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  • Writer's pictureAnna Davidson

Behind IMA: An Interview with President and CEO, Charlene Freeman

This year at IMA, we hit an exciting milestone: 35 years in business. We’ve gone through a lot of changes since 1989 and this anniversary brings the chance to remember, reflect, and refocus. As we do that, we want to bring you along for a look behind the curtain!


What was IMA like when it started? What was the industry like? How have we changed and grown? Who has shaped IMA, from the beginning to now? For our first IMA deep dive, our blog team decided on an interview with IMA President and CEO, Charlene Freeman. 


Charlene has been President and CEO of IMA since 2012 when she purchased the company. Beyond her 12 years in leadership, Charlene has an extensive history with IMA, which gives her a unique perspective on both the company and the industry as a whole. It’s not an exaggeration to say no one has more experience in the data cleansing industry than Charlene Freeman. As she tells us herself, she has been in every role at IMA at one point or another. 


Female CEO Charlene Freeman

In addition to talking about what Charlene has done in her time with the company, we also wanted to dive into her history and experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry–especially as a woman at the highest level. Even now, women are still outnumbered in the business world and often made to feel unwelcome. Charlene has dealt with these issues over the span of her career and discussed with us how she handles it and what it took to get to where she is today.


Without further ado, our interview with Charlene Freeman!


Let's start with your background. How did you get into the industry and what were you doing before you got to the position you're in today?

I started working for the family business when I was 16, when my parents [Jim and Judy Calvert] started IMA in the spare room of our family home. I was convinced that I did not want to be a part of the business, actually, and went to school to pursue a career in social work. It did not take me long to realize that the business world was where I belonged, but a lot of the skills I learned in school have helped me as a CEO.

I have held every position within IMA, from data cleanser to team leader and General Manager. There is not a role within the company that I have not held, which has allowed me to understand the complexities and requirements from all sides of the business.


Calvert/Freeman at company golf day

How would you describe yourself?

I see myself as a dedicated and hard-working individual who tries to lead by example.


When you took over as CEO-IMA's second ever and first female owner and CEO-what was that like?

Taking over as CEO of IMA was both exhilarating and daunting. It marked a significant transition not only for the company but also for my family and me personally.

The decision to purchase the company from my parents was not taken lightly. It came with exceptional risk and carried a considerable financial burden for my family. There was a lot of pressure to succeed, not only to ensure the continued success of the business but also to justify the significant investment and sacrifices made by my family.


As a family business, there was an added layer of responsibility to uphold the legacy built by my parents while also charting a new course for the company's future. I felt a deep sense of obligation to honour their hard work and dedication by steering the company toward continued growth and success.


Being the first female owner and CEO of IMA brought its own set of challenges. In a male-dominated industry, there were doubts and skepticism about my ability to lead effectively. However, I was determined to prove myself through hard work, dedication, and a commitment to excellence.


Navigating the transition to CEO required me to step out of my comfort zone and take on new levels of responsibility. It was a steep learning curve.

Despite the pressures and challenges, taking over as CEO was also incredibly rewarding. It allowed me to pursue my passion for entrepreneurship and make a tangible impact on the company's trajectory. It was a journey filled with both ups and downs, but ultimately, it was a journey of growth, learning, and transformation for both myself and the company.


What leadership qualities have been most instrumental in your success?

Firstly, resilience has been absolutely critical. In the face of challenges, setbacks, and even failures, my ability to bounce back, stay focused on my goals, and learn from adversity has been essential.


Adaptability is another key quality. The business landscape is constantly evolving, and being able to pivot, innovate, and embrace change has allowed me to stay ahead of the curve and position my company for success in dynamic environments.


Pull quote

Empathy has also played a significant role in my leadership style. Understanding the perspectives and needs of my team members, customers, and stakeholders has enabled me to foster a culture of inclusivity, collaboration, and mutual respect. By leading with empathy, I've been able to build stronger relationships and drive greater engagement and loyalty within my organization.


Lastly, courage has been instrumental in making tough decisions, taking calculated risks, and challenging the status quo. Having the courage to push boundaries and pursue ambitious goals has been key to driving innovation and positive change within the company.


How has IMA changed since you took over?

uManage Pro IMA's software

Since then, the company has undergone significant transformation and growth! Overall, the changes implemented have positioned IMA for continued success and growth in the dynamic and competitive software market. By focusing on recurring revenue, expanding our software offerings, and prioritizing innovation and customer satisfaction, we've laid the foundation for a bright future for the company.


Shift from Service to Software

One of the most significant changes has been our transition from primarily offering services to developing software solutions. Previously, IMA operated as a service company, with my parents marketing our services to clients who were unlikely to utilize software solutions. Recognizing the potential for growth and scalability in the software market, we shifted our focus to developing software for internal use and launched our flagship product, uManage Pro.


Emphasis on Recurring Revenue

We've placed a greater emphasis on building a sustainable business model centered around recurring revenue streams. By offering subscription-based software solutions and leveraging our expertise in software development, we've been able to generate steady and predictable income, which has contributed to the financial stability and growth of the company.

Expansion and Development of Software Solutions


Under my leadership, we've continued to invest in the expansion and development of our software solutions. We've expanded the functionality and features of uManage Pro to meet the evolving needs of our clients, while also exploring opportunities to develop new software products and solutions that address emerging market trends and challenges.

Focus on Innovation and Customer Satisfaction


Innovation and customer satisfaction have remained at the forefront of our priorities. We've invested in research and development to stay at the cutting edge of technology and industry trends, while also prioritizing customer feedback and engagement to ensure that our software solutions meet the needs and expectations of our clients.


What do you love about what you do?

What I love most is the opportunity to make a meaningful impact. Whether it's driving innovation, creating jobs, or contributing to positive change in our communities, I'm passionate about using my position to make a difference. I thrive on the challenge of leading a dynamic team, tackling complex problems, and finding innovative solutions. But perhaps most rewarding of all is seeing the results of our collective efforts–the growth of our company, the success of our initiatives, and the positive impact we have on the lives of our customers, employees, and stakeholders. Being a CEO allows me to combine my passion for business with my desire to make a difference, and that's what I find truly fulfilling.


Being in charge can't always be easy. Can you discuss a particularly challenging decision you had to make as CEO and how you approached it?

Certainly one of the most challenging decisions I faced as CEO was navigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business operations. When the pandemic hit, it brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty that required swift and decisive action.

Approaching this decision, I knew that the health and safety of our employees and customers had to be our top priority. However, balancing this with the need to maintain business continuity and ensure the long-term viability of our company presented a complex challenge.


I began by convening our leadership team to assess the situation comprehensively. We closely monitored updates from health authorities, evaluated the potential impact of the pandemic on our industry, and considered various scenarios and contingency plans. Ultimately, we made the difficult decision to transition to remote work for our employees to comply with social distancing guidelines and mitigate the spread of the virus. This decision required careful planning and coordination to ensure a smooth transition while maintaining productivity and morale among our team members.

Additionally, we had to make tough decisions regarding our business strategy and operations. This included reevaluating our budget, reallocating resources to essential areas, and pivoting our product offerings to meet changing customer needs in the midst of the pandemic.


Communication was crucial throughout this process. We kept our employees, customers, and stakeholders informed every step of the way, providing regular updates on our response to the pandemic, the measures we were taking to ensure their safety, and the changes we were making to adapt to the evolving situation.


While navigating the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic presented numerous challenges, I approached each decision with a focus on adaptability, resilience, and empathy. By prioritizing the well-being of our employees, maintaining open communication, and making strategic adjustments to our business operations, we were able to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and emerge stronger on the other side.


How do you handle setbacks and failures in your career?

Handling setbacks and failures has become a crucial aspect of my growth and development. I had to shift my mindset and perspective to reframe failure as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than a reflection of my competence. I learned early on that setbacks and failures are often intertwined on the path to achievement. It became a powerful catalyst of growth and learning, providing valuable lessons that helped pave the way for success.


Can you share any memorable success stories from your time as CEO?

There are a few. One that comes to mind was satisfying a client with a difficult data schema and taxonomy. Working with our team, we dedicated ourselves to meeting this customer’s needs and building a long standing relationship with them. There were a few times when I thought it would be an impossible feat, however working together with the client, understanding their complex systems, we were able to surpass their expectations and they have now been a client for over 10 years.


Possibly the most important success story was building a team around me that I not only believe in but trust implicitly. When I first purchased the company from my parents in 2012, it became immediately apparent that I needed to spend my time building relationships and securing staff around me who would support my vision and stand by me through the tough times. We are now to the point where I believe we have built the strongest IMA family that we have ever had. From our data cleansers, to our sales, marketing, and programming staff, we all complement each other in a way that inspires success. That is something that I am incredibly proud of.


Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles (26% of CEOs were women as of 2021, up from previous years). Do you ever have trouble being the only woman in the room or feel overlooked?

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have certainly encountered challenges related to being the only woman in the room. The statistics on the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles highlight the systemic barriers many of us face.


Being the only woman in the room can sometimes lead to feelings of being overlooked or marginalized. In such environments, unconscious biases and stereotypes may influence perceptions of women's capabilities and contributions. This can affect how our ideas are received and whether our voices are given the same consideration as those of our male counterparts.


Navigating these dynamics requires finesse. While it's important to ensure that our perspectives are heard, speaking louder isn't always the most effective approach. Instead, I've found that letting my knowledge, skills, and expertise speak for themselves can be a powerful way to command respect and influence.


Rather than focusing solely on volume, I prioritize conveying confidence, assertiveness, and professionalism in my interactions. By demonstrating my competence and expertise through my actions and contributions. Building strong relationships and networks with other women and allies has also been invaluable. Having a support system of individuals who understand and empathize with my experiences has provided encouragement and validation.

Furthermore, I am committed to advocating for gender diversity and inclusion in leadership roles. By actively challenging biases, promoting inclusive practices, and championing the advancement of women in the workplace, I strive to create a more equitable environment for all individuals, regardless of gender.


While being the only woman in the room can present challenges, it's also an opportunity to lead by example, challenge stereotypes, and drive positive change. Together, we can continue to break down barriers and create a more inclusive and diverse workforce.


In general, have you faced any gender-based discrimination or bias in your career? How did you handle it?

Yes I have, particularly in situations where I was perceived differently due to being the owner’s daughter in a male-dominated environment. Dealing with such discrimination internally, especially from superiors who may not have taken me seriously, was challenging.

To handle these situations, I focused on consistently delivering high-quality work and exceeding expectations to demonstrate my competence and worth. By consistently delivering results, I aimed to earn respect and recognition based on my abilities rather than my familial connections.


I also made a concerted effort to assert myself confidently in interactions with colleagues and superiors. This involved speaking up in meetings, expressing my opinions, and advocating for myself and my ideas.

I sought out allies within the organization who could support and advocate for me, both informally and formally. Building relationships with individuals who recognized my capabilities and were willing to support me was invaluable in navigating challenging situations.


In some instances, I addressed gender-based bias and discrimination directly, whether through one-on-one conversations with those involved or through formal channels such as HR. Articulating how such biases affected me and advocating for fair treatment was important in challenging discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.

I invested in continuous learning and development to enhance my skills, knowledge, and expertise. By staying informed about industry trends and best practices, I aimed to further solidify my credibility and competence in the eyes of my colleagues and superiors.

Overall, navigating gender-based discrimination and bias in my career required resilience, assertiveness, and perseverance.


How has the industry-and the workplace in general-changed for women and other minorities since you first started?

Since 2012, there has been a noticeable increase in representation, with more women and minorities breaking through barriers to reach leadership positions traditionally dominated by white males. Companies are increasingly recognizing the benefits of diversity and investing in initiatives to foster inclusive work environments. This includes implementing inclusive policies such as flexible work arrangements and parental leave, as well as providing advancement opportunities and mentorship programs. There is also greater awareness and advocacy around issues of gender and racial equality in the workplace, with women and minorities speaking out against discrimination and bias. Additionally, the rise of technology and remote work has provided new opportunities for participation in the workforce, particularly for those facing barriers to traditional employment. Overall, while progress is ongoing, there has been positive momentum towards creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces where all employees have the opportunity to thrive.


How have things changed since 2020 (the pandemic)?

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted IMA to pivot and adapt our strategies to navigate the challenges presented by the crisis. Shifting the company to remote work was sudden and unexpected, we had to focus on ways to support the business and our employees. Collaboration, project management, virtual meetings platforms and remote access solutions were all needed. This required a large investment in data security and privacy measures to protect sensitive information. That included implementing encryption protocols, multi-factor authentication, and robust data protection policies to safeguard customer data from cyber threats.


The pandemic also highlighted the importance of diversifying revenue streams to mitigate risk and adapt to changing market dynamics. We have diversified their revenue streams by offering subscription-based models, introducing new products and services, and expanding into new markets and industries.


Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to pivot and innovate to meet the evolving needs of businesses and consumers in a rapidly changing environment. By adapting their strategies, focusing on customer needs, and embracing digital transformation, we have better positioned ourselves for success in the post-pandemic world.


What advice do you have for women aspiring to reach executive leadership positions, especially in traditionally male-dominated industries?

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I have learned several valuable lessons along my journey that I believe can be beneficial for aspiring women leaders. Here is my advice:


Believe in yourself. Confidence is key. Trust in your abilities, skills, and potential. Believe that you deserve a seat at the table and that your voice matters. Embrace your unique strengths and perspectives.


Seek mentorship and support. Surround yourself with mentors, sponsors, and allies who can provide guidance, support, and advocacy. Surrounding myself with people that I trust and can rely on has been key to my success. Never underestimate the power of a great team. Having a strong support system can be invaluable in navigating the challenges of executive leadership.


Invest in continuous learning. Never stop learning and growing. Take advantage of professional development opportunities, seek out training and certifications, and stay informed about industry trends and best practices. Demonstrating a commitment to continuous learning and development can set you apart as a strong candidate for executive leadership roles.


Be resilient. Executive leadership can be challenging, especially in male-dominated industries where gender biases may still exist. It can be daunting and feel like an uphill battle that cannot be won, but with resilience and perseverance they are merely obstacles and setbacks that can be overcome. You can’t always pick who you work with but tailoring communication styles based on the individual is key to developing a good working relationship.


Don't be afraid to challenge the status quo and advocate for change. Speak up against gender biases and stereotypes, and actively work to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture. Use your voice and influence to champion diversity and inclusion initiatives within your organization.


Lead by example. Lead with integrity, authenticity, and empathy. Be a role model for other women aspiring to leadership positions, and demonstrate the qualities of an effective leader through your actions and behaviours. Inspire others with your vision, passion, and commitment to excellence.


Above all, remember that your journey may not always be easy, but it is entirely achievable with determination, resilience, and support. Stay focused on your goals, and never lose sight of the impact you can make as a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry.


What initiatives have you implemented to promote diversity and gender equality within your company?

Promoting diversity and gender equality has always been a priority for me within IMA. We have inclusive hiring practices and actively seek out diverse candidates through our targeted recruitment efforts. We also provide leadership development training programs internally run by our Director of Operations. These programs provide opportunities for skill development, mentorship, and career advancement. 


Diversity and gender equality

We offer flexible work policies to accommodate the diverse needs of our employees. This includes options for remote work, flexible hours, and extended parental leave, which support work-life balance and help create a more inclusive workplace culture.


We also strive to promote a culture of respect where all employees are treated with dignity and kindness. We encourage employees to keep composure, state facts, and respond with kindness, even in challenging situations. By fostering a culture of respect, we create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported. Setting boundaries and fostering an environment of mutual respect are crucial components of promoting diversity and gender equality within a company. While we cannot control the behaviour of others, we can establish clear expectations and consequences for behaviour that violates those boundaries.


Outside of work, what do you like to do?

Dog posing for picture

Outside of work, my main focus is spending quality time with family and my dog, Murphy. I also enjoy hobbies like reading and sewing, finding them relaxing and fulfilling. As a passionate sports enthusiast, I love following baseball and hockey, cheering on my favorite teams. Golf is another hobby I enjoy for its challenge and reward. Overall, balancing family time, hobbies, and sports activities brings me happiness and fulfillment outside of work.



Let’s end on something fun. What’s making you happy this week? 

This week I am enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and forgetting about the fact it is still February.

Thanks to Charlene for taking the time to talk to us and engage so thoughtfully on her experience as a woman in the industry. As always, you can learn more about IMA by contacting info@imaltd.com or let us know what you’re thinking at marketing@imaltd.com!

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