Founder & Principal, Canchek Corporation
Founder & CEO, Smarten Up Institute Inc. and SmartDirect Compliance System
Two-time winner of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 award, Laurie Clark is a serial entrepreneur and founder of two fintech companies. Canchek is Canada’s complete anti-money-laundering solution and the Smarten Up Institute (SUI) began as a financial education company that has transformed into a compliance technology solution company. Laurie sits on public and charitable boards as a qualified board director (CDI).
Mediaplanet: What issue in the women’s empowerment movement resonates most with you?
Laurie Clark: That’s difficult — finding just one issue that resonates most. There are so many real issues — the lack of women in positions of power; patriarchy; sexism, racism and economic inequality; access to equal opportunity; the lack of respect for caregiving; navigating career and motherhood; and, an increasing trend of normalizing misogyny. I guess the one that hits home is the lack of women in positions of power. From corporate boardrooms, to private industry, to political leadership and in the courtrooms, the lack of women in senior management directly impacts progress to issues on pay equity and other forms of discrimination. I recently obtained my global corporate director designation and while I experienced the glass ceiling from the vantage point below it, am now consciously looking to change that ceiling from above it.
One of my proudest achievements, and only recently understanding I was actually making a ‘conscious’ choice, is at every company I have been a part of, each and every department that reported to me was headed by a woman when I left. I continue to make these conscious choices. Not because they are women, but because they are smart. Our mandate as leaders is to lend a helping hand in making it easier for those following in our path. And not just by words, but by actions.
What kind of challenges do you and other women CEOs face?
I’m not only a CEO, I’m an entrepreneurial CEO — a whole other level of challenge!
Defying social expectations. As one of a handful of successful female CEOs in Canada in the financial and technology sectors, I’ve been surrounded by male leaders all my life. I still am at Canchek. The one thing I learned early on was to be true to myself and to believe in the strengths I bring to organizations I lead. While I might not always be popular, I’m always my authentic self.
Finding funding. I’ve always self-funded my projects. Venture capital companies have virtually no female CEOs — that means they aren’t in my “tribe”, making it harder to get funded. Harvards back Harvards. Stanfords back Stanfords. That’s the reality of capital raising. Canchek has just embarked on a joint venture, and has chosen to mostly self-fund a global compliance solution for the mining and oil and gas industries. This time, we’re asking for funding from other individual partners and private investors sharing the vision, and guess what? By and large, the ones who are immediately interested in funding this new venture are women who own companies, who are CFAs and see the potential, and women who have done business with and trust me and my partners.
Being taken seriously — and women can be the most exacting critics. But I’m being taken seriously now because I made the tough calls, put in the ridiculous hours at work, and never gave up. Earning the respect of male peers has always been challenging, but what still astonishes me is when women in senior roles don’t help.
Owning my accomplishments. I never used to say the word “I” and always said “we” when I spoke of my accomplishments. From the vantage point of years of experience, I now own my accomplishments because it inspires others.
Building a support network — one that I can really trust. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the best mentors anyone could ask for and never feared asking for help. I’m lucky I have such a great circle of men and women to draw from who have stood beside me for many years. You know who you are — my heartfelt thanks.
Balancing business and family life. I’m still working on this one. Being in your own business offers some flexibility, but there’s no such thing as work-life balance and believing this fallacy just makes you feel guiltier than you should. I take comfort because some days I’m an excellent parent, and other days I’m an amazing business leader. And once every other decade, I’ve been both at the same time. So let’s cut ourselves some slack, take a break, do something that brings us joy, and then get back to it. It’s inspiring the example you set when you do.
Coping with fear of failure. Canchek is launching a joint venture based on an idea I had. Think I’m not afraid of falling on my face or sword if it doesn’t work out? Of course I am, but that’s not going to stop me from taking a calculated risk. I’ve heard “no” many times, and made costly mistakes — or learning moments as I prefer to call them — but I never give up.
What led you down the path of entrepreneurship and how did you find success?
Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. Many have tried to nail down what makes us start our own businesses. Frankly, I’m selfish in this quest. I wanted a flexible schedule so I could raise my family, and I wanted to prove myself to everyone who told me to conform to societal expectations, or told me that it couldn’t be done.
How did I find success? A favourite saying of mine is, “Be the kind of woman who, when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the Devil says, ‘Oh crap, she’s up!’” My husband calls it “sheer bloody-mindedness” that keeps me going — I simply never give up.
And I’m proud to be the type of leader who gets up every single day with one clear task: to create an environment where my associates can be their most successful. That’s the job of a true leader. If you do that, you create success for yourself and those around you. And as I move ahead in my search for a role as corporate director, I’ll bring that same level of focus and insight to the position as I did to growing my businesses.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering starting a business?
Starting your own business is hard, even when you’ve had some measure of success. If it were easy there’d be more people doing it — male or female. I’d say: “Seek out women-friendly supporters. Research the competitive landscape of your business idea. Put together a business plan, do the financial forecasts, and figure out the pricing model — which is an art of its own. Conduct your due diligence.”
We at Canchek recently went through this exercise as we undertook a joint venture for a new global technology solution. Focus on putting together a business plan, do your critical research, and, mostly, believe you can do this.