Women business leaders share experiences
Posted Oct. 20, 2006

Nicole Knight
Editor in Chief

From what makes a good entrepreneur to management tips for employers, the Women in Leadership Develop Program discussed a variety of issues faced by women business owners at its second event in its speaker series Oct. 11 at the Kellogg West Conference Center and Lodge at Cal Poly Pomona.

Captivating the gathering of about 20 women were speakers Rose Girard, founder and CEO of Phoenix Construction, and Gail Horton, president and founder of California Computer Schools, Inc.

As businesswomen trickled into the conference room, conversations of chocolate, afternoon sugar fixes and high-heels chirped around the tables of five each. These friendly discussions smoothly turned into issues facing the businesswomen today. Women of every age, race and business type openly discussed and asked questions.

Both speakers began with sharing their story of how they started their own business. Horton and Girard told compelling tales of struggle, rewards and beating the odds as women in a traditionally men’s world.

“It’s been a ball, it’s been struggle, but it’s all been a life experience,” Horton said, “and I would do every bit of it again.”

Horton started her company in 1982, an era when computers were just breaking onto the scene. Girard, after working 25 years in aerospace industry, lost her job; using her experience she reinvented herself by becoming certified and starting her own business. Both women entered male-dominated business industries and shared its challenges from being mistaken for a man to fighting disbelief to earning respect.

The discussion began with a fitting topic exploring the characteristics of the entrepreneurial spirit.

“To be successful you have to have a sense of belief,” Horton said. “You have to have confidence in what you can do; believe and it will happen.”

“As the saying goes, ‘as a man’ – well I wish they would have said woman – ‘think then it shall be,” Horton added with a smile.

Each speaker was uniquely driven to pursue starting a business, for Girard it was the need to survive and for Horton it was the challenge. They stressed the importance of growing up with a business and remaining open.

“Nothing ever goes to plan,” Girard said. “Anything can change and you have to be willing to change with it. Thirteen years in my business and things are still changing.”

The speakers also focused on real problems facing small business such as financing and dealing with employees.

Both women had mostly started their businesses with help from family and personal savings, and according to Horton, “a wing and a prayer.” They encouraged their listeners to develop an extensive business plan to boost their beginning successes.

Horton and Girard stressed the value of employees and maintaining retention.

“You can either spend time hiring or find out what’s in the minds and hearts of your employees,” Horton said.

The speakers offered valuable advice to build relationships with everyone involved in your business from your competition to your clients to your superiors. Networking is key to businesses, especially smaller-owned ones.

“Don’t look at your business for today, today’s gone, plan for the future,” Girard said.

With memories and hardships filling their voices, the women shared a more personal side on how they have attempted to balance running a company and a life.

“It’s never well-balanced, but there’s hope,” Girard said.

Girard and Horton greatly emphasized the need to remain optimistic and strong-willed.

“You have to be able to laugh or you will be in tears every day,” Horton said.

After the event finished, the audience still continued chatting in small groups, handing out business cards and enjoying the company.

“Everyone takes away different parts and pieces,” said Amanda Gonzalez, director of development for the college of business and public management at the University of La Verne and campus liaison.

Carmela Reyes, Merit System Process career coach and founder of her business ClicknFit. Inc., said she benefited from not only the topics discussed but the contacts she made from the gathering.

Many of the audience members valued the wealth of ideas and inspirational testimony.

“Events like these promote the sharing of ideas,” said Ruby Simpson, senior adviser of Sperry Van Ness, commercial real estate advisers, and board member of WILD.

Describing Girard and Horton as “live wire women” and “true pioneers,” Renée Cabourne, certified senior adviser for Cabourne and Associates, and WILD board member, found the speakers inspiring.

“Some women still think they need to be housewife,” Reyes said. “But they don’t have to be a housewife, and they don’t need to be the head of a corporation, they just have to do what they really want to do.”

Although the audience was mostly professional businesswomen, the group encouraged students to take advantage of the program’s opportunities. Not only could a student hear from real-life working professionals, but make valuable contacts in the field.

“The contacts they make today can last forever,” Cabourne said. “Most students do not think of the next step after graduation, and this is how they build a network.”

“ULV has same opportunities as USC; you just have to reach out and grab it,” Simpson said.

In its first year of planning, WILD was an initiative dreamt by the Dean of the College of Business and Public Management Gordon Badovick and serves as an adjunct program to ULV.

The program seeks to increase the number of women in the business world and mentor to their professional development.

WILD’s first program, titled “CATFIGHT! Women on Boards … The Debate!” on Sept. 20, focused on the cause, effects and potential solutions to the issue of a lack of women serving on boards and commissions.

The speaker series will continue on Nov. 8 looking at women in non-traditional executive positions. The event’s location has yet to be determined.

Nicole Knight can be reached at nknight@ulv.edu.

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