When Brian Saul and Kathi LeBlanc founded Fluid Creative (then Fluid Communications) a decade ago, the future looked bright for the Vancouver creative agency. They ran the business collaboratively, each taking on different roles but working together every step of the way.
The business thrived until 2010, when the unthinkable happened and the partners were forced to face one of everyone’s worst fears: LeBlanc was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
As a co-founder who had worked hard to make Fluid a success, LeBlanc tried her best to maintain her day-to-day role.
“When Kathi got sick, she tried to work as much as she could through it,” recalled Saul. “The business at the time, especially from a sales standpoint, was dependent on her.”
LeBlanc went through an initial round of chemotherapy and headed back to work but was soon faced with a recurrence of the disease, and then another.
Saul said Fluid did everything it could to make things work, but eventually it became evident that it was no longer viable to try to work around LeBlanc’s illness. “At that point we decided, both from the standpoint of her getting better and dealing with her illness as best she could, and from a business standpoint, that it was time she fully stepped away.”
The two decided that LeBlanc’s share of the business would be bought out, which was finalized earlier this year.
“By the time we got it, the writing was on the wall,” said Saul. “If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that we should have discussed it a bit more openly, early on, in terms of what she could handle and what the business could handle.
“At the end of the day I think it was a mutual decision, although difficult for us both.”
Today LeBlanc is cancer-free. She no longer has an official role with Fluid, but she remains in regular contact with Saul.
“We still talk quite a bit. We meet for coffee, and I run things by her, but from a day-to-day standpoint, she’s fully concentrated on being healthy.” •
On the effect on clients of a key employee being critically ill: “With our clients, there was certainly an unknown factor about what would happen. Her availability, day to day, wasn’t always there. There was this two-year period, from a client standpoint and from our business standpoint, of not knowing what was going to happen. We would start things and have to stop things.”