Guest blog post from YWCA board member Shannon Bowen-Smed, President & CEO of BOWEN. This is an excerpt of her acceptance speech for the Alberta Women Entrepreneur’s 2014 Celebration of Achievement award, given on May 14, 2014. Shannon Bowen-Smed shares her journey from a receptionist to CEO of BOWEN, and the importance of giving back to the community.
If we met in an elevator and you asked me who I am, I’d tell you I’m a very proud mother of two girls, a “decent” wife (as my husband Peter so generously puts it), a daughter, a sister, a colleague, a boss, a peer, a supplier and a CEO.
I’d also tell you that, at my core, I’m an entrepreneur. When I started working for BOWEN, the company was a small staffing agency that employed five people. There’s nothing I like better than a good Cinderella tale and that for me is what the BOWEN story is.
Cast your mind back to 1974 – Peter Lougheed was the Premier of Alberta, the Global television network started broadcasting for the first time and the secretarial placement agency my mother was working for decided they couldn’t make a go of it in this marketplace. However, my mother believed otherwise.
With a Grade 11 education and a $14,000 loan from her father, my mother established BOWEN. She started by offering permanent secretarial placement and then expanded into delivering temporary solutions. Things took off from there.
Fast forward to 1984. Peter Lougheed was still the Premier of Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup and I started working at BOWEN. At the time, I had no aspirations whatsoever to run the company.
Before joining BOWEN, I attended the University of Calgary but achieved less-than-stellar results. Over three semesters, I bounced through three different faculties. After notching up a GPA of a whopping 1.8, I received a letter from the Dean of Admissions “suggesting” a one-year break. In short, I was kicked out!
My mother thought it would be good for me to get a taste of the real world and she offered me a summer job with BOWEN with the goal of finding me a longer term contract with a client until I could return to the university. Starting out as the receptionist of what was then still a small staffing agency of five people, I took the first tentative steps in my journey to where I am today. Over time, I took on different roles within BOWEN and eventually went back to the University of Calgary to earn my Human Resources certificate, and I worked closely with my mother and our colleagues to grow and expand our business.
In 1996, I was offered the role of President.
Today, BOWEN is a $75 million a year company. There are now 52 of us and we serve clients throughout Western Canada. This year, we will issue close to 3,000 T4s, work with more than 300 corporations and between our colleagues serve on more than a dozen community boards.
Now that’s a Cinderella story!
I think it takes great courage to be an entrepreneur and perhaps even greater courage to recognize if you aren’t one. I also think it’s very important for us as entrepreneurs – big or small – to not forget where we came from.
I think we have a duty to give back to our communities that have supported our success – whether that’s through time and energy or financial contributions.
Each month, we donate a percentage of BOWEN’s profits to charities dedicated to helping vulnerable families in Calgary. And Peter and I have poured our hearts and souls into the Scott Smed Foundation, which we established to honour the memory of our stillborn son, Scott. Through our annual Scott Smed Invitational Golf Tournament, with BOWEN as the major sponsor, we’ve raised $1 million dollars to help feed hungry kids in school, build brand new playgrounds in needy communities and support families who have also experienced the loss of an infant child.
I encourage you to consider that your legacy is bigger than the company you run and more about the life you live. You may lose a business someday, but no one can take away the good you do in the world.