Lessons from an entrepreneur on business and motherhood

Geneviève Gagnon's Words of Wisdom

Friday, March 2, 2018

Granola cereal and gourmet snack company Fourmi Bionique was launched in 2004. By 2017, the company had climbed its way into the PROFIT 500, the yearly ranking of the fastest growing Canadian businesses, by increasing its revenue 78 percent in five years. But founder Geneviève Gagnon’s dream was to combine her passion for business with her desire to start a family.

In 2004, when I was first starting my company, I was able to attend a few conferences for female entrepreneurs and I noticed that many of them were also mothers. I wondered how they were able to combine parenthood with running a business and all the work that it must take. In my case, I was so caught up in the whirlwind of launching my company that I couldn’t see how it would be possible to find the time to care for a family. 

For me, having children was extremely important, so I began thinking about how I could find a partner who would take over when the time came to distance myself from the business in order to start a family. 

In 2005, after some research, I found someone with the right profile and I started having her work part-time at the company. Gradually I gave her more and more responsibility, while at the same time making it clear that I was looking for a business partner. This was all in the hopes of having someone who could help me out in difficult periods or when I wasn’t able to work, someone with whom I could share the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship.

For me, having an employee-partner was for the long term, a way of ensuring the person’s loyalty to my business. But in 2006, my future partner informed me that she was thinking of leaving the company in order to start her own family. I still had hope that she would change her mind after a while, and since she wasn’t even pregnant yet this seemed a possibility. 

That’s how I made the three biggest mistakes of my entrepreneurial career. With only the short-term survival of my company in mind, I had made a decision that I would bitterly regret for the next 10 years: I had made someone a partner who was about to leave the business, and there was no clause in our contract to cover the repurchase of her shares when she left. What’s more, my future partner had taken out a loan for the business and I had undertaken to increase her salary in order to help her pay it back without taking into account the business’ ability to pay. At the end of 2008, my partner announced that she was pregnant and she left the company.

Finding a Plan B and a Plan C

In 2012, I became pregnant, and I had to find someone quickly when I was seven months into my pregnancy. The person accepted joining the business and taking over during my maternity leave. Things went fairly well, given the circumstances.

Then I got pregnant again in 2014 and my partner left the company in my third trimester. So I decided not to hire anyone and said to myself that I would take over managing the company while taking care of my new baby. That went less well. 

For my third pregnancy in 2017, I had someone solid in place beginning in the spring of 2016 who knew the company and the team really well. Finally it seemed as though I had the perfect situation in place.

However, in fact I had never been able to create the  perfect situation of finding exactly the right person to work as a permanent partner and help with the business. I had to contend with deceptions, unexpected events and many resignations throughout my pregnancies and after giving birth. But there were also some pleasant surprises: people who took on more responsibility and carefully looked after the business while I was away.

Happy endings

At the time of writing this post, I have no regrets: I am the happy  mother of three beautiful children, Alicia, Octavia and Sandro. And by the end of 2015, I was finally able to buy back my old ex-employee’s shares in the company.

Thanks to my resilience as an entrepreneur, I managed to get through all the hardships. I also had the privilege of having many employees and kind-hearted partners who were able to contribute to the advancement of Fourmi Bionique in their own way, and I am very grateful to them all.