After losing her husband suddenly and arriving home on a flight from a business trip just hours before 9/11, DuAnne decided it was time to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams.
DuAnne opened a Maui Wowi Hawaiian outlet, which offers gourmet Hawaiian coffee ground in house and fresh fruit smoothies. She now operates six mobile event carts and a brick-and-mortar store just outside Austin, TX.
Her most recent success is in the mobile business arena, where she went from 4 to 6 mobile units after securing a lucrative vendor contract with the Circuit of the Americas Race Track, home of the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 2014 X-Games. She also received the coveted Franchisee of the Year award from the International Franchise Association, and was one of 400 franchise leaders who met with over 200 congressional offices in Washington, D.C. regarding important issues including tax certainty, healthcare reform, immigration and access to credit.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My mother died when I was 2 years old leaving me in the protective devices of a loving father. The stage was set for me, strong-willed and questioning, to find a path different than most of my friends. I left home after high-school, started my own family at a young age and finished my education later in life with degrees in business, psychology and organizational development.
My first attempt to find myself was as a volunteer who took on challenges within the school and church systems I was involved in with my family. I found out that leadership positions came easy and had no idea these skills would be so helpful later in life.
When I took my first real job in my 30s, I was upside down in absorbing what it took to find my way in the corporate reality. It was a surprise to me that I could use my collaborative experiences to network and create a pathway, and that has led me to many successes.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position as an entrepreneur with Maui Wowi Hawaiian?
My career looks more like casting a net than climbing a ladder. I started my professional career doing secretarial work, and was elected Secretary of the Year two years in a row. As a naturally outgoing person, I pursued the communications and marketing field and worked at a Caterpillar dealership, the International Chemical Company and the Eaton Corporation.
After my youngest son graduated from college, I decided to leave the corporate environment and launched myself into independent consultancy. Between 1990 and 2001 I coached major companies in relationship and communication skills, and found myself sharing with people from all walks of life including multi-national companies overseas. Executive coaching was a dream career that I could never have envisioned for myself until I let it unfold organically. I returned home from a business coaching trip in London the day before 9/11, and it made me realize that it was time for me cut down on business travel and work closer to home and my family.
Maui Wowi Hawaiian accidentally fell into my lap. I was working with a non-profit organization trying to help them find fundraising option when I found Maui Wowi. How funny when I ended up buying a license for myself in 2004. Finally I was truly on my own with a brand new challenge of running my own company with physical products and inventory, and it was exciting.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
When my husband died unexpectedly the day before his 52nd birthday, I began to envision where I wanted to live. I had leaved away from my home state of Texas for 30 years, and decided the rural environment in the beautiful hill country was the perfect place to start over. Nature soothes, calms and grounds me. In an effort to keep my life balanced, I moved my home office to my business and set up a meditation room in my home. It is a practice and a habit I do every day in total quiet and stillness. It is a place where no matter what is going on in the busy bustle of my work and life, I can find myself.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at MWH?
The first four years of my time as an independent franchisee trended on a high upward curve. Along came 2008 and the challenge was to stay in business in spite of the circumstances. I pulled in expenses and worked in the business serving smoothies and coffees instead of on the business.
A highlight has been to be a member of our Franchisee Advisory Council with other representatives across the country. The FAC spends time with other franchisees in a large geographical area problem-solving and supporting our colleagues. Watching and shaping success for myself and others pulls me forward on a daily basis.
What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business, and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
If someone wants to start their own business, it is imperative that they are clear about why they want it. I have coached many individuals who are under false assumptions and believe they can make money within an unreasonable amount of time, or that it takes less capital than is required. A wide spectrum of skill sets are needed when opening a new business and this includes not having all the answers in advance.
My vision was to create a community gathering place that offered high quality treats. My expectations had to be managed on a daily basis with discipline and intense focus, and this is one thing that didn't necessarily come easy. An entrepreneur needs to have both a vision for their business and the ability to pay attention to detail. A high tolerance for ambiguity has served me well.
It's also important to find a team who can question and challenge your assumptions. There are many resources to assist in the process of data-driven decisions. Trusting oneself and the ability to listen are two top qualities.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Not taking enough risks! Women are experts in hiding behind their comfort zone. Often the rationale is "keeping safe for the sake of my family" or a false belief in their capabilities. Even if women do their careers upside down like I did, there are endless pathways to success. Self-belief must be in the starter kit.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Sheryl's stories are parallel many of my own. Her vivid description of a woman's career as a 'jungle gym, not a ladder' is profound. I also liked the way she wrote about how many of us hold ourselves back. I hate it when I get in my own way, and I am consistently noticing my personal patterns that cause those setbacks!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When I was in the corporate workplace, there was little mentorship for women. There were a few men who guided me, but it was from a point of view that meant little to me because I had a distinctively different mindset. The motivation to teach the skills of mentoring and coaching led me out of that environment. I saw a niche that allowed me to work from a position of my personal qualities, skills and strengths. When I began to create programs and methodologies for coaching and mentoring, I found others who were also moving in that direction. We formed a group that shared projects and work on large/multi-year projects. For me, the lack of mentorship gave me a direction that was amazing!
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many groups of women that I admire throughout history! Those who stepped up during World War II and women authors who used false names to get their writing in the public eye because they found a way around an antiquated culture. It's inspiring to see women who made a large system change despite their circumstance.
I also look up to women thought leaders like Margaret Wheatly PhD., an expert in organizational development, who is one of my few mentors, and Margaret Mead who studied and explored patterns among cultures.
What are your hopes for the future of MWH?
We recently signed a vendor contract with the Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin, and are excited to further our brand awareness and continue to reach a wide audience. I am also a part of the Franchise Advisory Council for Maui Wowi, and find a lot of joy in helping other business owners find success. Maui Wowi (in my humble opinion) has the best smoothies and highest quality coffees, and I am excited to see this amazing company continue to expand on both a national and international level.
Follow Laura Dunn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lauraemilyd