March 17, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight
Barb Stegemann Knows The Way To Success
Barbara Stegemann’s entrepreneurial vision was formed after her best friend—a soldier—was severely wounded in Afghanistan. Understanding that supporting Afghanistan’s economy was a key to building stability for its people, Stegemann created The 7 Virtues Beauty—a company that sources organic oils from countries experiencing turmoil (such as Afghanistan, Haiti and the Middle East) to encourage change and to reverse the effects of war and poverty. Despite addressing complex global matters in her talks, she uses humour to explain how individuals can effect change both at home and worlds away. To wrap up the 15th annual business education month, the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce and its partners will be welcoming Barb for a speaking engagement later this month:
Stegemann will be sharing the story of The 7 Virtues fragrances, a social enterprise that supports farmers in nations that are rebuilding.
She will also share the philosophy behind The 7 Virtues that began with her book, The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen – a woman’s guide to living & leading in an illogical world.
“Of course the book is for men and women,” Stegemann said. “I just felt it was time to write a book that would give the brave and stoic wisdom of the philosophers and world leaders to women, as we enter many professions that have historically been primarily men.”
Stegemann believes there is a need to see 30 per cent female representation on boards throughout Canada, and more CEOs, as only 5 per cent of the top 100 CEOs in Canada are women.
She came up with the concept for The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc. after her best friend, Trevor Greene, was wounded in Afghanistan while serving in the Canadian Forces. While he was healing Stegemann would visit him three days a week and while there she promised him she would take on his mission for him. However, Stegemann realized she did not have a way to do this because she is not a soldier or a world leader, and did not have a way to “touch peace.” She then decided to create a new way.
“I brought the thesis of my book to life, by sourcing natural essential oils from nations rebuilding to empower women to flex their buying power, to make change in these nations,” Stegemann said. “Women own the buying power. By the year 2020, two-thirds of the world’s buying power will be owned by women. So I thought this is our way to contribute to peace.”
Stegemann’s company supports suppliers in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Haiti, regions of the world that can pose many challenges for foreign businesses. To deal with these challenges, Stegemann says the company works with incredible suppliers who have been on a mission to create jobs for their neighbours for many years. However, as much as these suppliers are able to meet the demands of The 7 Virtues, there are still challenges for them to meet those demands. They face many of the same challenges Canadian Small and Medium Enterprises face in terms of capital, and need more investment and infrastructure.
“Thankfully, many of them have boards of directors and philanthropist investors such as Ikirezi, our patchouli oil supplier in Rwanda,” Stegemann said. “We meet with the Board of Directors, their high commissioner and the CEO, Nicholas Hitimana, regularly so we are a partnership.”
As a result of this partnership, The 7 Virtues was able to send solar-powered lights to its farmers in Rwanda for Christmas, thus allowing the farmers and their children to read at night.
The fact that the products offered by The 7 Virtues remain fair trade and that suppliers pay the farmers a fair wage is imperative for Stegemann. She says as CEO of the company, she does not draw a salary from the fragrance company, and that her goal is to create jobs in nations that are rebuilding, as well as at her home in Nova Scotia. She feels fortunate to have been living off her book sales and has no pressure from the banks to change the company’s philosophy of ensuring everyone does well along the supply chain.
Stegemann says her most important business philosophy is to leave a better footprint on this Earth, to take our gifts and share them through empowering others instead of charity, so that people can stand on their own.
It was not easy for Stegmann to get to where she is today, having been raised by a single mother on welfare, and being born with a hereditary hearing impairment. However, she sees both of these roadblocks as gifts that helped her along her journey.
“My hearing impairment has taught me to read body language and 70 per cent of communication is non-verbal,” she said. “So it is a gift. Being raised in humble roots taught me to use moderation and be resourceful and work hard. It also taught me empathy with our suppliers. Being raised in poverty, I always wanted to be invited to the banquet, to be included. Now we must swing the doors open to others so they may live a fulfilling life, and live their dreams too.”
Her work eventually led her to Dragon’s Den, where she became the first woman from Atlantic Canada to land a venture capital deal. Stegemann says the appearance was a huge boost for her, as well as for the women in her community and across Canada.
“The brand really grew from the show, and I found my mentor and investor, W. Brett Wilson there,” Stegemann said. “He has really guided me and pushed me in a positive way to grow. I could not do it without him.”
Last month it was announced that Arlene Dickinson, the only female Dragon on the show, would be stepping down after eight seasons. Asked if she would consider filling her seat, Stegemann says maybe one day she will be in a position to shape and invest in other companies, but right now she needs to spend her time investing in The 7 Virtues, and sharing the story of its farmers.
The company is currently working on a peace candle, whose formulation is being developed with all of the company’s oils from every nation together. It has also sourced fair trade vanilla from Madagascar for a future fragrance, and is working on another from Somaliland.
“We are also filming a documentary on our farmers and our story together,” Stegemann said. “It’s always an adventure.”