Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Legend of Panama, Part Two

Hello dear friends,

Hope you enjoyed Part One of The Legend of Panama. You did not have to wait for long and here is Part Two of the interview with "Powerhouse Ilya".

OD: I could not agree more! But I understand not all was smooth for your family about 6 years ago.

IEM: Yes, there were few challenging years. My middle son, 16 at the time, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – cancer that starts in the bones. It was extremely disturbing to see my boy sick and not knowing what might happen. Of course I was very fortunate to have a Dad who is a well-known doctor around the world. With his help we were able to explore the best treatments and facilities available at the time. 

Image credit
But that was not the end of our trouble. While my son was going through treatment, my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December of the same year. We were crashed! What do you do? Besides running between two very sick members of your family there was my fourth baby – Canal. I needed to clone myself at that time and not just to get things done but to keep it together. 

That’s were my Canal family came through for me (tears in her eyes)! I had to be away from work for a long period of time and though that there was no other choice but to quit. However, our organization had an option to donate vacation hours. My generous Canal family donated over 1,000 vacation hours to me to spend with my family! With my 850 vacation hours and their generous gift I was able to be away for 7 month and do some work remotely. And that was not the end of the support. The company held prayer groups for my family as well. I am a true believer in God and this was a beautiful confirmation of the power of a prayer. I am forever grateful!

There is another organization that deserves a huge praise – Ronald McDonald House! This was our
home for 7 month and help, support and love that we received cannot be described in words. Due to my experience with this wonderful organization I support and promote it in any way possible. This is my #1 charity of choice!

OD: I am simply stunned! Your life is like a book; perhaps you should right one someday. Now I understand better how such an accomplished individual can be so humble. Your life presented you with few tough lessons. And that is usually where we find our humility.

Well, I think enough tear jerking questions. I’d like to ask you few more questions about your work as one of the members of the executive team.  Your position is a big responsibility, especially as a woman executive. Do you feel the pressure to prove that woman can accomplish anything she has passion for and put her mind to? If so, is it pressure from you or others?

Image credit
IEM: One important item that women need to remember is not to put pressure on them. Yes, this is a big responsibility but by adding pressure you will compromise the purpose. Be confident and replace the pressure with a statement. Yes, make a statement! I made one with the presence of pink hardhat and pink vest. It screams: “I am a woman and I am here to stay!”

OD: Do you ever feel the sense of responsibility to not disappoint as a woman executive for women in general and especially women of Central and Latin America?

IEM: Interesting question. I always ask myself, how do I “show” as a person? Am I professional, respectful, supportive, nurturing, open minded? I am a natural leader and always make sure that this trait is pronounced in the most positive way possible. No matter if I am dealing with a woman or a man.

It is a powerful feeling to be a woman executive. I don’t focus on disappointing anyone; I focus on the needs of my family, Canal family in this case. And as you know all the families have their highs and lows. But there is no room for disappointments, only lessons to learn. And for us as women it is especially important! We are the ones that bare the children, if you know what I mean.

OD: Very good point! In conclusion, I am sure you will be happy to share few words of wisdom. Could you please provide few ideas of inspiration for my readers?

IEM: It will be my pleasure! Number one thing to remember for any human being especially a
woman is to be authentic. Do not compromise of who you are for anyone! Be the same to everyone and be transparent!

Another important matter to remember is not to fill obligated to give back. It is not sincere gesture if it’s not from the heart. If you’d like to help someone have a heart desire to do so. Do not do this just to prove something to someone. Take time to learn to be a human, a guide or a mentor. You have something that someone else needs. Education is not just about degrees, it is more about who you are as a person.

OD: Beautiful! So, with the project coming to an end what’s next for the “Powerhouse Ilya”? Any new projects on the horizon? Or perhaps retirement?

Image credit
IEM: I have not really put too much time thinking about it just yet. The focus at this point is on the successful completion of the Canal expansion and making sure that everything runs smoothly after. That will take time. 

But there is one interesting international opportunity in Turkey. However, that is as far as I go with this statement.

Retirement is not in my cards just yet. But I would love to spend more time at my beach house: snorkeling, laying in a hammock with a good book, do some diving and gardening. Oh yes, I love plants and won few awards for my garden designs (sparkle in her eyes). And of course taking photos, I miss photography! Time will only tell what is next in the cards for me. Remember I am not a planner!

And here you have it my dear friends, our first international connection and first international woman in spotlight with Current Woman.  She is strong, honest, inspiring, fun and humble. A great inspiration for all of us!

Please let me know if you have anyone that you would like to put in spotlight! Someone who inspired you to be a better person.

Looking forward to hear from you and in the meantime,

Be Active! Be Involved! Be a Current Woman!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Legend of Panama Canal, Part One

Hello my dear readers! 

It's been a while and I hope that all is well in your world! Today I would like to share with you an international success story, a story of determination, passion, vision, fight and self-assurance. Here it is! 

Image credit
As some of the most interesting things in life, this one happened by chance. I met Ima Ortega (hopefully my future collaborator) at the Women’s Business Conference and we hit it off. We discovered few things in common and after a short conversation and a meeting after, we’ve decided to work on a piece together.

Ima comes from Panama and offered me to interview one of her childhood friends – Ilya Espino de Marotta. It might not sound exciting but this friend is a fascinating woman, she holds a post of Executive VP for Engineering and Programs Management on the new project with Panama Canal. Of course I jumped on the opportunity! And so without any further delay I give you “The Legend of Panama Canal”.

It was a sunny day in late April and Ima and I were patiently waiting by my laptop to connect to Ilya via Skype. Ima’s excitement about upcoming “visit” with her friend passed on to me and I felt uplifted to about to interview a first woman in management in the 100-year history of Panama Canal. At last Skype worked and here appeared a beautiful, confident, passionate and driven woman.  She was ready to answer questions and I was ready to ask them.

Image credit
OD: Many words have been said, many songs have been sung. And after all the whirlwind of accomplishments I’d like to get to know Ilya “unplugged”, “unplugged” from your VP position; Ilya as a woman in a man’s world; Ilya as a wife and mother; and Ilya as a human being.  How about we start with your family background?

IEM: Sure Olga. I grew up in the wonderful family environment. My Dad is a well-respected Doctor and my Mom is a Speech Therapist. I was born in Mexico and eventually my family moved back to Panama. I was always an “A” student, was involved in sports, marching band and many other activities. So life was always busy and never boring. I loved travelling and taking photographs. Photos are my passion!

When the time came to make a decision about post-secondary education, I had no doubt in my mind that I would like to study in US. My parents however were not that crazy about the idea and tried to bribe me with BMW to stay in Panama. But it did not work! Sense of adventure was calling my name! So with my scholarship at hand, I was bound for Taxes. 

My degree in Marine Engineering arrived early and since it did not seem enough, I returned to Panama and enrolled in Master’s program in Economic Engineering. Although I had to travel 1.5 hours each way to reach school it was a lot of fun and I even had a chance to continue with my passion of photography. Working with university newspaper allowed me to fulfill my desire to see the student life around me through the lens of the camera. 

OD: Ilya, why did you choose Marine Engineer Degree as your first step of post-secondary education?

IEM: Well, it almost did not happen since my parents were trying to convince me to get a degree in a more “in demand profession”, degree that will assure future job security. But my passion for ocean, desire to make my own way and my sense of “I know what I am doing” took me in the direction we discussed earlier. I do not regret one thing and have a lot to show for the choice I made.  And my parents are very proud of me. After all I come from a line of family predecessors that held positions of 1st Prime Minister, ministers and politicians.

OD: It sounds like your family can add another accomplishment to their “wall of fame”. So, tell me
about the early days at the Canal. I am sure at the time it was a tough going since this was the man’s world.

Image credit
IEM: I started in the shipyard of the Canal in 1985 and yes this was the man’s game. There were only two girls in the shipyard. But this is exactly what attracted me – a dream job in the man’s world! I like challenges and there were always plenty. Dealing with people is more difficult than any technical challenge. It took a little time for the “boys” to accept me but with mutual respect and understanding it was soon clear to them that I am here to stay. And I got to be known as a “Powerhouse Ilya” due to the level of my desire to learn, engage and grow.

It did not take long for me to get involved in the work with the Canal and eventually the group of 80 people that were travelling around the country to get votes for the expansion project of the Canal. This was very exciting time! The vision of expansion had so much potential and endless opportunities for the country and me. And as a proud Panamanian I was not going to miss this!

Thus began my years of experience in different professional positions and climb up the corporate ladder. While in the position of Design Engineer I had to learn “how to sit”, with Mechanical Engineer came a task of learning “how to walk”, then Valuation Engineer position provided me with more “schooling”, and of course Capital Program Coordinator job offered an opportunity to be part of the Master Plan and be a Public Translator. 20 years and counting! This is my fourth baby!

OD: Incredible! You’ve already accomplished tremendous success with the project and somehow were able to fit a marriage and three children into your world. As a professional woman and single mom I know it’s not easy to manage all that you want to accomplish. How do you deal with this?

IEM: It was fun but not easy of course! I am very fortunate since I have a husband and children that understand my drive and support me in every way possible. We have a tight knit family and constantly cheer for one another accomplishments.

It does get challenging at times since my husband likes planning and controlled environment and I am not a planner at all. But we made it work! Love conquers all!

Image credit
And of course I was very fortunate while my kids were little; for 19 years we were able to have a live-in nanny/housekeeper. It would have been impossible for us to raise children on our own. Our jobs required quite a lot of travel and we could not pull our kids out of school and drag them with us. I am not afraid to admit that I cannot do it all on my own! We all need some help once in a while and in the process it helps all.

OD: Oh yes, I can relate! It took me a while to learn to ask for help. But when I did, so much more got accomplished. Now, since I’d like my readers to get to know your “unplugged life”, do you mind sharing a little bit more about your family life?

IEM: Not at all! I am very proud of my family! I have a wonderful husband of 26 years and three
beautiful children. We have 5 children between us; two are from my husband’s first marriage. Our children are all grown up and study in US.  I have two boys and a girl and all of them are quite accomplished in their own way. My husband and I are also 6 times grandparents.We love getting our large family together at our beach house: have visits, discussions, delicious meals and a lot of fun. Dinners are sacred for our family! After all, the family is where you go after a long and challenging day at work. And they welcome you with open arms no matter what!

Well, what do you think so far? There is more to this exciting story and you can come back tomorrow to read the conclusion.

And of course in the meantime,

Be Active! Be Involved! Be a Current Woman!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Business of Tease Part Two

Hello my friends,

Yes, today is the day when we continue a conversation with the tease master herself, Sheena Brady. Buckle up, here come the juicy parts....

OD: I could not agree more and am a huge supporter of passionate people whose idea I see fit my beliefs. Your passion shines through in your products. I love the names that you give to your blends! Could you tell me how you come up with these names?
Image credit

SB: As a business owner you are in constant competition. It is extremely important to differentiate your business and your products. I focus on the fact that my company offers a modern take on tea and it is reflected in the type of blends and names we give them. Each tea has its own identity and personality. As a girly girl I always loved the idea of clever names given to nail polish lines; this is somewhat similar. Each tea has a purpose and appropriate name - if you look at our on-line store it offers a choice of teas for your every desire or mood. A great example is Chai Love You – a combination of rose petals, lavender and dark chocolate. What can be more romantic?

OD: LOVE IT! It is definitely different! My understanding is that you blend teas yourself. Where do you get the ingredients?

SB: At this time I deal with tea brokers. As much as I would love to deal directly with the gardens, it is tough for a small business like mine. I am very selective and deal only with brokers who offer ethical tea partnership certification and organic certification and accreditation of sustainable resources. It is important to me that the tea I offer has been grown and harvested without a negative impact on the environment or workers.

OD: And that is why you are one of my guests. I am a strong believer in sustainable living as well. It is not as complex or scary as some might think. So, you conquered NYC, what’s next for TeaseTea?

Image credit Sheena Brady
SB: Great question and not necessarily easy to answer. Our NYC pop-up store just closed after 6 months but we are opening a second location in April or May. It was a risky move but paid off greatly for brand recognition. The main goal is to establish TeaseTea as a “go-to-on-line-tea-store” worldwide. It’s a big goal that requires few steps. At this time I would like to have more presence in Ottawa. It is rather funny that all of the products are blended and packaged in Ottawa but there is no representation. I am working on it and been very fortunate to have access to media outlets here in Ottawa such as local newspapers, TV and radio programs.

Image credit Sheena Brady
OD: Understanding your passion for women’s issues, what does your company do to support causes and organizations?

SB: Celebrating women’s achievements are the pillar of my company. We try to help in any way we can. In September 2015 we started the ChariTEA project. The idea behind this initiative is to choose a women’s organization on a monthly basis and support them in any way we can. It can be swag for the gift bags, or gifts for an auction, or a donation of part of the sales proceeds. Giving back is very important to me!

OD: As a successful business woman could you provide us with some words of inspiration?

Image credit
SB: Absolutely! There are plenty of passionate women with great ideas but there is always that fear of failure. So here are two main aspects to consider: 
1. Go ahead and start your business. Yes it is hardest thing to do but when you take the first step, your passion will drive you! It will all come together when you have a desire and belief!
2. Don't worry about the problems until they happen! This might sound rather irresponsible but it is true. Most of the successful ideas were driven by passion and not fear of what if it does not work. My NYC store did not make business sense on paper but it was a huge success for the the brand! I say better ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. People get stuck on problems and it is the biggest roadblock for most.      
OD: Thank you so much for sharing your life experiences, all of the fascinating facts about tea and messages of inspiration. There is just one more question, your red lipstick? On few occasions that I’ve met you and few photos I've seen, it is permanently on display. Is it your trademark?
Image credit

SB: Hahaha! Thank you for noticing! I love lipstick and tend to have several tubes at a time in my purse. Although it might not be the trademark, it has a big presence in the brand. Each package that goes out has a pink lipstick imprint. It’s about details and leaving your mark. This is mine!

OD: Sheena, it was a pleasure to get to know you and your business better. I look forward to possible future collaborations.

Well, here you have it! You just have had a little bit of a tease of being driven by passion and the wonderful world of tea. It is amazing how life changes direction at times and takes you to places you might never thought you find yourself in!

Please visit TeaseTea and support this wonderful young lady and her business. There are more great things to come for Sheena and TeaseTea!

I would also love to hear from you with suggestions of women and women business owners that can be featured in March Current Inspiration. In the meantime....

Be Active! Be Involved! Be a Current Woman!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Business of Tease Part One

Hello my dear friends,

Image credit
Today is the second day of the March and I am starting a feature “Current Inspiration” in honor of International Women's Day on March 8th. This feature will introduce you to a few fascinating women that despite life diversities came out on top! They are a true inspiration and most certainly fit the mold of a Current Woman!

I am especially excited about this post and not just because this is the first one but also due to my love of tea. Yes, as some of you know my day will not go right if there is no tea in it!  So, it is my pleasure to introduce you to a wonderful young entrepreneur from Ottawa, Sheena Brady, the owner and founder of TeaseTea.

This talented young lady caught my attention during one of the episodes of Daytime on Rogers TV and it immediately teased my interest.  Our first encounter however did not take place until December of 2015, during a final episode of Daytime with Derick
Image credit Olga Dewar
as a host. I was once again teased by the idea of getting better acquainted with this young lady and her business. And considering my tea passion this had to happen NOW! So we exchanged contact info and agreed to talk.

A few months went by, our busy schedules settled and we had a chance to chat. It was a very exciting experience and I discovered that we actually have quite a few things in common. So, without any further delay, here is the interview with Sheena Brady.

OD: Sheena, it is such a pleasure to finally connect with you! I hope to learn more about you and your wonderful business and share it with my readers and everyone I know. To set the tone of our conversation I would like you to tell me a little about yourself, something that has not been written already. Tell me a little about your family background and upbringing.
Image credit

SB: Olga, thank you for arranging this interview. I am very excited to talk about my passion, TeaseTea and how it all came together. But as per your request, let’s start from the beginning!

I was born in Ottawa, Ontario and raised in a single parent household. Due to the family dynamic, I have lived all over Ontario and by the time I was eighteen I had attended three different High Schools. Some might think that this type of environment would guarantee a troubled youth, but I will let people decide on this one… I think I turned out just fine!

OD: That’s very interesting Sheena. I see your upbringing as a character builder and now it explains a few things about you. I recently read an article in The Ottawa Citizen about the success stories of the graduates of Hospitality Management Hotel and Restaurant program at Algonquin College.  What brought you to this particular program?

Image credit
SB: Funny you ask. This was not the original plan. Graduating from high school at an early age of 17, I already knew that I had an entrepreneurial spirit. The only reasonable next step was to learn about running a business and head off to College. I decided to join the ranks of students at Algonquin College and Major in Business Administration. Unfortunately, after one year I felt out of place and somewhat lost; I decided to leave the program in search of what I felt was missing.
I wasn’t sure what to do next other than get a job while I was figuring things out. Restaurant work was something I’ve been exposed to since I was 15 and was the most logical choice. I did not regret it as I really enjoyed working with people and the industry itself. It paid off! After few months, seeing my passionate approach to the work, one very influential figure in my life offered a lifetime opportunity for a 19 year old. It was a six-month position as a bartender at a brand new resort in Turks and Caicos to teach locals the ways of North American
Image credit
hospitality. However, after just two months, the General Manager had left and I was offered that position! A little fearful as I lacked experience I did not lack enthusiasm and the best way to learn is by going in headfirst. So, I decided take on the challenge. This is when it was suggested to me that I should look into the Hospitality program at Algonquin College. I did just that and the program opened many doors for me and my future.

OD: Very interesting since I am a graduate of Algonquin College Business Administration program with major in Marketing. So I understand the impact college programs make on your future development.  Now, I believe we had enough teasers for the readers, let’s talk about the birth of your passion for tea.

Image credit
SB: With pleasure! After graduating, I was very fortunate to end up in New York City. What started as a graduation trip turned into a longer stay including a job offer in the industry that had been so good to me in the past. It was an incredible time in my life with exposure to BIG NYC culture of high-end dining and hospitality. That experience took me to the West coast of the USA to the sunny state of California in beautiful San Francisco. During this time, my love for wine helped me obtain the prestigious status of wine sommelier.  In turn, this accolade brought me back to Canada to join a very exciting and prestigious program at the Shangri-La hotel in Toronto. Although I would not be joining their team as a wine sommelier, I was offered an opportunity to explore the world of tea and introduce tea, its ceremonies and its service to staff and guests.

Image credit
My first reaction was a bit fearful, as I knew nothing about tea or how to gain a better understanding. However, after further investigation I discovered how much there is to learn about tea and how much similarity there is between the world of wine and the world of tea. Did you know that no matter what type of tea it is, black, green or white, it all comes from the same leaf and the difference is climate, soil and harvesting method? And so I discovered my new passion! Next came my 8-month journey with the Tea Association of Canada to become a certified Tea Sommelier. This is when I also discovered how underrated this beverage is in the North American hospitality industry since tea is considered to be a respected gesture of hospitality around the world.

OD: Amazing how one passion can lead to understanding another! So what about the birth of your business? How did you come up with idea of your own teas?

SB: While at Shangri-La I developed a real love for tea and as a creative person started experimenting with my own tea blends. This helped me gain a better understanding of tea culture and offer more education to staff and guests. It was a huge success experimenting on my family and friends in late 2013. Having this passion become so overwhelming affirmed my belief that I needed to part ways with the Shangri-La hotel and begin a new journey starting my own tea boutique appreciating everything the hotel had done for me.
Image credit

In early 2014 my tea business was growing so I decided to come back to my hometown of Ottawa and give this company very serious consideration as a full time business. It was not a small endeavor and some people were questioning my decision. But when you are so passionate about something and believe in the idea very strongly, it would be a shame not to give it all you have.....

To be continued.....

So? What do you think? Has this part got you even more curious? I hope so, since there is more to Sheena and TeaseTea and you can come back tomorrow to continue learning.

In the meantime, keep up the great job of being you and staying healthy and happy! And...

Be Active! Be Involved! Be a Current Woman!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Are You Still Breathing?

Hello my dear friends,

How are you doing so far? Have you survived the first week of 2016? Are you still breathing? Is my question a little surprising? Really?

Well okay, let me explain. Two big celebrations of 2015 are under the belt (Russia is just getting to the second one, Old New Year on January 13th). And with those two "big ones" come with a lot of responsibilities. Here is the short list:

Image credit
- Planning of what to cook
- Planning of where to eat
- Planning of who to invite
- Planning of who to visit
- Planning of what to give as presents
- Planning of what to wear
- Shopping for food to cook
- Shopping for decorations and dinning accessories
- Shopping for something nice to wear
- Shopping for presents
- Decorating
- Wrapping the presents
Image credit
- Cooking
- Eating
- Visiting    
- Opening presents
- Dressing up
- Undressing
- Making resolutions and setting goals
- Cleaning up

Phew! I am tired just looking at this short list. And then comes the week after, when you are expected to pick up and get back to reality or "normal" life (whatever your view is) with new resolutions and goals to achieve. Are you still breathing?

Holidays could be stressful, tiring and overwhelming and it takes time to recover. And when the new year starts, most of us are expecting the new beginning, fresh start, new or better you. The enthusiasm is the highest in the first week. And some of us do not make it past the first week with our new commitments. Are you still breathing?

I hope you are since I want the best for you. So, here are few points for you to consider:

Image credit
1. Take it easy with goal and resolution accomplishments early in the year. The year is just getting started and so are you. You need a week or two of getting used to routine again.
2. Make adjustments to your resolutions and goals as required. We all want to be the champions of our commitments. But we also have to be smart about the way of accomplishing them.
3. Do not give up!!! Even if things are not going as planned, do not give up! See point 1 and point 2.

So, are you back to your normal breathing? Perfect! Keep at it and remember, you have a whole year ahead of you!

That is all I wanted to discuss today. Just a little boost to your ego and you after a first week in a new reality. Did I forget something else? Oh yes, here are few more additions to our original list above. With all the business of the two "big ones", we often forget what the holidyas are all about. Here is a little reminder :

- Spending time with the family
- Having good time
- Enjoying the company you visit or who visits you
- Sharing special moments
- Resting

So focus more on these! Now, I am done! Hope this will be a little pick up for the second week of your new year. Keep up the great work and remember,

Be Active! Be Involved! Be a Current Woman!