Jowett honoured as inspiring woman in Kitchener
Robert Wilson,Record staff
CAMBRIDGE — Helen Jowett is no stranger to the winner’s podium and yesterday, in front of an appreciative audience, she was presented with one of the most prestigious of her career, the Inspiring Woman Award at the seventh annual Inspiring Women event.
The Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce event was held at Bingemans and featured five speakers, including fashion journalist Jeanne Beker; president of Sleep Country Canada, Christine Magee; chief executive officer of Linamar, Linda Hasenfratz; paralympian medallist, Summer Mortimer; and entrepreneur Jessica Jensen.
Modest to the core, Jowett said it was a young neighbour who nominated her after researching Jowett’s impressive background as a human resource professional and president and chief executive officer of her own consulting firm, McDonald Green in Cambridge.
“It’s a little bit embarrassing,” she said. “I really didn’t do anything that warrants that much attention. I was completely shocked.” She shouldn’t be too surprised given her leadership and extensive volunteerism in the community. Jowett’s name has been linked to many awards: Oktoberfest Woman of the Year, YWCA Woman of Distinction, Bell Business Award, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Chair’s award, Waterloo Region Record Small Business Award at the annual Waterloo Region Business Achievement Awards and many more.
In each case, Jowett was recognized for supporting a long list of community organizations, for mentoring young people and for sitting on or leading numerous boards including the Cambridge Memorial Hospital during one of its more tumultuous times.
Still, she thinks of herself as just a boring, ordinary person who prefers Birkenstocks to stilettos, track pants to business suits and who married her high school sweetheart. At 53, she is comfortable with herself and her stage in life.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Jowett came to Cambridge with her parents at age four, during a time in the Scottish city’s history when there was a lot of religious tension and the economy was faltering.
After high school, she completed a human resources program at Conestoga College and worked in customer service as well as most departments in a large Cambridge manufacturing plant. There, she began to see how corporations falter when they don’t put the right people in the right jobs and decided to do something about it.
“I started an undergrad in psychology and was raising a family at the same time,” said Jowett, who went on to attain her human resources professional designation as well as an MBA in leadership.
“I grew up in Cambridge, I was 34 when I started the business,” she said. “My mom was my first employee. She came in real cheap.”
Over the years Jowett has become known for her expertise, called on to comment on everything from large industrial layoffs to government policy. To what does she attribute her success?
With a bit of thought, she finally speculates, “I’m not a wall flower. Maybe it’s because I’m a little feisty around the boardroom table. Put me in a position of influence and I have to be thoughtful.”
She takes her roles on boards seriously and is not one to sit back and let others make decisions, a far cry from her teenage years.
“In high school, I was the female version of Alex Keaton,” she said, comparing herself to the geeky Michael J. Fox television character. “I wore blazers when it wasn’t cool. I was fairly social, but withdrawn and didn’t let people get close.”
Perhaps being thrust into the spotlight over and over to accept awards, speaking invitations and requests to sit on boards has helped Jowett overcome any shyness and she credits her mom with inspiring the entrepreneur in her.
“She ran the Scottish shop at the Cambridge Farmers Markets,” she said.
And as for that new plaque the modest businessperson just received, “It’s in the office, not too front and centre.”