Frédérique Irwin is a seasoned entrepreneur and a true Renaissance woman. Her fervor and knowledge have made her adaptable, through owning four businesses and now through carrying Her Corner through the COVID-19 pandemic. She calls Her Corner, a multi-purpose resource for women business owners, a “community experiment”. It is a passion that grew from her desire and need to do better for women. The designation of her business as an “experiment” reveals how unrestricted and free Fred is to new ways of being. She has proven her ability to learn and evolve beyond what current structures allow.
In our interview, Frédérique answers with a genuine free-spiritedness, illustrating her value of openness to change. Her love for life, people, and the world around her shines through her light-hearted honesty. She cycled through four businesses as she followed her evolving beliefs, and shares her advice about what makes us and how we can choose. She reminds us all to remain curious, about ourselves and about the knowledge we have yet to understand.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a bit of a serial entrepreneur! Her Corner is my fourth business. I don’t say that in the sense that I’ve built four crazy successful businesses. In fact, it’s more like it took me four times to get it right! But I love business, every single aspect of it. From understanding the behavioral economics that drive consumers to act a certain way, to actively listening to the market, and to helping business owners break down what they know and see in their businesses in order to help them grow. I also believe in women, in our ability to persevere, innovate, and create. Now, more than ever, I believe we are stronger together. When women come together we can inspire one another to hope and believe in a better future.
On a personal note, I am married to an ER doctor and we have 3 kids. Last year we packed up our house and moved to New Zealand. We were there for a year to show our kids another part of this gorgeous planet. The world we share with others. I am so grateful for that experience and those days. Especially now, in light of the current stress of having my husband on the front lines of a global pandemic.
What inspired you to venture into your career field?
I spent over 15 years working in management consulting. I loved the problem-solving aspect of consulting. But one day, I realized two things. 1) Almost all of my customers were men, so I was spending my time and energy helping men get further ahead. 2) Meanwhile, more and more women were starting their own ventures and they weren’t thriving.
I felt such a deep belief that I could help those women do better. I decided to try to do something about it. Her Corner was founded not so much as a new business, but rather as a community experiment. I wanted to know what would happen if we brought women together to talk about their businesses and to collaborate together. The results blew me away. Since 2012, we have evolved as a company. Still, we have maintained our fundamental belief in what we call the power of collective intelligence.
What is your typical day like & how have you adjusted to the current pandemic?
As a business, Her Corner had to quickly pivot away from the in-person meetings we held for our Accelerator meetings. Recently, we’ve had to switch to running everything virtually. We also had to re-organize how we work with women. We realized immediately how much we all need a sense of community right now. How we can lift one another up when we are feeling down. And we have had to stay on top of the legislation and grants that are coming through that can help small businesses get through this crisis.
My day is no longer typical in the sense that my three kids are home these days. We have had to adjust to also making time to teach them (especially the youngest who is still in 1st grade). But, the older two are helpful in keeping an eye on him when I am in meetings. It’s made a big difference.
Knowing that my husband is in and out of ERs many times a week, we’ve developed strategies to deal with the fear and tension we feel as a family. We have started a daily meditation practice with the kids. It provides them a moment of stillness. They share their fears, and we talk about how we can help one another through them.
What do you think has helped you the most with your success?
Perhaps that I am constantly trying to learn—learning new skills, new outlooks. I try to push all the time on my own limitations. I try to get outside my comfort zone to try something new. (Whether that be to start teaching at the Graduate level, or to learn new habits or new hobbies). It is a constant reminder of how little I actually know, and how important it is to remain curious.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to achieve your goals?
Definitely balancing my own expectations. I often struggle with the reality of being a mom to three children and the demands and work that that takes. That, versus my own very deep sense of ambition to achieve. There is constant tension there. I love my role as their mom and the experiences we want to give them. But I also have to regularly reset my own expectations of what I want my life to look like. I feel like I constantly need to remind myself that I don’t have to get it all done this year. Life is a journey, enjoy the process. It’s very hard for me to do.
How do you reward yourself after a hard day’s/week’s/month’s work?
Well, up until recently, it was with travel. As a family, we love to travel. So putting some fun trips on the calendar has always given us something to look forward to.
But more recently, it has been by honoring my own personal rituals that help me build up resilience. For example, I start my day early and spend time meditating and working out. The sense of calm and stillness I feel is my gift to myself for what I know will be a tricky day ahead.
What advice can you give to our readers?
Look around you and ask yourself, who are you in contact with these days? I am a firm believer that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Who are you connecting with the most? How are those people helping you through this pandemic? Are they bringing you hope? Making you laugh? Sharing something new with you that you’d never thought about? Surround yourself with the people who inspire you and together we will get through these difficult moments.
Who do you look up to or admire?
I admire the leaders around us who are leading with genuine transparency. Who aren’t pretending that they have all the answers, but who are sharing what they know. Through this pandemic, I have been particularly impressed by the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen; the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern; the CEO of Air New Zealand, Greg Foran; and the CEO of Marriott, Arne M. Sorenson. Each of these individuals is connecting with their audiences and customers on such a human level. They are demonstrating to all of us what it means to lead and inspire.