A big driver for Yvonne Chan’s ambition? She wants to make a legacy difference in the way disability is managed globally, while providing intergenerational wealth and financial stability for her family. An immigrant from Hong Kong to Canada, she grew up watching her parents work long hours running a restaurant. But as she’s created a successful career as a minority female entrepreneur, she’s made a point to include her two daughters along the way so they can see first-hand what happens when you dream big.
So, when her 14-year-old daughter came home with a 99% overall grade on her business class recently, Chan was both proud and not wholly surprised.
“I’ve involved her in building my business. She’s watched my company grow from my home office and me typing words on a page to create the processes which are now being used by the Federal Government of Canada. She sees it is possible to think big by building a business with million-dollar bricks,” she says. “I’ve shown my daughters that you can do it with hard work, genuineness and honesty as a diverse female leader.”
Chan is also showing her daughters and all future female entrepreneurs that something you dream up can have big impact.
Santé Circle Health, the company Chan founded and now serves as President and CEO of, is a disability management company. Their goal is to help ill and injured people get back to their daily life, return to work or be more productive at work. This includes working with employers so they can better understand their duties to accommodate an employee’s needs. Their clients include the Government of Canada, Worker’s Compensation Boards, Canadian insurers and employers of all sizes.
“There are so many of us who are not heard,” she says. “But if you listen carefully, people will teach you how to solve their problems.”
However, before she launched Santé Circle Health, she looked to her YPO relationships to help her navigate her own career needs.
Finding the support to get started
In past professional positions, Chan had dealt with less-than-ideal situations. Male leaders she looked to for guidance ended up not supporting her goals and ambition. She wanted opportunities to flex her muscles as an executive with an innovative point of view but was hitting a wall.
“I had all these ideas for building a great company, but my ideas were not heard, and I know other female executives have been in that situation,” says Chan.
She took her issues to her YPO forum, a tight-knit and confidential group of members who meet regularly forging deep, trusting relationships while offering support on the most delicate business and personal issues. They immediately rallied around her and encouraged her to strike out on her own.
“They helped me understand the troubles in my work dynamic and helped me see my blind spots,” she says. “I started to believe in myself when I saw all these YPO leaders, who I respect, believing in me.”
With their support, she decided to launch Santé Circle Health. She started at zero, from revenue to employees to clients and came up with everything, from the name of the company to startup money, on her own. Outside of her YPO peers, she was met with resistance at first.
“I kept having people tell me, ‘Yvonne, you don’t know how to raise capital. You need a partner. You don’t know how to do mergers and acquisitions. You don’t know anything about financing. You don’t know anything about the role of a CFO,’” she recalls. “Even though I was out on my own away from leadership negativity, I got pegged by the world as a female executive who didn’t know anything about business and couldn’t possibly do it on my own.”
But she believed in her idea and the mission behind it, so she once again turned to her YPO community, both her forum and her chapter for support. They told her it was easy to fill the missing puzzle pieces of her company with hired guns, but what she brought to the table would make the ultimate difference.
“They told me to look at the skills that I already have,” she says. “I’m a natural business driver, I’m passionate, and I wanted to prove that a female executive with an authentic business strategy could succeed. Once I fully immersed myself in the YPO experience, became vulnerable and learned to be true to my own self, that’s when my relationships and my business flourished.”
Chan says her YPO relationships were not only supportive, but fellow members helped her with everything from navigating capital financing to hiring a financial controller, and even getting her an employee benefits plan and a business telecommunications plan set up when she faced issues doing so on her own. That personal touch translated to how she operates Santé Circle Health.
“We created something very special the old-fashioned way. Even though we’re a health care company with forward-thinking technology, we’re simply answering the phone, providing great customer service, and doing quality work,” she says. “As a female entrepreneur, I want that genuineness and honesty to come through. We invest in our people, we build great relationships with our clients, and we give back to our communities.”
Now, three years later, the company boasts more than 100 employees, 2,100 consultants and 310 physical locations. In early 2022, Chan’s proprietary health algorithm has a U.S. provisional patent, and her goal is to take her platform global before eventually exiting (she’s already received multiple offers).
“My journey has been challenging. If it wasn’t for YPO — from my forum to other YPO members helping me get my company off the ground — I would not be in this situation today. I am the company that YPO built.”
When she thinks about the advice she’d share with her daughters if they go the entrepreneurial route and to all up-and-coming female business leaders, it’s to listen to your internal voice and believe in the work you’re doing — even when others don’t.
“You don’t have to listen to the opinions or unnecessary criticisms from someone just because they sit in a position of privilege or power. Believe in what and how you want to achieve your goals,” she says. “My entire journey has been about building on personal relationships and finding passionate people. I’ve learned to surround myself with people who want to work toward a greater good and who find happiness in doing meaningful work by helping others.”