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Growing Nurse Next Door: Cathy Thorpe on compassionate leadership

The former retail executive is now leading the fast-growing homecare franchisor Nurse Next Door. She is one of BIV's 2024 Influential Women in Business Award winners
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Nurse Next Door CEO Cathy Thorpe is passionate about mentoring and sharing her perspectives on leadership

Nurse Next Door CEO Cathy Thorpe’s passion for mentorship and advising others on leadership is clear from her activity as a mentor and from her new book.

Thorpe released Bold Kindness: A Caring, More Compassionate Way to Lead in January and has been promoting it at book signings.

“It’s a book on leadership philosophy,” she told BIV. “It’s a book on culture and a more compassionate way of doing business, in the sense of what I think business leadership can look like, and how it can evolve and become something different than what I think is out there.”

One experience Thorpe had early in her career was with what she calls a “micromanager.” The experience left her wanting to leave the company, and it taught her what to avoid when being a leader.

Her book urges readers to imagine a workplace where employees are free to be themselves – an environment where a team spirit can thrive in place of power dynamics and hierarchies.

Respecting, valuing and empowering people is at the heart of Thorpe’s leadership ethic, and it is why she has long been a mentor to next-generation leaders at the Young Presidents’ Organization.

Originally from St. Albert, Alberta, Thorpe grew up in that province and obtained a history and psychology degree from the University of Alberta.

She worked her way up at Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) to be the country manager for Canada, after starting as a sales associate in 1991. There, she oversaw approximately 150 stores and more than 1,000 employees.

She moved to Vancouver in 2006 and took a job as president of Please Mum – a Vancouver-based company that had about 80 stores across Canada.

A few years later, she left to focus on her own home-based business as a consultant “when my kids were young,” she said.

She had obtained a family-business advising certificate from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business that she put to use in that work.

In following years, she put her talents to work as a Pacific region judge at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

Awards of her own then followed.

BIV awarded Thorpe a CEO of the Year Award in 2020.

Some of her many other honours include an EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2016, an award from Waterstone in 2018 for having Canada’s most-admired corporate culture and an Entrepreneur Magazine Top 50 Franchise System award – also in 2018.

Thorpe has also been active on corporate boards.

She joined the family advisory board at Calgary-based Woodridge Ford Lincoln, and has been an independent director on the board of Pharmasave since August 2017.

“Cathy played an invaluable role in the lead-up [to the] successful restructuring of the Pharmasave organization in 2020,” said Pharmasave CEO Greg Shepherd. “Her visionary leadership and insight, along with her ability to analyze market trends, operations and industry shifts have helped position Pharmasave for sustained success.”

Thorpe moved with her husband and family to Germany briefly because of her husband’s work at Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL), but in 2014, she was enticed to return to Vancouver to serve as president of Nurse Next Door, she said.

Thorpe added the CEO role to her duties at that company in 2016.

“I knew one of the founders,” Thorpe said, referring to John DeHart, who founded the venture in 2001 with Ken Sim, who became mayor of Vancouver in 2022.

“I had also used Nurse Next Door with my mom, and I very much loved what the company did in terms of providing support to my parents,” Thorpe said.

Nurse Next Door caregivers go to families’ residences to provide care to individuals who cannot be cared for by loved ones alone.

When Thorpe joined the company, it had 40 locations. There are now more than 400, she said.

All but 12 of those locations are franchised.

Nurse Next Door’s revenue from one-time fees, royalties and corporate-owned operations in Metro Vancouver is in the tens of millions, and its system-wide sales from franchisees have grown to exceed $150 million, she said.

About 70 people work at Nurse Next Door’s head office. The company and its franchisees contract more than 5,000 caregivers.

“We will continue to open up opportunities across the globe,” Thorpe said. “

We will continue to grow the North American business. We see a ton of opportunity in the U.S.,” she said. “It’s really the global opportunity of homecare.”

BIV will recognize the achievements of six female leaders at the 25th Annual Influential Women in Business Awards on March 8. For details and tickets, visit biv.com/iwib.

gkorstrom@biv.com

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