David Noël-Romas: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based right here in Manitoba. I’m David Noël-Romas.
Today’s interview features a woman who took over her father’s international business and grew it ten times. They operate in a very unique niche, and we dig into the details of their product and approach.
Now, normally at this point I insert a little reminder to tell your friends about the show–and you should! The website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com. But for the next several episodes, I want to try something different. If you enjoy the show, and also if you don’t, send me a text message! My phone number is 204 400 4255. I want to know what you think of the show, and how I could make it better. Once again, the phone number is 204 400 4255.
Alright, now let’s get started. Here is Fiona Webster-Mourant.
[to Fiona] Fiona, thank you so much for taking your time.
Fiona: Thanks for having me.
David: Can we start by having you tell us who you are and what you do.
Fiona: Fiona Webster-Mourant, I’m president and CEO of Manrex Limited. Manrex is a family business started back in 1973 by my father and my brother and I bought it together back in 1991.
David: Wow, and so what does Manrex do?
Fiona: We are all about medication error prevention. The company started with bubble packs. We’re not typically known to the general public because we deal with pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals, that sort of thing. So the general public doesn’t typically know who we are and if you can imagine back in the ’70s they would in a nursing home if you’ve got 100 patients and they’re each getting you know 6 or 7 drugs, you’ve got 7 or 700 vials that the nurses have to open and close 4 times a day, you have to, you know, 2400, 30, whatever amount of drugs they have, it’s a lot of opening and closing of files.
Fiona: So there’s a lot of room for error, repetitive strain injuries, all that kind of thing.
Fiona: Our father had the concept of putting the pills into these bubble packs just like you see gum in bubble packs now. It’s a common place, but back in the ’70s it wasn’t.
Fiona: So he created this concept and presented it to his employer at the time who is National Drugs which is now on the Melkersson wholesale. He was there and Canadian national sales manager. He said, “If you have to do this, we’re gonna do this,” and they said, “No, no, it’s a stupid idea, they’ll never fly.” And so he really believed in it so well and started his own business.
Fiona: When the company started, we had trouble getting pharmacists to buy into the concept because of course for them it’s more work right, at the time they were just counting pills putting them in a vase, snapping the lid on and sending it over to the nursing home and really fast they had to fill it, label it, there was more work involved, but ultimately it was a more secure more efficient system ultimately for the patient that’s who’s receives the benefit because there’s less chance for error and that’s what our company is all about. So because we couldn’t get it going, we actually opened a pharmacy in the offices which is where our name came from, it was Manitoba RX..
David: Oh, wow. I see.
Fiona: So that is where the name came from. So we actually opened a pharmacy and started filling prescriptions from the nursing homes.
Fiona: And what started happening was that the nursing homes loved it and instead of having five or six or seven pharmacies service one nursing home because they were servicing their patients, all the seven, one pharmacy would now be the official provider for that nursing home. So it started to change the outlook of how nursing homes were serviced and then of course the pharmacist started realizing, “Hey, this is a good way to gain business for my particular pharmacy so they started servicing them, they were using our systems.
Fiona: At that’s when we stood back and said, “Well, we need to remove ourselves from the actual service provision and just the…
David: Right, like you never set out to be a pharmacist or…
Fiona: No, no, so we moved into the packaging division…
Fiona: So that’s where we started.
David: Okay, very cool. There’s a lot of questions that come to mind from there, but I think one of the ones that I just want to get clear from the get go is what’s your revenue model now. Who are you selling to specifically?
Fiona: It’s ultimately still the same people that we’ve been selling to for the last almost 45 years. We have changed slightly because originally when our father owned the company he was focused on nursing homes.
Fiona: So our customers at the time were pharmacists, but they weren’t the end user. The end user was the nurse.
Fiona: So those were our true customers, if you will. Now, we’ve moved in, when my brother and I bought the company, we looked at how we would expand and we still stayed within our product model if you will, but we moved into compliance packaging. So now you’ll see the Monday to Sunday breakfast lunch supper cards, and again, you will see our name because we custom brand for the pharmacies and you will see their name on it. So now we have the general public as our end consumer, but again, we don’t sell to them, we sell to the pharmacies. So we’re still always selling to pharmacies whether it’s retail, hospital, pharmacies, nursing homes, we sell a myriad of other products and so when we bring a new product line into our group it’s something that usually typically fits to that end user.
David: Okay. And so you mentioned there’s also extra cost compared to sort of the standard pill bottle that cost as in also like goes down to the consumer, or how is that extra cost?
Fiona: That really depends on in depending on whether you’re talking of nursing homes or compliance packages for elderly in the community.
Fiona: In nursing homes, in every province is different. Some in B.C. years ago, they started with they got capitation, they got so much dollars per every nursing home bed they service, so the government said, “We’re gonna pay you this much per bed to service a nursing home,” and they had to do a number of things as part of that, they had to provide the most bubble cards and medication administration records in a med cart and all that sort of stuff for their fee. So it depended on in each province was slightly different, how they managed it. From the consumer point of view, when you’re talking about elderly in the community, it really depends on the pharmacies. Some pharmacies use it as a loss leader to get people into their store.
Fiona: Some of the bigger stores some of them charge a fee for it. We believe they should be charging. It is a service that they’re providing. You’re starting to see that pharmacy mall now change where pharmacists are doing, you know, you see them doing fluid shots and consulting, and they’re using more of their skill sets as opposed to just counting and putting things. So they are doing more work for that. So they need to look at how they’re compensated for it. So it really depends on whether it’s an independent, small independent store, if it’s a large chain store, they have different, they have their own revenue model of how they how they would…
Fiona: Recoup those costs.
David: So your dad had the concept for the bubble packaging, is that more widespread? Are you guys still the ones who make it for everybody or are there other competitors down the space?
Fiona: Yeah, it’s actually changing when you talk about. Again, there’s various markets long term care would be nursing homes, acute care as hospitals and we call community care of compliance people staying in their homes. And the nursing home space has changed quite a bit over the last 40 years. And certainly, we were the leader in that field, and there have been competitors that have come along the way as well, done the same things as we have, but now in the last probably 15 years, I’m sort of off the top of my head, I think it’s probably about 15 years we see more automation coming in. So that type of system in nursing homes has changed over the years. So that’s more of a mature market.
Fiona: The bubble pack concept it’s more of a mature market and we’re seeing a lot more automation with Punch packs and things like that are seen on this industry.
David: I see, interesting.
Fiona: Although, just to throw in a wrench to that, there’s now automation coming out of it. Right now, they come in these little punch packs where you rip them out, like you get a whole packet of sugar in, yeah, same sort of little punch but it’ll have, you know, if you’re on Webstar-Manrex with my drugs listed in my breakfast and all that. Now, they’re starting to find automation that will actually fill the blister cards again.
Fiona: So we could still see a resurgence of blister cards for nursing homes again because that system is actually very good for the nurses to use, it’s more work for pharmacy to fill, but it’s in the ultimate meander, it’s probably a more efficient system, and more, you know, helps reduce errors more so. They could be based on this new technology coming out. They might see a bit of a resurgence of that.
David: Interesting. And are you servicing like nursing homes and hospitals and patients at home like across North America or is it your geographically generally you’re servicing?
Fiona: Yeah. Well, we don’t actually service, again just to clarify. We don’t actually service, but we sell all across Canada and we sell overseas internationally. We have Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Australia. We do a little bit in the States, we don’t haven’t typically focused on the United States because they… it’s a much bigger market, it’s very price competitive. So to go into the states, you really need something unique and different. So we’ve gone into the states with certain product lines, but not so much the bubble packing because they’ve been doing it for the same amount of time. It’s been happening in Canada.
David: Right, okay.
Fiona: It’s that real. It’s become a commodity there, so now we focus on…
David: Right, right, okay. So I assume the sort of sector was emerging at the same time in a couple of different places?
Fiona: Yes, yeah, yeah.
David: Right, I see. Okay. Now, in terms of you and your brother taking over, what does that kind of reflect? Well, first of all, what was it like growing up with your dad building this business? I imagine that it was uphill at certain point, so do you sort of have some memories of that sort of the…?
Fiona: I know my dad was a pharmacist, my dad apprentices as a chemist and he’s from Scotland originally.
Fiona: And he apprenticed as a chemist and when he came over to Canada, they didn’t recognize his credentials.
Fiona: So he still stayed in the pharmacy industry, he worked at the drug wholesale and moved into this sort of thing. So he was in that, and my mother was a nurse. Of course, at the time when you got married and had kids, the mom stayed home with the kids, so when my dad started the business my mum sort of said, “Well, I support you, but I’m gonna go back and take my professional course because one of us has to make some money,” so she actually went back did a refreshment course and brought her nursing requirements back up to speech, got the highest mark in her class at the time. So that was sort of always the running joke, one of us has to work in case this thing doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t fails. I remember also talking to one of my girlfriends who died, she was all excited because her dad was in Toronto. I guess I was probably 10 or 11 at the time, something her dad was in Toronto and she was and I said, “I don’t know where my dad is this week.” He was just gone, he was always traveling, and he was home for weekends some times, but he was out establishing the business. He was a go-getter, but it was all good. I mean, my brother and I get along really well, so people have commented that it’s not a normal sibling relationship, but we do get along really well. So we have completely different personalities and different areas of interest, so from a business point of view it works well because we’re not typically always treading on each other’s toes. And then we have a management team that we’ll sit down with if we wanna have a plan for going forward and we don’t agree on something, we can go to them and sort of balance ideas off them and get their feedback to help make sure we’re, you know, which way do we go.
David: By the time you guys, you and your brother bought the business from your dad, had you already been working in it for a bit or…?
Fiona: I had, my brother hadn’t.
Fiona: John had moved, he was following sort of my dad’s footsteps, he was working for Aires and selling pharmaceuticals. He was a pharmaceutical rep for them, moved up. He was promoted to their head office and was doing product management for them, and we started seeing the automation trend happening, and I phoned him and said, “You know, I think this is something that’s interesting that you should come back and be a part of.” And so, we chatted and he came back and we ended up buying a business together and looking at how we could grow it and how we could change it.
David: And so then what did that strategy look like, I mean, like automation generally, but specifically what kind of changes were you planning to make when you took over?
Fiona: Well, we just knew that we had to get, you know, it was basically having all your eggs in one basket. We were focused on, at the time the company was focused on long-term care and nursing homes and all the related products that went with that, but we thought we have to move out of that. Staying within the same medication error prevention portfolio, but we could see what was happening with the market with regard to automation, so we don’t…we look at. I was talking about sort of rivers of cash, if you will. You have to look at how the money is coming into your company, and our nursing home business was a long term business, but it was also reaching its maturity. You could see that the market was gonna change and we could see automation coming so we were looking at how we could change that. So when we looked at rivers of cash, we have sort of our own proprietary products that we sell here, we take that same concept and we sell those globally to different distributors. We have distributors around the world that are very similar companies to us that we find that deal in our space. We work with them, they become a distributor for a specific area and then they represent our products over there and then our other sort of stream if you will is representing other people’s products in Canada, and it’s really nice because when we see a new technology and that’s my brother’s strength, he can see where the market’s going, he’s really good at developing that.
Fiona: So he’ll bring an idea forward and then we’ll say we can then approach those people and say here’s what we’ve been doing for the last 45 years, we can roll it out. We can, because we have the contacts with our pharmacies, our hospitals, and our nursing homes, we can show these people what this new product is very quickly because we don’t have to develop the market, we’ve got it developed and we can bring new products to the marketplace. So we’re always looking at what’s coming, what’s happening, how’s the market changing, what else and I think we’re known. Manrex is known for being innovative, it doesn’t have to be our product, but we know where the innovation of what’s happening in the marketplace, and I think a lot of people recognize that and so will speak to us when we have new products. It’s not like they’re trying to cold call and get in the door for the first time.
David: It is a sought of trust your insight into what’s coming?
Fiona: Exactly, yeah.
David: Interesting. In terms of the product line, is that…it sounds like there’s at least some of it that you’re manufacturing yourself and other pieces that you’re buying wholesale and reselling, is that kind of…?
Fiona: Well, yeah, it depends really on the product line. We are proprietary products like our cards and blisters. We manufacture those, so we have our own machine that does the printing of the cards, we manufacture the bubbles. A lot of the component pieces like we have a… when we talk about nursing homes, we had a whole system so that the nurse would take her pharma file with all the cards and they’d be sorted by, you know, if she was going to go down one side of the hall and back up the other, so we had a whole system of how to make it easier for the nurse. And there was a, what we call, pharma photo device that had pictures of the residents on them, so as they came to it, they could make sure verify they have the right patients. So it was all about checks and balances. So all of those little components, we don’t necessarily manufacture all those there. They’re custom made to our specifications and typically we deal with local suppliers here in Manitoba that we do printing of our forms or labels or our plastic, we have a lot of plastic things made. So those kinds of items are made locally for us custom, you had some of them patented back in the day in the past it’s only last 20 years we’ve been here, 45. So some of them are gone, but so yes, our proprietary products we have made. Some of them, we have some electronic crushing devices for crushing pills and in a lot of nursing homes some elderly people can’t swallow medications they have dysphasia or whatever, so they have to get their medications crushed. So we have an electronic crusher because with crushing there’s a lot of repetitive strain injury and things like that. That’s an electronic device that’s patented by us, but we don’t have the capability in-house to be doing all the electronics, so that’s made locally.
David: I see, interesting.
Fiona: And then the products that we bring in are large automated pieces of equipment that are in the several hundred thousand dollar range all the way up to millions. We obviously don’t make that, that’s not our specialty, but we understand it. We know how to…we service them a lot of times, we have a service team that will service those products depending on what it is. So that’s sort of our differentiator we have our proprietary products and a lot of those we make, and if we don’t make, they’re made typically locally.
Fiona: And our medication carts, we assemble here, so we get them made locally again, so it’s … you see them in hospitals with pushing them up and down the hall, that sort of thing. Again, we will assemble it here based on what the customer needs so depending on the drawer configuration or whatever, but we have the pieces are all manufactured locally, but we do assemble here in the warehouse.
David: I see, interesting. And so, with some product like the electronic pill crusher, where is the R&D for that, is that all being developed here as well outside?
Fiona: Yeah, a lot of our products come from listening to our customers. Again, we might not always have the expertise to develop that but we have the knowledge of what we wanna develop so taking that one as an example because there’s a lot of electronics. That’s not our sphere of expertise, so we listen to customers, they talk about repetitive strain injuries, those kinds of things that they’re dealing with when they have to crush medications, and we took that away and said, “Well, how do we solve that?” And we worked with different people to develop that, and there was a fellow that that we worked with, he was the one that created it, we worked together and then had it produced.
David: Perfect. So now in terms of actually getting your product to market. I assume that there’s sort of a team of sales people that run around and talk to nursing homes and things like that, are those sales people that are on staff? For you, is that part of those distributors that you talked about or how does the sort of sales and marketing end of this work with you selling to nursing homes and hospitals and whatnot?
Fiona: Well, we consider kind of our area, if you will, and internationally or other areas are handling it differently. So when we talk about Ireland or France or we have a distributor there, so I don’t want to be trying to collect receivables all over France, right?
Fiona: So I sell to one distributor, they would have the same kind of knowledge that we have, not specifically about our products, but about our industry and who we work with. So we would sell to them, we would support them we would work with them and they would have their own either sales force or their own just some distributors or what. However, they might choose to handle it in their country or in their area that they have the exclusive for. In Canada, however, we do have our own sales force, so where you work we have people across the country, we’ve got people who are back in Ontario and here out west. So it’s also slightly different, it has changed over the years because people are very busy, they don’t want people cold calling and showing up there. The pharmacies are all busy, they have a lot of, you know, they’re very rushed in there. So they don’t have time really to, like, the olden days when you could take people for lunch and do that kind of thing. So I think that’s where our knowledge and our expertise comes in handy, because when we do call or when we make an appointment, they are interested to hear what we have to say, but a lot of our…a lot of the… you know, they’re not out driving around calling on, it’s setting up appointments, talking to people, seeing if there’s a need. And so we don’t need hundreds and hundreds of sales people to manage the sales and marketing aspect of it.
David: In terms of the time that after you guys took over in 1991, was it that you said?
Fiona: Yes, John and I took over in ’91.
David: You sort of had the plan for moving into different product lines and diversifying the business a little bit in terms of the target market as well. How did that work out? Was that… did you feel like that was sort of a successful transition?
Fiona: It was, it was. Actually, we grew the business to ten times the size from when we bought it. So it was good. We saw what was coming, I think and we… different thought patterns, the way people think differently bringing new blood to the, and that’s always sort of has to be, I think bringing new people, new ideas helps keep that momentum going sometimes, so it’s not, and businesses seem to have levels they move to certain levels plateau and move in plateau, and you always have to be thinking how you can move it forward and that’s where I think always having new blood coming in and new ideas coming in is helpful.
David: You talked earlier about sort of the management, what kind of management structure do you have, how many sort of people do you consider part of that team?
Fiona: There’s probably, as a small group, it’s probably really only about five of us that we would, you know, and again, we will sit down with like I think a lot of it too is listening on the customers. We really have to hear what they’re saying because that makes a difference. So we try to keep the structure flat, we don’t wanna, you know, a really tall structure we’ve got to go through all these layers of bureaucracy to get… we want it flat so that when somebody ordered to us one of the consultants there can talk to somebody and come right away and say, “Hey, I’ve heard this three or four times that this these people are not, you know, this is an issue for them, maybe we should look at that. We don’t wanna have to feed that through, it’s just and we tried to promote that input, providing input, whatever you hear provide it, whatever ideas you have provide it, because we might not act on all of it, but you never know there could be some jam in there that we need to be listening to, and if you hear it enough that’s where the customers are saying, “Oh, this is always a hassle for us. We’re always having to deal with that.” They might not be in our field, but we can also direct them to another potential supplier that can help them with that. And again, that just builds our relationship with that customer, we’re gonna be able to help them, you know, if it’s not in our field and we know of somebody that can do it, we’ll connect them and they pick connections for them. So it’s good to hear what’s going on and try to keep the information flowing in our organization, so we try to keep the structure really flat so that people feel comfortable going to bring the information forward and talk to either John or Aires’ owners.
David: Do you find that one of them is only interesting with business to business companies is sort of the split between the sales and marketing and how those little dollars gets spent. Do you find that there are ways of effectively marketing to your audience, are you really counting on that one to one salesperson relationship?
Fiona: No, in fact, we try to do a real mix and I think a lot of where we’re known is through a customer service team that’s dealing with that are already customers, and not everybody, not all of our customers are the same in that somebody might be buying a crusher in bags from us and somebody could be buying a full system, you know, we could be buying huge pieces of automation, so the customers have different offerings that they buy from us and so…
David: Very different levels of sophistications as well.
Fiona: Exactly, or they might not even… it’s nice they’re talking to somebody and they’re mentioned to the customer service team, and say, “Oh, well, did you know that we have X product or Y product,” and so then we do get a lot of that through customer service as well. So it’s a real team effort, I think, and I don’t think one approach is the best approach. I think it’s sort of we do need the sales and marketing team, sales team, we do need the customer service team and then the marketing aspect, you know, there’s trade shows and trade publications and trade magazines all that sort of, all those sort of things all fit together too, but we are seeing changes in that as well. But a lot of the trade shows, a lot of people aren’t attending anymore. So as businesses now you’re saying, “Well, is it really worth? Is that really where we should be focusing our dollars when we could be doing it in other areas strengthening the one to one or strengthening the mailings, and he even talked about electronic mailing and that was great for a while, but now people get so many emails. And it’s so easy to just go delete, get that out of your inbox, so looking again at the hard documents that come through the mail, they might look at it, they might sit on their desk for a while, they might not act on it, but those are things that don’t get thrown away quite as quickly sometimes as… so there is… it changes, it’s a constantly changing depending on what’s happening over the next year, a year or two. We sort of modify it, but I think it’s a culmination of all of that.
David: Well, there’s some of them were challenging changes that you guys have had to fix over the last 25 years.
Fiona: Oh gosh, you know, I’m sure we’ve definitely had lots, I don’t really hang on to them, I move on to the next. So when you ask me to think back and try to think of the issues, I try and maybe that’s my own way of moving forward, but I think right now one of the changes that’s happening in our industry is a lot of mergers and acquisitions and changes. When for example the business started, probably 80% of our customer base, like when Utah retail pharmacy was independent pharmacists. And now it sourced probably 80 independent 20% retail, and it’s probably almost completely flipped now. It can now be almost 80% chains and 20% independence. So that means that our customer base is shrinking in a way because you wouldn’t sell to, you know, you’d have to sell to a head office, so the one head office affects how many hundreds of hundreds of stores as opposed to calling on all those independents. Previously, you could build relationships with them, now it’s all head office says, “We’re buying this and this is what we’re doing,” so that’s the change in the marketplace that has shifted. So there’s still lots of pharmacies, but they’re either affiliated with a banner group or they’re part of a chain. So that’s in a way shrunk our customer base as to who we can deal with, so you have to think differently, which in a way, I think sometimes the consumer loses. They win in a way, but in a way they lose, because you will get that same sort of level that they would see at an independent or it’s a different kind of service. It’s not maybe same level, but different kind of service. There’s also sort of vertical integration of some of the big wholesalers are buying up competitors and including them in, and then they’re also buying up pharmacy chains now so that also starts to change the marketplace. So that dynamic is probably right now more than that’s what’s happening in our marketplace to do things…
David: Do you see they’re not filling into that and in a point in terms of mergers and acquisitions, is that something that’s even on the table for you guys or?
Fiona: I don’t know, I mean anything’s obviously. Yeah, I think in business you just have to always be open to what’s happening. And I think depending on the deal you’d always consider it, but at the same time we’ve been a successful independently running family business and we like being here in Manitoba, we like…it’s been… There is that tie I think emotionally, but it’s not to say you won’t consider other options.
David: Of course. In terms of being a family business, do you and John have kids, do you think of either your family or their family kind of picking on or something…
Fiona: Well, our two oldest, my oldest is just graduated from Thompson Rivers with a degree in outdoor and adventure tourism. So Tony did a degree in how to play. So he’s not a guy, so I can’t sit behind a desk, I can’t do those kinds of things so…
David: Well, it will need to be a very big and there was a lot of things that are attractive.
Fiona: And John’s oldest just graduated from education, she’s a teacher. Though she’s probably not that interested. Our two youngest, my youngest is graduating from Du Quebec with a business degree, December actually.
David: That sounds promising.
Fiona: And John’s is looking at political science right now, he’s finishing that off looking at going into that, so he might also be interested. We don’t know and we’ve sort of always said we want them to go out and work, get some experience, work for other people, see what it’s like to work for other people, know what kind of leader you want to be to, you’d learn from other people’s, how they run their business, what you like, what you don’t like, so that you can bring that back when you’d come back, if you’re interested in coming back. So they’re still pretty young. They’re one’s 21, one’s 23, 22, so they still have ways to go but there’s potential there.
David: Cool, well, that’s exciting. You mentioned wanting one of your kids to sort of go out and experience other things before potentially taking over the business, did you get the chance to do that before you bought this one?
Fiona: Well, my brother did, I didn’t. I was like the godfather, you leave he pulls you back in. I think that’s partly why we came to that conclusion that I think it’s good to go out and experience your own things, make your own choices, see what you like, what you don’t like, and then when you come back, you come back with some experience, and you know it’s not… you can’t just walk in and there’s people that have been working here that are committed, you have to earn their respect, you don’t get it. It’s not given to you. So that’s part of being out and having your own experiences and bringing knowledge and experience back to the company something that you can bring and help develop and that’s how you gain people’s respect, you have to be able to show them what you can contribute and that you’re, you know… So I think that’s important for them. And that’s sort of why we said that that’s I think it’s good to go out on your own and…
David: Interesting. You mentioned the emotional ties to Manitoba, what do you think have been sort of the pros and cons of building and running Manrex from here?
Fiona: Well, I mean, we certainly have, you know, you can always complain there’s always tax problems. There’s always the usual things you can complain about, but I mean relatively speaking, it’s a great city. And getting outside the business side of it just been a great city to raise kids in and you appreciate it when we travel a lot and you come home, it’s just a great place to come home to. We have so many things to offer here, and I think we’re our own worst enemies. We don’t promote our city, we don’t talk about it. We’re the ones that are shooting it down calling it winter Pagan, and talking about the mosquitoes all the time. And we bring people here from all over the world, and we have had a potential partner or a partner that we used to work with from Japan, they came in. We took them out of one of our sales reps lives out near Lake Bennett, Lake Winnipeg. In the winter, we organized ice fishing, they went ice fishing, and we had a big bonfire, they loved it. I mean, it was normal beer and they had so much fun here, and they talk about it fun being weird, they feel like come in they want to go up to Churchill, see the bears, and there’s just so many great things to do here. If you look at the positive side, you have to think of all the positive sides, but and the lake in the summer, you know, you take people out to see the lakes and it’s just that there’s lots of things to show people. That’s all I’m saying.
So when we bring people to the city, we’re proud to…our downside is that this is probably one of our worst markets in terms of customer base. So it’s frustrating for us sometimes because we’d love to, we bring them here to the city to see our head office and work with them, but then we have to take them to Vancouver or Wester whatever, so we don’t have as many showcase sites as we would like to have in Winnipeg and that’s always been a frustration on our part.
David: Yeah, I mean, feel free not to answer this, but why do you think that is?
Fiona: You know I really don’t know, I think we’re always looking for things outside, and I think it’s a general tendency. You know, things are better elsewhere, so we used to joke and say, “Well, we should fly out to try on phone and make an appointment and fly back in.” That’s not an easier, but it’s just in general, it’s not been one of our bigger problems aside. I don’t know that I can pinpoint you a lot of west, we did a lot and go back as well. And mindsets are different, you know, when you go back for example there, and this goes back a number of years, but they implemented a program where they would pay the pharmacist enough to fill a prescription, if it didn’t make sense. So they were paying them so… right now if you think about a pharmacist, they get their revenue from prescriptions, from generating prescriptions and filling them. Well, that’s not always in the best interest of the pharmacist, of the patient. Now, that’s not to say somebody’s gonna feel something that’s not good for them, but the doctor has written the prescription, but if the pharmacist can provide input and say, “Look, if you do this, if you change this or change this drug to this or do that,” they form the doctor back, they have that conversation and the doctor says, “Yeah, you’re right.” Because the pharmacists deal with pharmaceuticals on a regular basis, whereas the doctors…
David: They’re actually more up-to-date in terms of what they’re on…
Fiona: Exactly, and the doctors are briefed and they’re given information, they understand it, but they’re not as fully… they’re not dealing with it every day. So if the pharmacist can consult with the doctor and talk about it and be part of the health care team and say, “Well, if we don’t fill this and we change this or whatever the case might be,” the government was actually paying them the dispensing fee, they didn’t get the drug fee because they usually get a dispensing fee and then the cost of the drug reimbursement, but they were still getting the dispensing fees. So ultimately in the end from a point of view the government was more progressive, because they were saving money in drug costs. We have to be open to learning or thinking about new ways of doing things. It’s not always about trying to just cut… It’s how do you think about it in a more progressive way to find just still provide the services to the clients, but at a more economical efficient way of doing it. So that’s I think sometimes where you see other provinces, British Columbia was a leader and this is going back 30 years in the nursing home area where they were paying, their model of paying for service for nursing homes. So the provinces do differ in how they handle things. So I think it’d be nice if there could be more collaboration and sharing of ideas, and if something works for somebody why don’t we try to implement it or why don’t you.
David: Do you often find yourself, I mean, in terms of the people that you hire here, are they usually people that are from Manitoba or do you often have to bring people in from other provinces for the sort of proficiencies you’re looking for?
Fiona: No, a lot of people aren’t from Manitoba. We’ve had a lot of people that have immigrated to Canada, well, of course, you know we have had. And people that have, you know, a lot of them have been in Manitoba for years, but we have lots of languages because we have Portuguese, we have… and it just worked out we weren’t looking to hire people that spoke Portuguese and French and English, but because we were dealing in Portugal, guess what? Now, it helped us develop into that marketplace because we’re but those were people that have exposure to other languages, but most of the people that we hire are from Manitoba. Certainly, see Winnipeg or surrounding areas for sure.
David: Interesting. Who do you say are some of the business people that have influenced you the most in terms of your own sort of approach towards business?
Fiona: That’s a hard one. I don’t know if I can pinpoint, I seem to take snippets from everybody. You know, I approach things probably not the most positive way. I always assume that I can do better that it’s never quite good enough and so I’m always looking for watching and listening to people to see if there is a better way that I can do something. So I don’t know if I can pinpoint one specific person, I think there are lots of people that I have taken to bits from. I do have an advisory group that I belong to and those of that group, certainly, they keep you in check and call you out on things. And so that’s been really helpful. That’s been a big… that was a game changer for me, I think.
David: How did that come on to be, how did you put together or find an advisory group?
Fiona: Actually, I belong to Tech-it, it’s now from Vestige in Canada, I believe and I don’t know the number of Tech, it’s sort of it’s similar to these other groups like it, you know, why appeal those they all sort of have the same group, I think Vestige tech has been around for a long time, and basically the model is once a month we get together we have a speaker come in in the morning and then in the afternoon, you would sit with this group that’s all signed confidentiality agreements. None of us are competitors or are in competing industries, there are all different industries and like there’s individuals in the same situation that you are. And you find when you’re at the position that we’re in, you don’t necessarily always have somebody you can go to to share or ask questions, so these are people that you can, you know, you come with an issue in the afternoon and everybody talk about your issue and give you solutions or ideas to work on. Nobody can tell you what to do, which was, that’s it’s here’s feedback for you to make your own decisions as how do you move forward, and I was involved in that group for probably 15, 18 years, and then we sort of disbanded, and then some of us have gotten together and just stayed in touch and still do the same thing on our own
David: I see, very cool. So these are all other local business leaders?
Fiona: Business leaders, yes.
David: Very cool. Okay, one last question, and it’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this because some people don’t, but are there any books that you would recommend to listeners?
Fiona: Books, again, I have a whole bunch of books as you can see…
David: I see that.
Fiona: I love reading, I’ve read all of them. Right now, you know what? I don’t know if I have a specific one right now. I am reading right now Susan Thompson’s book, “Her Worship” and she’s a very inspiring person. She is…her perseverance is unrivaled. She’s very intelligent, and she is I think an inspiring role model for especially for young women.
Fiona: And it would be my hope that they can see that. She’s somebody that was in politics back in the ’90s, but I think there’s lots of messages that I think women have to support each other. And it’s a small example for me, but I was out at dinner, she was sitting at my table and I had my niece with me who just graduated as a teacher, and I was introducing her to Susan, and I and told her that she was our first and only female mayor in the time of our city, and she took the time to say, and it just comes to her so naturally, she said to my niece, “Do you know our prime minister is a teacher, and put the thought that you could be prime minister someday.” Now, I’m sure my niece does not have that ambition, maybe she does, I don’t know, but I think those kinds of things where somebody takes the time to just put the thought to say, “Hey, you can do whatever you put your mind to.” You follow your dreams and she’s really good about supporting and promoting our city, she is passionate about our city and all the things we do as well as young women.
So I think if there are more mentors like that around, I think for young girls, hopefully, that’s… so anyway, I’m enjoying her book right now and…
David: Without kidding, I know that’s good one. That’s actually, I mean, I add it to my verses here.
Fiona: It’s an interesting read. It certainly talks about all the challenges and what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing about the politics in Alberta right now, with the US election and all the things that occur. It’s time to, you know, she spoke yesterday at the Art Gallery about it’s time for people to stand up and start saying, “This isn’t how we behave in a civilized society, we need to…” She’s calling on the men as well for women to stand up and say, “We need to support what kind of behavior we’d like in government and in business also.” And that’s my book I’m reading right now, one of them. Aside from that, I usually have one or two trashy novels going…
David: Perfect. All right, well, Fiona, thanks so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Fiona: Thank you, it’s nice meeting you.