Profile: Deborah Campbell / President of Quality & Compliance Services Inc
By Josie Walsh
In the early 80's when Deborah Campbell, attended Queen's University, Chemical Engineering program, she aspired to graduating and pursuing a fulfilling career in the corporate world, instead her path became more of that of an accidental entrepreneur. She graduated in 1981, just in time for the then government's National Energy Program to crush the job market for chemical engineers. Along with a mid-80's recession and more job slowdowns, Deborah didn't plan on it but she founded Quality & Compliance Services Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, a consulting firm that today has 40 full-time employees and produces technical writing services on quality-manufacturing practices for food and drug products.
Growth came slowly at first. Deborah worked alone for two years, until she had enough business to bring in contract consultants. She continued to manage the business from her home for 14 years, slowly hiring people to do administrative work, accounting, and sales, before moving the team into a converted house in 2008. Last year, Q & C finally moved into a "real" office.
In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious title of Business Person of the Year by the Mississauga Board of Trade.
You were born in Picton, Ontario and moved to Kingston when you were 12, do you come from an entrepreneurial family?
"No, not at all, my parents were teachers and only recently my dad realized that I'm not going to starve, as he put it," she says laughingly. This year when Deborah purchased her home in Cobourg, her dad asked she could afford it.
How did you go from being a new graduate to entrepreneur and without a business background?
"My degree was very marketable but I graduated at a very difficult time. In Nov 1981 the new National Energy Program was introduced and the industry died overnight. The Free Trade Agreement, also negatively impacted our industry. My whole working career at this point was recessionary. I was fortunate to find work but I and most of my peers were laid off, so many times during this period. It was just SO hard to find work then and when I did work I was significantly underpaid as well," she says.
Did you enjoy the work you were doing?
"Praxair was the best job I ever had, it was a great company and wonderful people to work with, but they too had begun to lay off many people. At one time I was the only person left on my floor – literally the last person standing. I had already begun to seriously look at starting a business but unsure of what type of business to start. At lunch I would go over to the Mississauga Public Library (located nearby) and take out books on various subjects useful to owning a business, such as business statements, marketing.
"I had a friend who was in sales and he taught me about basic sales techniques, I did this before Google," she laughs. By the time Deborah was also laid off, she was not caught off guard. "It was business, not personal. One thing my degree did teach me was that 'panic is useless'."
What steps did you take in creating your new career path?
"I started a list of all my ideas and it was my husband at the time who planted the seed for my present business, when one day he lamented, 'I wish you can come in to write those procedures for me at work, because you know how to do this so well'."
That was the Aha moment for Deborah. She focused on starting a consulting company focused on technical writing and targeted pharmaceutical companies.
"I heard about a Government program offering a course for 5 weeks on how to write a business plan and it was game on."
You began your business humbly enough from your daughter's bedroom and now 20 years later it's a great success. Describe this early start?
Growth came slowly at first. Deborah worked alone for two years, until she had enough business to bring in contract consultants. She continued to manage the business from her home for 14 years, slowly hiring people to do administrative work, accounting, and sales, before moving the team into a converted house in 2008. Quality & Compliance Inc. has grown steadily and profitably ever since. Last year, Q & C finally moved into a "real" office.
"Even today we have quite a few consultants who work out of their home and we do not hire anyone to work unless they have full time day care arrangements for their young children. This is a real job, just like coming into a work office and has to be treated as such."
Her daughters, Madeline was 4 years old and Adrianna was 7, when Deborah began her business from one of the girl's bedrooms. When they were very young, she did hire a nanny who would come in to take care of the girls but once older they attended school. "My cleaner would come in twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays and a PA day usually happened on a Friday, so she would bring her 3 young boys and would babysit all 5 children. I don't remember how much cleaning got done, but I was able to get my work done," says Deborah.
Working from home takes self discipline – what were your motivation strategies?
How did you work around your family?
"I am naturally pretty driven. Once I set a goal I am much focused. One small trick I used and still do to finish a task I dislike doing was the10 - 20 minute rule. I will do the task for 10 to 20 minutes without interruption and stop."
When Deborah was asked to make an acceptance speech for being awarded the prestigious Business Person of the Year award from the Mississauga Board of Trade she explained one of her beliefs for assured success. "Work on doing the right thing, especially when you don't feel like it!"
What were some of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in those early years?
Deborah explained that one business obstacle she had to overcome was the "Eat Your Kill Syndrome". This is when the business owner places all efforts to get their prey (the client / customer). "You shoot an elephant but now you have to eat this elephant. Be careful of the size of prey you get. In other words," she says, "when you are solo, you are doing everything in the business. Once you get the big client, you are spending your energies on serving that one client; you are then not out consistently looking for new business. So there is this Starve and Stuffed syndrome going on. The goal is to get big enough to start delegating to an employee or employees. The only solution to get out of this cycle is to delegate tasks," Deborah says.
To learn how to delegate more efficiently, Deborah would find learning cassette tapes and listen to them while driving in her car.
Did you ever waiver and want to give up and get back to a "real" job?
"NO, I became completely unemployable," she laughs.
You mention in your article of being an early adopter of emerging technologies but also not being overly attached. How did you find that balance?
"Because our consultants worked out of their home and there was no actual main office for many years, learning to use technology efficiently early on was a big part of our success, it was always evolving. This spring for example, we will have in place Virtual Classrooms so we can see each others documents online."
What are your business life goals?
"To develop a succession plan," she says. "I will have to work myself out of a job."
Some of the specific goals include: growing the company's net income, attracting top talent and reduce long term risk. Presently quality employment is offered at Q&C for over 40 employees and Deborah realizes that to ensure this type of secure future she will have to proactively design and plan. "It doesn't mean I have to stop working, but I can if I wish and it won't have a detrimental effect on the business," she says. "There are no plans for retiring - ever!" Deborah exclaims. "I love what I do."
Are any of your children also entrepreneurs?
"Both girls have that entrepreneurial bent. The younger is 2 courses short of her degree and shows the bug for business ownership and Adrianna is helping with her husband's business," Deborah explains.
You also talk about charitable goals, what are they?
One of Deborah's back burner projects is to help fund a hospital wing in the city of Kingston, in honour of her brother Rory, who passed away when he was 5 and Deborah was only 2 years old. "I know it will cost about $75 million to do it, I'm still unsure on the how details, but I do have some ideas brewing. I would call it the Rory Centre in honour of my brother." Even though this dynamic lady has no plans of ever retiring from the business she loves, she is always planning and says that this particular goal is the dream career plan for her "retirement".
"Work on doing the right thing, especially when you don't feel like it!"
"Panic is useless."