Gloria Rajkumar, President & CEO SIMAC, RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, on Her Phenomenal Revenue Growth
Born in Guyana, the seventh of eight children, Gloria Rajkumar came to Canada after graduating high school. It was an entry-level position in the insurance industry that started Gloria on the path that led to where she is today and she spent the next 19 years climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.
In 2001 Gloria was involved in a car accident and was sent by her insurer for an Independent Medical Examination (IME). Gloria hadn’t had any previous direct involvement with IME vendors and was intrigued by this end of the business. After some discussions with the owner of the company doing her assessments, she accepted his offer to work for him in a marketing role.
Within days of starting her new job, Gloria recognized the opportunity facing her.
She knew that by providing a higher level of service and focussing on efficiency and quality, she could build a highly successful IME company. Not long after that, Gloria left her new job and invested her life savings to start her own company.
A decade later, SIMAC employs more than 20 people and has earned a solid reputation for quality and customer care. The company is a preferred vendor to several major insurance companies, and has won numerous awards for business excellence. Gloria herself has been recognized as a leading entrepreneur (including winning an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award just last week) and continues to receive accolades in that arena. SIMAC’s impressive fiscal performance is evident in the approximately 60% growth in revenue between 2008 and 2010.
We spoke to Gloria about achieving such phenomenal growth; SIMAC's humble beginnings; and a future project that is close to her heart.
TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch SIMAC?
GR: I had been working in the insurance industry for 18 years, but my first direct contact with the claims and Independent Medical Examination (IME) side of the business came after I was involved in a car accident. I needed treatment for soft tissue injuries and my insurer sent me for an assessment.
I really couldn’t believe how the process was handled – or should I say, mishandled. It just struck me as being so unprofessional and it certainly didn’t meet the standards of quality that I associated with the insurance industry.
The inspired moment was when I realized that by combining my knowledge and experience of the needs of an insurer with a focus on quality and customer service, I had the recipe for a very successful IME company.
TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?
GR: SIMAC is a service-based company. Our focus is on the strength of our relationships with our customers, our ability to deliver quality and efficiency and consistently exceed our customers’ needs. Technology is definitely one of the key tools we employ in that service delivery. We have had to be very flexible and willing to adapt to the specific technological needs and preferences of our customers.
TNW: You grew SIMAC from nothing to a $12 million venture in just 10 years, so you are the perfect person to ask about scalability, a frequent discussion topic in The NextWomen and DWEN communities. What is your advice for entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses?
GR: SIMAC’s growth was very organic in nature. For me, it was more about being responsive and being able to think and act quickly to respond to the quick growth of the company, than any strategic planning I might have done. Now I’m at that stage, where I’m thinking more strategically about how to take the company to the next level.
I would say the most important piece of advice I could give any entrepreneur is to be financially prepared for anything. Sound financial management is critical, not only in tough times, but in times of growth as well.
You need to be in a position to expand to meet the growth needs without compromising the foundation of the company.
TNW: How did you raise investment for SIMAC? Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their business?
GR: I actually didn’t raise any investments for SIMAC.
I used my life savings, which amounted to about $26,000. I leased 2200 sq.ft of office space and basic office equipment and furniture. I hired my niece to help me out and we started making cold calls. I never really looked back.
The business grew, and I never needed to seek any financial investment. Although drive and dedication were huge parts of my success, it was also a bit of a “right time, right place” story. The market for this industry was very healthy at the time. Under different circumstances I may have wanted to seek private equity.
The most important piece of advice I would offer to an entrepreneur looking to raise funds would be to not lose sight – or control – of the reason they started the company in the first place. You really have to do your homework and make sure that anyone wanting to come into your business shares your passion and commitment to your corporate culture and has the ability to really help you grow your business.
TNW: Which aspects of your company make you most proud?
GR: It’s difficult to pick just one or two aspects of the company that make me most proud. There are so many things about SIMAC that make me feel so good about having taken that risk over a decade ago. Of course I’m proud of the success and how the company has grown. I’m proud of the awards and recognition and the positive reputation we have earned with our customers. The fact I’m now able to help people who are less fortunate by making contributions to charitable organizations is unbelievably rewarding. If I dig down to the core of all of those things, though, I come right back to the one thing I was never willing to compromise on – the one thing I’m most proud of – and that’s quality.
TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?
GR: The biggest challenge for SIMAC was probably lack of branding. When I entered this market it was already saturated with competition.
I wasn’t doing anything new or meeting a need that wasn’t already being met. I just wanted to do it better.
It was difficult, as the new kid on the block, to get some of the big players to pay attention to me. I was a non-entity going up against companies that had been doing business with my potential customers for years. Once a few doors opened people started paying attention because the message was all about quality and service. Now, a decade later, that is our brand.
TNW: What is next for SIMAC? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?
GR: Of course I envision continued growth and success for SIMAC. I am confident that we have what it takes to achieve that. Technology isn’t really a growth driver for SIMAC, but it will definitely play a significant role in how seamlessly we make those transitions. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by cloud computing and I think it will definitely play a role in our future of SIMAC. As the world becomes more reliant on technology, the ease and efficiency with which we access, store, and protect our work, product and processes becomes more and more critical. I see cloud computing enhancing our productivity and also being a critical element of our Business Continuity Plan.
TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?
GR: I feel very privileged to be involved in DWEN, as well as other groups that focus on the development and support of women-led companies, such as the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and WeConnect Canada. For some women, involvement in these types of organizations will definitely lead to direct growth opportunities. For others, the benefits will be less direct, but equally valuable.
The ability to share the unique experiences we face as women entrepreneurs is an ongoing source of strength and definitely gives us the confidence to continue takings risks and growing our businesses.
Women have made huge advances in the past decade or so; in terms of being recognized for our creativity, our entrepreneurial spirit and our business savvy, but we still have a ways to go. I’m particularly inspired by the number of women who are achieving incredible success in some of the more historically male-dominated arenas, like technology, research and development and innovation.
TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today? How has your leadership style changed over the years, and why?
GR: I would describe my leadership style as inclusive. Don’t get me wrong, the buck stops with me when it comes to major decisions, but I empower my team as much as possible. I think it inspires loyalty and makes them feel more connected to the success of the company. I would say that’s probably the biggest thing that’s changed in my leadership style. When you start a small company you take a very hands-on approach – you’re doing everything. There can be a tendency to micro-manage when you start to grow. But at some point you learn to trust your judgement and be confident that you have hired the right people to do the job. The more you empower your team, the more time and energy you can spend taking the company to even greater levels of success.
TNW: You have been quoted as saying that “the people you recruit to support and build your dream can make all the difference in how successful you are”. What are the key qualities you look for in new hires to ensure the success of your business?
GR: I look for the same qualities most business owners seek – integrity, passion, dedication, loyalty… The trick is in recognizing a person’s potential during the hiring process and hire people to fit our corporate culture. It’s finding that balance between asking the right questions and listening for what you believe are the right answers. I have to know that the person applying for a position with SIMAC will be a good fit, not just in the workflow, but socially. You can drive the quality message as much as you want, but if your employees are not able to work together and support each other as a team, it’s always going to be an uphill battle.
TNW: Do you have any pet projects as an entrepreneur?
GR: Giving back has always been a pet project for me. As soon as I started making a profit, I began to identify the charitable organizations that I wanted to align myself and my company with. I’m particularly drawn to those that focus on women and children. While I have been a financial supporter of the Starlight Children’s Foundation for years, I recently became officially involved in doing committee work for the annual Starlight Insurance Gala. I’m very excited about that.
A future pet project for me would be to start a private equity fund that is specifically geared to supporting women-led businesses, especially in the life sciences, innovation and biotech industries, which I find very exciting.
TNW: Do you have a motto which sums up your approach to business, and to life?
GR: I would say my philosophy is centred on honesty. It’s so important to always be straight forward, transparent and forthcoming in life and business. Honesty may ruffle some feathers from time to time, but it’s far better to have a reputation for being honest to a fault than the alternative!
TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our community?
GR: One bit of advice I would share with women who experience success is to keep going. Keep trying new things and taking new risks.
If you’ve achieved success once, you obviously have what it takes to do it again. Whether that means starting something completely new, or simply taking your current venture to new heights, don’t give in to the apparent comforts of complacency.
The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.
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