Michèle Hecken | Scaling a Company and The Power of Offboarding Yourself
Smart Business Revolution

Michèle Hecken is an executive coach, serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker. She has over 25 years of experience running Alpha Translations Canada Inc., a global translation company which she started when she was 23. Michèle has also been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) for more than a decade. She successfully scaled her company before offboarding herself and selling it in 2019.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Michèle Hecken about how she started and scaled a global translation company. Michèle talks about her breaking point running a business and raising kids, selling her company, and her offboarding process. Stay tuned!

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Michèle Hecken’s background influenced her life
  • Michèle talks about working as a waitress as a child
  • How she leveraged new technology to start a translation company
  • Michèle’s breaking point that led to pivoting her business
  • The greatest challenges Alpha Translations Canada faced when scaling
  • Transitioning from running a business to executive coaching
  • Advice on offboarding yourself from your business
  • The peers Michèle acknowledges and respects

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And you know, check out some of our past interviews got all kinds of interesting interviews with successful CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs, from all kinds of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help to connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest, excuse me, my guest here today, is Michèle Hecken. She is an executive coach. And she’s a longtime seasoned serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker. She has 25 years of experience, she started a global company at the ripe old age of 23 years old, and I didn’t have my act together at all at 23 years old. So I don’t know how you’re starting a company at 23. She’s been in entrepreneurs, organization, and EO, which is how we connected for 14-plus years. And she successfully started scaled off boarded herself, we’re gonna be talking a lot about that what that means, and then sold her multi-million dollar business, all while raising two daughters as a single mom. And I think as a parent, I’m super impressed with that piece. All of it’s impressive, but that’s particularly impressive. 

And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts. You can go to rise25.com, to learn more about it. Alright, Michèle, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I want to start I love hearing stories of our childhood and what you were like as a kid. And you have a really interesting background, you grew up in two different cultures grew up in Canada, and in Germany, in both places kind of move back and forth. I think I was really shaped because I moved around a bit as a kid within the United States, but it was on opposite coasts. So we moved from one coast to the other 3000 miles away, not as much of a culture shock as going from Germany to Canada, but it really shaped who I am today. So how did that shape who you are today?

Michèle Hecken 2:38

Oh, well, thanks, John. First of all, thanks so much for having me on your show. It’s definitely my honor. And my pleasure. Yeah. So how did that chip shape my mind growing up in different cultures? Well, at the time, I didn’t think it was that awesome, because I was being pulled away from my friends and a different language. And when so I was born in Canada, moved to Germany, Move back, back and forth. But when I started school in Germany, it was always kind of in the middle of something. So before the end of kindergarten, we moved back to Canada, then in the middle of grade two, we moved to Germany, so I always had to adapt really quickly. And I was very lucky because I grew up with both languages fully immersed in both cultures and fully bilingual in both languages. But at the time, in Grade Two, I could speak German, and I could understand it, but my mom was Canadian. So she spoke to me all the time, my dad was working, and I didn’t get that much German. So I kind of got thrown in. And while I could speak and understand, I couldn’t really write. And I remember in grade one in Canada, we didn’t learn cursive writing, whereas in Germany, they learned it right away, and I didn’t know what to do. So I think how it shaped me is that I became very adaptive and quickly can kind of pivot on the spot because that’s what I had to do. It’s also made me a lot more aware of how people think in different cultures. And it actually basically had the foundation of my becoming a translator because all of my life, people told me oh, you should be an interpreter you should be a translator because you speak two languages. So it kind of set the stage for my future life if you do so well.

John Corcoran 4:30

Yeah, I don’t know if you remember from second grade what the experience was like, But you mentioned moving in the middle of a grade, which I moved in the middle of fifth grade and I can still remember you know, being like escorted into this classroom in the middle of a day which is just so hard with a room is like the room like the record player stops and everyone like looks over the new kid, you know, yeah. And it’s it can be traumatic and really hard for a kid.

Michèle Hecken 4:59

It was I think at the time, it was really scary because I was also an only child. So when you’re an only child, you really depend on your friends, because if you don’t have friends, guess what you go home, you’re alone. And now you’re in a different culture, you’re different you come you have, you know, maybe not all the words, right, or, you know, you don’t really know how to connect with anybody, and you do things that you know, but it doesn’t fit in that culture. So I remember it being quite lonely at first, and begging my mom to move back to Canada. So I could have some friends, I remember that. But, you know, one of the gifts you have as an only child, especially if you’re moving back and forth you have to become naturally good at making friends and making a connection. Because your life kind of depends on it. So that was another the thing that really taught me to because that’s shy as a kid I was quiet, I was shy, I wasn’t outgoing, and I want to be accepted. And so this theme of wanting to fit in has been, you know, kind of prevalent, and I had to master it because you’re fitting in with a group of peers that are not your culture is not your first language at that age. And it’s a whole different country. So it really did teach me a lot.

John Corcoran 6:20

Yeah. I’ve had a lot of guests on this show who have never worked for a paycheck, and you’re one of them. You had an experience at age 1415. You waitress at a bar, a waitress at bars and cafes, but it was really entrepreneurial in that you got a percent of the revenue that came in. So talk a little bit about what that experience was like and how that shaped do.

Michèle Hecken 6:43

Yeah, so my parents worked weekends, in order to make the extra mile we didn’t come from a wealthy family and my parents worked. And so on the weekends, they would serve in, you know, a bar, and they’d make lots of extra money. And, and so I thought, Well, what a great way to do that. So when I was 14, I applied for a job in a cafe. And when I say cafe, it was really a full-blown restaurant. And it was two levels. And they had these stairs that kind of turned and went up with these big trays. And you had to carry the trays up with coffee cups, and like it was heavy, and you’re up and down, up and down, I got a good workout. Yeah, but the model that they use, then I’m not really sure how to do it. Now, I think it’s kind of a bit of a combination. But basically, you show up and you’re ready to work, and you bring your own change. And whatever you make in revenue that day, 10% over the source, and you get to keep the tips, which in Europe is very different, like, people don’t tip 1015 20 25% they round up. So if it’s 1055, you might get 11 or 12 euros for marks at the time for it, but it still adds up. So but there are days where I just there were no customers, and I would, you know, be there for five hours and not make any money. But other days, I would go home and I’d have hundreds of dollars in my pocket. So that was the only time I worked for anybody else. But it wasn’t a paycheck, it was you show up, you do a good job, and how much effort and what you put into it, is what you’re gonna get out of it. And that mindset really kind of also laid the foundation for becoming an entrepreneur because it requires discipline.

John Corcoran 8:29

And did that experience really teach you to sell the appetizers sell extra drinks? Dessert afterward? Did you get good at those sorts of things?

Michèle Hecken 8:38

You know, I didn’t think about it at the time, I don’t think I was self-aware or you know, kind of mature enough to think that strategically about how I was going to make more money. I just hustled, and I just made sure that I was paying attention. So when I think about it now when we think about leadership, right? We can go and do this and just kind of go to that table, take the dishes back, bring the new food, put it out to the next table, and we’re not paying attention to what’s going on anywhere. But I think what I didn’t really well was I was always looking around, I need something what’s going on? Is there a new customer Can I, you know, wipe the table? Can I do something? So I think that was more of an important factor because I made a lot of money doing that. And I think that was one of the things where it’s funny to this day when I go somewhere and I see servers or bartenders with their heads down for more than a minute. It drives me crazy,

John Corcoran 9:38

I think yeah, look up. Yeah. I waited tables during high school in college, and I think that everyone should do it at some point. It is such a great skill. It really teaches you so much to balance many things at once. Look people in the eye, you know, be open, be honest, have good conversation, communicate well and teach us so many different skills. Exactly.