I always smile when I think of my first meeting with Kristel Manes. We were meeting at her office in Guelph, or so we thought, but the ignition on my car wouldn’t turn off, no matter what I did. So the practical women that we were, we chatted for 45 minutes in the parking lot outside my car.

It is interesting when you interview friends. You think you know all about them, and quickly find you don’t, not at all.

I never knew, for example, that Kristel started her business career with Braemar, following a co-op placement in high school. Not only that but they paid for her retail training at Sheridan College and over the ten years that she was there, she worked her way up the ranks to become a senior manager.

Wanting a break from retail, she next tried her hand at real estate, got her license and hated it. Next she bought a coffee shop in Acton and it was through that venture that she met her husband.   Later they would move to Harriston where they purchased a Home Hardware.

When her marriage ended, Kristel moved back to Guelph, this time with her two daughters.  As a single mother she found out first-hand how hard it is to make ends meet, pay for child care and overcome the debt she was accumulating just to stay ahead.

When the Small Business Centre was advertising for a business advisor, Kristel jumped at the opportunity. With her management and retail background, she was confident that she could deliver. With a smile, she shares the story of her interview.

You can imagine her shock when she arrived to find that the Executive Director, who was conducting the interview, was wearing not only the same jacket as her, but the same brooch too.

As Kristel remarked, this could have gone two ways but she was hired, with the comment that she’d already demonstrated great taste! For six years she worked at the Centre as a program lead.

But when Innovation Guelph opened up, she knew this was an opportunity for her to grow and learn. She applied for a position there, but didn’t want it. As she explained to the interview team, she was an operations gal, and as soon as there was a vacancy, she wanted them to know who she was.They were so impressed that they went back and re-jigged the budget and hired her.

Kristel was there for six years and much of her focus was on supporting women in the entrepreneurship arena. First she got a research grant from Status of Women to study the barriers women face, and then through Trillium funding developed the Rhyze project and started to implement programs and changes to enhance women’s skills and confidence.

Big on collaboration and partnerships, Kristel was instrumental in launching the first International Women’s Day in Guelph that brought together all the different groups that support women. That was seven years ago, and last year the event attracted 400 people to celebrate the day.

Last year Kristel’s career went full circle and she is back at the Business Centre as its new Executive Director. As she says, as the entrepreneur, she was ready for a change and the Centre was seeking new thought leadership to build on their successes.

Kristel brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this position, some of it personal. She knows only too well how hard it is, as a single parent, to get financing for your business.

Now each day she comes up with three words to govern her day, so she starts with realistic expectations and stays grounded and positive, no matter what happens.

Describing her super-power as resiliency, Kristel encourages women starting a business to believe in themselves and to be open to opportunities rather than locked into their business plan.

And she should know, as she walks her talk.