Last September, at a staff dinner for all the instructors and administrators who work at Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy, Roxanne Petruk joked to the founder, Doug Fairweather, “Yeah, well, when I’m running this place…”
She was teasing, of course. And then Fairweather, replied, “OK.”
Petruk is a registered massage therapist and graduate of OVCMT who was a sessional instructor. A few days after the dinner, she sat in Fairweather’s office and asked, “Were you serious?”
What began as banter quickly became an exit strategy for Fairweather, who had been running the school since its founding in 1994 and was now ready to retire.
It was also a business opportunity for Petruk, who fell in love with the people and the passion behind the school in 2009 when she entered it as a student pursuing a second career.
“The staff here are wonderful. I’ve seen it from all sides, as a student and as an instructor, and that was a big motivation for me to want to buy the school,” said Petruk. “They’re so passionate about massage therapy and they’re really engaged in student learning. In turn, the students become engaged with each other and with their own learning, and it’s become a great opportunity to engage with the public.”
The hitch was, Petruk didn’t know anything about buying a business. Fairweather, who had once sat on the Community Futures North Okanagan board, suggested Petruk visit the organization for guidance. Community Futures’ loan program supports existing and start-up businesses in the region.
Petruk ended up in the office of Rob Short, loans co-ordinator.
“I said, ‘I’ve never valued or purchased a business. I’m a teacher. I’m passionate about massage and students and teaching, but this opportunity has come to light.’”
Short said, “Well, let’s explore it.”
Soon, Petruk had handouts and links and a to-do list to help her get started on step one, the business plan. Back and forth she went in and out of Short’s office as he continued providing feedback on her business plan.
During one of those visits, Short told her he had an idea for step two, the financing, and an application was started.
“I knew this was a project Community Futures would want to support,” says Short.
“It ticked so many boxes for us — employment, economic development, business retention, and we were very confident that Roxanne was really invested in its success.”
Petruk’s loan application was approved and on March 10, she officially became executive director.
Today, from a corner office, Petruk talks about what she sees for the future of the school. She envisions online education, research partnerships, acting as a hub for an entire alternative health education community.
“We really want to develop the leaders in massage therapy and be at the forefront of research and innovation in the industry,” said Petruk.
She says it’s hard to believe just eight months ago she was in the waiting room at Community Futures, sitting with just those ideas.
“They believed in me. They believed in the history of the college and what we do well and what we can do. It’s exciting.”