Xchange asked Canada’s top women entrepreneurs to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue we’ll bring you the advice that has helped shape the lives and businesses of these winning businesswomen.

Ann Kaplan is president and CEO of Medicard Finance Inc., a Toronto-based specialty lender. Since 1997, Medicard has provided more than 30,000 consumers with loans for elective medical procedures such as dentistry, cosmetic surgery, hair transplants and laser eye surgery. With 2003 revenues of more than $2 million, Medicard ranked 17th on PROFIT’s 2003 list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

BEST ADVICE: “Don’t bring your personal life into your business.”

“I think that when you bring your personal life up too much in business, you’re not taken seriously, whether you’re male or female,” says Kaplan. “Focus on the business and you’ll get more respect.” Kaplan received this advice from an individual who invested in her business. “I still don’t know anything personal about the him,” she says, “although I know all about his business.”

Not chatting about family life “is appreciated by my board of directors and by anyone who does business with me,” says Kaplan. “I do not bring up my [family] in my dealings with banks or with investors or with my partners. And they know I’m working. I feel strongly that there’s a comfort level there — that they know I’m focused on the business. I don’t think I’d stay in the position that I’m in if they felt I was doing otherwise.”

When faced with a friendly, “So, how are the kids?” Kaplan responds with, “Fine, thank you for asking,” and redirects conversation to the business at hand. “You can avoid being rude, while saving time and removing the pressures of small talk for everyone.”

Kaplan received a second key piece of advice from another colleague: “When you’re in a business situation and forced into eating with people, spend your time focusing on the conversation and not on the food and alcohol.” Eating very little and drinking only water keeps your mind clear and gives you an advantage over others who may overindulge, she says. Like a clever card player, you’ll be sure to gain telling knowledge about your opponent and their business environment.

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