Melissa Pascal-Perseval has experienced the triumph of making big returns on a small investment within a 12-month period. And she has also known the pain that comes with losing everything on a big investment within the same time-frame.
The CEO of the family business, Pascal’s Bakery, told WMN that those experiences, which took place when she had barely entered adulthood, put things in perspective for her and paved the way for the accomplishments she has made today.
“At that time I had just completed an economics degree at York University in Canada and passed with honours. Then I was a real hustler so I started a small business with just CD$100, importing and selling things from China and grew it to $40,000 in a year.” She took the profits and started another successful business, which motivated her to take even bigger risks.
“I was in my 20s and on top of the world. I told myself ‘right, I’m ready for big leagues’ and invested all I had into a cafe, even learning to cook.” Within a year she had lost everything.
“That was when I realised how much I didn’t know. I was humbled but the lessons were exceptional,” pushing her to invest in her business education. “I went on to do a master’s in business development and innovation at (the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business).”
Two day ago (January 8), now 35 years old, Pascal-Perseval was one of the presenters in an online masterclass on entrepreneurship, banking and technology, sharing how she used her wins and losses as a foundation for bigger things.
“I spoke on my entrepreneurship journey,” and the many lessons learned.
The class was founded and hosted by TT-born Pierce Robinson, who lives in UK. “It’s a tight-knit business community called Scarlet 41 and the class can only be accessed through invitations within the community.”
She said she also used the forum to feature her Titans Talk, a platform she uses to talk with people who do not just want to highlight issues and motivate people, but to instil action.
“We focus on people with strong mindsets, both in the diaspora and internationally. The first two sessions last year on Zoom and Facebook Live featured many amazing speakers and they were viewed over 1,500 times.
When Pascal-Perseval took over running her family’s 14-outlet community retail-based bakery in 2017, she decided things needed to go in a different direction – from community bakery to a manufacturing company.
“I’m growing the business in very innovative ways and continuing with that strategy into 2021 and beyond. We are now doing private labelling, positioning ourselves to be a baking powerhouse in TT.” She explained that some of the top industry players in the country are buying bread from Pascal’s and putting their labels on it.
“What we are doing is building business-to-business relationships and trust. Because for them to put their labels on our product means that they trust what we are doing.” She said although the bakeries were thriving in their day, there comes a time when everything must evolve.
“And that’s where second generation comes in. Different thoughts, ideology and experiences.”
When she assumed the leadership role she had also come up with a rice cake brand to compete with the popular Quaker brand. “There was a shortage on the grocery shelves because of the forex problem. I said, ‘I can make rice cakes because I’ve been to many trade shows and I’ve seen that machine on display.’” She did the research and took the last of her savings and invested in the machine.
“Now we compete directly with a Quaker product that is an imported product… I am proud of it because we stand up well in terms of quality and aesthetics.”
But, she said, although the family business is now a good fit for her, it wasn’t always that way and a lot happened before she made her way back to Pascal’s. “I have taken a very roundabout route to get where I am today.”
She decided take some time off from work to do other things, and Googled options. That was when she “stumbled upon” One Young World, an NGO based in the UK dedicated to empowering young leaders to make positive changes.
“It was exceptionally expensive. Some exorbitant amount of money, but I made it there and it was a paradigm shift for me. There was this 17-year-old speaker who blew me away. These young people were movers and shakers who were contributing to making better societies and they made me rethink my life. I wanted to make positive changes too.”
She became involved and the following year became the regional ambassador for the Caribbean.
“I founded and launched the One Young World Caribbean Caucus in 2017...Representatives from the other islands flew in and it was fantastic, phenomenal.” And although she is no longer actively involved in the organisation she is still an ambassador.
She later returned to work at the family business, but that didn’t work out. “I felt I needed more business experience.” She took on a management trainee position at Scotiabank and worked her way up to becoming business banking manager.
“I learnt so much about the corporate culture there. It was a strategic move in preparing myself for where I am now.”
As business-oriented as she is, though, there are other thing that are just as important to Pascal-Perseval, among them personal development and spiritually.
“My faith is dear to me and what keeps me grounded. I need it because some of the things I experience in business can rock you to your core. When I wake up every morning it is always with a purpose.”
The fitness enthusiast has, no matter what, found the time to maintain an exercise routine every day.
“I’ve done triathlons, I’m a former national field hockey player, I have a black belt in karate.” In January last year she ran a Disney half marathon when she was six months pregnant. “I did it with my mother, so there were three generations of Pascals in that marathon,” she chuckled.
Now, adding motherhood to her list of responsibilities, she has managed to also use that as a teaching tool for a number of life lessons.
“Oh my god, I’m exhausted! My daughter doesn’t sleep very well at night so she has me on my toes. But I’m recognising that anything you truly want is possible because I’m able to the things I want to do and balance it all… that time cannot be managed but activities can… that nobody does anything of consequence by themselves and I thank God I have a great support system,” in her husband, mother and nanny.
“Night time is all me. I will be up all night with Sarah if I have to. In the morning my husband takes over so I can get an hour on my spin bike. Then when I put her to bed at night, I get in another hour of exercise."
Regarding the question of when she has time for fun, Pascal-Perseval mused. “Good question. Don’t get me wrong, I love to party and lime, but I don’t have an answer at this exact moment as to what I do for fun ... Although I don’t have time for specific fun activities, I incorporate my fitness with spending time with the people I want to spend time with, like going hiking.”