This story is the fourth in a series that features students and graduates who are using their MBAs and EMBAs in unique fields other than the traditional ones of finance or consulting.
When pursuing an MBA at Queen's University, Laura Laoun hoped one day to make her mark. But little did she suspect that she'd end up doing that by working for a tattoo company.
As the director of marketing and sales for Eikon Device, a tattoo supply business based in Kingston, the self-described ideas generator creates an action plan aimed at making her employer stay relevant in a rapidly evolving industry.
"This is the owners' goal, to listen to the industry and know what needs need to be met," she says. "My role is to help them to realize their vision."
Ms. Laoun first met Dean and Monika Byrnes, the founding owners of Eikon Device Inc., during an innovative case study course offered by Queen's, also in Kingston. The class was split into a number of small teams and the Byrnes, together with their executive team, opened their company's books to each group of students.
"We were encouraged to assess their company and help them develop strategies going forward," says Ms. Laoun, 28, a member of the team whose ideas seemed to impress Eikon the most.
Following that academic exercise, the company invited Ms. Laoun to do some consulting work. A full-time job offer soon followed, which Ms. Laoun accepted just more than a year ago, relocating from her hometown of Montreal.
She did so, she says, because the husband-and-wife Byrnes shared her values. They care about their customers first and foremost. Their business is a way to forge relationships with the people who use their products.
"I never did an MBA to make a ton of money," Ms. Laoun relates. "It always was about connecting with people."
She learned about creating an intimate bond with clients first-hand growing up in Montreal as part of an entrepreneurial family that prided itself on its customer service.
Her grandfather, an optician, immigrated to Montreal from Egypt in 1969 and opened an eyeglass store called Georges Laoun Opticien in 1983. A family business, it is today run by Ms. Laoun's mother.
"What has stuck with me most is the way he treated all of his customers, as if they were an extension of our family," Ms. Laoun says. "Even now, although he is not part of the company's daily operations, he draws us into his tales of beloved customers."
That feeling of intimacy with the customer drove her initially to specialize in human resources as part of the bachelor of commerce degree she took at Concordia University in Montreal, graduating in 2010.
She worked for an advertising agency for three years. But the job did not satisfy her. "I struggled to find what would," she says. "I tried working for a startup. I also went on a humanitarian trip in the hopes of answering, 'What's next?' That's when I decided to pursue an MBA."
She chose Queen's for its small class sizes and its removal from all that she knew.
"I was attracted to the idea of the unknown," Ms. Laoun says. "Not knowing who I would meet or which opportunities would present themselves to me intrigued me. I knew by removing myself from my habits and daily routine I'd likely find my 'what's next?'"
She located it in Eikon, a company founded in a Kingston garage in 1994 that went on to make the first needles specific to the tattoo trade.
Gradually, the Byrnes started selling other products to meet the needs of tattoo artists who at the time were greatly underserved by the marketplace. Today, Eikon has more intellectual property than any tattoo equipment company in the world. It now has 40 employees and 28 distributors worldwide.
"Since its days operating out of a garage, Eikon has become a global player in an industry that is seeing incredible growth," Ms. Laoun says. "That's a story I want to be a part of."
Her position at Eikon allows her to be strategic, analytical and think on a large scale – all the things that first attracted her to the business world.
"Eikon is committed to being relevant to its customers and I get to be a vehicle for that, " she elaborates. "Before I began, marketing wasn't a big part of their overall strategy." But it is now, thanks to Ms. Laoun.
Next on the agenda is helping Eikon serve tattoo artists globally – but with an explicit desire by the owners not to go corporate.
It's a revolutionary approach. But trust a nontraditional MBA to get it done.
"Going into consulting or ending up on Bay Street was not something I found compelling. Certainly it was not something I could identify with," Ms. Laoun says. "I found this path by believing that being inspired and challenged come first."