The Best Advice I Ever Got: Karen Flavelle

The head of B.C. chocolate success story Purdy’s talks about what she’s learned

Written by Susanne Ruder

Karen Flavelle is president of R.C. Purdy Chocolates Ltd., a Vancouver-based chocolate manufacturer and retailer with 51 locations in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. Flavelle took the company reins in 1997 after a successful 13-year career in marketing with such organizations as General Mills and Cara Foods. Purdy’s has twice been named one of the 50 Best Companies to Work For, and Flavelle was honoured in 2005 with an Influential Women in Business Award.

BEST ADVICE: “Never allow three or more major projects to happen at once.”

It’s a lesson in stretching your resources too thin, and it’s one that Flavelle minds well. She first heard this advice seven or eight years ago, shortly after joining Purdy’s. “I can’t remember if I read it or heard it in a talk, but it really struck home, because I’d seen instances where people were over-extended, and then the economy went south.” And the result was disaster.

Some business challenges are controllable, such as tackling a major capital expansion or implementing a new ERP system. But you have no control over others, such as economic fluctuations or the insolvency of a major customer or supplier, says Flavelle. “You wouldn’t want to take on two or more major projects that are challenging to your business at the same time, because if a third challenge comes along, it could put you under.”

“It’s something that I always think about, because we’re expanding in Ontario now,” says Flavelle. “Initially, that was a big time-taker and a resource-taker.” The timing of Purdy’s eastward expansion, which began in 2003, was chosen carefully to avoid taking on too many trials and tribulations at once. “We put in a major MRP system in 2001, so it was one of the reasons why it wouldn’t have been a good idea to expand into Ontario at that time. If we’d been expanding into Ontario and implementing a new MRP system at the same time, and then all of a sudden interest rates hiked severely like they did in 1982 to 25%, or the economy turned south, or if we’d lost a major supplier,” she says she would likely have lost it all.

“You can usually weather one or two projects,” she says. But more than that, “the business might not survive.”

© 2005 Susanne Ruder

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com