Kim Furlong is the CEO of the Canadian Venture Capital Association (CVCA). She has led a highly successful career in both the corporate and public sectors in Canada including having been the Director of Communications to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon. Pierre S. Pettigrew. A Quebec native, Furlong was born and raised in the picturesque town of Percé on the Gaspé Peninsula. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their twin boys. We’re inspired by her fearlessness and drive. Read Elle’s conversation to find out more.
Elle: What does #GlobalCitizenry mean to you?
Kim: I love Zvelle’s manifesto and the part that “the world owes us nothing, but it belongs to us” feels in many ways that it underpins an obligation. An obligation to be kind to the planet, an obligation to the kind to one another and to work with one another. The world is very small and we interact everyday with people across the world. I love that Canada is a great representation of that multicultural embracing of one another for all the strengths that we have. Really #GlobalCitizenry means a true partnership and trying to take the right steps, in diplomacy or climate change or business or building a better world.
Elle: You are the first woman to hold the title of CEO at CVCA and having had interactions with you I am so thrilled it’s you. I love your energy, drive and ability to connect with anyone in any room. What are the highlights of your first year as CEO and what challenged you the most?
Kim: It was an incredible first year and there was a huge adrenalin rush of coming into this industry. My biggest surprise was how excited people were for me to take the helm of CVCA. Venture capital and private equity is and remains a man’s world even though there are some amazing general partners that are women and trailblazers. Women like Whitney Rockley, Michelle McBane and Janet Bannister inspire everyone including me.
I didn’t know anything about the industry when I came in, they hired me because of my leadership skills and my ability to transform the organization and to really tell the message of why venture capital and private equity matters to Canada’s economy.
The energy and the welcome that I received made for a great start. On top of that it was a fabulous year in terms of deals and money flowing to companies and entrepreneurs. It was wonderful to be the spokesperson for that amazing change.
It wasn’t without its challenges. I came into an industry and basically knew nothing. My staff laughs that I asked questions that made them think who they hired. That journey meant a lot of long hours and asking a lot of questions.
In many ways it felt like an apprenticeship and I feel our team is so much better for it. It turns out a lot of my team had the same questions I had but had not asked before because they were not in a position to do so. By me asking they got to hear it and get a 2.0 training so to speak. We are entering 2020 with a new strategic plan and everyone is energized especially myself.
Elle: Not all leaders are comfortable being open about what they don’t know. Have you always been comfortable with the uncomfortable?
Kim: I think I am unafraid of risk and I always laugh because they say that women don’t apply for jobs until they meet all the criteria. I have never applied for a job that I was qualified for. I always knew I could do it. What I love about being a woman is the network around you and your girlfriends. I am surrounded by an amazing group of professional women in different sectors so I always knew that if I didn’t know something my girls would lift me up. That group of women around are not going to let me fail and I will be bold enough to ask and not be shy.
In my first job, I became Director of Communications to then Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I was smart enough and I had the drive to figure it out. And I did. We got along famously but it was not without its trials. At the end of the day I also don’t take myself very seriously and I think people make a big deal about small failures. It has to be really big for me to make a fuss about it. You can always fix things.
Elle: You have an extensive background in the public sector and are a member of Equal Voice, a multi-partisan action committee devoted to the idea that more women must be elected to every level of government in Canada. What can we do about this in the new decade?
Kim: It’s a great question and a question that Equal Voices as an organization has struggled with while taking great strides to help women who want to run by helping them prepare and be a resource for them as they go through the trials and tribulations of putting yourself out there. Very few people understand how difficult it is not only to run but when you get elected because it’s selfless. Your evenings and weekends are not yours. Women have families and they often will weigh the pros and the cons of giving back and shaping Canada and Canada’s policy of the future with the obligation that they have to be mothers and often having far more responsibilities in the home.
I think one of the first steps we need to take is having partnerships become more equal in society. I think you decide that from the moment you choose someone as a life partner. I think when men take more paternal leave and when it is seen by other colleagues in the office as being a great thing to do, I think we will have more equality in the workplace. In politics, we need support for women who have families. Municipal is one thing but if you are going to get elected federally you leave your family behind or relocate your family. Having a community in Ottawa or whichever provincial capital you are relocating to is important.
We need more women at the table. They bring that diversity of voice and that collaborative nature. Women are strong, bold and fearless but they are also nurturing and often have a bigger outlook. We need not just women and men but people of different views, religions, and minorities around the table as that makes for better outcomes and for a better Canada.
Elle: What one word do you most identify with?
Kim: Authenticity. Being authentic. I grew up in a very small town where everyone knew everyone and everyone kept you very real. I grew up in a humble family of entrepreneurs and my family worked in the family restaurant business. I remember years later coming back home after working in politics. Travelling the world, you had motorcades waiting for you on the tarmac and perhaps I took myself a little more seriously than I should have. I have a vivid recollection of being home in Gaspé in Quebec and having this older gentleman basically reminding me of who I was, where I was from and saying there was nothing ‘less special’ about me before I accomplished what I did and that I was still the same person.
We can accomplish great things when we put our minds to it but at the end of the day being authentic, being yourself and remembering where you come from is important. All of this mixed with all the hard work shaped me as a person. I am attracted to people who are authentic and when I find those people I gravitate towards them.