WMNinTECH: Pascale Audette on making a change

Pascale Audette always knew she would be a businesswoman. She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs and business owners, after all.

“I come from a background of self-starters. They all have businesses,” Pascale told MTLinTECH. “On my mom’s side, on my dad’s side, my grandparents had a big contracting and transportation company. I was 13 and was working summers for some of them. My aunt started a restaurant and still has it 30 years after. It’s in our blood.”

But instead of staying with a family business, she headed into the non-profit sector, and has been pursuing projects with a special interest in positive social change ever since.

I’ve never had a career plan, but I always look for a value-driven company, something that can actually make money or will be financially secure and safe and well-managed, but also something that can bring value and make a change.

“I got a bachelors degree in business with a specialty in HR. And right after that I went to work for a government program to help people re-enter the job market. I did that for many many years, and I learned my English doing that because most of the groups were in English. I also became a Director by interim there. That’s actually where I realized I loved management and leadership roles. And at the same time, I started a non-profit with a bunch of friends, and that was the Breakfast Club of Quebec.”

The Breakfast Club of Quebec is a not-for-profit where every morning before school a group of volunteers, many of them parents, set up a mini-restaurant and serve free breakfast. It functions as a club and kids want to attend, to hang out with friends and socialize, so there’s no stigma for lower-income families that take part.

“It just exploded. It became hundreds of schools in Quebec, and that’s what brought me to the West Coast. I went there to start the Canadian branch on the West Coast. I did that for many years, and that’s what brought me to Kelowna. We gave recommendations to the government there of how to do it, how to start it from grassroots. Because these sorts of things can be government funded, but they can’t be government-run. It’s too dependent on volunteer work and on people pulling together.”

In Kelowna she was introduced to the tech industry. After years of splitting her time between Quebec and BC, Pascale decided to look for something based out West, and stumbled onto the gaming industry.

“My two friends approached me and asked if I could help them with operations, with general management of this little startup they had that was called Club Penguin. And Club Penguin was acquired in 2007, four months after I joined, by the Walt Disney Company. So it went from a 50 person company to 450 in two years, and I was overseeing it.”

Club Penguin gave Pascale the opportunity to experience management in a huge global corporation while maintaining a philosophy of social responsibility.

“I don’t have to ask myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. When I jumped into the gaming industry, to my surprise I completely fell in love with technology. I fell in love with its ability to make so many great things so quickly, and reach so many people. So the global aspect was for the first time open to me; the understanding that you can have a product in small Kelowna, BC and reach people in Chile and South Africa and Argentina. That’s what we did: we were a global organization from the moment we launched, because the language was English and it reached so many people. Plus, the business plan was designed so that we were giving back 10% of what we were making to the community.”

Following Club Penguin, she founded another gaming studio in Kelowna called Hyper Hippo.

“I left to stretch my wings a bit. And that was my first time getting closer to the startup community. Because the Walt Disney Company is self-sustained. If you want, you have all the services and resources you need internally. So even though we were in Kelowna, I had no idea who my neighbors were. For five years I did not do any business with anybody in Kelowna. As soon as I started my studio in Kelowna, I realized there was a community there and I needed them. That was great, to open up to your community and partner and have the help and support. I have been doing mentorship forever, and it’s so much more fun to do it with people beside you instead of so far away. I left that studio after a year and a half, and that’s when I started looking to come back to Montreal.”

When Pascale returned to Montreal, the tech ecosystem had really grown and started to thrive in the fifteen years she had been gone.

“I came back here and found this vibrant community of tech. When I left I was still doing not-for-profit, but I come back here 15 years later as a completely different person looking for big challenges, and there was more opportunity here. It just hit me almost as a physical impression. The vibe here is really moving. I remember walking in the street feeling like it’s buzzing here.”

After a brief stint testing the waters as COO of a Montreal gaming studio, Pascale had a clearer vision of what she wanted to do next, she just had to find the right venture.

“I wanted to be CEO. I didn’t want to be COO anymore, just because I know my set of strengths enough now, and I’m better when I can build a team around me that complements me. I was looking for a well-funded global opportunity. I’m not afraid to go raise money, but I do think it’s unfortunate that startups today have to spend so much time doing that, and it’s limiting. So, well-funded and well-supported by the board, lots of autonomy, and a product that would make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s how I landed with Carebook last May.”

Most importantly, Pascale felt the timing was right to take on a larger role.

“My husband and I made the conscious decision that we were going to raise our kids ourselves. I remember thinking ‘Someday will be my time’, but it was not that time. I made the decision to wait. I did amazing things, but I decided to wait until they were older to push myself in a role. We decided to put kids on this earth, I am going to raise them. But when the Club Penguin opportunity came, I had no idea what was going to happen. Within four months I was part of the Walt Disney Company and the first mandate was to go global. It was completely nuts, no sleep, working with every time zone imaginable. Waking up in the middle of the night for Chinese meetings. So my husband left his job and became a stay at home dad for five years. Still today I’m amazed that he did that. It was hard for him. But it was a family decision, and I’m super grateful that he did that. And now my kids are older, they’re away.”

Finding the technology sector was a happy coincidence, and has so far afforded more numerous and creative outlets for social change. In fact, it’s its ever-changing nature that made Pascale fall in love.

“It’s the movement. The ever-changing. I get bored easily, so I’m definitely happier when I’m in a place that moves very quickly. I couldn’t be in a very conservative, slow-moving industry. So I think it’s the ability to also create and challenge yourself all of the time because not all of the rules are set, not all of the decisions have been made, not all of the processes are all in place. The more you grow, the more you always have to rethink. It’s never done, and you’ll never get bored. And it’s the challenge as well, I think, constantly challenging yourself. That’s my hobby. Honestly, it’s my hobby. I don’t feel like I’m working most of the time.”

Have you read the rest of the WMNinTECH series?
Caterina Rizzi trailblazes a path for women techies in Montreal – March 29
Angelique Mannella on taking chances and being open to unexpected opportunities – April 5
Magaly Charbonneau proves that with organization and drive you can have it all – May 2
Naomi Goldapple on pursuing passion in business – May 29


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