Staff Spotlight: Sandra Altner, CEO and Leader of the Pack

How have you seen the objectives and needs of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba change over the years? Where do you see it going?
When the Centre was established in 1994, the primary focus was to encourage women in entrepreneurial pursuits and help close the gap in the availability of start-up financing for women-owned businesses. In the past 10 years there has been an evolution in our services to meet the similarly evolving needs of our clients. I’ve been with the organization for 7½ years and we have moved very deliberately to provide supports to growing and expanding businesses as well as start-ups. We have been able to do this through our staffing choices where we look for entrepreneurial experience as well as business education; and through the development of innovative programs and curriculum.

We are also more focused on the creation of enterprises as assets rather than jobs for owners. For women to have a real impact on the economy, we see the need to emphasize strategic thinking around growth potential. The gap we are hoping to fill now, and at least for the next few years, is in growing businesses and enabling women to increase their markets and access more advanced funding opportunities. We will be providing new learning and supports in leadership development, increased financial acumen and higher levels of mentorship.  At the same time, we will never stop planting seeds and working with women who are choosing self-employment as an option.  We want to be of help at every stage of a woman’s business journey.

What are the unique challenges of being the CEO of a non-profit organization?
The budget is never as big as the ideas we have to carry out our objectives! We are however very fortunate to have core and loan funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada. To supplement this, we are always developing projects and fee-for service opportunities that help support our efforts. Luckily, we also have dedicated staff who are truly motivated by the work and who feel rewarded by the successes of our clients. It would be really hard to run an organization like this without that solid foundation.

What is the most valuable lesson you took away from owning  a women’s clothing boutique and a management consulting firm?
I think I’m the poster girl for someone who has learned mostly through the mistakes she’s made! I’d say that the most important lesson that has come out of my past work is that leading an organization like ours is having a collective vision of where we want to go and how to get there; then mostly it’s getting out of the way of the truly talented people who are working to achieve that vision. It’s being careful not to micro-manage, although I have to say for me it’s a work in progress!

In your opinion, what is one thing that will never change in business
Whether for-profit, public or non-profit, product or service, business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the one essential element in business is ensuring your customer/client is always at the centre of your sights. If you aren’t delivering what your client/customer/stakeholder needs and wants in an attractive value package with consistent service and follow through, don’t bother leaving the breakfast table.

Our last Staff Spotlight, Nancy, asks: What is one of your goals for 2015?
My major business goal for 2015 is to ensure that the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba continues to be an exciting and satisfying place to work and learn for our staff because they are the ones who mentor, inspire, advise, and support our clients and help them reach for and achieve success.

What should we ask our next Staff Spotlight?
What do you think is your most valuable contribution to the work done by the Women’s Enterprise Centre?