COVID-19 hasn’t stopped this dynamic financier from helping women business owners get an even break. If anything, it’s made her more determined.
From her vantage at her home in Fall River, N.S., near Halifax, where streams still tumble over rocks and early-risers still walk their dogs along pebbled paths, the world appears as reliable as a blanket of Maritime mist. But it isn’t. Appearances, she knows, are almost always deceiving.
Carole-Ann Moran-Miller (“Cam” for short) knows this because, after decades owning and running her own financial services company, almost nothing is predictable about business, especially if you’re a woman and especially now. “It is very difficult for women to secure funding,” says Camsa Inc.’s CEO, who was inducted into Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame in 2012. “That is just a reality, and that has not changed. But what has changed is COVID.”
As disruptors go, this one’s a doozy. Since 2014, Cam has focused on financing the trading operations of mostly small and medium-sized, mostly women-owned, enterprises that sell goods and services all over the world. Although she and her husband Michael Miller founded the business in 2001 to fill a need for any export-oriented, cash-strapped company that had ever been laughed out of a banker’s office, the treatment women received particularly bugged them. It still does.
“We provide financial solutions to over 900 clients selling goods and services to over 1,500 buyers in 40 countries,” she says. “But banks look at the equity you have. It’s a mathematical formula, and women typically fund through friends and family and their own money. That bridles their growth, and that’s where we come in.”
Throw in a global pandemic and, well, let’s just say appearances are no longer deceiving. “The majority of our clients have been very severely impacted by COVID,” she says. “As soon as it hit, there was a little bit of an uptick for some. Then, they cleared their inventory. Now, they are not manufacturing. They are not providing goods and services…Our business is very quiet right now.”
If this was anybody else, that’s where the story might end: The heroine folds her laptop, takes a good look in the mirror, grabs the leash and takes the dog for a long walk down a pebbled path beside a tumbling stream.
But this is not anybody else. This is Cam. And that’s not Cam’s way. If anything, the pandemic has steeled her to emerge stronger and even more useful to her clients—to the legions of women business owners who, she says, are just looking for an even break. “One thing we’re learning coming through this is how important cash flow is,” she says. “As soon as these companies emerge, they’re going to need money and, after COVID, it’s going to be harder than ever for them to get it. There will be a demand for services such as ours. I am not worried about our future.”
That may sound like wishful thinking. In fact, it’s the opposite. In ways not even she could have anticipated, she’s been preparing her company for days just like these as far back as 2003. “That was the year we sold 100 per cent of our business, which was called Maple Trade Finance, to a company that owned a bank,” she says. “I continued to operate it. But we bought it back in 2014. We didn’t lose financing, and I was able to secure financing, so capital wasn’t an issue for us. It’s never been an issue. I am well known in capital markets.”
She should be. Her resume reads like a bio from the Bilderberg Group. Born and raised in Montreal and educated at York University, she has more than 25 years of international finance and trade experience under her belt. She’s a director for Trade Centre Ltd, where she was chair of the Governance Committee from 2007 to 2015; a member of the board of Saint Mary’s Sobeys School of Business; vice-chair of the Board of Directors for the Halifax Port Authority, where she is also chair of the Risk Management Committee and a member of the Infrastructure, Governance and HR Committees.
Over the years, she’s won Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO award five times, a Progress Women of Excellence award, a Top Employer designation for Atlantic Canada, and a nod from Bank of Montreal for Outstanding Innovation and Growth. She’s also been active in numerous charities, capital campaigns and in the local business community. She’s currently board chair for Atlantic Scholarship Association and a board member of the QEII Health Science Foundation, where she sits on its Investment Committee.
Although she’d never use the word “player” to describe herself, she can’t deny her connections have played at least a supporting role in her career. For one thing, they helped her buy back her own company and pivot into the work she now does. And if capital has never been a problem for her, she says, “it’s an issue for a lot of women.”
At the heart of Camsa’s capacious, women-centered mission these days are productive, supportive relationships with deep-pocketed institutional investors who are ideally geared to her philosophical liking. She won’t name names, of course, but she says, “some of the people we have partnered with in the past year are not your typical hedge funds. They are social enterprise funds that have a mandate to support women and minorities. We can provide them with an opportunity to grow their business, and we can get attractive (lending) rates for our clients—very specifically women-owned companies wanting to enter the North American market.”
All of which she says is personally rewarding, and, when things finally turnaround for everyone, it’ll be a “nice revenue stream” for her business. She’d be remiss, she adds, if she didn’t mention one traditional lender that’s backed her play all the way. “I have had, and continue to have, a very warm relationship with the Bank of Montreal.”
Still, if business is “quiet” (if only for the time being), Camsa’s owner is busy on other fronts. “I’m in the fourth year of a PhD in management studies at Durham University School of Business in the U.K.,” she says.
Does she care to reveal the nature of her research?
“It’s an exploration of the lived experience of Fortune 500 female CEOs who have a history of early childhood sexual abuse.”
“It’s actually been fascinating. They are just remarkable women. There’s tons of research on all of the adverse consequences as a result of sexual abuse, but there is very, very little research to show how women have emerged from that and gone on to become very successful.”
Appearances can be deceiving, indeed.
“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a meaty topic.”
That word for bliss? Though she’s well on her way to earning a PhD, Cam says she doesn’t get to read much anymore. “Actually, I’m becoming quite ignorant…I’ll read when I retire.”
Missing the workouts: Cam’s always been active—walking, running, cycling. Since COVID, life’s been slower. “I wish I was more active. I miss it. I still walk every day, so that’s something.”
Doesn’t miss the travel: Cam used to travel on business six to nine months a year. Now, thanks to COVID, not so much. She’s fine with that. “I didn’t know how much I was on the road…way too much.”
Tickling the ivories: Cam keeps a baby grand piano in her living room. She used to tinkle the ivories when she was a kid. “I want to relearn. It’s a tragedy to have it there and not play.”
Raising the next gen: What makes Cam prouder than anything are her daughters Samantha and Alyssa. The former works with KPMG and the latter studies PhD chem at Cambridge.