Exploring new frontiers: All in a day's work

When Bernice Rahm (BE’97) looks at the night sky in search of Mars, it gets personal.

Rahm is co-founder and CEO of The Ring Lord, a chainmail company that started as a hobby in 1995 and has since grown into a surprising success story that has taken her around our planet Earth, but also to the heavens surrounding us.

Who knew NASA needed a chainmail skirt for its Mars InSight lander? Or that a Saskatoon-based company run by University of Saskatchewan-trained engineers would produce the chainmail? Or make chainmail to protect Middle Earth’s elven warriors in the Battle of the Five Armies?

The surprise isn’t that Rahm made the company a success, or that a startup was able to find its niche market—it’s that such a market exists at all.

The Ring Lord’s products can be seen in The Hobbit movies, as well as Warcraft: The Beginning, Suicide Squad, The Great Wall, Transformers: The Last Knight, Kingdom of Heaven and more.

Although high profile, these clients are not the company’s bread and butter—it’s chainmail scales are used in everything from lab equipment to lampshades. Still, it’s astounding that this little-known Saskatoon startup is helping protect a vital piece of space exploration equipment. On Mars.

An illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. Photography: supplied by NASA Insight

This photo shows the protective skirt hanging down from the InSight lander, put together with chainmail scales manufactured by Saskatoon company The Ring Lord. Photography: supplied by NASA Insight

“It's pretty amazing,” said Rahm. "It's impossible for something like that to sink in."

Rahm notes that while The Ring Lord made the scales, their spin off company, MailleTec Industries, made the actual skirt.

So, how does a small-town girl from Wilkie, Sask, end up running a company that’s making chainmail for clients from Mars to Middle Earth?

“I’ve always had strong intentions and goals,” Rahm said. “I was the first person in my family to go to university, and I was always focused on getting to the next place.”

When she enrolled in the College of Engineering, her focus was a career in architecture. An engineering degree was the means to the end; she planned to get her degree and then go to architecture school. By the time Rahm was ready to shift from engineering to architecture, The Ring Lord had taken off.

Photography: Liam Richards

“I either had to quit The Ring Lord and pursue my original goal or stay and fulfil my goals through a different path,” Rahm said.

Realizing she already owned a successful business and was empowering creativity helped Rahm make the decision to stay. From its official launch in 2000 to 2018, when she formally took over as CEO, her drive and energy fuelled the company’s growth.

Rahm was a regional finalist in the 2017 EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, one of only three women in a field of 32 companies and 49 finalists.

“I was all drive and hard edges in the beginning,” she said. “We experienced 20 per cent annual growth for 10 consecutive years. The only way I knew at the time to handle that pace is with blinders on, head down and driving forward.”

She sees this ability as part of her masculine skill set. It took major life changes, including the loss of her mother to cancer, and a divorce, to prompt Rahm to slow down and take stock. That’s when she began folding in more of her feminine skill set, including her creativity and fluidity.

“My own personal growth has been a driving factor in my business growth these last few years,” Rahm said. “I realized I was managing things too tightly, because it’s always been easier for me to do everything rather than rely on others. So, I invested a huge amount of time in my personal emotional development, and I put that growth back into the company. I went from doing to delegating to empowering, and now I just mentor my COO and general manager.

“This process created space in my life to explore other things,” Rahm added. “I promised myself that when I quit pursuing architecture, I’d use my skills for myself. It’s taken a while, but I’m doing that now.”

Rahm has started sculpting again, something she fell in love with in high school. She’s rebuilt her acreage to create a beautiful oasis for herself. She’s also offering her services as a trained personal and business mentor.

“I’ve learned a lot in my 20-plus years of business. I’ve had several different businesses, so I know the beginning, middle and end of the cycle. I want to share what I’ve learned.

“Self-awareness is a ridiculously powerful thing. It’s like switching a light on in a dark room. Once you have light, you can make informed choices.”

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