What do former Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson, actor John R. Vernon (dean Wormer in the frat house comedy Animal House), singer Buffy Sainte-Marie and hockey great Gordie Howe have in common? They have all been bestowed the highest honour the University can confer – an honorary degree. Meet Rachel Mielke, the most recent honorary degree recipient.

University of Regina alumna Rachel Mielke BAdmin'03, founder and CEO of Hillberg & Berk has grown her purpose-lead jewelry company from a small kitchen table operation in 2007, to one of Saskatchewan’s most recognized brands.

She has created jewelry that has made it to the Oscars, successfully pitched and closed a deal on CBC’s Dragons Den and partnered with Olympic athletes such as Tessa Virtue. She also created two designs that were commissioned for Queen Elizabeth II.

"I feel deeply humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this," says Mielke.

"I feel deeply humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this," says Mielke. "Saskatchewan and Regina are foundational elements of my personal journey, and the spark of my life’s work in Hillberg & Berk. The University represents so much of what makes this city and province special, and I am so honoured by how the community has rallied around my big dreams, and how the U of R has chosen me for this honour."

With 14 retail locations across Canada and a thriving ecommerce website, Mielke attributes the success of her enterprise to strong support from the community of customers that the brand has grown over the last 15 years. She gets her inspiration from a desire to elevate and celebrate women through design, creating products and experiences that connect women to their power; her education at the U of R taught her the fundamentals of teamwork, the importance of collaboration and how to persevere when thing get hard; and, she has always taken advantage of the opportunities that have come her way through courage and commitment.

"A University like the U of R has such strength in community and relationship building, that has been a cornerstone of H&B and my personal success in business, and it taught me the importance of building a network and giving back to the community.”

“The U of R is where I forged so many early relationships that supported me along the journey and it’s where I learned the fundamentals of teamwork and the results you can drive through strong collaboration,” says Mielke. “This was tremendously preparatory for a life of entrepreneurship.  A University like the U of R has such strength in community and relationship building, that has been a cornerstone of H&B and my personal success in business, and it taught me the importance of building a network and giving back to the community.”

 

Mielke was named Regina Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, received the YWCA’s Young Woman of Distinction award and was the Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan’s Emerging Business of the Year. In 2010, she was named Exporter of the Year by Saskatchewan Trade and a University of Regina Outstanding Young Alumna. She was Saskatchewan’s BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and was recognized as one of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs in the 2014 PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking. Photo by David Stobbe.
Mielke was named Regina Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, received the YWCA’s Young Woman of Distinction award and was the Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan’s Emerging Business of the Year. In 2010, she was named Exporter of the Year by Saskatchewan Trade and a University of Regina Outstanding Young Alumna. She was Saskatchewan’s BDC Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and was recognized as one of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs in the 2014 PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking. Photo by David Stobbe.

Hillberg & Berk has always had a strong connection to the community by partnering with organizations that focus on the elevation of all women. Being a purpose-lead business has deepened the company’s connections with the community, its impact, and overall business success. In addition to using the business’s platform to elevate women, Hillberg & Berk has contributed over $10M in donations to hundreds of organizations since its inception. Since 2018, H&B has contributed over 20% of its annual profit to partner organizations focused on supporting women.

This year H&B supported the Native Women’s Association of Canada through the sales of Orange Sparkle and their “Every Child Matters” Pendent, Dress for Success Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity.

"In addition to using our platform to elevate women, we have contributed over $10M in product and cash donations to hundreds of organizations nationally since our inception," she says. "Since 2018, H&B has contributed over 20% of annual profit to partner organizations focused on supporting women."

"Our philanthropic philosophy is simple: how we get there is as important as our impact," says Mielke. "I feel a tremendous privilege and responsibility to steward the conscientious growth and direction of Hillberg & Berk.  The business has always had a strong connection to the community through organizations that focus on the elevation of all women, and I am incredibly proud of how our approach to being a purpose lead business has deepened our connections with the community, our impact, and our business success over the last 15 years."

For women, by women is the company’s purpose.

"In addition to using our platform to elevate women, we have contributed over $10M in product and cash donations to hundreds of organizations nationally since our inception," she says. "Since 2018, H&B has contributed over 20% of annual profit to partner organizations focused on supporting women. I am especially proud of creating the H&B Entrance Award, an endowed scholarship fund through the U of R for women pursuing business administration, which will benefit young women in perpetuity. We also created an annual entrance scholarship for young women graduates from Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina pursuing post-secondary education. Both awards have supported over 15 students so far, and we are proud to continue giving back to women achieving their dreams through education."

Having recently overcome a cancer diagnosis, Mielke has candidly shared her experiences.. She is a passionate advocate and co-chair of, Women Leading Philanthropy, a membership-led group of women in Saskatchewan through the Royal University Hospital Foundation, that funds innovative health care initiatives in the province.

Mielke has established the H&B Entrance Award, an endowed scholarship fund through the U of R for women pursuing business administration. She also created an annual entrance scholarship for young, women graduating from Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina interested in pursuing a post-secondary education. Both awards have supported over 15 students so far, and she takes great pride in being able to give back to women achieving their dreams through education.

Having recently overcome a cancer diagnosis, Mielke has candidly shared her experiences.. She is a passionate advocate and co-chair of, Women Leading Philanthropy, a membership-led group of women in Saskatchewan through the Royal University Hospital Foundation, that funds innovative health care initiatives in the province. To date this group has raised $600,000, funding six projects and leveraging additional funding to support advocacy and changes to standard of care. Leaders within the group successfully advocated in making changes to the provincial guidelines for the sampling and testing of Pap tests in Saskatchewan; moving from old technology to new liquid-based cytology testing.

"As a woman who has positioned my life’s work around the elevation of other women I felt compelled to share what I had learned through my journey candidly to help educate other women and to promote self-advocacy in each of our health journeys. After going through the terrible situation of having cancer, I asked myself what good could come out of it to benefit others. I used the trauma I had experienced to propel some good. I am now a passionate advocate of and the Co-chair of Women Leading Philanthropy, a membership lead group of women in Saskatchewan that fund innovative health care initiatives in the province in hope of transforming care for people here."

MielkeFamilyUseThis

Ironically, Mielke received her honorary degrees at the same time her step-son, Caleb Leforte Fazlagic recived his Bachelor's of Administration degree.

"It was so unexpected and incredibly exciting," Mielke says. "I certainly thought of Caleb a lot as I have been reflecting on what I’d like to share with the convocating class, and what might resonate most with these young minds. I have watched him work his way diligently through his degree against many obstacles such as a pivot to remote learning and the isolation from friends and community throughout most of his educational experience. It is a tremendous honour to be sharing this special day with him and so many other inspiring future leaders."

Bike

Caleb has a similar reaction to the coincident.

"It's pretty exciting for our family that these are happening concurrently, it's a nice opportunity to celebrate with a lot of friends and family who will be travelling in for the event. I'm excited to see Rachel receive this honour as I've watched how much she's done for the community over the years and feel she's a deserving recipient."

As a result of her experience with cancer Mielke made the decision to move to B.C., to be closer to family and she says it has brought clarity and conviction to how she lives her life. Despite this change, and the growth of sharing Sparkle across the country, and the world, the heart of the brand still lies firmly in Regina and Saskatchewan.

About the Author

Everett Dorma is a Public Affairs Strategist with University Advancement and Communications.

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Pierre Lemire BSc'87, chief executive officer of Kent Imaging in Calgary, credits much of his success to the work ethic he learned on his parents' farm in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. "You worked at a young age. You were picking rocks on the farm, throwing bales, driving the tractor at 12 years old-everything you had to do to help your dad on the farm," he recollects. As a result, he says, "I'm not scared to work. I've carried that through to everything I've done, working hard at school, and trying to excel at all the jobs I've had."

So, how did he get to Cowtown from the prairie dog capital of Canada? It all started at the University of Regina.

Lemire was good with numbers, so he thought accounting would be a fit. As part of his business administration degree, he needed to take some general courses, so he enrolled in Computer Science 102 and learned basic programming. "I really enjoyed it. It was creative but still very logical, which is the way my brain works." When he took Computer Science 200, he learned Pascal and became fascinated with programming languages. It wasn't long before he transferred to the Faculty of Science to be a computer science honours major.

The University of Regina had a small computer lab with UNIX computers. (Readers of a certain vintage will remember their trademark black screens and green text.) "It was an interesting time for computing when I was there. PCs were just starting to come out, and there was a transition from large mainframe computing to microcomputing. I got into programming on microcomputers and laptops," Lemire recalls.

Pierre Lemire BSC'87, chief executive officer of Kent Imaging in Calgary. Pierre Lemire BSC'87, chief executive officer of Kent Imaging in Calgary.

After his third year, he got a summer job developing software for Fred Curtis, an engineering professor at the U of R. This experience set Lemire down a career path of developing software and giving it a commercial use. After working for Curtis for a year, Lemire joined the company Software Support, later renamed Kanotech. He built new applications for the AutoCAD drafting software platform but was continuously rewriting them when there were platform changes. His friend, Mike Columbo, who also worked at Software Support, asked him, "Why don't you just go work for Autodesk [the company that makes AutoCAD] and be the guy who writes the software instead of updating it all the time?" That seemed out of reach for Lemire, but Columbo was determined. "Mike made a few calls for me at Autodesk and got me a job," laughs Lemire. He moved to San Francisco and worked at Autodesk for the next nine years.

Lemire and his family were interested in moving back to Canada, so Autodesk transferred him to Calgary to run a company they had acquired there. He left Autodesk in 2004 to co-found a medical startup with Dr. Chen Fong, Calgary Scientific, where Lemire served as president and chief technology officer for more than 11 years. In that time the company became an international leader in medical imaging, with clearances for their products in major markets around the world. After becoming an expert on building medical applications, Lemire was ready to take the next step in his career. He took the helm at Kent Imaging, another medical imaging company, in 2015.

Kent Imaging is known throughout North America for manufacturing a medical device that measures oxygen in tissues using infrared light. This technology helps doctors determine why a wound isn't healing properly. "If there is not enough oxygen in the wound, it will not heal," says Lemire. "It's like an X-Ray letting a physician know if an arm is broken. We're providing them with an imaging solution that gives them better judgement on treatment."

The feedback on the device, from both doctors and patients, has been phenomenal. "We have tons of stories of how it's prevented amputations," Lemire says. Patients may feel frustrated that their wound doesn't seem to be healing, but with Kent Imaging's device, doctors can show patients even the most minute progress. "When a patient understands what's happening with their wound, it's motivating. They're more engaged and compliant with treatment protocols." The technology is especially pertinent for diabetic patients, whose wounds don't heal naturally.

The Kent Imaging team is currently working on getting clearance for the device in Australia, and they will be rolling it out into other parts of the world in the next few years.

Kent Imaging, the company Lemire helps oversee, is known throughout North America for manufacturing a medical device that measures oxygen in tissues using infrared light. This technology helps doctors determine why a wound isn't healing properly. Kent Imaging, the company Lemire helps oversee, is known throughout North America for manufacturing a medical device that measures oxygen in tissues using infrared light. This technology helps doctors determine why a wound isn't healing properly.

Looking back on his career, Lemire is most proud of how the companies he's worked with have enhanced the way people work. "We've improved the ability for clinicians and health care providers to provide greater care. When a patient has an acute stroke, we are able to provide faster access to imaging so decisions can be made faster. It's lifesaving," he says. "As a result of what we're doing at Kent Imaging, physicians are adapting the way they treat wounds. We're changing people's lives."

In his role with Kent Imaging, Lemire has connected with some of the largest medical companies in the world, such as GE, Toshiba, Siemens and Fuji. In his role with Kent Imaging, Lemire has connected with some of the largest medical companies in the world, such as GE, Toshiba, Siemens and Fuji.

In his two most recent roles, Lemire has connected with some of the largest medical companies in the world, such as GE, Toshiba, Siemens and Fuji. This means he has had the opportunity to travel internationally for work, including to Japan, China, Korea and Australia. He and his family also enjoy travelling in their spare time. His favourite region to visit is Europe, because of its long history. "When you're in Italy, you know the Romans were there 2,000 years ago. It's mind boggling for Canadians whose history is so young," he remarks. He also finds Asia fascinating: "I appreciate the respect in Japanese culture. When you walk into a building, a greeter bows to you. You just don't get used to it." He continues, "The size of China and the number of people there is impressive. When you're in China, you know you're not alone."

While this is the first time Lemire has served as a CEO, he has been building toward the role his entire career. He has learned the ropes at both small companies and large ones-"The first company I worked at had six people. The next had 2,000," he says. "There was really good management training at Autodesk. I've applied the lesson that you make better decisions when you involve other people and ensure that everyone feels like they're part of the decisions. Even if they don't agree, at least they had a say. It sounds easy as a concept, but to put it into practice is really hard. Combining different experiences, objectives and goals together in a cohesive team is a big challenge, but I think we're doing a decent job of it."

Lemire played for the University of Regina Cougars hockey team throughout university. He continues to play the sport today (non-contact) and coaches his 16-year-old son's hockey team. Lemire is the player on the far right. Lemire played for the University of Regina Cougars hockey team throughout university. He continues to play the sport today (non-contact) and coaches his 16-year-old son's hockey team. Lemire is the player on the far right.

Lemire also learned leadership skills playing hockey as a youth, which continue to serve him today. He attended Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan for high school. Their motto is "luctor et emergo" or "struggle and emerge", a message Lemire took to heart. "You had to take care of yourself at Notre Dame. You were one of 350 boys and 30 girls-no one was going to take care of you. You had to carry your own," he explains.

In the dormitories, the students did all the work, such as cleaning the dorms and the kitchen. First-year students were called "new boys" and did the chores, while upper-level students, "old boys", were responsible for organizing and supervising the others. In his final year, Lemire was a house leader: "We learned about leadership, organizing and taking on responsibility." Lemire went on to play for the University of Regina Cougars hockey team throughout university. He continues to play the sport today (non-contact) and coaches his 16-year-old son's hockey team.

In addition to playing hockey and other sports, Lemire likes to spend his downtime camping, watching sports and dancing. His venue of choice for two-stepping is Ranchman's Cookhouse & Dancehall in Calgary. "When I was a kid, I had a big family-my mom and dad each had 12 brothers and sisters. When we got together for a family reunion, there was always dancing. I developed a love of dancing at a young age, and I still love it," he says.

Finding work/life balance while working for a startup trying to break into new markets is a challenge. Fortunately, technology has allowed Lemire to work from anywhere, balancing work and family obligations. Sometimes he works from home, which saves him an hour-and-a-half commute, time that he can spend with his family. "If you have a computer and an internet connection, you're working. When we're camping, I get up early and work, and then when everyone else is awake, I transition to being dad," he explains, going on to say, "I could be working on a Saturday or Sunday morning and then do something with the kids on a Monday afternoon, because I've put the time in."

Technology has afforded Lemire the luxury of a enviable work and family balance.  Sometimes he works from home, which saves him an hour-and-a-half commute, time that he can spend with his family. Lemire is pictured here with (left to right) daughters Jemma, Jordyn, and Isla, wife Alisha, daughter Jayna and son Luc. Technology has afforded Lemire the luxury of a enviable work and family balance. Sometimes he works from home, which saves him an hour-and-a-half commute, time that he can spend with his family. Lemire is pictured here with (left to right) daughters Jemma, Jordyn, and Isla, wife Alisha, daughter Jayna and son Luc.

While Lemire believes technology makes our lives better by improving communication, he also hopes that it will slow down a little bit. "The technological response to COVID has created a society where we don't need to be together-we can do that electronically. We need to get back to that personal connection. We lead more valuable lives that way," he observes.

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How big did you dare to dream when you first started your own business?

When I was starting H&B having big goals was important even though I didn't know exactly how I was going to achieve them yet. Having a big dream to build a business with impact at the heart stretched and challenged me, and eventually the team around me at H&B, and cemented us together to chase something exciting and scary at the same time. Pursuit of a bold dream became the fuel required to drive and navigated the journey of growing a national jewelry brand from Regina.

In what ways did your U of R experience prepare you to run your own business?

The U of R is where I forged so many early relationships that supported me along the journey and it's where I learned the fundamentals of teamwork and the results you can drive through strong collaboration. Academically, university was challenging for me as I do not learn easily through conventional methods so it taught me to persevere even when it was hard. This was a tremendously preparatory for a life of entrepreneurship.  A University like the UofR has such strength in community and relationship building, that has been a cornerstone of H&B and my personal success in business, and it taught me the importance of building a network and giving back to the community.

Tell us about Hillberg & Berk's philanthropic philosophy.

Our philanthropic philosophy is simple: how we get there is as important as our impact. We are currently on the B Corporation certification path, and this is a philosophy we apply throughout our business, including both what we do, and how we do it.  I feel a tremendous privilege and responsibility to steward the conscientious growth and direction of Hillberg & Berk.  The business has always had a strong connection to the community through organizations that focus on the elevation of all women, and I am incredibly proud of how our approach to being a purpose lead business has deepened our connections with the community, our impact, and our business success over the last 15 years. In addition to using our platform to elevate women, we have contributed over $10M in product and cash donations to hundreds of organizations nationally since our inception. Since 2018, H&B has contributed over 20% of annual profit to partner organizations focused on supporting women. I am especially proud of creating the H&B Entrance Award, an endowed scholarship fund through the U of R for women pursuing business administration, which will benefit young women in perpetuity. We also created an annual entrance scholarship for young women graduates from Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina pursuing post-secondary education. Both awards have supported over 15 students so far, and we are proud to continue giving back to women achieving their dreams through education.

What would you say to young women who are considering an entrepreneurial endeavor but are hesitant to take the leap?

I love the quote from Goethe about the universe moving to support a bold idea once you commit and begin. I have always felt that there has been a lot of the universe conspiring towards supporting my journey, but it has also taken courage and commitment along the way. Whether you feel it's the universe, or your direct actions, there is definitely a mindset of optimism, and clarity and conviction about pursuing something bigger than yourself, fueled by confidence from within. You don't have to know where you are going or how you will get there in life but you must take the first step. If you do that, make peace with the worst-case outcome, and commit to a lifelong journey of learning, unlearning and growth you will end up in places beyond your wildest dreams. Be brave, the world needs your big ideas!

You were very open about sharing your cancer diagnosis and your recovery journey. Why?

As a woman who has positioned my life's work around the elevation of other women I felt compelled to share what I had learned through my journey candidly to help educate other women and to promote self-advocacy in each of our health journeys. After going through the terrible situation of having cancer, I asked myself what good could come out of it to benefit others. I used the trauma I had experienced to propel some good. I am now a passionate advocate of and the Co-chair of Women Leading Philanthropy, a membership lead group of women in Saskatchewan that fund innovative health care initiatives in the province in hope of transforming care for people here. To date this group has funded $600,000 which represents six projects that are the result of women in the medical field dreaming big and committing to impact for other women, and has helped to leverage additional funding, advocacy and changes to standard of care. I am proud to have supported this group in successfully advocating for getting changes to the provincial guidelines for the sampling and testing of PAP tests in Saskatchewan from old technology to new liquid-based cytology testing.

What has been the biggest impact of your cancer journey on you?

It was a forced opportunity to step back and reassess my life and priorities. As a result of that reflection our family decided to make a move to BC to live closer to family and, if I'm being totally honest, to enjoy a year-round garden and greenery. I would also say that the most important relationships in my life are stronger today and it allowed me to develop a deeper level of clarity and conviction around my personal values and how I live my life.

Why should we all support causes that empower women?

Perhaps I will focus this answer on the opportunity around supporting women-led businesses in Canada. While this is not a charitable cause, it is in my opinion an incredible economic opportunity for our country. Only 17% of small and medium sized businesses in Canada are owned by women, and over 90% of women owned businesses in Canada never scale beyond $1M in annual revenue. Studies show that by advancing gender equality and women's participation in the economy, Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP.* Research also demonstrates that companies led by women give back more to communities in which they live and work. It has been great to see the increased consumer awareness and focus on support for local, women owned businesses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am hopeful this trend continues as it not only poses a tremendous economic opportunity and but allows for more innovation, manufacturing, creating and services to start and grow right here in Canada.

What were your thoughts upon learning you were receiving an Honorary Degree from the University of Regina?

I feel deeply humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this. Saskatchewan and Regina are foundational elements of my personal journey, and the spark of my life's work in Hillberg & Berk. The University represents so much of what makes this city and province special, and I am so honoured by how the community has rallied around my big dreams, and how the UofR has chosen me for this honour.

For you: How does it feel to be bestowed this honor at the same time
your step-son is graduating from the U of R?

It was so unexpected and incredibly exciting! I certainly thought of Caleb a lot as I have been reflecting on what I'd like to share with the convocating class, and what might resonate most with these young minds. I have watched him work his way diligently through his degree against many obstacles such as a pivot to remote learning and the isolation from friends and community throughout most of his educational experience. It is a tremendous honour to be sharing this special day with him and so many other inspiring future leaders.

 

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