"It's really important to get the word out to a woman that she has the resources and capabilities that almost genetically make her superior to be a CEO." That's what Bonnie Baskin, founder of ViroMed and AppTec Labs, told me when we recently sat down to talk about her inspiring story. (View the video interview.)
A bold statement, sure, but I vote that Bonnie is right. And on top of that, since I have two daughters, I want her to be right. How Bonnie succeeded is an amazing story, and having the courage to take risks is part of it.
Initially Bonnie studied to become a marine biologist at the University of Miami. Seasickness on her first day out on a boat was enough for Bonnie to decide to change plans. She focused on microbiology and earned a PhD, taking a job in a lab. Things got interesting when Bonnie, a single mother of two, made the decision to quit her job because her employer wasn't sympathetic to the demands on her time. At this point Bonnie had an idea to form a company -- a virus-testing lab in a van. From that humble beginning Bonnie amazingly grew two companies, AppTec and ViroMed Labs, which eventually sold for $203 million.
Bonnie, who is a star speaker at the upcoming Entrepreneurial Bash in New York City on Oct. 3 at the NYSE, gives a sneak peak at some great lessons for women everywhere who are launching or running companies:
Hire Women, Especially Steel Magnolias
Bonnie emphasized that in fact women can have it all -- they can be good mothers, good wives and good business people. Bonnie's first hires were two women that she'd worked with in the laboratory she'd just quit. She also made acquisitions, at one point purchasing a small woman-owned company in Atlanta so that she could enter the medical device market. She called the founder, who'd created a very high quality lab, her "steel magnolia."
Interestingly, the rigidity Bonnie Baskin faced as an employee became the antithesis of her own highly successful management style. "You have to have flexibility" as a CEO, Bonnie told me. She put capable, proven women into managerial positions and was unwilling to lose stellar employees to family demands. Many of her first employees were young women fresh out of grad school who were starting families. She understood better than most the necessity of accommodating for pregnancy, snow days, and sick kids. She gave all her employees flexible work hours. "The payback was in multiples over the course of time," she said.
Design Your Company the Way YOU Want
If you think there is a better way to do something, pursue it, even if someone else is telling you that you're wrong. Bonnie says that women intuitively know how to make things right. "You truly do have abilities, especially in an entrepreneurial setting...to be able to really explode and become capable of things that you never would have dreamed." Great start-ups have needs that are so pressing, from company building to satisfying a customer base, that there tends to be no time for status building and politics. But she isn't suggesting that the road will be easy, even without a glass ceiling. She's seen very talented people become paralyzed when faced with a difficult problem. "I think, really to be successful, you have to be able to continually see the glass half full."
Good Service Triumphs
"Women intuitively are pleasers, and we want to make things right and help people," according to Bonnie. That ability to identify and answer a need translates into good business practices. Her customers lavished praise because they were grateful to be dealing with a business so attuned to their needs. She, likewise, was shocked that customers found such service surprising. As a woman, "that's what you do. I would do it for my children, or my parents, or my spouse," she said.
Pay It Forward
Bonnie is a big supporter of many different women's groups. She serves on a women angel investor group and is on the board of various startups with women founders/CEOs. Her desire and mission to be a resource is a great example of how you can notch your game up.
I am really grateful that Bonnie will share insights and advice at the upcoming Entrepreneurial Bash in New York City on Oct. 3 (www.entrepbash.com). Featured speakers were the subjects of How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America.