Celebrating a Lifetime of Business Success with Nancy GowanMar 07, 2023
Over the course of 23 years, Nancy Gowan has grown Gowan Consulting from a seed of an idea into a nationwide business, successfully serving thousands of employers and employees with their health and disability management needs. Gowan Consulting is proud to be a woman-owned business, and Nicolette Gowan carries on the tradition of female leadership as she steps into the role of owner and CEO.
As Nancy transitions into retirement, it is our honour to celebrate her long career, highlight her accomplishments, and glean insight into her journey as a woman entrepreneur. Being a woman in business can be challenging, but Nancy has led with passion, dedication, and an unwavering vision in her goal to help others. Through the highs and lows of business ownership, she has learned invaluable lessons she hopes to share with others: how to be an authentic leader, knowing your “why,” the importance of being heart-centred and kind, and understanding your worth.
Or read below to see what Nancy had to say about her journey towards business success.
What inspired you to pursue OT as a career?
To be honest, I never really knew what an OT was in high school (that was 40 years ago now). My pursuit was for physiotherapy, but I had a wonderful friend in university that showed me the path to OT. I had wonderful mentors in my teachers, and I have never looked back! I am so glad that I fell into OT… it has the best of all of my passions: working with people to help them to be independent, productive, and well, and working with individuals in the workplace. I need to thank my colleagues and teachers who showed me how OT could be my path to success.
Tell us a bit about your career path after graduation. What drove you to start your own business?
When I graduated as an OT, my final placement was at Dofasco Steel Company in Hamilton. I had an amazing preceptor who had passion for the role of OT in the workplace. I vowed that this was what I would do. I started at Dofasco after a short time at the Geriatric Day Hospital at Chedoke. I knew this was what I would build my career on. I was given the support and mentorship from many health professionals and leaders during my early years. I had the chance to speak at conferences, run pain management groups, and create a coping with change program for employees being displaced.
After having my oldest daughter, we decided to move closer to our family, and I worked with ARI Associative Rehabilitation Inc. under the mentorship of a great manager and leaders. Throughout my career there, I was given the opportunity to build my dreams of doing workplace consulting and worked with great companies such as Pepsi, NCR, and BMO. I also had the blessing of hiring an amazing OT Manager (Melanie Weller). Together we grew the OT program across Canada.
When the company sold to a large insurer, I parted ways and decided that I wanted to create my own company. That was the opportunity I was waiting for to create my vision.
After starting the company, I was able to convince Melanie Weller to join me. The company has grown exponentially since that time. I could not have done this without Melanie by my side. She is the glue that kept me together when times were challenging and supported our vision for a Canada-wide Occupational Therapy company that provided health and disability management services to employers and employees.
How did you overcome the discomfort and uncertainties that came with expanding the company across Canada?
Of course, it is easier to stay small and within a comfort zone. Melanie and I developed some amazing relationships with customers that asked us to grow to meet the needs of their national companies. Through this we put our heads together and made lots of mistakes along the way. We learned a lot from these mistakes and have been able to now create a sustainable team across Canada that is also passionate about helping employers to keep their employees healthy and safe at work.
What kept us moving forward was sticking to our “why.” We knew that the bigger we got, the more employers and individuals we could help. There are days when you ask yourself if it is worth it. It is so important to remember why you have late nights, early mornings, endless travel. We knew that we were making an impact. I reflect on stories throughout my career that really highlight the importance of what we do.
Tell us about one of these stories that sticks with you.
When I was at a conference, I connected with a previous client that I had worked with 10 years previously. This came at one of those times where I was wondering if it was worth it – if I was really making a difference. When I first started working with this client, he was experiencing chronic pain to the point where he was contemplating if he could move forward, if he could continue living. He told me at this conference that the work I did with him changed his life. He developed new skills to help him manage and without this he might not be here today. He went on to dedicate his life to helping others with chronic pain. It is moments like this that make you remember why you put so much into this work. We are changing lives. We are helping others and we have a ripple effect.
Speaking of changing lives - tell us a bit about the powerful women in your life that have mentored you along your journey.
I had many people that inspired and mentored me. No one ever does this alone! My first mentor and inspiration is my mother. My mother was the most selfless, kind, and heart-centered woman in the world. She had a way of seeing the good and positive in every moment, even when life got tough. She always inspired a “growth mindset” in me and my four sisters (who, by the way, are also entrepreneurs and my inspiration!).
From teachers that supported my passion for workplace services (Muriel Westmorland, Marla Rosenfeld) to colleagues (Melanie Weller and my whole team). Each of them helped me to hone my skills, focus the business, try new strategies, and stay grounded.
I must say that my biggest mentors and supports are my staff. I hire individuals that are smarter than me, and that is how I am successful. I learn from each and every one of my team members every day. They are all powerful women that have grown this business.
Surround yourself with amazing women that support your dreams! I am blessed to have always had a support system of women that are driven, powerful, and supportive of my path. My four sisters, my mother, my daughters, and all of my colleagues have helped me to grow. Take a look at who you have in your corner and make sure that they are there to celebrate your wins and help you to learn from your mistakes.
When you reflect on your successful career, what are your highlights?
I have to say that there were so many highlights, now that I look back they all meld together. I would say the most important highlights were the ones that allowed me to work with amazing teams, many companies, people, and industry leaders. I was given the chance to speak at international conferences, workshops, and to even write it down in a book. I think the highlights were the people I had the chance to meet and who became friends through the process.
Tell us about some lessons you learned along your path as a business owner.
You can’t do this alone! Build a team of people smarter than you that are dedicated to the vision! Network building and relationship building grows your business. You will learn something from everyone you meet.
All stress is temporary! There were many late nights, early mornings, and challenges. Keep going and learn from the stressors, the challenges. Keep focused on your why in those challenging times. Have someone to talk to about the challenges so you can reframe it into learnings.
You have something to offer the world and you cannot do it by staying small. Knowing your why and how it serves others will allow you to offer this to help others. The larger you get, the more people you can serve.
You have to share what you do. No one is going to use your services if you do not tell them about them. You can create the best product, but if no one knows about it, no one will buy it. Marketing, networking, social media, building relationships, and having your elevator speech ready with your niche defined will all help others to see what you have to offer. You can’t be shy about sharing.
Don’t be too busy to be kind. In my years of building the business, I got too focused at times on the business and not enough on the people that worked with me, and I lost many great people because of my inability to show them appreciation.
What is one piece of advice for women entrepreneurs?
Don’t let others tell you that you cannot run a business. And don’t let the thoughts in your head stop you from offering the world what you have to offer. As a woman in business, there will be many consultants or businessmen that might tell you how to run a business. Only you know how much you can offer. Trust your gut and your instincts and do it your own way. Don’t try to lead like others… be you!
As a woman in business, being asked to the table is still tough… the subtle microaggressions exist and can impact your confidence. Know that you have something to offer and don’t let a “no” or a response from the boardroom keep you from continuing to pursue your vision. It is worth it!