A recurring theme through this year’s recipients was the very conscious decision to make Belleville the location for the business they built.
Our mentor recipient started her journey in business through her parents - who owned a Furniture Refinishing business in Carrying Place (Scott Anderson’s Furniture Refinishing) and the Carrying Place Flea Market which was opened on Sundays only. At 10 years old, my Mom actually had me running the cafeteria at the Flea Market by myself. Every Saturday we would go grocery shopping picking up the coffee, donuts, burgers, hot dogs, and everything else needed for running the cafeteria. I worked at it by myself as cook, server, and cashier. Then at the end of the day I would count my profits and it helped to pay for my figure skating and anything else I wanted to buy as a tween (which was usually clothes!). That was my first small business ;). Ran the cafeteria until I was about 14 or 15 then got a job working for a local catering company.
She started working as a model and then transitioned into the role of booking agent for Elite and Penny Noble.
While family commitments brought her home from the big city with her husband a bit earlier than expected, it didn’t take long for our next recipient to decide there was no reason why she couldn’t do exactly the same job she’d done in Toronto – she’d just have to build a business of her own.
So in October of 1990, with a new venture loan of $10,000 and a lease for a ¼ of the space at the Deacon Brothers building, there was no sense she couldn’t do what she wanted. We had a great girl chat about what it’s like to be young and ambitious – and as I reflect on that conversation, it reminds me how our generation – the Gen Xers – came into our own at a time when older men and women weren’t quite sure how to deal with our adaptability, resilience and disregard for older norms of what a woman should be… we’d grown up with Mary Tyler Moore, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Candice Bergen in Moonlighting – and while I hate to equate our mindset based on television, this was the result of the bra-burning feminism of the 60s and 70s – and mothers that didn’t remind us we were girls in any way that was meant to hold us back.
And so, she dug in with this little talent business idea and within a year, she had an agency from New York wanting to buy in.
She had already located amazing talent within the area – no one was looking in rural Ontario – and she was finding work for them. While many think that modelling is about runway and magazine covers, there is a great deal of commercial work that comes out of Toronto.
During that same first year, she was married in September, opened in October, found out she was pregnant in February and had her son in September – and they built a house.
We talked a bit about technology here as well – because again, this has become a remote business when the phone and fax were modern conveniences that made it possible but nothing like the ease of email, facetime, skype, social media…
She would start her day in the office between 9-10 am, get ready for the classes starting at 4:00 and staying through to the end of them at 9:00 pm. She was in the office the day after her son was born.
As she started to cultivate talent in the area, she was offering modeling courses that served her to find motivated people interested in getting into the industry but even more than that, it was a way to help these children develop self-confidence through some of the obvious ways but it does more than teach about makeup (how less is more) or how to walk in heels (for prom). Etiquette is a component of the program and she commented on how Hugh & Donna O’Neill had brought their grandchildren in for the progam because they knew they would benefit from this guidance.
At this point, I feel I’m describing another visionary and founder, rather than a mentor – but I do need to share the next venture she embarked on three years after opening the agency – and this was to create a convention in Canada that would give Canadian talent an opportunity to be seen by agents from around the world. She had attended a similar convention that only hosted agents from Toronto – which she was already connected to – she spent a year trying to get the organizers to work on something bigger and finally, took the suggestion of others that she should simply do it herself. The first Canadian Model and Talent Convention was held in May of 1993 – and celebrates its 28th year. This event brings together a guaranteed minimum of 70 agents (though its more like 90+) from across Canada, New York, LA, China, Paris – you get the picture. Similar events in the US cost families a second mortgage – up to $12,000 to participate in the IMTA – but larger agencies tend to stay away from these because they see it as a cash grab from families. Coordinating the event includes managing all travel and accommodation costs for the agents – who do donate their time in trade for the possibility of discovering the next great face or talent.
We’ve been to this event. And when I compare what we spent on goalie equipment and hockey tournament fees, it’s probably less – and the sense of opportunity that the convention creates is truly magnetic. But that was one of the challenges, in a hockey town, most of her clients are girls –
But we are here to recognize a mentor – the first example is how she has just sold Mode-Elle to Nicole, who was a student when she was 12 and marched back into the office with a resume after completing her fashion design diploma at Humber.
But here is one quote from one of the many submitted from the people she has mentored over the years…
Audra has been such an important person in my life in so many ways. From taking trips with me to New York to visit agencies when I was 16, to taking care of my kids while I worked (even pretending that she was their ‘Nanny’ at a Ralph Lauren show, so that she could be backstage with us!), she has supported and encouraged me for almost 30 years! She has always been much more than my agent. She has truly cared, supported, and loved me as a friend. I truly do not think that my years as a model would have been as successful without her support. I am so lucky to have had someone as honest, dedicated and caring as Audra by my side throughout my career. I love you Audra and am so grateful for you in so many ways. I truly wish I could be there tonight with you, but am sending you lots of love and good wishes. You are and always will be my favourite agent :) xoxLiisa