“Be Prepared” is the Girl Guide motto, which stuck with one of Sudbury’s successful serial entrepreneurs, Kathy Wells-McNeil. She was a Brownie, Girl Guide, and a Pathfinder, and still repeats the motto at least half a dozen times a week, to her staff, family, or to herself.
“I hear ‘Be Prepared’ in my head, whether packing for a weekend vacation with the family, or in the day-to-day operations in business,” said Wells-McNeil, the founder and CEO of Total Nursing Care Inc.
“Especially in health care, we try to anticipate and avoid or mitigate risks. It’s all about being prepared. During the pandemic, we were always well-stocked with what we needed, when others were scrambling for hand sanitizer or N95 masks.”
Recently, Wells-McNeil found an old box with her guiding badges and achievements; among them was the newspaper article where her team had won the city competition and placed second in the St. John Ambulance Provincial First Aid Competition. It was that Girl Guiding experience that got her into health care. She is now a registered nurse.
“Our coach was amazing; we were up against ambulance drivers and other adult first responders, and we beat them,” said Wells-McNeil. “We didn’t think much of it at the time, because we had worked so hard, but the first responders must have been a bit shocked that the youngest team there was outdoing them.”
Wells-McNeil likes to call herself a problem sensor instead of a problem solver. “I prefer to learn from others’ mistakes instead of making them myself. I assess risks, and anticipate them, basically I try to be prepared by being ahead of what I’m doing in the moment.”
With the pandemic, her company was the first to put up plexiglass between staff and clients, had a wash station put it, had a stockpile of personal protective equipment and was often asked: “Do you know something that we don’t?”
“I would just tell them that we need to be prepared. I thought it would be like SARS and had prepared similarly for that. I wanted to get ahead of it. In doing so, my staff felt comfortable and cared for, because we’d done our best to take every precaution.”
For her entrepreneurship, leadership, and community involvement, from 2000 to 2020, Wells-McNeil earned numerous awards from the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, Cambrian College, Sudbury’s Business Professional Women’s Club, and Northern Ontario Business. She is also a two-time Ontario Premier’s Award nominee and was nominated twice for a Royal Bank of Canada Women Entrepreneur of the Year award.
She keeps Cambrian College’s Dr. Fred Sheridan Award at home in her office. That award, named after one of the college’s founders, is considered their most prestigious award, recognizing extraordinary service to education and to the community.
“I felt like I won a lot of awards because they didn’t have anyone else to give it to,” Wells-McNeil joked, humbly, “but getting the Dr. Fred Sheridan award in 2017 really touched me. Here I was getting Cambrian’s highest award, and my family was sitting in the front row smiling back at me. I felt like I’d made my family proud; it was a very special moment.”
Wells-McNeil is also the owner of Southside Business Centre. which has 24 commercial rental units, and Southside Storage, which has 28 storage rental lockers.
“I knew I’d be a business person. We grew up poor, so we were always looking for ways to make money and always had something going on. I painted and sold rocks, had lemonade stands, and we even tried to run a newsletter out of our shed.”
Wells-McNeil said that she always had a business mind. She started a home-care business while in school, and evolved it into her nursing agency within a month of graduation. That was 26 years ago.
She enjoys having coffee with her clients who are entrepreneurs, talking about what to do and what not to do. She also learned what hard work looks like. “I remember one gentleman telling me, ‘Don’t go out and buy that big truck. Business is up and down, so wait until you can buy it without borrowing.’”
At one awards ceremony she noted many successful entrepreneurs owned their own buildings. When the opportunity arose, Well-McNeil did just that.
“It’s always good to decrease risk, and minimize expenses. Not having a big rent payment got us through some slow times. I watched all of the ten other agencies providing similar services that existed when I started, close over the years, but we are still thriving.”
She credits her success to ‘our success’ stating that there is no business without the team. She summed up the rest by saying: “For us, it’s been all about being prepared, anticipating and decreasing risk, keeping expenses low, running a business that we can fill in for any job, not buying the truck right away, working hard, and buying the building when the time is right. Did I mention being prepared?”