A Personal, Professional Journey for Colleen H Cole

Mission work has taken Colleen Cole around the world and back again many times. But the longest journey the Porters Lake businesswoman has faced over the last five years has been professional and personal.

The president and CEO of Permacrete Systems Ltd. took over the family business after her husband’s death in 2009. Besides focusing on the company’s transition to the next generation, Cole has found healing by volunteering in developing countries. And she’s building a new career as a motivational speaker and author.

“To go out into the world on my own for the first time, and seeing things from the perspective of a woman, opened my eyes to a lot of things,” she said in a recent interview.

Cole co-founded Permacrete in 1978 with her late husband, Bill, and has always been involved in running the company. The business started out repairing concrete basements but soon expanded to include product and technology development, and then franchising.

Colleen Cole, who was the company’s vice-president, took over the reins the day Bill, who had ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — died. The planning needed to hand over the business, which operates under the Perma-Dry brand, to the next generation began at that time and is still underway.

Son Danny — one of the couple’s three grown children — succeeded Colleen as vice-president and is also Permacrete’s chief operating officer.

And Colleen Cole has sought ways to heal and find new meaning in life over the past five years, including volunteer work and supporting programs that help women and children.

Mission work came naturally, since she and Bill were involved in aid projects for many years, travelling to various countries to work on building projects.

After her husband’s death, Cole became more heavily involved in the administrative side of development work through International Needs, an Ontario-based Christian charity that works in 30 countries.

The Permacrete CEO made her first foray to Africa in early 2012 with a group of Canadian businesspeople that spent a month providing professional expertise to local aid groups. The nine-member contingent drove more than 11,000 kilometres and visited five countries along the way.

The mission was gruelling at times. Cole, who hails from Upper Musquodoboit, said the experience spurred “a major transformation” in her life.

“It was something I needed to do … to feel again and to find purpose,” said the grandmother of 11. “Even though I have a loving family and close circle of friends, grief leaves you feeling empty. … I didn’t want that to drive the rest of my life.”

When she returned home, Cole turned her energy to writing a self-help book based on her experience as a woman who married at 17, helped build a successful business and then found herself a widow in her early 50s. Titled Guilt, the book delves into work-life balance, self-esteem and women’s empowerment.

Those subjects, dear to the Porters Lake woman’s heart, are ones she also touches on as a public speaker. She will share her story during Women Reshaping the World, a one-day conference being held in Halifax on Oct. 7.

Cole, 57, will join the event via the Internet from Turkey, where mission work is taking her to a global conference.

No matter what medium she uses to deliver her message, she has inspired friends and strangers alike.

Longtime friend Brenda Kielbratowski said Cole’s ability to share her feelings and experiences is powerful.

“For her to take not just her life experience but her pain and grief and put it into something to help others is amazing,” the Bedford Realtor said.

Cole, meanwhile, is also busy planning a six-continent tour, starting in January, to raise $1 million to support International Needs’ work.

And she’s penned another book, which is about that first mission to Africa. Umoja: A Journey from Success to Significance will be released in late October.

“All of these things are opening up for me that I have never (experienced) before. I like to talk and I like to teach, so here I am.”

The Chronicle Herald