Fiona Gilligan has built and sold successful companies and is proud to count herself in the top 1% of self-made women in Canada. Up next: a book about “life, love, business and babies” along with launching her Canadian-based Female Founders Network.
Fiona Gilligan isn’t so much a problem-solver as a problem-slayer. Also an opportunist, innovator and risk-taker – in short, the model entrepreneur. Her uncanny ability to turn proverbial lemons into lemonade is a career hallmark. When Gilligan found herself jobless at 30 despite having a Master’s degree in social work and three years’ experience helping Ottawa Hospital build its trauma department, she blueprinted her own private-sector trauma counselling company, Trauma Management Group, founded in 1994 and sold in 2007 when the timing (offers on the table, huge success attained) seemed propitious. A few years before that sale, when TMG needed to relocate, its spitfire then-CEO reckoned buying a place made more sense than renting one. Enter Arranmore Holdings, which specializes in commercial real estate acquisitions, and which Gilligan built alongside TMG and still heads today. From 2009 to 2012, single mom Gilligan packed up daughters Ciara and Siobhan and headed to Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains so the girls could experience “a country life” while Gilligan polished her French. Now back in Ottawa, Gilligan, 50, is focused on building her brand as a speaker and media expert (via FionaGilligan.com), author (Confessions of a GirlPreneur: Life, Love, Business and Babies, coming soon) and, perhaps most crucially, “building a Canadian-based female founders’ network to bring successful career women forward to mentor and sponsor the next wave of female entrepreneurs, creating the kind of eco-system that didn’t exist when I was getting started.” Add pay-it-forward altruist to Gilligan’s already awesome list of traits.
Being an entrepreneur is all about paddling upstream and being different.
“Look, if a seven-year-old girl starts selling lemonade from a stand, that’s her entry point as an entrepreneur,” Gilligan says. “We want those girls – those girlpreneurs – to morph into female founders. But they need guidance from women who have created their own wealth – that didn’t inherit it or marry into it. These girls need to see that being successful isn’t tantamount to surrendering your femininity or sacrificing having a family. If we don’t nurture these lemonade stand girls, we will lose them to boys, babies or pink collar jobs. Being an entrepreneur is all about paddling upstream and being different. Women just aren’t raised to consider business as a viable career. It’s not talked about. We need to have female founders be role models alongside female politicians, doctors and lawyers.”
That Little Voice Inside
“When I was starting Trauma Management Group, lots of people advised me not to launch such a specialized company in a government town. They tried to plant doubt. But I knew I was onto something. As an entrepreneur you can never doubt yourself. You have to listen to that little voice inside, what I call internal wisdom. And you have to know it will always steer you in the right direction.”
Making the World a Better Place
“The best entrepreneurs are the ones that have a passion to build something that solves a problem in the world and are absolutely focused on that versus the financial component. That was a key component of TMG’s success: we created a revolutionary revenue model whereby victims and their families did not incur costs while receiving the immediate care they needed. And people responded like gangbusters.”
“I am a very good listener and extremely intuitive,” Gilligan continues. “I’m not sure if that came from my social work background or not. But probably my biggest strength is building relationships and networks. If you work in an office, the only people you encounter are in that office. When you are an entrepreneur, you encounter so many people – at meetings, events, airports even.“
“My best advice? I always say you can have it all – family and business – but you can’t have it all at the same time.”