Feb. 17, 2021Print | PDF
The Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University celebrates alumna Caroline Cole Power (MBA ’96) for being named to WXN’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 list in December 2020.
Cole Power, honoured in the BMO Entrepreneurs category, is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian HR Solutions, Inc., a leading sensitivity training, employee professional development and online learning company that is home to Sensitivity Training Canada, Canadian HR Academy and Worldwide Workplace Learning. Since launching in 2010, Canadian HR Solutions Inc. has expanded to service clients from coast to coast in Canada, and globally.
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Cole Power made the decision to stop in-person courses and move to online delivery models for training solutions at Canadian HR Solutions, Inc. This enabled the company to widen its scope of offerings and move to a global market, launching Worldwide Workplace Learning. In speaking with Cole Power about expanding internationally during a pandemic, she told us, “As a training company, when your delivery method is virtual, your market becomes global by default.”
The Lazaridis School spoke with Cole Power about her work, this recognition, and her commitment to life-long learning. Read the interview, below, to learn from one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women.
It is a nod to years of hard work stretching all the way from elementary school. Hard work that continued into graduate school, carrying through my early career roles, to middle management, and finally to senior roles and to today. So, it is recognition of many, many years of hard, focused, smart, work.
Not initially. I do come from a family with both employees and entrepreneurs, so the entrepreneurship option was always clear but I never had a specific interest in that pathway; I was more interested in becoming an executive in a large organization. I took to heart the words of my father who said to go to school, get a good education, get a good job – so I did not set out to start my own company.
When I graduated from university I went to work, then left to pursue graduate studies before returning to corporate work. I have always worked for ‘big blue’ (ie. blue chip companies), the largest organizations in the world. And, that was exactly where I aspired to be.
I was fortunate to land roles in the biggest companies. I worked for General Electric for many years, starting at GE Canada, then went to the United States to GE’s global headquarters. When I came back to Canada, I made it all the way to senior vice president and what I found was that I had gotten to the point in the organizational system where there was no longer a path for further advancement. I hit the proverbial glass ceiling. Some days it felt like a cement ceiling!
It was at that point that I started thinking about going out on my own and applying all the knowledge I had gained to run a business for myself. This thinking didn’t happen at the end of my corporate career, it happened at the middle of it, and I started thinking this would be something I would need to do, ultimately.
I think that over time, what would have happened to me is what happens to many people. You stay in the roles you’re ‘allowed’ to get, but you’re just not able to maximize your full potential over time.
When I started Canadian HR Solutions, Inc. we were nationally focused as the name suggests. Now, we are expanding worldwide; in fact, last year (2020) we decided to open our Worldwide Workplace Learning division, a gateway to global markets. This transition is exciting and it presents a whole other level of opportunity to make a positive global impact in the area of workplace learning.
Interestingly enough, the pandemic helped usher that in. In March, at the start of the first lockdown, we decided to stop in-person training because we didn’t want to put people at risk. Within a few weeks of suspending in-person training it occurred to me that our market was no longer national, but rather, it is global. As a training company, when your delivery method is virtual, your market becomes global by default.
During my MBA, I was focused entirely on employee-ship, not entrepreneurship. My focus was on corporate finance and my first couple of roles in the workplace were finance roles, having been recruited right out of the program. It wasn’t until later that I made the decision to transition to HR, which was my focus of study at the undergraduate level. While in the MBA program I was elected to the position of Vice President of Finance at the Laurier Graduate Student Association.
What I sell today, the training services, are a direct result of my formal education and what I’ve learned as an employee. Formal education was the starting point, but what I learned about how business was practiced, what works in organizations, what builds organizations into places where people can thrive, what works to help advance careers – all of those are things that I picked up during my employee journey.
If I had tried to do this right out of my MBA, I wouldn’t have had the experience necessary to build the credibility to sell this or to deliver my company’s services. So, the employee journey plus a formal education is what has created the value in my personal and professional corporate stock, and that’s what I sell today.
One of the best parts of my time in the Lazaridis MBA, was our international trip to Southeast Asia. We went to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam where many multi-nationals were operating, and the mid-90s was a period of particularly strong growth in the region. It was an excellent opportunity to learn more about how they operated overseas. We visited companies such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM during that trip. Being a student and learning about businesses in the Asia-Pacific region helped me come back and land a position with ‘big blue’ directly out of the MBA program.
It is. I think the longer you continue to learn, the more you continue to grow. Lifelong learning supports my personal ideology of the importance of holding an expansive mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
WXN is Canada’s #1 and only national organization that meaningfully propels and celebrates the advancement of woman at all levels, in all sectors, and of all ages. Since 2003, WXN has celebrated the Top 100 awards – celebrating women who “personify what it means to be powerful through the way they empower and champion others, influence change and stand up for all of us.” The BMO Entrepreneurs category specifically recognizes women who own and operate thriving businesses.
The Lazaridis Master of Business Administration (MBA) program offers programming in Waterloo and downtown Toronto in a variety of formats including full-time, part-time, co-op, and a double degree option with the Lazaridis Master of Finance (MFin).
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