2012 Winners

Callander | Entrepreneur of the Year

Irene Smit

Irene Smit

Opening up her own real estate brokerage in Callander, near North Bay, six years ago wasn't easy for Irene Smit.

But she has no regrets. She knows she made the right decision when she looks at a photo of herself, sitting behind a desk, taken when she first opened in 2006.

"I am sitting at the desk all by myself because it was just me then. Now, I am sitting here today and there are seven other reps," she said.

Callander Bay Real Estate was opened five years after Smit became a real estate agent. During her 11 years in the industry, she has become an instructor for the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) College, served as a director for the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, was president of the North Bay Real Estate Board, volunteered with OREA education and leadership initiatives, was co-chair of the Callander Business Association and served on Callander's strategic planning committee.

Smit finds little time to be idle and on the few occasions she sits in front of the TV, she has to knit since she feels useless doing nothing.

"Hard work is in my blood and I don't know anything else," she said. "I came across a saying once and I really think it is a great one to follow – I am choosing now to live until I die and I will never wait for death to come to me."

Her inspiration to open her own business came from her former father-in-law who owned his own brokerage and still works at the age of 82.

"I call him sometimes and ask when he is going to retire and he tells me he isn't sure, maybe when the phone stops ringing," Smit said. "But because he is so respected and admired, his phone will never quit ringing. For his family and friends, they would never think of going anywhere else for their real estate needs."

With two marriages, two divorces and "two sets of kids," she found herself a single mother at times but never let herself fall back on the "woe is me card." She is proud of her children who are all professional adults and is proud that she found the time to provide them with home-cooked meals and hand-made items such as sweaters and mitts when they were growing up.

"You really have to deal with the cards that have been dealt to you," she said. "I have bad days too but you just have to get back up and out there and keep carrying on."

She motivates her staff every year with a 'daisy wheel' which consists of a circle where their picture is placed and seven leaves surround it. On the leaves, short-term and long-term goals are depicted with images.

"We do them every January and it is to make us think about what we want from life and not just live day to day," Smit said. "By keeping the daisy wheels, we get to look back and see what we have accomplished or how close we are to accomplishing some long-term goals."

Smit is also a firm believer in education and that learning is a life-long process. With many self-help books available, even online, a lot of money doesn't have to be spent on gaining knowledge.

"You can read a book on finances, learn how to fix your car, or even learn how to become more organized," she said. "You should never give up on educating yourself and always be willing to learn and grow."

Smit sees herself as "as always working" and learning and she has no plans to start thinking about retirement.

"I really don't want to not work. I am afraid of what that will do to me."

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