Meet Heather Odendaal, an accomplished entrepreneur, driven sales executive for a Fortune 500 company, active community member, and founder of WNORTH Conference. As an experienced event producer, Heather launched the inaugural WNORTH Conference in spring 2015 when her pursuit of finding a leadership conference for women on a path to senior executive leadership fell short. Heather’s vision was to bring together a collective of women who were aspiring to senior leadership roles and advance entrepreneurs that wanted to take their business to the next level.
Following the resounding success of the 2015 one-day event, WNORTH returned in 2016 for a 2-day conference, and will return in April for the third year!
When did you first learn about your field of work? What called you to it?
My first introduction to the world of events was my first job at the ski resort Whistler Blackcomb. I gained experience working on every type of event from world cup ski competitions to film festivals, and a lot in between. I love working in events because we are in the business of creating memories and experiences for people. Creating the WNORTH Conference was a natural fit for me. I had been in attendance at many women’s leadership events but I had not found one that fully prepared women who were mid-career for senior executive leadership. Whistler has been my hometown for 14 years and I was also passionate about showcasing this mountain town to women leaders in business. I created WNORTH Conference as a destination women’s conference that brings together dynamic female entrepreneurs and corporate executives under one roof.
What was the best piece of business advice you were ever given?
My dad once told me “No matter what job you do, always do it to the very best of your ability. Whether you are pumping gas at a gas station or serving tables at a restaurant. If you put 110% into it, someone will notice and it will bring opportunity”. Even when I have had jobs that I didn’t necessarily enjoy, I have tried to remember this. Keeping a positive attitude and continuing to raise the bar has ultimately led to bigger and better opportunities later in my career.
What resources would you recommend to someone starting a business?
I would seek out other women who have recently started a business in the last few years, their ideas and struggles will be fresh in their mind. I think Peer to Peer mentorship is just as important as traditional mentorship.
What is the biggest overall lesson you learned in launching WNORTH?
As much as I wanted to believe it, I couldn’t do it all. I found out that I was pregnant the week of the first WNORTH Conference, which meant I was having my first baby only months before the second installment of the Conference. Our first event was such a success, so we were going to produce it again but I knew that I needed help. I reached out to women in my network and built an organizing committee of experts in their fields. We have scaled WNORTH enormously with their support.
What does success mean to you?
Success to me is being happy with all facets of my life; my work, my fitness, my family and my friendships.
Who is a woman, past or present, whom you admire?
Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, an executive leadership entrepreneur out of New York City. She was a speaker at our 2016 WNORTH Conference and is making an encore appearance at our 2017 Conference. Elizabeth hosts an incredible podcast called the Women’s Leadership Podcast presented by the Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership and she speaks on extremely timely issues in women’s executive leadership. She has been a guiding voice for American women post-Election.
Learn more about Heather and the WNORTH Conference at www.wnorthconference.com.