|She Makes Everyone Feel Welcome|
I first met this feisty lady while attending a Rotary meeting in Toronto as a guest of my good friend and fellow-broadcaster John Spragge. In place of the usual tired old 'welcoming committee' one meets at most service club meetings, I was surprised to be 'welcomed' by this dynamic little bit of a woman with a firm handshake, sparkling eyes, and a "welcome" that sounded genuinely sincere. "We are really pleased to have you attend our meeting," she said, and then with a mischievous smile added, "but your choice of friends could stand some serious improving." She then joked with John for a few moments and turned to 'welcome' the next guest.
Once inside, I mentioned to John that she was the best person I had ever been 'welcomed' by at any meeting I've attended. John laughed and said, "Are you surprised? .. That's Pauline Hill, Chairman of the Board of Welcome Wagon."
Following the meeting we chatted with her. Once I found out how she had become chairman and how she and two other ladies had rescued the company from the hands of U.S. investors, I told her, "Pauline, I must share your story with my radio listeners." And here it is...
Pauline was born and raised in Edmonton. It was while living in Regina in 1953 that she became a Welcome Wagon hostess and began a career that would take her to the top.
Along the way she's had many firsts. First woman member of the Toronto Ad and Sales Club. And its first woman president. First woman member of Toronto's Downtown Rotary Club. First woman chairman of the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus. And one of only 19 women in the world to receive a special citation from the world's "Who's Who of Women". The citation read ... 'for an outstanding contribution to women's entry into a man's world.' Pauline Hill is an achiever. Her greatest business achievement came in 1979 when she headed a group to acquire ownership of 'Welcome Wagon' from the giant Gillette Corporation in the U.S. It was not a friendly take over, but Pauline's group won and 'Welcome Wagon' became a Canadian company. Two other people who figured prominently with Pauline in the acquisition bid were Joan MacKeller who is now President and Chief Executive Officer, and Ursula Van Heel who served as Chief Executive Officer 1988 and 1989. Here's how it happened ... "We got word that the company was being sold by its owners, Gillette of Boston, to a group of 300 American managers of 'Welcome Wagon.' Among the five of us Canadians who wanted to buy the company, we had something like 180 years experience. We were rather hurt that we were not part of that 300 group. So, we got our dander up, put in our offer to purchase, and went to
the then foreign review agency. It took almost a year, but the U.S. offer to purchase the Canadian company was rejected by F.I.R.A. and our offer was accepted."
They immediately ran into the crushing interest rates of the early 80's that soared to 23%. But they hung in. Arranged deferred payments and pressed on. One of the biggest things they had going for them was ... "the enthusiasm of our people. Our hostesses were proud of the fact that our company was now a Canadian company. That first year our top line went up 22%." And it's been going up every year. "We've done much better than the American company . .. we're into about five programs that the original founder wasn't in to."
One of these programs was started when they recognized there was a growing need by convention and conference organizers to have professional help in acquiring items for 'Booty Bags', that are an expected must by most delegates. 'Welcome Wagon' has now created a separate division that does just that.
It's the old law of marketing 101 ... "Find a need and fill it . .. that's what we're doing. And we are filling it with products from 'Welcome Wagon'."
As busy as she is criss-crossing the country keeping in touch with her 1300 'Welcome Wagon' hostesses, Pauline still has her own territory in Toronto that she works as a 'Welcome Wagon' Hostess. "I enjoy welcoming people."
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