EO has given me a safe place to be real – in business and in life.

Candice Rookes is a powerhouse entrepreneur who credits her EO membership with the values-driven culture at Recruitment Partners Inc., a recruiter with offices in Edmonton and Calgary. She’s also the president of EO’s Edmonton chapter – one who is dedicated to giving back to an organization that has been so instrumental in her own success. We talked to her about her experience with EO, what she’s gotten out of it, and how it has helped her become better – in business and in life.

What made you decide to join EO?

I went to a conference that was supposed to be about networking and peer learning…but it was not what I was looking for. I remember thinking “I paid $500 for this? Are you kidding me?” So that night, I started looking for something better, a group where I could learn from other business owners. I wasn’t looking for a typical networking group, I wanted more, and I knew I’d found that when I came across EO.

However, when it came time for my first meeting, I wasn’t sure it would be for me. I was expecting a “bro” culture – you know, all football and hockey, since the majority of members are men. So I went in with the idea that I would just show up, peace out and that would be the end of it. But that isn’t what happened at all. In fact, it was exactly what I was looking for – and exactly what I needed. I met strong, incredible leaders – a number of whom happened to be women – and everyone was warm and welcoming. No old boys club here!

Since then, I’ve been in the company of established entrepreneurs willing to give me their time, lend an ear and, most of all, not judge my choices. I’ve been mentored by influential business owners, participated in leadership and learned from leaders from around the world.

What EO experience impacted you most? 

EO has given me a safe place to be real – in business and in life. It has made me a better human and a better leader. I’m more empathetic, a better communicator, and the leadership opportunities have taught me so much. But if I had to pick just one experience that especially impacted me, I’d have to say it was the Regional Leadership Academy.

It was five days of constant learning and doing, starting at 6am and ending around midnight – tiring but exhilarating. One day they dropped us off on a mountain with some snowshoes and a backpack with water, a snack and a notepad. We didn’t know how long we would be there, or what we were supposed to do. We had to spread out, weren’t allowed to talk to each other, and if we took off our snowshoes, we’d sink into several feet of snow. Oh – and they said they were monitoring a few bears in the area, but that we shouldn’t worry!

We were left alone with our thoughts, and it was a powerful thing. The experience was about facing fear, dealing with uncertainty, being vulnerable, not having someone to talk to about your problems – all things entrepreneurs struggle with every day. Some people came away with journal entries and drawings, others with ideas about running their business in a new way or living life differently.

We each got something unique out of it. They would never say “you should have done this” – that’s not what EO is about. It’s about learning from experiences and figuring things out yourself.

COVID was hard on so many businesses – how did EO help you get through the pandemic? 

The first months were truly awful. The job landscape may be great now, but back then, nobody was hiring. It was like someone had turned off a tap. When I had to let people go – good people who hadn’t done anything wrong – I cried in front of my team three times in one day. I woke up every day with an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Laying off people I cared about was hard, but it would have been worse without my forum. We shared ideas and experiences, and we had each other’s backs: whether it was checking in to see if others were okay or sharing the most empathetic way to lay someone off, we really came together to help each other out.

What would you say to someone considering becoming an EO member? 

Do it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re always looking for members who participate and contribute – that’s what makes EO work so well. So, jump in and be all in – it can only elevate you.

Candice Rookes, Partner, Edmonton Branch

Co-founder, Recruitment Partners Inc. 

27-30 employees

In business 11 years

EO member for 10 years 

Posted on 2022-05-10