Ask the legends: Rebecca MacDonald

Written by ProfitGuide

Executive Chair

Energy Savings Income Fund
Age: 54
Birthplace: Yugoslavia

Career highlights:

€¢ Emigrates with a medical degree to Canada in 1974
€¢ Launches Toronto Water Filters, a door-todoor marketing business, in 1978
€¢ Forms Energy Marketing Inc. in 1989; becomes the largest energy marketer in the province by the mid-1990s
€¢ Sells Energy Marketing in 1996, and in 1997 starts Ontario Energy Savings Corp. (OESC) using her own capital
€¢ Takes OESC public in 2001 as Energy Savings Income Fund (ESIF)
€¢ Wins a Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award for lifetime achievement in 2002
€¢ Steps down as CEO of ESIF in April 2005; assumes position of executive chair
€¢ In November 2007, tops the PROFIT W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs for the fifth consecutive year with ESIF annual revenue of $1.53 billion

Given the several businesses that you have launched, can you share a couple of keys to startup success?

Lynn Robson


First of all, you have to believe in your product; you have to see it as a viable solution for the market in which you want to operate. Then, you have to commit an enormous number of hours and hard work, and give up your holidays for many years. Then, you have to make sure that you’re prepared to work that much harder to bring it to another level. Many people give up too quickly, or they get satisfied too quickly and become complacent. I’m a firm believer that the only way you can be successful is constantly raising the bar. We didn’t start this company thinking we would have sales over $1.5 billion. We started one customer at a time. So, you get 100 and say, “Why can’t I get 1,000, or 10,000 or 100,000?” We all start small, but you can’t think small over a long period of time.

You’ve donated large sums to various causes, including the rheumatoid arthritis wing at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Why is philanthropy so important to you?

Anna-Marie McDonald

Little Green Bag Creative Services

Pickering, Ont.

I get a great deal of satisfaction from giving. I firmly believe that it’s the responsibility of all of us to try to contribute — from the smallest contributions to the largest — because there are so many people that are in terrific need.

If you were to name the essential character traits to being a successful entrepreneur, what would they be?

Justin Bell

Kingston, Ont.

Laser focus, perseverance and a very good sense of humour — you’ve got to have that.

Many people would have considered themselves a success at many stages of your career. How do you stay motivated to continually progress, without becoming complacent?

Brian Romanick, Art Director

Chatham, Ont.

One of the things I’ve done successfully as the company gets larger is never to change my attitude about the running of the company. We still run it as a small company. The executive team meets every Thursday, and I think that keeps us motivated on a week-by-week basis. I have found out from some of my peers that when you start looking from 40,000 feet all the time, you can lose perspective. It’s certainly not about the money anymore. It’s about building the greatest energy company in North America — and we’re not there yet. That’s what keeps me going.

How have you overcome resistance to being a woman entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men?

Kathy Kendzora

Glen Ellyn, Ill.

I was not brought up in Canada, so I did not have the experience that there are businesses for women and businesses for men. That helped me a great deal. I worked hard, showed people I could do it and maybe even do it that much better than men could. Eventually, I gained their respect. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning, so you have to win the little battles and eventually you win the war.

What aspect of your professional life do you find most personally rewarding?

Kari Doiron, Electronic Marketing Specialist

Hewitt Associates, Toronto

That the company is able to provide so many jobs to so many wonderful people. And that we have been able to generate returns to keep our shareholders happy. I always say, in my view, we have two payrolls: our staff and our shareholders. It gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction to satisfy both of them.

How do you maintain a well-balanced lifestyle with all the things you’ve accomplished? What do you do in your spare time to recharge?

Edward On


It’s been difficult for me to get balance. I’d love to be perfect at my job and be perfect as a mother, and it’s difficult to reconcile. But I’m getting better at it. In my spare time, I decorate. I’m known for it. It totally relaxes me because it’s a completely different medium. It’s still very creative, but totally different from energy. It doesn’t have the regulators!

I’ve read articles that describe you as nice, warm and down to earth. How do you stay that way in a world that’s sometimes cutthroat?

Jody Lau


I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am. I’m not a different person today than I was 30 years ago. I’ve seen people change when they achieve a certain level of success, and I attribute that to insecurities. I love people, and I have a great deal of respect for every individual. If I’m talking to a taxi driver, I will enjoy the conversation the same way I’d enjoy a conversation with the CEO of the bank.

What were the major challenges you faced in business as a new immigrant, and how did you overcome them?

Belema Oruene

First of all, there was the language barrier. Second, I was brought up with a different set of rules. I had to adapt to Canada. My firm belief when it comes to immigrants is that once you make a decision to come to a country, you have to make an effort to adapt to the rules. I don’t want to be critical, but new immigrants in the past five or 10 years have been taking this country for granted. They expect a lot of things to be given to them without effort. In my early going in Canada, I had to work the night shift, I had to pay for health care, I had to pay for English lessons. There was no help. This is the only country in the world that would give me an opportunity. This country gives everyone an opportunity. It’s up to you what you do with it.

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