Spotlight on Women Entrepreneurs
When Esther Dockendorff’s father came home from lobster fishing 40 years ago and said he wanted to start a business “growing” mussels, no one was sure how the new venture would go.
Forty years later, Mussel King is a leader in mussel cultivation and processing in Canada and is considered one of the pioneers of this important Atlantic Canadian industry. And 40 years later, Esther has continued in her father’s footsteps as an industry leader.
As with many family run businesses, Esther grew up doing everything “from filling mussel socks on a barge in the middle of a river, to whatever else needed to be done to make things work.”
Today, Esther and two of her five siblings work in the business. When their father passed away a decade ago, she became the CEO “out of necessity,” continuing in his footsteps as an industry pioneer and leader. While she comes across as the reluctant CEO, Dockendorff has quietly grown Mussel King into a Canadian leader in mussel cultivation. Before her father’s death, Esther led sales for the PEI-based company.
“Although we are a medium-sized business, I’m still the sales team,” says Dockendorff. “I remain sales by choice and CEO by necessity because somebody had to do it.”
She explains she had great role models in both her mother and father growing up.
“Both incredible examples,” says Dockendorff. “They worked hard, and they worked cheerfully. While my father gets recognized as being a pioneer of the Canadian mussel industry, without my mother’s support, my father may not have been as successful as he was.”
For Dockendorff, taking over from her father was just part of continuously moving the company forward.
“My father always said if you’re not moving forward you’re going backwards, and we drank the Kool-Aid. The drive for the next thing, our perfectionist tendencies – that’s what keeps us moving forward—we’re never satisfied where we are, which is both a blessing and a curse.”
Being female in a male-dominated business really hasn’t been much of an issue.
“Most of the time I am the only female in the room and I have never been treated as anything but an equal. I think the key is to know your business and to know your industry. It’s hard to argue against that. If you’ve got experience, if you’ve proven yourself, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.”
What advice would she give a young woman starting out in business today?
“If you can stay out of business, stay out of it,” says Dockendorff. “But if you can’t stay out of it, then you know you’ve got the stuff, you’ve got what it takes. But if it’s not your passion and it’s not driving you, then stay away.”
In the end, Dockendorff says success is about listening and doing the right thing.
“Think all the time. Listen to your customers. Find out what the problems are. For example, what is it that’s keeping people from eating more mussels? Then go and find the solution.”