Cape Breton Women Series : Ms. Annette Verschuren, O.C.


December 8th, 2011

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, life lessons can come in many different forms and can be found at every turn. Hardships and strife can often be the teachers of the most valuable lessons and can give us the courage to explore paths we may never have otherwise considered. What makes us individual is how we react to our circumstances and whether we use these things to propel us forward or allow them to hold us back in some way.

The next woman I will present to you in my series on strong Cape Breton women is Annette Verschuren. Annette grew up on a dairy farm in Cape Breton. She is the middle child of Dutch immigrants who came to Canada in 1951. When she was only 10 years old, her father suffered a major heart attack and could no longer handle the duties of the daily running of the farm, leaving much of the labour to Annette and her older brother. In her reflection on this period of her life, Verschuren notes that "the responsibility we had as children was a great advantage to me later on in life." She later learned, at the age of 16, that she had a hereditary kidney condition that would require surgery. Between the ages of 16 and 21, she underwent four operations.

Ms. Verschuren could no longer keep up with her brothers physically, but being by nature competitive, she decided the solution was to find ways to outsmart them. She took a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from St. Francis Xavier University. Upon graduation in 1977, she began her career at the Canada Development Investment Corporation, working on the industrial development side. She later switched to the coal side of the business, eventually becoming executive vice-president. She was the only woman in management at the time.

Annette spent the next three years working with the federal government before moving on as president of corporate development for Imasco. Between 1989 and 1992, she was president of her own company, Verschuren Ventures, and between 1993 and 1996 she was president of Michaels of Canada Inc. She thrives on taking something and building on it. When she left Michaels in 1996, she had built the company to 105 stores with 1,000 employees.

Ms. Verschuren's next adventure was a position she held until a year ago. She took over as head of Home Depot Canada and also oversaw the company's foray into China. She was responsible for the company's leadership position in the home improvement retail industry today.

In a recent interview with The Chronicle Herald, Verschuren addressed the question of what she will do next by saying, "Whatever I am going to do, I'm going to be extraordinarily passionate about." Passion seems to be a theme that runs through her life and one of the keys to her success. She not only demonstrates passion for what she does in her work, but also in giving back. She is currently a member with Liberty Mutual and serves as Chancellor of Cape Breton University. She is on the board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, is chair of Habitat for Humanity's National President's Council, and is spearheading the Corporate Council on Volunteerism. She will also act as co-chair of the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference for 2012 and will act as a mentor to 230 of the country's promising young leaders in a conference that will kick off in Halifax next June.

Annette Verschuren has been honoured with honorary doctorates from Mount Saint Vincent University, St. Francis Xavier University and Mount Allison University. She was given the Canada 125 Medal in 1992 and a Woman on the Move Award in 1994.

Annette Verschuren serves as a wonderful example to us all of how passion married with determination are necessary tools to succeed.

Honourable senators, I look forward to sharing more stories of influential Cape Breton women in the new year.