Bold Leaders by Bradleystephens


                  by Betsy Wiesendanger

                          bold leaders
                               women are                                  It’s a typical day for Danielle Buenaventura. In a cramped office, sur-
                                                                          rounded by framed photos of her two preschool sons, she is simul-
                      starting businesses                                 taneously looking over faxed bids from asphalt suppliers, talking on
                      in record numbers.                                  the phone with an employee supervising a park repaving job, and pe-
                            what they’ve                                  rusing a newspaper for announcements of municipal contracts open
                                                                          for bids. “I always have to keep the ball rolling,” she says between
                       learned along the
                                                                          phone calls and the busy employees who come by to poke their heads
                        way can help any                                  in her office. “The people who award contracts aren’t going to knock
                     entrepreneur break                                   on my door and say, ‘Here’s your job.’”   • They haven’t had to. Since
                        into new markets                                  starting her Eastchester, New York, construction firm, WJL Equities,
                                                                          Buenaventura has gone after every and any job that would help her
                                                                          build a track record in the male-dominated world of paving and ex-
                            cavation. She began 10 years ago with a seven-year-old Peterbilt truck, purchased for $60,000, and subcontracted
                            out work that required equipment she didn’t own. Soon she had enough money and clout to add equipment and
                            compete for bigger jobs. Today, her garage holds five backhoes, four dump trucks, two excavators and several com-
                            pressors, and her company brings in $10 million annually.      • More and more women these days are following in
                            Buenaventura’s tire tracks. Weary of stalled careers and corporate politicking, women are starting businesses in
                            record numbers. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C., women-owned
                            businesses are growing at nearly twice the rate of all firms: Between 1997 and 2006 women-owned businesses
                            skyrocketed 42% versus 23% for all businesses. What accounts for such breakneck growth? The hard-won lessons
                            of the trailblazers profiled here will inspire any business owner who wants to break into new markets.

business vision

                                                                          photograph by a. perry heller

                  1                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Hard-Hat World
                                 ask for help                       says Gorman. “I finally said, ‘Look, what are you doing at 1:00?’” She told the manager      naventura: “Being a certified woman-owned business is definitely an
                                 Like many business owners,         she would take her plane (Gorman is licensed to fly private planes, helicopters and          advantage. It’s not a slam dunk—you still have to do the work—but
                                 Delores Wheeler inherited a fam-   gliders), bring along a technician, and come out and solve the problem herself. Ten          the set-asides helped me prove myself.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            It’s a great time for women to go into

                                 ily firm. Her father, Ed Gossner   minutes after her arrival, the glitch was repaired.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            industries where few have gone before
                  Sr., started Gossner Foods, a cheese manu-           Gorman knows most of her 3,500 customers personally, and if she doesn’t, she or                         define success on your own terms
                  facturer, in 1966, using recipes he had           her staff can quickly pull up their history on a computer. The bigger national compa-                      Deanne Birch has a saying she likes to repeat for her        Women-owned businesses are nothing new—they’ve been around
                  perfected after 30 years of cheesemaking.         nies she competes with don’t offer that personal touch, she says. “You always want to go                   employees: “Beans and franks before shrimp.” In              at least since 1905, when Madam C. J. Walker, widely credited
                  Later he handed the reins to his son, who         after market share, but it can’t be at the cost of customer service,” says Gorman, whose                   other words: Don’t expect perks and benefits until a         as being one of the first female entrepreneurs, marketed a line of
                  resigned in 1984, Wheeler suddenly found          company now has 13 employees. “There are many instances where we could have grown            fledgling business has become financially sound. Birch has tak-            hair-care products. But today something is changing: the indus-
                  herself running the company’s two plants.         or acquired new lines but decided not to. I’ve watched too many people grow big quickly      en that philosophy to heart as she has grown her Salt Lake City            tries in which women are choosing to set up shop.
                  “I didn’t know any of the customers or au-        and lose what they have.”                                                                    company, Infusion Innovations, from a three-person startup to                 “Traditionally, women have started service businesses, things
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            like home office organizing or marketing agencies,” says Liz Ryan,

                  ditors or anything pertaining to selling the                                                                                                   a 41-employee firm that administers IV treatments at home for
                  product,” she recalls.                                       take advantage of programs                                                        patients needing chemotherapy, hydration or other IV therapy.              CEO and founder of WorldWIT, an online and offline networking
                      So Wheeler took the only route open to                   One factor in the success of women-owned businesses is the number of sup-         She now offers full benefits, including a matching 401(k) plan.            organization for women in business and technology. Service firms,
                  her: She gathered her 120 employees in a                     port systems that have sprung up. Associations and networking groups cater-          During the company’s eight-year history, she’s been ultra-              she says, have become the “new pink ghetto.”
                  room and said, “We are going to do this as                   ing specifically to women are now well entrenched, with organizations such as     conservative with hiring, making sure that increases in revenues
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Breaking ground • It’s small wonder then that women
                  a team.” She asked them not to hide any                                                        the National Association of Women Busi-         weren’t temporary blips but sustained growth that could support
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            are fleeing to more lucrative enterprises. According to the Center
                  information from her, good or bad, and                                                         ness Owners, based in McLean, Virginia,         a bigger payroll expense. She has also plowed profits back into op-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C., between
                  promised that she would do everything she                                                      and the Women’s Business Development            erations. “I’m extremely careful with the resources we have,” she
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1997 and 2004, the fastest growth in women-owned firms came
                  could to keep the company going. Gossner                                                       Center, headquartered in Chicago, advising      says. “That allows us to continue to deliver exemplary clinical and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            from nontraditional industries such as construction (30% growth),
                  Foods has since expanded to four plants,                                                       thousands of women yearly on everything         customer services and be ready for future growth opportunities.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            transportation, communications and public utilities (28%) and
                  with 580 employees.                                                                            from business plans to financing options.          Birch’s outlook on growth is typical of many women-owned
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            agricultural services (24%).
                      That kind of consensus building is a                                                       Peer-to-peer groups are on the rise. Mem-       businesses, notes Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of WorldWIT, an
                  hallmark of woman-owned firms. Research                                                        bership in the Women President’s Organi-        online and offline network for women in business and technol-              Never a better time • Why the switch? One reason is
                  shows that women are much more consulta-                                                       zation, an elite group open to women who        ogy. Female entrepreneurs often favor slow, steady growth over             that financing spigots are opening. That’s important in industries
                  tive in their leadership styles, notes Sharon                                                  run businesses of at least $2 million in        rapid expansion, especially if they fled a corporate job to strike         requiring a heavy initial capital investment. More women are
                  Hadary of the Center for Women’s Business                                                      sales ($1 million for a service-based busi-     out on their own. “We hear a lot of women saying that they don’t           applying for and obtaining Small Business Administration (SBA)
                  Research. They’re also more likely to ask for                                                  ness), has grown 25% annually since its         want to create an environment just like the one they left,” says           loans, including the 7(a) program, primarily used for working
                  input from a variety of sources. “As the busi-                                                 formation 10 years ago, says president and      Ryan. “I call it intentional business building—they don’t want it          capital, and the Certified Development Company program, which
                  ness grows, the networks are more targeted,”                                                   founder Marsha Firestone.                       to be the only thing in their life.”                                       loans funds to buy or rehabilitate fixed assets such as land, build-
                  she says. “A business owner might tap a pro-                                                      Government agencies have also stepped           Still, women who have started businesses and watched them               ings, machinery and equipment. According to the SBA, women
                  fessional group in her industry, a lawyer or                                                   into the breach. Many now have programs         take off in the past several years tend to share a common expec-           received 39% more SBA loans in 2005 than in 2004, for a total of
                  an accountant.”                                                                                designed to increase vendor diversity that      tation that they will grow and compete successfully. Says Dani-            $3.4 billion, up 27%.
                      Wheeler’s reliance on others paid off.                                                     aim to award at least 5% of all contracts to    elle Buenaventura: “I love this business. I’d like to pass it along           Supplier diversity programs have made a difference too. Com-
                  Today the company produces 40 million pounds of cheese, bringing in $190 million               women- and minority-owned firms.                to my sons, and if I have a daughter, I’ll pass it along to her too.       panies from Pepsico to United Airlines all have programs designed
                  in revenue annually. Says Wheeler, 69: “As long as my health is good, I want to stay              Buenaventura, for one, has benefited         It would be nice to have another woman-owned business in                   to attract women into the fold. “These programs are definitely
                  in the business. I love the people I work with.”                                               enormously from such programs. She filed        the family.” V                                                             a help, but they only get you in the door,” says Sharon Hadary,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            executive director for the Women’s Business Research Center. “If


                                                                                                                 paperwork with such agencies as the New

                                 value service over quick growth                                                 York State Department of Transportation and                                                                                you can’t sell on price and quality, you won’t get the contract.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Still, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the majority of

                                 When you call Gayle Gorman’s company, you don’t get a phone tree—you            Con Edison to become certified as a women’s           getting credit
12                               get a real live person directing your call. That’s just the way Gorman likes    business enterprise and be eligible for set-                                                                               women business owners. About 85% of female entrepreneurs               13
                                                                                                                                                                       With a Small Business Responsive Line of Credit*, you can adapt
                                 it. Her Mansfield, Ohio, company, Manairco Inc., manufactures beacons for       asides, or portions of new contracts reserved         to your changing cash-flow needs. No collateral required on lines    surveyed by Hadary’s organization said they did not feel that

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   business vision
business vision

                  runway lights, and often the call is from a customer with an emergency.                        specifically for women- and minority-owned            of credit of $50,000 or less. Visit or call 1.888.KEY4BIZ.   being a woman in a nontraditional field was a disadvantage.
                      Case in point: A manager of a small commuter airport in Virginia called at 11 a.m.         businesses. Soon she was being invited to             *Credit products are subject to credit approval.                     In fact, a substantial portion, one-third, said it helped. Says
                  one morning to report that his technician couldn’t get a new part to work right. “We           bid on paving and excavation jobs for local                                                                                Hadary: “Really, there’s never been a better time to break into a
                  talked and talked to him, but we just could not get the problem solved over the phone,”        parks, roads and sewer systems. Says Bue-                                                                                  male-dominated field.”

                  photograph by digital vision photography/veer

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