Last week, (March 8, 2023) the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce celebrated International Women’s Day with an event to recognize women in business across the community.
As part of the event, four women shared their journeys to success, the people who inspire them, and their advice for other women, young and old, as they navigate their careers and life.
Bobbi Deisinger – Owner, All About Massage Day Spa
For 16 years, Bobbi Deisinger was a stay-at-home mom to three kids, until she took the jump into business and purchased All About Massage Day Spa in 2010.
Thirteen years in, Deisinger employs a staff of 12 in a 4,000-square-foot space that offers everything from massages to new medical-grade cosmetic services.
While her success is evident now, like many, she had doubts when she first started.
“Owning a spa did not seem like something in my wheelhouse,” she said. “But it did sound like something that I would be able to help make the world a little more peaceful. Having a place where people come in, they can get some relaxation, rejuvenation, feel a little better about themselves, feel a little more relaxed, leave the spa and just spread that out to the community.”
Deisinger’s affinity for business started at a young age.
In high school, she would paint T-shirts, sew quilts, and sell them. In the 1980s, she made 18 Raggedy Ann dolls and sold them at a Caruso Club craft show. She didn’t know it at the time, but these were the earliest seeds of her entrepreneurial aspirations.
“I didn’t think I was an entrepreneur,” she said. “It wasn’t something that I ever thought about.”
As a business owner, Deisinger prioritizes compassionate leadership.
“That’s not the best way to have a profitably built business,” she said. “It’s not great for the bottom lines, but I have learned early on that in order to have a successful business, especially in the services industry, it’s important to have happy staff that feel support, that feel safe and secure in their job.
“Once they feel that, they’re able to then pass that on to their clients and make sure the clients are getting the best services they can.”
While challenges abound when it comes to running a business, Deisinger said she’s found support in the women of Sudbury’s business community. In addition to her family, she said her peers were her main source of inspiration.
“(We) share ideas and share a coffee or a cocktail and hash things out,” she said. “We all have similar obstacles and struggles and we get to share in our success as well. That’s my inspiration.”
For women in business or any industry, she encourages taking time for yourself and practising self-care.
Jodi Cooley – Executive director, SNOLAB
Despite her impressively long resume, which has taken her across the U.S. and Canada as a physicist and physics instructor, Jodi Cooley did not start out on top.
The daughter of Wisconsin farmers, her father didn’t graduate high school and her mother never got to go to university. It was her mother who inspired her love of learning. Growing up, Cooley knew she and her siblings were destined to be the first to pursue a post-secondary education.
As a high schooler, she made average grades, and as an undergraduate she bounced around courses, unsure what to study. It wasn’t until her fifth year of study that she decided to pursue physics and took a sixth year to catch up on the degree requirements.
“I was the first person in my entire extended family to graduate from university,” she said. “It probably took no one by surprise that I ultimately decided to go to graduate school. But getting to that wasn’t trivial.”
At the University of Wisconsin, she was one of five women in her program, double the number of women in the department.
In her efforts to pass the qualifying exam that all students needed to pass to avoid expulsion, she found inspiration in one of her teachers. Four or the five women, including herself, were struggling to pass and only had one more shot. Alarmed, Prof. Bernice Durand created a study class for every student, regardless of gender, who needed help.
“Every student who took part in this class passed their exam on the final attempt,” she said. “I’m not the only student at the time who knew their dreams of a PhD would have been quashed if it wasn’t for Dr. Durand. It was not equal. However, it was equitable. It helped level the playing field for a group of students who needed extra mentoring to help them focus on what’s important.”
It’s equity, she said, that hold more value for women in the workforce than equality.
When Cooley took her dream job at SNOLAB, it was her husband’s support that made all the difference. Despite holding a tenured position as chair of his own department, he encouraged her to take the position, taking on the brunt of the domestic duties to allow her to focus on her work.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” she said. “We all have giants in our lives. So while we’re taking time today to embrace equity, I challenge you to also recognize those who provided the shoulders on which you stand.”
Giovanna Verrilli – Chief executive officer, Greater Sudbury Airport
As a first generation Canadian from a large Italian family full of women, Giovanna Verrilli knows the value of hard work.
“I was surrounded by women all the time,” she said. “These women in my life were incredibly strong, talented, and successful. From my mother to all my aunts, who immigrated here later in life, not knowing a word of English and starting a life here in Sudbury. They made a life for myself, my sisters and my cousins that allowed us to really grow and persevere and achieve those things.”
After her start at the Dairy Queen in the New Sudbury Centre, Verrilli pursed studies in commerce. In her first job as a management trainee with Cintas in Toronto, she was exposed to every function of how an organization runs.
“I was one of the first females to run a uniform route in Canada,” she said. “It was disgusting, but it was a huge learning opportunity for me. Those two years of my life really shared my foundation.”
But it was joining Toronto Pearson Airport that really changed things.
“It was the most career altering moments of my life,” she said. “I knew nothing about airports. I knew nothing about the industry or what it took to run an airport. And I was taking on a role that seemed completely far out there for me.”
In her position, she didn’t climb the ladder. Instead, she made lateral moves around the organization, trying to learn all the different functions of the airport. She said she felt it was important to explore and embrace the discomfort of not knowing what to do.
Along the way, she met mentors who continue to influence her today.
“Those mentors shaped not only my skillset, but who I wanted to be as a leader. It was important for me to know who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to lead other. It’s about how you interact with your colleagues.”
Now as the CEO of the Greater Sudbury Airport, she leans on her family, who are cheering her on as she commutes between Sudbury and Toronto every week until they move this summer.
“I could not do this without them,” she said. “When I’m here, that allows me to really focus on my work, really focus on my team, and really focus on what we want to do and how we want to deliver the best possible airport community.”
Chef Tammy Maki – Owner, Raven Rising
For Chef Tammy Maki, chocolate tells a story.
A child of the Sixties Scoop, Maki was taken from her family as a child and raised by Finnish parents in Sudbury.
Over the last few years, she has been meeting her family and learning about her past, her community and her identity as an Indigenous person. It’s that story that she bring with her with every chocolate she makes.
“It was so very, very important to me to incorporate that journey of finding myself into this business,” she said. “It represents me than it represents chocolate. It’s who I am. It is who Indigenous people are globally. I want to be one small voice that hopefully reaches some ears. There’s so much information and knowledge, and so many stories behind one simple ingredient.”
Maki did not start off her career as a chocolatier. The daughter of an electrician, she went to trade school and started her own electrical contracting company.
“I was one of the first Indigenous females in trade school,” she said. “Being the only female in trade school, when I went, it was very overwhelming. You know you want to hang out with the guys. It was a brotherhood.”
After several years in the business, she went back to school and graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Cambrian’s baking and pastry arts program. A few weeks out, she was hired in Banff as an apprentice.
“I get my first paycheck as a first year apprentice and I was like, what is this?” she said. “It was like $65. But it wasn’t about the money ever for me in this career. It’s all about exploring that passion in your life. If you’re lucky enough to find it, then just freaking grab onto it and stay with it.”
Over time, she worked her way through the ranks. But she found that leadership roles were always filled by men. She lacked the creative control she truly wanted.
That’s when she started her pastry consulting company. And when that folded during the COVID-19 pandemic, she started Raven Rising, a chocolate shop that crafts its treats with Indigenous ingredients and practices in mind.
“Chocolate is one of the oldest Indigenous ingredients in the universe, one of the most globally recognized ingredients,” she said. “What I want to do is I want to feed you. I want you to close your eyes and just go man, that was exquisite. Then I want to share a story with you. I want it to be meaningful.”
By Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 17, 2023