Lee McDonald is president and CEO of Southmedic Inc., a Barrie, Ont.-based medical device manufacturer and distributor of specialty surgical products. Founded in 1983, the company has grown to annual revenues of $18 million and McDonald has appeared on PROFIT’s list of Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs seven times since 2000.
For women entrepreneurs, achieving 100% success in both work and family life is nothing more than an “illusion”, says McDonald, 53. “If you think you can really do both, and do both to their maximum, I think you’re kidding yourself. Something has to go.”
While her three children (now in university) were growing up, McDonald chose to give way the most at work. “I wasn’t willing to compromise at home, but I was at work, so that’s what took the hit for me,” she says. “My kids were always my priority, my marriage was my priority, I didn’t need the money, and I own 100% of the shares of this company. So I wasn’t hurting anyone by going slower,” she says. “But by consequence, my performance as a CEO is nowhere near what it could have been.”
Still that didn’t mean her home life was perfect either. She hired a nanny for her children, giving her more freedom to work. “But by the same token, there were days when if they fell and stubbed their knee, they went to her first,” she says. “I had to accept that they needed to be tied to somebody, because they needed stability, especially if I was going to be able to get on an airplane and be gone for a week.”
The key to living with your choices is communicating openly with your family about the perks and liabilities of your non-traditional role. “Keep people on the home front informed about what you do and make sure they win with your wins,” says McDonald, who has taken her kids on her travels whenever possible, and says they know she loves them dearly, even if she’s not always home.
To other women entrepreneurs, she stresses that to be a truly successful CEO, it’s critical to keep home and work worlds separate. “In the end, I don’t want to be judged as a nurturer or as a mother who’s a CEO. I want to be judged against another male CEO because of my performance. And the fact that I happen to have had three normal kids and am still married is none of their business.”