Leadership

How I find balance: Margot Franssen

Written by Susanne Ruder

Meeting both business and personal demands has long been a juggling act for women entrepreneurs. Between the long hours, travel, meetings and employee and customer challenges, there’s little time left for personal needs. Still, leading a rich, well-rounded life is as essential to your business success as it is to your sanity.

We asked Canada’s leading businesswomen to tell us how they effectively manage work/life balance. Each issue we’ll bring you the tactics and strategies that help women grow their companies and careers, while still finding a little “me” time to help deal with the personal commitments of life.

Margot Franssen is president and CEO of Accessorize (Bibelot Inc.) a Toronto-based retailer of fashion accessories that has 11 stores across Canada. Franssen founded The Body Shop Canada Ltd., building it into a 111-store chain that employed 1,000 and generated system-wide sales of $130 million, before selling it in July 2004.

For many women entrepreneurs, the line between personal life and business is so blurred that there’s no such thing as a balanced life, says Franssen: “I look at businesswomen’s lives as more like life in a blender: we’re always whirling around, getting chopped up, getting turned into puree.”

These days, the 54-year-old works 20 hours per week in her office, and many more at home. “My computer goes on at six o’clock in the morning and stays on ’till eight o’clock at night,” she says. “I work a lot.” Considering that she’s opened 11 Accessorize stores in the past year and a half, “I must have lost my mind,” she quips. “So much for retirement!”

A mother of three now-grown children, Franssen carved a little me-time by hiring a nanny to help out with childcare. As they got older, she says, “what I found hardest was trying to keep track of everything in my head, like dentist and doctor appointments, the pool guy, the groceries and the cleaning lady,” she says. “That left me unbalanced,” she says. “It’s not what you have to do, it’s what you have to remember to do. That’s the hard part.”

Her solution? She gave her assistant, Maureen a new mandate as a personal organizer. Working from Franssen’s home, she not only manages Franssen’s work-related appointments but also co-ordinates her kids’ appointments and household errands and repairs. Says Franssen: “Now I feel a lot more relaxed about things getting done at home, which makes me able to concentrate on my business at business, and it makes me able to enjoy myself at home. And I’d call that balanced.”

The arrangement was win-win. Maureen accepted the shift in responsibility eagerly because it gives her flexibility to take care of her own son when he’s sick or has a day off school, says Franssen. “The people that you have working for you need to have a balanced life in order for you to have a balanced life.”

The same skills that make you successful at work can mean success at home, says Franssen. “You hire people at work to do things that you’re not good at or that you don’t know how to do, but nobody thinks about doing that in their home.”

To reduce stress, Franssen also sets aside plenty of personal time. She plays tennis regularly and schedules weekly massages and sessions with a personal trainer and pilates instructor. She organizes events so that they flow together logically, avoiding running back and forth and retracing steps. “I like to be efficient – it gives me more time to be lazy.”

Another stress-buster is found at her cottage, outside of Toronto. This past summer, she built a meditation walking path, also known as a labyrinth, in her garden. Patterned after the labyrinths found embedded in the floor of several cathedrals around the world (including Chartres Cathedral in France and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, gracecathedral.org/labyrinth/), Franssen’s labyrinth is constructed out of stone and crushed granite, and is about a quarter of a mile in length to walk in and out of. “It’s quite beautiful to look at,” she says.

A walking meditation is easier than while sitting, and is “very soothing,” she says. “You follow the path between the stones in a slow, deliberate way, thinking of perhaps a problem or dilemma you have. In the centre, you concentrate on elements of life – earth, vegetative, animal, human, angelic and God (whichever one or ones you prefer) – while you stand in each of the six representative rosettes. Then you slowly walk out thinking of the solution to your problem.”

A similarly patterned labyrinth can be found in Toronto’s Trinity Square Park (behind 483 Bay St.), carved in the grass.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com