Mandy Rennehan: Career Builder
Mandy Rennehan’s new HGTV series shows her passion for building and the trades that build our world.
The world has always built things, and it will never stop. Be it a rural bungalow or a 100-storey skyscraper, humans, like most other species, like to build, as it’s in our nature to create, nest and shelter. The message to young people seeking a career is obvious: develop a skill in the building trades and you will most likely have a rewarding and satisfying career for life — and never stop building.
A champion of this career building is Mandy Rennehan, self-made entrepreneur, celebrated contractor and tireless advocate for the trades, who documents her rise with her new book The Blue Collar CEO: My Gutsy Journey from Rookie Contractor to Multi-Millionaire Construction Boss and illustrates her passion for young apprentices in her new HGTV Canada show Trading Up with Mandy Rennehan. Hers is a storied life and a career built from modest beginnings, while growing up in Yarmouth, N.S., in a childhood she describes as “solid, simple and charming.”
“When you’re older, you start to realize what a gift it was being brought up in a community with these people who were never taught to aspire to be bigger, they were only taught to live in the moment and give what they had,” says Rennehan in a recent interview with Dolce. “Confidence happens in stages, and these sports leaders and community leaders gave that to me. It was incredible to see there was such selflessness that was so evident in that small town of Yarmouth, and I don’t know how I can ever repay them. The people of Yarmouth are truly the guiding force of what I was to become.”
Rennehan’s larger-than-life personality and burning ambition also had a little to do with her success, making her first money as early as 10 years old foraging for bait and selling it to local fishermen for profit. As the daughter of a lobster fisherman, she saw the economic hardships faced by her parents in a seasonal industry and vowed that would not be her future. Leaving home at 18, Rennehan wanted to learn everything she could about contracting and building, and worked for free for two years for electricians, plumbers and general contractors.
She never turned down a job, and her reputation in that male-dominated industry grew throughout that Maritimes as “that girl in the trades from Yarmouth.” The jobs kept getting bigger and more complex, and people were impressed by her confidence, energy, enthusiasm and a personality that was engaging, upbeat and splashed with just a hint of moxie — “respectfully uncensored,” as she calls herself. People also started to call her to see if she could find them certain other contractors, which Rennehan realized was a skill set she could turn into a business.
“I realized my entrepreneurial, efficient-way-of-thinking skill set and knowing the ins and outs of the industry were an advantage,” says Rennehan. “What I realized was that customers were having to call different people to do different trades and I thought I could manage all the trades for the customer. And I was one phone call, 24-7. And that concept was the first of its kind, and it worked, as clients would simply call Mandy for this or call Mandy for that, and they only had to deal with one person, as I source the most appropriate subcontractor.”
The result was the formation, just 10 years after foraging for bait in Yarmouth, of Freshco, the first full-service, 24-7, on-call facilities and retail maintenance provider with complete coverage across Canada and the eastern United States.
Today, with three divisions handling maintenance, projects and reconstruction, Freshco is the most successful and fiscally responsible retail maintenance business in Canada, with a client roster that includes such blue-chip companies and luxury brands as Apple, Lululemon, Tiffany & Co., Sephora, Banana Republic, Nike and The Home Depot. “My business evolved with a menu of services based upon the different needs of our clients that customers saw as a cost savings by going through just one company,” says Rennehan.
The new HGTV Canada series illustrates Rennehan’s driving passion to break down the North American myth that a university degree is the only way forward in a professional career by emphasizing that trade schools are a solid route to success. In it, Rennehan renovates three extraordinary properties in her hometown of Yarmouth by mentoring three trade apprentices, giving them the tools to develop their own successful careers. The series is full of Rennehan’s infectious humour, heart and homespun East Coast teachings and learnings, while delivering the strong message that a career in the trades is rewarding and satisfying.
“My whole life, I have recognized that even though I wasn’t personally discriminated against in the trade industry, I see so many people who are,” says Rennehan passionately. “In North America, the narrative was built around, ‘If you’re going to be anybody, you need to be white collar, and the stupid kids went to trade schools.’ When you realize how massive this industry is in the world, without it, we’d have nothing. By taking some trades out of schools, it’s done systemic damage to our economy, because we don’t have enough people in the trades,” she says. “Which is why I’m bridging the gap between white-collar and blue-collar industries, because there can’t be a hierarchy because we’re killing the economy. We’ve got to change the perception of our kids going to trade school, because there is so much opportunity for them there, and they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their dreams. So, I’m saying, ‘Look at me. I’m building people as I’m building things.’”
Given global population projections, the world is clearly going to need more contractors, carpenters, electricians and plumbers to create the spaces for the increased population in which to live, work and engage in commerce. Most definitely, the world also needs more Mandy Rennehan.
Interview by Estelle Zentil