Kate Bird is president and CEO of Career Essentials Inc., a Pickering, Ont.-based company that provides skills training for unemployed and injured workers. Founded in 1998, the firm now has offices in Ontario and Nova Scotia; its 2007 revenue reached $5.5 million.
When Bird had children, she got very good at juggling the details. But at work, it was the big picture that got overlooked.
Bird, 37, says she tries hard to achieve a state of balance whereby “when you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you can be at work.” And for the most part, she’s succeeded. Bird has a supportive and helpful husband, and has hired help for chores such as mowing the lawn and pool maintenance. But there’s no nanny for her kids; four-year-old Faith and six-year-old Amy. She makes sure she drops off and picks them up from school each day, feeds them, does their laundry all the usual “mom” stuff. “I feel quite strongly about being able to do that,” she says. “It’s important to me.”
As a busy entrepreneur, the tradeoff is extra pressure on her work life, she says. Being available for her kids means Bird’s work day is fairly short. She turns off her Blackberry each night at 7 p.m., and back on again at 7 a.m. Weekends are reserved for her and her family.
To make up for less office time, she works a few hours each day from home, such as early in the morning, after her kids get home and again after they’re in bed. And when the opportunity arose to move her firm’s head office from Markham, Ont. to Pickering, Ont. just seven minutes away from home, she grabbed it, saving her the 90 minutes commute by car each day. Today, she feels like a pro at being flexible, organized, and a master scheduler at home.
Still, that’s not to say it has been easy. For several years after her kids were born, her firm struggled from lack of focus. By the time her firstborn came along in 2002 Bird says, “I thought that I had done a really good job of preparing for it and getting the appropriate people in place so that when I was less engaged, things still got done. In hindsight, I didn’t do anywhere near enough. I focused a lot on the operations part and getting the day-to-day job done, and I didn’t focus enough on the vision and the big picture.” Despite being present at the firm for part of each week, Career Essentials lost traction she says: “We ended up half the size that we were after the first five years.”
Looking back, Bird says she would have spent more time letting staff know about her vision and company philosophy, so that better-informed decisions (such as about hiring and her less-authoritarian company culture) could be made in her absence. Instead, despite her managers’ best intentions, she says: “We ended up with a large organization of people who just followed instructions and almost forgot to think.”
But she has no regrets. “I’m back now, and we’re in the middle of trying to refocus our philosophical side of things,” she says. “There’s been a lot of reorganizing and restructuring and making sure that we’re using our resources wisely — and it’s been really tough. We’re at the point where I feel that we’re ready to launch again, and we’ve got really great people doing all the right things.”