HERStory | Sabrina Fiorellino
CEO of Fero International Inc.
Sabrina Fiorellino has created a number of companies in her lifetime and is a lawyer by background who was responsible for doing mergers and acquisitions on Bay Street for a number of years. Sabrina has always been an entrepreneur, starting her first company at the age of 18.
For the creation of Fero International Inc., Sabrina came together with a number of partners who also had existing businesses. With backgrounds in construction, modular manufacturing, and finance, they pooled their expertise together to pivot all of their existing businesses and create something to respond to COVID-19. Fero builds anything from ICU rooms or rooms for hospitals, testing solutions, vaccine deployment centers, long term care homes, schools, infrastructure for remote communities, military infrastructure, and more. In addition to Fero’s infrastructure, the company tries to provide turnkey solutions. When Fero provides a modular hospital, they are able to outfit it with medical devices, can staff certain positions, and provide PPE.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
“For me, the day is super important. Growing up I was a bit naive to the concept of the glass ceiling or the sort of barriers that women face. I have always fundamentally understood that it was harder because I was a female in male dominated areas. It took a lot more for me to get respect or to earn my stripes – I had to put in more hours and work harder. And still, there was some resistance because I’m female. I’ve had people say things to me like ‘you have to wear more masculine suits.’ These sorts of comments are biases that maybe aren’t so overt but they are definitely there and yet hard to explain. Even to the most sympathetic men, it can be very hard to explain how that could feel. My motto is that I try not to focus on the negative – I try to treat that as noise more than anything else and just push through. While it’s important and it deserves to be thought about, I need to do my job – I can’t leave the company because I’m mad that someone said I need to wear a more masculine suit. I instead prove my worth through work.”
What made you choose a career in manufacturing?
“My story is a bit unique – my mom is a double lung transplant recipient, and my grandfather passed during the first wave, not from COVID, but from his underlying disease. We weren’t able to see him and it was the first time I couldn’t visit him in the hospital. Because of all these things, I wanted to do something to help. With my background in construction, I fundamentally understood that part of the issue facing COVID was a space issue – capacity, safe indoor spaces, and spaces that allow people to interact with their family. What we did through the creation of Fero was creating space that works for COVID and beyond. We created ICU’s and OR’s that can switch from negative to positive pressure, that do 30 air exchanges an hour, have a filter with incoming and outgoing air, temperature control, and humidification. This allows viral load to stay down to allow patients to be isolated and for there to be no air transfers between rooms. This results in sick people not getting sicker and frontline workers to be safe. My brother is an anesthesiologist and my sister in law is a nurse – I need frontline workers to be safe – they’re my family. I also thought what if my mom was at the wrong place at the wrong time, she wouldn’t have gotten her transplant. I understand that there’s a lot of transplant patients dying from COVID. I want to get COVID out of the hospital.”
“If we could have these dedicated ICU rooms that can treat the sickest COVID patients, we’re allowing hospitals to function, maintain their regular function, and create a communication system where in some of our models, large transition privacy glass windows were included so family could still come and visit from the outside, and also see their family even at their sickest point through secure video feeds. These were truly the driving forces of what got me involved in manufacturing.”
What are the biggest barriers you have faced and how did you overcome them or are overcoming them?
“It’s without a doubt the glass ceiling. This has been the hardest thing for me to stomach. I didn’t know it was there until I hit it and what I did was say, you know what, I’ll just work for myself and I’ll show them that I can do this. That’s how I made the transition out of working for other people to working for myself.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Be calmer. When I was younger I would get angry very quickly, took things very personally, and used to have a lot of self-blame. I always tell people that there is no substitute for experience. I think that I would tell myself, it’s not you – just keep your head down and move forward.”
Why would you encourage young women to enter careers in manufacturing?
“My advice to everyone is that you don’t need to be the smartest person, you don’t need to know more than everyone else. It’s a marriage between believing in yourself, and being willing to work that hard to get there as hard as it takes to get there. I would encourage young women to do anything they want, including male dominated fields, like manufacturing or construction. It’s extremely rewarding to be able to know you did it against all odds, against all barriers, and that you were able to achieve things that everyone told you couldn’t.”