Competitive Advantage: Multitasking on a Global Scale

Well hello everybody! Um, little did I know is that four years ago when I arrived in Rural Portugal to renovate an old ruin on the Camino de Santiago, that I would meet one of the most fascinating and entrepreneurial woman I’ve ever come across in my life. And to boot, this woman was Canadian which further brought us close together. We met at a mutual friend from Montreal, also living in Portugal. And, we started talking that night and have not stopped talking since. Trisha Pope is the owner of a 55 acre operating farm – blueberries, raspberries and the significant vineyard. She also operates a 10-bedroom guesthouse, and a fact wasn’t enough. She operates two businesses in China and is about to open a third. You can imagine it’s hard to get time with this incredible woman but I managed to today.

Lesley: So, Trisha Pope, buendia mia amiga.
Trisha: (Speaking Portuguese language)


Tune In - Women Who Lead

Lesley: Oh there she goes. You see, now, this is why I take her everywhere I go in Portugal because she can speak the language and I can’t. So, you know, let’s tell the audience a little bit about how you first came upon learning Portuguese.

Trisha: Well, that’s a story that started way back in the old days when I was 17, just graduated from high school. And through high school I had planned on travelling as soon as I finished. So I saved up my coins and submitted an application to do an exchange abroad. I was about to head off to France where I had been…because I’ve been studying French for years in school of course being Canadian. And last minute conversation, mom and I are putting the application in the envelope, and mom says, “Are you sure about this? You don’t want to try somewhere near you’ve never been and never going to learn the language?” And so I pulled the application back out, and crossed out France and randomly picked Brazil because I thought that’s a place I’m never going to go in my life. And couple of months later, I had an exchange…for a short while. So, it was a great time, it was a really wonderful learning experience and I did pick up a bit of Portuguese. And till today, even I hadn’t spoken Portuguese for 20 years by the time I moved here, I still get told, “Oh, you’ve got a bit of a Brazilian accent.” So, it’s kind of a funny thing. So, “No, I don’t. I have Canadian accent.”

Lesley: A Canadian-Brazilian-Portuguese accent. There you are.

Trisha: Exactly.
Lesley: Well, so, roll the camera forward, you comeback to Canada, do you do a number of interesting different jobs and you meet another entrepreneur along the way? You would later build an international branch called “Spicebox” together. Tell us a little bit about how did you go about building an international brand called “Spicebox” in the one of the toughest industries today –publishing. So first of all tell us about “Spicebox.”

Trisha: “Spicebox”…that is a division of a company at the time, when we started it was a division. That was set up to just to design products that we thought would sell better than what we are currently selling in Canada. So, Ben, who truly is a master entrepreneur, was already working a bit in China, bringing in products directly from China. And, he talked to me about developing products ourselves using things, items that he was bringing in from China. Um, combining paintbrushes with the book on painting, combining craft supplies with the book on “How do you craft.”

Lesley: So these are “how-to kits” that….

Trisha: Exactly. Activity kits that teach us how to do things that are fun and interactive, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. So, yes, we apply with focus on that, and I said, “I will but not as a division of the other company. I want it to be its own standalone company.” And within two years it outgrew the other one and has become one of the most successful books plus publishing companies in the world. So it’s really exciting.

Lesley: What do you think was one of the keys to the success of that build? What did you do that put it passed the competition to where it is today?

Trisha: Well, we made things that many people wanted to buy, first of all. We didn’t make things that were based on what our egos wanting to produce, we made things that were based on who actually really wanted to buy. That was number one. I think number two was…we understood who our market was in terms of sales. So, right away we ended at launching product in Casco’s, Science club, a lot of major retailers because we knew that was the market that we winners did. So, I think the success lay in the fact that we didn’t try to do something that we didn’t know how to do. We focused on what we already knew based on our experience and past. We just did it better and we did it bigger, and we added some creative elements to it but really didn’t try to reinvent any wheels. We just really tried to do what we knew how to do best. I think, the other key was the fact that we weren’t afraid to go into China ourselves and work hard. So, between a really great sales design and marketing team in Canada, we were very, very hands-on and still are today very hands-on in China. And not everybody’s going to do that…

Lesley: Well, and you were because you actually moved to China for two years.

Trisha: That’s right, that’s right. We were having a lot of success in the sales but it actually ends up that we weren’t producing fast enough; we needed more product than what we had. So, that’s when you know a company is on the road to being successful as we actually can’t keep up with the demand. And so, what we were finding is that things that we were able to produce successfully in the previous year we were struggling to get delivered on time, so I though the best way to understand how to solve problems is to go firsthand and really learn. And I talked to Ben and we decided that it would be a great idea to setup an office in China, because it’s hard to manage and direct something that you don’t understand. So in order to be successful we wanted to understand it from the ground level up, so I moved to Shenzhen, we rented an apartment –Shenzhen just out of Hong Kong right unto the mainland. We rented an apartment, hired staff—all in Chinese which I do not know how to speak—and was one of the first foreign females in that area to set up a business and worked in a local community.

Lesley: So this is what fascinates me is, you know, you just take things on with almost such gusto that you just don’t have any sense of failure in your DNA. So, I just want to know, what was it like when you first got there and first started to establish yourself. What did you have to do that maybe different than what you had to do in Canada?

Trisha: Hmm, that’s a really big question because I don’t… It’s not my nature to focus on the things that are hard and challenging, it’s just my nature to get things done. You know, once I it needs to get done, it needs to get done whether it’s in Canada, whether it’s in Portugal, or whether it’s in China. So, a challenge is a challenge, you just needed head on and figure it out. So, I didn’t really focused on what was different, I just focused on what I needed to learn and I learned it. Um, I would say that definitely, um, the culture of working in China is quite different than working in North America. Despite the fact that even in Canada a lot of our employees are Chinese, the local culture is definitely different. Because for example in China, it’s very uncommon for them to say “no” to something can’t be done, what they do is they’ll say “Yes it can be done,” but just using a different tone of voice. So you have to kind of face-to-face and understand how to recognize when something is being said it can be done, but in fact what they really mean is “No, it can’t be done.” So don’t ask. So, you know, reading the subtext was definitely a big learning curve for me in China.

Lesley: And tell me about what it was like living there, because I know you’ve had translators and interpreters and they helped you navigate. But what about your own life in China, what was that like?

Trisha: I actually really enjoyed it; I’m going to be honest. I have always been in adventure ever since I was young as I mentioned about my trip to Brazil. I enjoyed it because one of the things that it allowed me to do is to shut a lot of the fears and insecurities that I had up to that point, because it was such a unique environment in such a different world. And when I got there, the woman that was hired to be my housekeeper didn’t even realize that I wasn’t Chinese. She came from a village and didn’t know that there was not Chinese. So it was such a unique experience because it’s so, so uniquely different from North America and our culture. So the things that we tend to feel and secure about as we’re working, as we’re trying to succeed in life, we never worried about looking stupid in front of people. We’re worried about failing, we’re worried about, you know, “Am I going to enjoy doing this?” Just insecurities and worries that we have, they just are really irrelevant there, they don’t make any sense. So, I was able to lose a lot of those fears or insecurities of self-doubts, simply because there is no wait to them in China. And, becoming fearless in what you do is actually very liberating, and it really allows you to take things on that you wouldn’t necessarily think of doing in a different environment that where you’re still feeling those insecurities and nerves. Yeah, so, I think one of the best things that ever happened to me in my personal life as woman and as a human being is a business person was moving to China, really understanding that fearlessness is a wonderful way to live. Being fearless is so liberating and so fraying, and it allows you to just take anything on a life that you probably would have normally. So I loved it, I love being there.

Lesley: There’s something to be said for how often we move into a culture and feel that we have to somehow assimilate ourselves, as supposed to just opening ourselves up to the experience and taking it on with the depths of our personality and that’s what you did.

Trisha: Just jump in and enjoy it and learn from it. Now, I’m not going to say that there are things that as a Canadian…we have a very distinct culture as Canadian. And within the tiers I realized that I would either have to truly start to assimilate into a Chinese culture and embrace some things. Or I would have to leave because there are some things in the culture that are very different from the way that we live and are a little bit difficult to accept. And so, you know, you can…. I’m not going to use the word…because that’s not the right to word to say, it sounds like there’s something wrong…

Lesley: What would one of those be, Trisha?

Trisha: Well, for example, personal space… Canadians are very aware of personal space. You know, we give each other our distance and our space, we shake hands. We’re aware of not bumping into each other, and we’re aware of giving each other like respect and space and that’s something that’s not part of the Chinese Culture. And so I felt very uncomfortable in a lot of public situations because my sense of personal space was constantly being invaded and I felt disrespected. You know, being bumped and being hit, being pushed… It wasn’t just respectful within the Chinese culture but to me it feels disrespectful because that’s not our culture. So, it was something that would have change within me. I had to fundamentally have to change something that’s a part of my culture and order to not be upset. And that’s a very small example and that’s one I could’ve adjusted to, but there is other things like that that I had stayed there and would’ve had to fundamentally accept things that culturally were difficult for me.

Lesley: So parachuting for two years and getting the job done, and getting the systems established and creating the relationships that you would need on an ongoing basis is what worked for you.

Trisha: Absolutely. And understanding why it’s such an easy culture to respect, and appreciate and admire. Without me having to be there and without me having to become Chinese I respect it, and I respect the way that they work and respect the people that they are, and the warmness that they have as a people and as a culture. So, you know, I’ve been invited into many homes, and you know, I’ve shared Chinese new years with people, and friends and business associates. And so, creating this sense of trust has been integral to what I do today. So, that was really a platform for me to integrate to a level and adapt that there’s a strong trust relationship now which can be a lot of work in China and myself.

Lesley: So, in that respect, what happened next after you decided not to stay in China?

Trisha: Okay. So, after that, I did a quick foray into the US and I stayed in Los Angeles for almost a year to basically just decide whether or there was a business opportunity there for Spicebox. And in the end, you know, we made a decision not to pursue it at that time, it wasn’t the right move. And during this timeframe, when we live in Los Angeles I had already thought about what I really wanted as a woman, as a human being, as a business person. And I knew that I didn’t want to go back to Canada, for lots of different reasons I wanted to spread my wings and go further abroad. And so, I started exploring options of what is my next move and what can I do that I can tackle, that I can grab hold of with both hands, jump into, and potentially and hopefully make it to the last major move in my life, and that’s when I ended to in Portugal.

Lesley: So you’ve discovered this expensive and somewhat rundown farm. And over a period of a couple of years, wasn’t it that you finally made the decision that that would be the location?

Trisha: Well, um, no actually backwards, I decided first and it moved.

Lesley: Okay I got you, I got you.

Trisha: I’m a fairly irrational person, and as much I’d like to come up with a romantic story about how I walked the Camino Santiago and sat on a wall with a bottle of wine and bought a ruin. And much magical on that, Lesley, no romance in my story, no, I just started listing the things that needed were requirement of where I lived and what I was going to do with my life, and started narrowing it down to countries that met that criteria. So it was about where I could potentially learn the language quickly, where I could adapt to a cultural community that I felt was not too foreign to me, things like even I wanted to live in countryside but had to be close to an airport. And once you start pinpointing airports around the world, and where is the countryside around them within an hour, there’s not many places. I mean it to be affordable, my beautiful farm cost less than a Vancouver apartment, so that was a good option for me. And, you know, once I started narrowing it down, Portugal was pretty much one of the last countries on my list and I didn’t really even know where it was. So, hopped on a plane and decided to go see what this country was all about and really just enjoyed it and just fell in love with it. And through destiny tends or fate, I met somebody who knew the previous owner of this farm who had unfortunate gust away. And had been abandoned for 15 years, I just stepped on it, fell in love and said, “Yes I will buy it.” So, it was already mostly a predetermined decision to move to Portugal, I just hadn’t found a place yet.

Lesley: Got it. So, now, let’s talk a bit about what it’s like to be a woman in a small Portuguese village, who is owning and operating a major farm and needs to be part of the village and yet also running projects that require other people who are mostly men. Tell me about how that experience has been?

Trisha: Yeah. That has been a very interesting experience, because of course after having left another country is I’ll understand the concepts of culture shock and changes, but inevitably, culture shock is never what you expected to be. It’s these little that come up that are part of being that really surprise you and take you back. First of all, not only as it is a small village, it’s a small catholic village and I’m not catholic, I grew up in an evangelical environment. So, according to the people here I’m not Christian which has caused also its concern, and as a woman there’s no possible way that I can manage a farm by myself. Having said that as I’ve never actually ever worked on a farm I knew nothing about it, agricultural things…I can never speak English anymore when I talk about my farm because I think in Portuguese, because that’s why I’ve learned how to do these things. Yeah, it has been definitely like a massive learning curve, and there’s been a lot of shocks in this appointments along the way but there’s been a lot of fun as well. Um, I think the thing about me being a woman and definitely plays a role in my day-to-day life here in terms of my success and ability to get things done, and I definitely meet with resistance. There’s no question about it, but rather than fight it I’m very set. I can’t change generals in this part of the world at this time. What I can do is I can set an example, I can say that it is possible to do it, I can do this and I will do this. But I asked help from men because that’s how I can get things done. It’s a reality, it’s not something that is easy to refute. It is what it is. So rather than fight it though I am pretty set, I have constantly asked for help from men who I felt that I can trust and can work with. But I’ve also made it very clear that I’m the one that’s paying the bills, you know, I’m at the end of the day the owner of this farm. And so, “Well, I need your help, I need your advice, I need your experience in order to learn how to do this.” It is my decision ultimately. And I think slowly and gradually we’re separating the people that I know here into groups as the people that are gradually starting to trust me and respect me as well, and people who still feel that maybe it’s not my place to be here on this farm that it should be Portuguese men only. And in fact, I had a conversation just yesterday with one of the people in my farm, the workers were I find ended up saying…And said, “You know what, this farm was abandoned for 15 years. If you think that you could’ve done it better yourselves then you should’ve bought it and done it.” I said, “But in the meantime this is now my responsibility, this is my life and I’m doing the best I can. So, if you’re not comfortable helping me that’s fine. I can find somebody else.” And so, every once in a while you do have to make a pretty strong stand and a strong statement, and I think he appreciated that. He appreciated the fact that I do have backbone and a spine, and although I don’t have to be aggressive and bitchy let’s say. I have a very strong opinion about the fact that this is my right that I’ve earned and I work for everyday to run this business as still fit, recognizing that I’m not going to disregard tradition and values of the Portuguese community in order to do it. So I’m trying to create a very…symbiotic relationship.

Lesley: Yeah, and I think that’s the one thing I admire so much about you, Trisha. I’ve never seen you anything other than assertive, which is your ability to stand your ground but do it in such a cordial and clear way. Which I think for a lot of women find it hard to stand ground and still be calm, but you’re really in your skin knowing what the boundaries are that you are prepared and not prepared to play with.

Trisha: And I think… I was just going to say that’s where that fearlessness comes in that I was mentioning is I am not worried about what people think or say about me, and I’m not worried about failing. And so, when you’re not afraid of yourself, I think it’s easy to be calm and be strong. And so, I think that has been… Really, I think, all past have kind of led to this, my experiences in the past have really allowed me to be the person I need to be in order to succeed here, I think.

Lesley: And you have continued to operate your two businesses in China, and you continued to go back and forth between these continents. And, you’re about to launch a third enterprise which actually brings together more of the Portuguese and the Chinese experience. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Trisha: Well, this is actually been the funnest yet most challenging thing that I’ve taken on. So, I currently…just through my many years now of working in China, I’ve just created a really strong network of suppliers, and friends, and potential clients there that I’ve maintained to contact with. So, the business I do there now is I still do work for Spicebox on a contract basis, and I’ve also taken private contracts on for companies that I’ve worked for in the past that are now in China in Chinese businesses that are asking me to mentor them in how to best reach their clients. So that is something that I’m very comfortable in, I enjoy that, it is very much as my makeup and who I am. So I tried to get out to China a couple of times in order to keep that business moving forward always. And I’m just heading out in October to the Canton’s fair… In the meantime though, because I’m just so in love with Portugal and I think that there’s amazing opportunities here. I’ve spent the last year and a half or two years taking product back and forth between Portugal and China of things that I think are really fabulous from Portugal –foods, soap, handmade items, things that I think are of exceptional quality. And I’ve been introducing a lot of my Chinese friends to these products and asking them what they think, and definitely consensus has been that there’s a market for Portuguese product in China. It’s not easy to import into China, it’s a really difficult… So for the last years of setting up an import business there that’s licensed, and I know how my first shipment of I think there’s about 35 different products that I’ll be shipping out to China in the next week or so. And then we’re going to be taking advantage of internet, and social media, and direct marketing type opportunities in China rather than through store friends to sell this product. And I’m really excited; I think it’s going to be a great new little business. I think it has the potential to grow because I understand how women there shop; I understand what it’s like to cook there, I cooked there. A lot of my Chinese girl friends are married to expats, and so there in next cultural relationships where women want to be able to cook for their husbands things that they’re familiar with. And imported goods now are very difficult to find in China when it comes to food. So, that’s the newest venture, I’m very excited about that. It’s something that’s still quite small but the first shipment is going out now, but I think it’s really got a lot of potential. And then conversely, I’m hoping that by next year I’ll be having Chinese clients coming into Portugal to stay with me at my farm.

Lesley: Well, you know what; I just like to ask one question, what’s one of the characteristics of how Chinese women shop? That one grabbed me. What’s unique about that?

Trisha: They’re very conscious of brands, they are conscious of what is said in media and advertising much more so than we are. They’re not as aware of nutritional values of food as we are. Understanding nutritional labels…that type of thing is still very new to them and not aware of it. For example, they don’t eat salad; they don’t eat raw vegetables because traditionally it’s been considered unhealthy. And I think it has to with the way that produce has grown in China that probably has got…I don’t it scientifically but then assuming due to bacteria that’s transferred unto fresh produce. They are led to believe that fresh produce makes you sick, instead of understanding that unclean fresh produce makes you sick. So, things like salads, raw vegetables are not. It’s a very new thing that’s happening there that’s understanding of nutrition. They also don’t have a range of pots and pans like they do to cook, they don’t have ovens. They cook in a wok for one burner for the most part. So, their food choices are obviously based on what they have the ability to cook. Most Chinese girls don’t have knives and forks in plates, and they have bowls, and chopsticks and spoons. So, just being aware of these types of things allow us to make that a choice is to how to pick the right product and how to market it in China. You know, sending over spaghetti and it doesn’t make sense because they don’t eat it, right…

Lesley: That’s not going to work. So what do you think is going to be your bestseller?

Trisha: Well, I have just gotten my showcase. So, talking about food, I do think that (name)and (name) is probably going to be a big success there. Because Chinese women are just starting to drink wine, and they think the wine that’s typical from our region I think is going to be very successful there. Um, but also they don’t buy wine at a grocery store as part of their…many of is not…”Oh, let’s buy a bottle of wine to take it home for dinner tonight. What they do is they drink when they go out to clubs and they go out for social events which they do a lot. So, that’s something that I have to bear in mind with wine. Um, and I think aside from that, I think some of the honey…they love honey and Portugal has amazing honey especially from….as they have amazing olive oil. So, I think those two products are going to be very, very successful there. Um, the other thing that I just got in today was a beautiful set of shipment of sap from (company name.) And Portuguese….until I moved here are very famous for the very high quality soap. So I think that’s another thing.

Lesley: So, I guess I just have a couple more questions I have for you because this could go on forever as you and I both know. Um, how do you juggle all of these different enterprises? What is the sort of mantra that you hold that allows you to do this?

Trisha: I don’t know. I know about mantra that I hold rather a bottle of wine that I hold. Um, that helps. No, I think for me is just focus, I organize what’s going on in my head in terms of divisions I have, my production division I have in my brand. I have my farm division in my brand; I have my export business division in my brain. And when I’m working on one and that’s what I focus on and into that. At the end of the night I do try to take some time just to decompress, let my brain go a little bit crazy, let everything kind of just play around in there. You know, relax, unwind and enjoy this absolutely stunning beautiful place that I have. Allow nature to take a toll, allow the fresh air to kind of give me new energy. And in the morning I wake up with the sun and usually spend 15-20 minutes in that, just allowing kind of free thought of what I need to do, how am I going to organize the time coming up. And, I really just kind of go with things, I don’t fight it, I do what is working for me. If it’s not working for me then I set it aside until it’s going to work for me. So, I never forget things but I set things aside that are really not resonating well with me in a moment and focus on the things that are.
Lesley: I think that’s really an important advice, and so I’m going to ask you one more piece of advice before we wrap this up. You know, there’s a lot of women listening who are probably sitting there, thinking, “God that sounds like quietly amazing career and you’re still such a young woman.” People can’t see you but…

Trisha: Turning 42 on Saturday, not so, yeah..

Lesley: That’s a baby girlfriend. So, just what if you heard a collapse everything in or just pull out one threat whatever way you want to do it, what’s a piece of advice that if somebody sitting here listening and they think they’ve got this kind of entrepreneurial sense but just need to give it some life, what would your advice be?

Trisha: I think the biggest one is what I’ve said already and it’s just to be fearless, to really look at what you’re worried about what could go wrong. What is the potential worst that could happen? And, normally say what we could fail, but what does that mean? What gives failure way to you and is it real or is it imagined? And if you could somehow shed that, fear of failing, um, understanding that fear is intangible. It doesn’t anything…it’s not like the weeds that I have to pull out every day here that exist and keep crawling. Fear is just intangible and it does nothing for us. Um, lose your fears, be fearless, recognize that this is our life. This is our chance, this is our shot, do the things that you love and are passionate about.

Lesley: Well I think that’s a one thing that I have learned, because I have already believed it but see it…see me and you, and you and me is to absolutely fall in love whit what you’re doing, and then the rest ought to kind of takes place. And, I think your life and my life has been similar in the sense that these opportunities came to us when we least expected them, but as you see them you grab them. And if you’re not awake to what really you are open to, then you missed these opportunities as they walk by.

Trisha: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, moving to China wasn’t something that I was exciting about at first. It was kind of like, “Okay I better just do this and get this done.” But then since when I was there it’s like, “Well, there’s so much here to do and learn, and there’s so many benefits to me to understand what this means and how to work here.” I mean, this could potentially affect the rest of my life. It has and I think being open to allowing opportunities to enter our lives, and to grab them and take them fearlessly. I think there’s no way to fail…

Lesley: I couldn’t agree with you more. So, I know that you have to get back out to the fields. I’m keeping you from the fields.…

Trisha: I’ve got to clean raspberry canes…fun times.

Lesley: Well, thank you so much for spending this time with us and letting us into such a wonderful experience. And I want to say obligata Trisha.

Trisha: (speaking Portuguese)

Lesley: (speaking Portuguese)

Trisha: …Talk to you soon. Love you, bye.

Lesley: Wow that 30-minute show went by quickly. Thanks Trisha for opening up your thoughts and mind to what it’s taking you to realize the kind of crazy success that you have. What most listeners might not know is that Trisha started off as a child of a welfare parent back in Fort St. John, Canada. And in that time she realized that there was something much more that which she needed to achieve, and as we can see, she has gone off and accomplished it. That’s what this program is about “women who lead.” Women who tap into their potential sometimes at the age of 2, sometimes at the age of 50, it doesn’t really matter as long as we tap into it.

You can check us out at and find out who we’re talking to, and who we’re about to talk to in this exploration of women in the changing landscape. Talk to us, email us, make sure you’re part of the conversation, but most importantly check us out next week. I’m your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.