Interview with Mandy Rennehan on her new book "The Blue Collar CEO"

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Mandy Rennehan’s new book hit shelves today and we couldn't be more excited. The book promises not just a story about building a career from the ground up, but life lessons and staying true to yourself. 

Mandy is known by many as the "Blue-Collar CEO,” for her skill at navigating business matters, and as the founder and CEO of Freshco, a retail facilities and construction firm. To friends, she is “Bear" (check out the video below!) and an amazing advocate for trades and entrepreneurship. 

To celebrate the new release, Covergalls and Mandy discuss the book, the importance of being authentic and more. 

How would you describe this book in three words?

Inspirational, funny, and I want to say heartbreaking. This book is really a trifecta of the three. There are heartbreaking moments, so many funny moments and then, through all that, you find inspiration. But I wouldn't say it's sad - I would say it's heartbreaking because the one thing we all know about heartbreaks is that your heart can mend, right? So that’s kind of the Mandy Rennehan story: inspirational, funny and heartbreaking all tied into one.

How did you first come to the idea of writing a book and what made you decide to finally write it?

You know, funny enough, I've just had people that have either read about or met me and said: you need to tell your story. I guess it was almost ten years ago now when I was at a charity event and there was what I would call a good size media group there that I spoke with and they said, “Mandy, people in the world need to know about you, they need to know about your story. Nobody knows who you are, but you're amazing!” That was the first time I hired a publicist to help me tell my story to inspire more women and more young people to get into the trade industry and entrepreneurship. The same thing happened with the book. It was probably about four years ago, I was on a morning show and one of the senior editors at HarperCollins heard it and went “Holy shit, who is this Bear called Mandy Rennehan?” and they kept calling my publicist saying things like, “we need to do a book on you, you're incredible,” and so…I guess, you know, I've never been the kind of person that would say, “Wow, I have to write this book on myself.” It really took other people inspiring me out there in the world that are doing wonderful things to tell my story.

With the book and your work, you must have managed tons of tight deadlines and high expectations. Do you have a particular strategy for resolving challenges that arise and help you keep on track to finish your projects?

I think one of my North Stars is always going to be peoples’ and the clients’ happiness. When I think about happiness, you know, it's always kept me very organized. It's always kept me very calculated and very transparent. 

What would you say it is about entrepreneurship and connecting with people that you find so interesting and compelling?

I think that one of the things that makes me special as a leader in many parts of this industry is the fact that I’m a realist. And I'm a realist around the fact that we can introduce all the technology we want that's cool and efficient and makes the business better on different ends, but one of the things that we lack, more so than anything, is the ability for people to relate to one another. That's one of the things that I'm happy that the pandemic really brought to light: how human connection personally, and even in business, is so important for the soul. You know, I built this company and many other companies, based on personality and work ethic. And what I understood, and didn't understand from all of that, is that I kind of created who I am today by being authentic. 

So, I guess one of the things that I'm the most excited about is truly fusing all of the great technology out there with upscale versions of how we communicate as human beings: how we support one another, train one another, and understand the vulnerability of diversity and inclusion. That nobody's afraid anymore to be who they are. I became this by just being me. I didn't try to fit into the box. One of my favourite sayings is that I just wish everybody would stop trying to check a box and just be the present that's in the box. Right? And that's one of the things that I look forward to with this book and the TV show that I have coming out: showing the world that by being the real McCoy and authentic, it didn't matter that I was female, it didn't matter that I was gay. None of that matters. 

You talk about being vulnerable, not being afraid of who you are, but I imagine that you've built this confidence over your career. When you were younger, or starting out, did you have anyone that you've looked to for inspiration? 

100 percent. I didn't really know who to look for inspiration, but one thing about growing up on the East Coast is that people there were brought up to love, work hard, and they're simple. And when I say simple, I want to really articulate what I mean by that: 

The people who would pick me up from soccer or take me to a 4-H event, or whatever, were parents, brothers, sisters. These were people that never grew up in an era where they were taught, “You have to think bigger.” They never did. They thought, “I'm going to have a family, I'm going to get married. There might be a career I might want to go into but I'm going to support my community and the kids in it.” So there were people in the 4-H program and athletic programs in Yarmouth that saw something special in me, they liked me and appreciated that I was different, and so they would pick me up when my parents couldn't or they would take me on trips when my parents couldn't afford it. It was the simpleness of that and the love of the people at home that really truly molded me into what I am today.

And what helped you build the confidence you have today? Any advice?

One of the things that I tell young people, and I even tell people my age and much older, is that I was always wired with a confidence that a lot of people around me didn't have. But what I also recognize is that confidence happens in stages. Even in the last two years of my life, I've matured into another confidence level of my life and it feels terrific. So that's one of the things that I teach people, is that you don't need to be confident right out the gate. It happens in stages, when it happens right up until, you know, our 60s and 70s. Until we have more wisdom. That's one of the things that I look forward to with our young generation, just don't be afraid of the speed bumps and the potholes. You know? Just know your way to drugstores or outpatient centers. Take those stitches and know that those scars are what builds character, builds confidence and confidence builds progress.

When you were writing this book, I imagine you had to make some choices in terms of what stories to include and exclude. Was there any story that hit the chopping block that you were sad to see go?

Believe it or not, when I read the book I recognized that probably only a quarter of my life is in there! So, really, I couldn't give you just one example. I would say that if there was one thing that a lot of people didn't know about me, that didn't seem to make the book, was that when I was 25 or 26, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be academic - when I was young I didn't like school, it didn't like me. When I was older I went and took a sports massage therapy course in Florida. And what I remember was just how well I did because I love sports and I love to understand the body pathology. Not only did I do very well, I did a program that was two years long in a 10 month period and I was at the top of my class! It was funny because as soon as I got that certificate, I just put it on the shelf and I came right back to entrepreneurship. But it was one thing that I had to do for myself. I had to prove to myself that now that I was in a better place financially, and that I was, you know, able to, I could do it. I needed to do that for myself. 

What would you say your favourite place in the world is right now?

My favourite place in the world? I would have to say Niagara-on-the-Lake. Because it’s this one place that I can just hide, and walk around this beautiful little snow globe, and my partner is from Ontario. But it's hard because my favourite place is also Yarmouth, where I shot the show... I guess right at this moment, my favourite place is Niagara-on-the-Lake. It's my safe place right now.

We love good books and good recommendations. So, besides your book, what other books do you think we should have on our nightstand?

One of the books right now, from a business perspective, that I feel everybody should read is a book called Radical Candor. I don't remember who wrote it [Kim Scott!] but I believe that it's one of the things around the world right now that we really need to implement inside of our offices and inside of our homes. 

 

Remember to keep an eye out for Mandy on HGTV Canada this spring as the host of Trading Up. The show premieres Thursday May 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV Canada.