When Pernille Fischer Boulter decided to name her international trade and development firm after her home village of Kisser up, Denmark, it was kind of done in spur of the moment. In fact, she didn’t even have a company yet.
“I think it’s about 50-70 people when everybody’s home,” Fischer Boulter says via Skype from, coincidentally, Denmark. “When I got my first job in Canada it was on a scallop dragger. I was there to monitor an IT system. These guys, fishermen, were not all keen on having a girl on the trip. I think they tried to scare me. ‘If you drown, we need the name of your company, for the insurance.’ I didn’t have a company name, so I just said ‘Kisser up Int.,’ because that’s where I came from, and I was international now.”
Fischer Boulter moved to Nova Scotia in 1998, two years after marrying her Canadian husband, entrepreneur Keith Boulter. He had his own business here, but Fischer Boulter came to Canada knowing that she was a well-educated professional who wanted to find a career to call her own.
She found that to be quite the challenge, and not just because of surly fishermen.
“When you come from out of the blue, it’s hard,” she explains. “I was in IT and I couldn’t get a job because I really only knew something about Europe. Everybody in Canada was interested in the US. Europe wasn’t even on the radar.”
Some of the resistance she encountered was also because she was a woman married to an entrepreneurial man—the attitude she encountered was, “Why does she want a job? And if so, why not work for her husband?” She also ran up against the minutiae of local, colloquial customs; for example, there isn’t a Danish word for “please.”
“In ’98, being a woman saying ‘I want a job, and this, and that’ was brassy enough for Atlantic Canada, to start with,” Fischer Boulter says. “But not saying ‘please’ was definitely not good.”
But the biggest sticking point was that in a province where people hired folks they know through friends or met at a hockey game, Fischer Boulter was an outsider. She made a list of the top 100 local entrepreneurs of the day, and called them all. Some gave her enough time for a chat over coffee while others didn’t even grant her that much.
It wasn’t until her talents were recognized by local business people like Clearwater’s John Risley, that she got her chance—and how she wound up on the scallop dragger. And with the Sable Offshore Energy Project about to kick off, and her home region in the North Sea being experts on oil and gas, suddenly she was in high demand.
“In Nova Scotia, once you start working for someone that people know, all of a sudden everybody has time for you,” she says. “I started getting, “How do you sell blueberries in Denmark? Can you sell Christmas trees in Iceland?’ All these questions.”
Between her international connections back home and experience helping communities in Grenada rebuild their homes after Hurricane Ivan, Fischer Boulter knew her future was in international trade and development. And thus, her company, for which she already had the perfect name, was born.
“It really resonated with me,” she explains. “I then started doing a lot of research; how do you get to help people in developing countries, establishing themselves? Just like I did. I just did it in Canada.”
Kisserup bids on international contracts that often come about through trade deals between nations. The affected countries get relief on tariffs because of these trade agreements, but they each have to adhere to the other’s standards of product quality, safety standards and so forth in order to work.
With smaller countries, the training for that kind of compliance could be prohibitively expensive or difficult to source. These deals will often set aside a fund from the larger entity to send someone down to do that development with the smaller one. That’s where Kisserup comes in.
“We are doing the educational work with the micro-small company so it can fulfil the legislative requirements in the destination country that they want to export to,” says Fischer Boulter. “Today, probably 80 per cent of what we do is public procurement.”
Kisserup has done work in over 90 countries and Fischer Boulter has travelled to just about all of them.
“It’s not as scary working [internationally]—even if it’s a country that you’ve never been in before—when you have already moved your life to another country,” she explains. “I never dreamt it would be this international.”
Today, things are a lot better for newcomers, according to Fischer Boulter. The Ivany Report solidified the need for immigrants in our economy and in recent years locals are even taking pride in individual success stories, like that of Peace by Chocolate founder Tareq Hadhad. The gulf of difference between 1998 and now is not lost on Fischer Boulter.
“It was like I was a burden to a lot of people,” she says. “And this is my big thing with immigrants—we are an asset! If you make me feel like an asset, I will stay; if you make me feel like a burden, I will leave.”
Fischer Boulter does her part to make the transition easier for professional newcomers. She has mostly hired immigrants to work at Kisserup and the company’s policy is to never turn down a meeting with anyone. She’s also given her time to ISANS’ mentoring program and encourages other immigrant business owners to follow suit.
“Think back to the time when you came,” she says. “As an immigrant, if you establish your own business here, I think you should definitely, if you have an opportunity, become a part of the Atlantic Immigration Project and be a designated employer under the program…we are aware, indeed, that we need immigrants, and for all kinds of work. We need all walks of life.”