Serena Holmes is President and CEO of Tigris Events. Founded in 2004, Tigris is Canada’s premiere brand experience agency specializing in dynamic personnel, promotions, marketing and events.
Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, the company has over 2000 temporary staff on its roster from coast to coast as well as an experienced team of account managers to turnkey events for maximum ease and cost-effectiveness.
Serena’s 17 years of industry experience, including her 13 years leading Tigris has shaped her success. We sat down with Serena to hear her insights as an entrepreneur and a woman business leader.
Q: Tell Us About Your Early Years and How They Contributed to Who You are Today?
A: My driving motivation was to not be like my parents. When you see someone going through challenges, you learn about how they handle them – good or bad. I was the first person in my family to pursue and achieve a University degree. I also learned through observing the mistakes of others in my work – for example, at Tigris, we depend on others for the jobs we get – so customer service is very important.
I got myself through school between scholarships and holding down three to four jobs at a time. It builds character to manage all of that. From what I’ve been through, I learned that you’ve got to do what you need to do to succeed and pursue your goals.
For example, I created my job. I started part-time with Tigris Events and soon after that I was offered a full-time management position. I was making a positive impact at the company and offered partnership less than a year later. I accepted, of course. In 2008, when my partner decided to leave the company, I had the opportunity to buy her out. So, I took it. Even though I was very young and only a few years into my career, I had vision and I was quick to act on the opportunity when it came.
Q: What have you learned as a woman who is a leader in your field?
A: Early in my career, I’d be in a meeting and the only woman in the room. I didn’t know how it was going to go and, of course, it was nerve racking. Thankfully, I focused on wowing the clients. One time, in a meeting with a couple of older men, my partner and I ended up landing the biggest contract we ever had – 110 in-store events totaling 400K. At the time, we didn’t even have the staff in most of those cities.
In another instance, our team was participating in a training session for a wireless client of ours and their trainer asked me to be in a group with my staff members to which I replied, “oh that’s ok – I’ll sit over here. I’m the boss.”. I was just joking but the trainer did not think it was funny. I was only 27 at the time so only a bit older than more of my staffers.
From these experiences, I learned you must show extreme confidence in yourself and your brand no matter the audience. It’s important to adapt your communication to the people you are dealing with.
Q: What career and life advice would you give to new grads?
A: I meet a lot of university students. Tigris is an event staffing and experiential marketing agency, so we work with a wide range of different people. It’s mind boggling that people don’t get that you need to show up and dress the part – no matter what that may be. You do need to consider what you are wearing, your hand shake. Can you articulate what needs to be communicated? Are you engaging? Being prepared is important.
From these and other lessons, I learned it was very important to show up and show up the right way if you want to be successful.
Q: What is your biggest failure and how did you recover?
A: One of my biggest failures taught me one of the most valuable lessons. One of our account managers started working with one of our clients – then began soliciting our clients and using our staff to conduct the work. A few years later, we partnered with a creative agency who also stole one of our clients.
Looking back on it, while I always try to work with people in good faith, you need to be cautious of your relationships and how you manage them. We’ve added terms into our working agreements – we’ve learned this is necessary over the years. You want to trust – but it’s hard to do that.
And, when you have a company, you expect that employees will have the same attitude as you do in their work – ultimately, it’s your company, not theirs. But from this I’ve learned it’s unrealistic to expect that at the end of the day, your employees will have the same commitment as you have — as the business owner. Now, thanks to things I’ve done, employees stay longer and are more loyal.
Q: If you could have done anything differently looking back, what would you have changed?
A: When we first started out, the founder registered licenses and domains for four companies. We had different companies with different areas of focus. Our temporary staffing company, named Tigris Personnel, blew up. As a result, customers identified most strongly with Tigris and we were getting tons of website traffic. Unfortunately, we didn’t want to be identified as a staffing agency only and changed our name from Tigris Personnel to Tigris Incorporated. Since we were concerned about damaging our google rankings, the change didn’t have quite the impact we wanted and three years later (this past fall) we changed our name again – this time to Tigris Events Inc. legally and across all marketing channels — online, social media, etc. The change has taken traction and brought us tremendous opportunities. Just a few months ago, we were involved in the production of a viral video for a financial company from the U.K. which further helped us capitalize on the exposure. My only regret was not pulling off the bandaid sooner – seeing the growing traffic and attention on the Tigris brand.
Q: What motivates you to succeed?
A: Being confident in who we are, what we can provide and our track record in being successful motivates me to continue to keep myself focused every day – despite any challenges that may come up.
For example, we had been negotiating a new office space since we were outgrowing our new space. I felt that the property manager agent had a bias towards me as a young business owner (or young looking as I’m almost 36); however, I didn’t let that get me down. Providing our financials – showing that we have great sales on the books made a difference. I could have let his attitude get to me and miss the opportunity for that space. I know where I wanted to be and I wanted that space and that location. I could have walked away from it. But in the end, it was worth it – putting up with all the hassles, meeting with my bank hundreds of times and everything else involved.
Thank you, Serena!
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