Ann Kaplan often talks in inspirational memes: “Think big”; “Think billions, not millions”; “Be the maker of your own destiny”. Spoken by most others, such soundbites would sound glib but when Kaplan talks, you listen. She can back it up.
The star of reality TV show The Real Housewives of Toronto can’t venture out in the downtown core without selfie requests but scratch a little deeper – or watch the show – and it’s clear there is substance to support the style.
The mother of eight is CEO and president of iFinance Canada Inc, the parent company to Medicard, Petcard, Dentalcard, iFinance Tech and iFinance Home Improvement, having led the firm from a start-up in 1996 to one of the largest consumer finance companies in Canada. Its loan applications exceed $1 billion.
Twice a winner of The Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, she has also authored four books – the most recent being How to be Successful in Spite of Yourself – holds a master’s in science and has just completed her doctorate. She will share her journey and lessons learnt at the WP Innovation and Strategy Summit on May 29 in Toronto.
iFinance began when Kaplan decided to find a solution for people who were paying out of their own pocket for medical procedures. She told WP: “There wasn’t a way without them going to the bank. If you couldn’t get a loan from the bank and you had no money, you were out of luck. I saw there was a problem and founded a company to find a solution for Canadians.”
She hired a market research company and discovered that government, if anything, was going to cut back on what they funded. In the first 12 months, iFinance did $1 million in business and in its 13th month it did $1 million alone. “It’s like a snowball going down a hill and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
She tells people, like advisors trying to grow their practice, not to impose limits. “I didn’t think big enough. I wish I had thought of a billion not a million-dollar business because before I knew it, we were growing to that size and I wish I had thought on a bigger scale. I thought small – I thought millions not billions.”
Of course, success on that scale does not just happen and behind it all is a fierce work ethic. Kaplan is up at 5 a.m. every day and by 8 a.m. has mapped out her day, checked her social media and tackled the day’s problems head on.
“I treat every day as an opportunity,” she said. “I don’t set the bar low. I am always developing my brain, always challenging my mind, like an exercise.”
A firm believer that an entrepreneurial spirit can be developed, she said that confidence, however, is vital and that you must also be a risk-taker. And don’t waste your breath with excuses when you enter the Kaplan realm. Life isn’t fair, she said, so deal with it.
“You can’t be blaming the fact you have children or that your spouse doesn’t like it or your parents were abusive or your mother was horrible or you are married to a cheater or all the things you hear people say that bring you down. Whatever your excuse is, you have to just get over it.”
Kaplan has been offered her own show after the “fun” of Real Housewives and the completion of her book tour. To anyone’s eyes she is spinning a lot of plates at once but any suggestion she is a special case is firmly dismissed. But can anyone really do all these things?
“Sure they can,” she said. “I’m not magic – I’m juggling eight children and seven companies. But you can’t do it if you are drinking every night or you aren’t physically fit and aren’t financially competent.
“You can’t be putting out fires trying to spend more than you are making and then trying to fix that. You have to get yourself on a path where you have the right people in your life, not negative people who are holding you back and you have to be taking care of yourself financially. That means stop spending money you haven’t made yet.”