the opportunity to attend my second Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) conference, this one in Austin, TX. The trip, much like my first DWEN conference, would have a major impact on my life as an entrepreneur and individual.
I had been invited to a couple of DWEN events before I could actually attend one. With so many conference invitations, as well as multiple offices to manage, I’m on the road a great deal. Deciding which events are the best investment of my time and money is an ongoing challenge.
My first DWEN experience was in India three years ago. I was very excited, and at the time I committed to the event, every aspect of my life was in balance. I had just been ranked one of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs, had expanded operations to four offices in three countries, my family was great, business was stable—in short, I felt like a million bucks. But then, shortly after making those arrangements, all aspects of my life started to fall apart.
- My new office in Europe was struggling and quickly depleted my initial, sizable investment. I had a very sluggish start with our U.S. operations which led to staff turnover. Then, the rock of the business, our Canadian operations, hit a wall and our business declined by 40 per cent overnight, representing a $200,000 loss over three months on top of losses at our other struggling offices. This decline in revenue required staff changes, which meant letting go a friend of 10 years, who proceeded to sever our relationship on the spot.
- Simultaneously my sister and best friend—also an employee—who had just celebrated her 40th birthday, was diagnosed with aggressive *** cancer.
With four offices in the red, my employees panicked and began questioning my decisions and actions. My sister began aggressive chemotherapy and I was trying to be there for her daughters and support her through the emotional rollercoaster of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I was juggling travel with doctors’ appointments, committing time to reversing the company’s financial decline and workplace cultural malaise, not to mention trying to be around (never mind present or happy) for my two young sons and husband.
We had a long layover in New York City before heading to New Delhi and as we were about to board, I had my first interaction with Dell’s Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR). Her name was Ingrid, and she greeted me warmly before proceeding to introduce me to several Dell executives, all of whom were incredibly genuine and friendly. That encounter left an amazing impression and even though I felt professionally paralyzed, broken and sad, they provided a sense of support.
It didn’t stop there. DWEN surprised me at every turn – from the involvement of Dell’s global executives to the transparency and storytelling from presenters and fellow entrepreneurs. All of them reinforced DWEN’s purpose: to help support and inspire women entrepreneurs around the globe. Not once did I feel that Dell was pushing itself on us or promoting its self-interest. That created an incredible sense of appreciation and loyalty.
Through various sessions, conversations and interactions with inspiring people in an unforgettable country, I left comforted and reassured that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. That helped give me the strength to return to my life with my head held high.
Two years later, I was back on a flight to the DWEN conference in Dell’s hometown of Austin. I soon ran into Jen Evans, a fellow Canadian and past client who I had admired from afar for years. Only this time she was overcome by a profound sadness. After talking to her I learned about her professional struggles. She was running four early-stage companies, one of which was failing. She was broke, had taken on too much and was living a high-stakes, high-stress existence—but without the quality of life that I’d since come to appreciate and value above all else.
Because of the DWEN connections I made the year before, I was able to connect her to several key individuals immediately—specifically, VIPs who made time to review her challenges and share strategies on how she could turn it all around. Much like my experience the year before, that insight and intervention became a turning point in her life, allowing her the necessary perspective to make major personal and professional changes that have helped put her businesses on a new and more prosperous path, including a contract for one of her companies with Dell!
I’m not sure how much revenue the DWEN initiative generates, but I can tell you that I’m involved with several global and local entrepreneurial events and conferences, and this is by far the most positive, meaningful and important network of which I’m a member.
Dell’s commitment to DWEN is incredibly forward-thinking, genuine and necessary to provide global entrepreneurs with the opportunity to share, learn and lead in an inspiring environment. This is the kind of supportive environment that so many of us need to help grow our businesses and continue contributing to our local economies and communities.
In short, DWEN empowers us to achieve great things. For that, I offer my profound ‘thanks’ to Dell—and I’m already looking forward to the next conference in Berlin.
Mandy Gilbert is Founder and CEO of Creative Niche, a Toronto-based executive search, recruitment and temporary staffing firm purely focused in the digital, marketing, mobile, public relations, social media, advertising, and design space throughout North America, Asia and Europe. Creative Niche works with marketing departments of multinational corporations, as well as major advertising, digital and public relations agencies. Their clients—ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500s—include Cohn & Wolfe, Draft FCB, Interbrand, Ogilvy, RBC, and SapientNitro. Creative Niche has offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Cincinnati.