Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Women In Business

A few days ago I did some simple math, and I made a shocking discovery. I have spent just about half my life as an entrepreneur. When I look back at the trail I’ve blazed since starting Rosanna Inc., I see the hundreds of experiences, lessons, and people who have helped me pave my way. In reflecting, I also think about what the world looked like nearly thirty years ago when I began my business.  Back then, it was no small feat for women to find a job. And a woman becoming an entrepreneur? Nearly unheard of!
Photo compliments of
Shelly Oberman Photography

All of this musing wasn’t simply for the sake of taking stock. I was revisiting my memories for a reason. A few months ago, I became a finalist for a business award specifically for Northwest women entrepreneurs. The nomination presented me with a privilege and a challenge: to craft an inspirational speech addressed to my fellow women entrepreneurs.  

And so I was left to tackle the big question: What did I want to say?

I started by looking to my roots. I singled out the women in my family who inspire me, and identified exactly what it is about their characters and stories that I find so motivational. 

Once I answered those questions, my speech wasn’t difficult to compose. As the strength and clarity of the piece grew, so did my sense of urgency regarding my message.

I want to empower women. It is as important today as it was when I began my career. My goal was to remind the women I was addressing what we are made of. Whether we are frontierswomen, CEOs, or steel magnolias, all women have a special kind of strength that allows us to weather the storms of life.

What follows is an excerpted version of my speech. If you are a woman, I hope it prompts you to reflect on the unique strengths you possess.

. . . . . . 

My favorite word these days is GRIT. I keep the word as my touchstone for whenever life’s challenges come knocking at my door.

I started Rosanna Inc. shortly after I finished graduate school.  I couldn’t find my dream job, so I created it.  With a $15,000 home equity loan, I began my business in the small bungalow where I lived.  I have done everything in my business from washing my first shipment of 10,000 dishes by hand to hand-delivering orders to sitting in factories and painting prototype designs myself.  I have sold, shipped, packed, designed, promoted, acted as foreign agent, and managed the finances during the early years of the company.

The years since then have presented me with many different kinds of challenges. Every time a new one occurs, I remind myself of the resilience of women and of our amazing capacity for getting through crisis.  I say this because I know all of you women here understand what it means to have your back against the wall. 

In times of crisis, I call upon the legacy of the women I most admire, the tough and tenacious women of my family—my mother and grandmother. 

Their stories are timeless and enduring.  They survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the oppression of women in the 1950’s. Both went on to become successful career women in the 1970’s.

I envisioned them during each period of history and what they did to survive.  My grandmother plucked chickens for five cents a chicken during the Depression, and worked as a Rosie the Riveter for Boeing building airplanes for combat. 

In 1954, my grandmother was working at Fred Meyer when she lost her son in the Korean War.  She suffered greatly and returned to work only after when Fred Meyer himself came to her home pleading for her to return after a period of grieving.  

You see, in the 1950’s, there was no medicine for depression.  There was only one way that women got through tragedy—that was with their grit and guts and old-fashioned values of self-fortitude, ideals that have never been more relevant than today.

Both my mother and grandmother fought cancer.  One survived, the other did not.  Tenacity is the common character trait that both possessed.  I know this trait is in all of you too.  It is why you are here tonight.  It is why you have accomplished what you have.  Don’t forget who you are and what you are made of.

The resources we hold as women are limitless.  We can effect changes in the world. 

We are capable of moving, shifting, and creating new models for old ideas because we put our egos aside, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

I call upon all of you to take what is innate in your character and reinvent yourself.  I did it and so can you.

I went outside my comfort zone and decided to write a lifestyle book, Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions.  The book represents the heart and soul of who I am and who we are as a company. Our products are designed to be simple pleasures. They also serve as prescriptives to help people get back to the traditions they crave.  Authoring the book put this philosophy in writing. 

The book further defined the lifestyle associated with our products. No longer were our products just products; they became a way of life.

I went out on a limb as an author. If you want to reinvent yourself, go to a place you have never been before. Try on a new hat.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  If you do nothing, nothing will happen.

So, treat your life like a start-up business. Dig deep. Look to old-fashioned values and role models who give you the strength to move mountains.  Reinvent yourselves daily and try a new way of doing things. 

Effect change. The result will amaze you. You have it in you. 

You are women!

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