Valerie Brown-Dufour joined WSI 20 years ago and today she is the President of WSI. In this profile, we ask Valerie about her journey to becoming the President, as well as the company’s strategy for the next five years.
How would you describe yourself?
Curious. Pragmatic. Resourceful. Creative.
I like looking for better ways of doing things. I like newness and I like to do and see things that haven’t been seen or done before. I like ambiguity and some risk-taking.
What were you like in high school?
I think the same as I am today. I liked school and I balanced academics with extra-curricular activities such as soccer, volleyball, and band practice.
How long have you been with WSI?
What did you do before life at WSI?
Adult education and I ran my own importing business.
Why did you Join WSI?
I loved the company’s story, the entrepreneurial mindset, and the industry, which is dynamic and fast-changing. The people involved were (and still are!) inspiring.
What was your journey like to get where you are today?
Fun. Circuitous. Interesting, as there is always something new to learn and experience. At times, it was challenging, which allowed me to grow and expand my own capabilities. I’ve had the opportunity to learn and develop my capabilities in all aspects of the business. WSI has always focused on helping individuals to grow, which has allowed the company to grow its people from within, of which I am a product.
Looking back at 20 years with WSI - what are some of the highlights you remember most and why?
The People – meeting and working with people (our consultants) from all walks of life, from so many cultures and countries. It’s always inspiring to watch individuals grow and prosper. Knowing you have been a part of helping someone fulfil their dreams, whether they were a franchisee or a staff member, is greatly rewarding. It’s something that still motivates me. When I think back to 1999 and think of all the people we have touched, the businesses we have helped and the lives we have changed, it’s quite extraordinary.
Of course, there are so many individual highlights over the years that come to mind, whether it be all the different stages of our evolution as a business and as a franchise. We continually kept ahead of industry changes -- which have come at lightning speed. Being part of all of this has been an incredible journey. But in the end, it still goes back to the people I have had the pleasure to meet and work with around the globe.
What has been your biggest accomplishment at WSI?
Being part of this amazing network and seeing how it has grown over the years. It is really a powerful concept that still has so much opportunity and growth yet to be actualized. In reality, I believe both my and the company’s biggest accomplishments are still to come. This opportunity only gets bigger every year as digital marketing is consuming more and more of the global corporate marketing budget. Each and every year, there are new technologies, methodologies and platforms that become an absolute necessity for the business community to adopt if they want to stay front of mind and relevant to their clients. No longer can a business have someone make them a website and do some SEO or PPC and expect to remain competitive.
Today, the business community is realizing they need a professional who understands how to develop a digital strategy that will meet their business objectives, which is where I see us being able to accomplish so much more on a global scale.
Tell me how you've approached the change that has happened while at WSI?
I think the first thing is I made the right choice in joining WSI. This industry will always be in a state of change; I knew I needed to be in an environment that would continually evolve for me to be both happy and fulfilled. I try to look at change from a glass half full perspective. Change opens new doors, exposes us to new experiences and new knowledge which allows us to grow as individuals and as a team. To me, that’s an exciting world to be a part of. Change is a cornerstone of our corporate culture and values. Had we not been an organization that embraced change, we would have been gone a long time ago.
Describe your typical work week?
It all starts with my drive time to and from work every day. I find it’s a great opportunity to gather my thoughts and make some calls as it’s early in the morning and easier to get to some key people before their day gets underway.
Monday and Friday are meeting-less days across the organization. So these tend to be heads-down, hard-working days. I still have some meetings, but generally, these days are meant to provide staff with time to focus on their quarterly rocks. Tuesday is the day dedicated to meetings with me and each dept head.
Wednesday and Thursday are organizational support days filled with team meetings and meetings with suppliers, internet consultants, and other stakeholders. Thursday morning is also our Level 10 Management meeting. We follow the EOS methodology. Fridays tend to be number days where we focus on finance, KPIs, etc.
What is your favorite quote?
I love quotes and have many!! But one of my favourites, especially as it relates to business is: Leap and a net shall appear.
Do you have any skills or talents that most people don't know about?
Exceptional sandwich-making skills.
What type of holidays do you like to take?
With my husband and kids to Vancouver Island where my husband is from. Alternatively, to countries with different languages/cultures to expose our kids to. A favourite is the south of France.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Spare time? What is that? Sometimes I feel like a chauffeur shuttling our kids to their many competitive sporting events. I am surprised to find myself such a fervent hockey mom – and never want to miss a game of my son’s. Equally, my daughter does competitive acro training many hours a week and she competes not only in Canada but also internationally. It’s amazing and exciting to watch your kids excel at sports and wonderful to witness all the skills and life lessons that sport can teach them – goal-setting, teamwork, dedication, hard work, perseverance, to name a few.
Somewhere in between all these sporting events, I love hanging out with my kids for a movie night or hosting a dinner party with friends and family.
What do you think are the best skills that you bring to WSI?
I tend to be creative and can envision the big picture. I enjoy analyzing and thinking strategically to identify challenges and opportunities in front of the business. I like to get into the details of a plan in order to activate the team into execution mode. Equally, I enjoy working with people --- understanding their motivations, perspectives and unique skills.
Have you read any good books lately?
Yes. Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavallette.
On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?
Six…maybe a seven?? You tell me! Weird is in the eye of the beholder!
How would you describe yourself in one word?
What goal do you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
Run 5km. for a fund raiser (and my health!!)
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Still as President of WSI.
What do you hope to achieve in your next position?
I actually hope to be in the same position as President of WSI. Part of our strategy is a focus on what we call 10X. Over the next 5 years, our objective will be to grow the company by 10 times what we are today. As I mentioned earlier, this industry is only growing and probably one of the few recession-proof industries in existence. Our plans are in place for franchise growth, increasing the unit economics of each and every franchisee and a plan for the growth of our home office staff - both in numbers but even more importantly, in their own personal development. We are just launching a Leadership Development programme which I am confident will have a resounding impact on our team. I believe if we invest in the right people, who have the right seat on the bus, then 10X is definitely achievable
How has technology changed the way you work?
Basically, technology enables greater work productivity and performance. I’m able to accomplish more, faster. I’m also much more organized than before. With different platforms and tools available I can handle a great deal more on a daily basis – whether that is my work, or the organization’s priorities.
From the start of my workday, during my commute, I simply tell my car who I want to talk to and it connects me to all the people and virtual meetings I need to have. It’s quite remarkable how our working world has changed in the last decade, in most part due to technology innovations.
What would be your personal motto?
Covey’s 5 Principle: “Seek first to understand then be understood”
If you worked in a restaurant, what role would you want?
Bartender as I think they have the most fun and meet the most interesting people.
If we went to happy hour, what would you order?
A glass of bubbly!
If you could be anywhere other than here talking to me - right this minute, where would you be?
With my kids and husband in a villa in the south of France.