President Adrienne Rosen
Q&A with Adrienne Rosen
Adrienne Rosen has a lot to be proud of. The grade nine drop-out turned entrepreneur is the co-founder, president, and CEO of a successful Canadian courier company-First International Courier Systems (previously known as The International Courier). She started the company in 1984 with friends Helen Mills and Myra White to deliver high-priority and time-sensitive material on the next flight out. The company uses “every airline in the world” to deliver anything from organs and machine parts to film, pancake mix and documents. I sat down with Rosen to discuss her journey and what it takes to build a successful company

Mary Sanchez: What was your experience before founding First International Courier?
Adrienne Rosen: I was a grade nine drop out… I got into the courier industry when I was about 17 because I was pretty unemployable…There were really only about five messenger services then… and I got a job at one of them as a driver.
One day I had this interesting package. They said, “You’ve got to take this package to the airport and meet this guy who is flying on an airplane and going to take it.” I saw how much money they were charging to do that, and thought, “Oh I’m sure I could do this myself.” And that’s how my career started in the courier industry.
Those were days of huge government grants for youth. So I got a quarter of a million dollars out of the Canadian government to train women who were sole support mothers on welfare, how to be messenger drivers. I had about 30 employees that were welfare mothers, and we did that for two years…Then I started a [courier] company with someone else. She and I had a falling out around the company and I sold it to her… [After that], I drove a motorcycle alone around the world just to be the first women to drive a motor cycle alone around the world. That took about a year.
I had just turned 30 and didn’t know what to do with my life… I went back to school with a grade nine education as a mature student, and got my BA and then MA in Philosophy and worked on my PhD in Philosophy…I’m a PhD ABD, which means all but dissertation. I need to get some time off at some point to write that and put that to bed…So simultaneously going to school and studying a lot of philosophy to expand my mind, I opened up a courier company.

  School really helped me with that, and it really gave me a lot of self confidence. And I haven’t lost any of the energy, and I haven’t lost any of the out-of-the-box thinking, but now I understand the greater world more, and the business world more from a philosophical perspective…I think that most things that are thinkable are doable, I really think philosophy has helped me more than an MBA could ever help me, because philosophy teaches you how to think out of the box. An MBA ma be fine for systems and for knowing how to do things by rote…and greater principles of how things theoretically should work. But when you’re in our industry, nothing works the way it should work, because everything is out of the box.
MS: What challenges have you faced as a female business owner in the courier industry?
AR: We would be wildly rich if we were men. We were never taken seriously by people in the industry, but we were always taken seriously by our clients…So our competition in Canada used to just look at us and laugh and think that we were total losers. They didn’t look at us [as competition].
MS: How did you overcome this challenge?
AR: We’d just do the same thing that we always did and keep our eye on exactly what it is we do. We make an extremely good living. Because we don’t have huge overheads, we’re about 30 percent less expensive than our nearest competitors.
MS: What are the factors that made your company a success?
AR: We have good relationships with people. And building relationships with your clients on a very human level, and knowing the kind of work they put into their end product, and that we’re not just the dumb courier, but we’re helping them do their work better, and we’re giving them more choices and options…We’ve really worked hard at these relationships…And they always have to be based on ethics and reliability. MS: What is key to manage a successful company?
AR: Being really flexible…Like a reed in the water, you have to bend or else you’ll break.
MS: What are your plans for the future of your company?
AR: We want to get bigger and we want to get better. And it’s difficult to do that as a small business…I want to partner with an airline. That’s my dream. That would allow us latitude to grow, and there’re particular airlines in Canada that stands to do a lot more than they’re doing in the cargo area. I don’t even think it’s a dream. I think it’s totally doable.
MS: Do you have any advice for other female executives?
AR: Yes, call me, because we do mentoring. We’re really happy to mentor women. And in this industry especially you just need someone to help you along the road for the first few kilometers.
President Adrienne Rosen
MS: What experience helped you in founding First International Courier, and in your role as president and CEO?
AR: I was a working class kid who didn’t want to end up like my parents as factory workers. That was the biggest fear of my life. And I wasn’t excelling in school…So I became very entrepreneurial fast. I knew that I’d have to harness my crazed energy and focus it…That’s when I really started getting into business…Then I started feeling like I needed something else, like I really needed to channel my intellect.