Building business success with collective wisdom: Karen Flavelle of Purdy's Chocolates

Karen Flavelle, the president of Purdy's Chocolates is a successful woman and business leader.  What could be sweeter? Photo courtesy of VancouverIsAwesome.com.

Even for a successful woman and business leader, Karen Flavelle has an enviable track record. The president of Purdy’s Chocolates, a fixture of households in Western Canada since 1907, Flavelle was a finalist for Business in Vancouver’s 2005 Influential Women in Business award and has sat on the boards of the Retail Council of Canada, BC’s first Business Laureate Hall of Fame, BC Business Council Board of Governors, Canadian Association of Family Enterprises (Personal Advisory Group Chair), Confectionery Manufacturing Association of Canada, International Council of Shopping Centres (Provincial Retail Chair), Retail Merchants Association of BC, and Young Presidents’ Organization (BC Forum Chair, WIN Regional Chair, WIN GCC Chair).

It’s interesting to note that even though Flavelle is the second-generation owner Purdy’s, who celebrated their 100th birthday in 2007, she was not initially invited to join the family business. Charles Flavelle, who bought Purdy’s in 1963, did not believe in parachuting family members into positions above long-term employees. This inspired his daughter, Karen, to forge her own way to business success. 

After developing her marketing and retail knowledge through successful corporate careers with General Mills and Cara Operations in Toronto and Product Development Partnership in London, England, Karen Flavelle purchased Purdy’s from her father in 1997 and has grown the business from 42 to 55 retail stores across British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario.     

While doing research for a business consulting project, I found a video of Flavelle running in the 2010 Winter Olympics Torch Relay. It struck me as perfectly symbolic of her taking the Purdy’s torch and guiding the company to further success. I subsequently contacted Flavelle to talk about some of the lessons she’s learned as a successful woman and business leader:

No “Know-It-All” attitudes

Flavelle prizes the “HP” - Historical Perspective -- and recognized that as a centennial business, Purdy’s is home to a tremendous amount of collective wisdom. After researching and identifying company elements that she felt needed updating, Flavelle took advantage of her father’s experience by asking a lot of questions.

“This educated me and gave Dad the comfort of knowing that I wasn’t rushing around changing things without being aware of why things were the way they were.”  

Standing on the shoulders of predecessors

Being mindful of the historical perspective, Flavelle clearly understands that the longevity of Purdy’s is a result of the successes of previous owners. “Good decisions were made in the past”, she stated. “Even though things may have changed now and they are no longer valid, [it] doesn’t mean they weren’t good decisions then.” Flavelle sees her job as taking Purdy’s to the next level and then passing the reins to a worthy successor. 

Big picture thinking 

Businesses need a clear vision of where they should be and how to get there. One of the most common errors made by business owners is immersing themselves in the day-to-day operations to the extent that they lose sight of the big picture. For Purdy’s, a business with a long-history, Flavelle believes that the visioning also needs to incorporate the company’s culture, the historical perspective, and the “contract” the company has with its customers.

“History has in effect created a contract of what customers expect from [Purdy’s] – it is critical to respect that.”  

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