In 1957, my father opened his dream company, a manufacturer and distributor of standard and customized fasteners intended for both aerospace and military purposes. Many of my childhood memories are of time spent answering the company phones, but I grew up with an explicit understanding that the metal components industry, and therefore my father's company, was a males-only industry. The closest a female got was the secretary's seat outside the president's office, and there was no room for nepotism in this field. My attempts at helping my father move the company in an innovative manner proved futile, and so I dabbled in other fields were my work was valued and I was seen as an asset.
That was until I took ownership of the company in 2007, after my father was in a bad accident and tragically suffered a traumatic brain injury. After 50 years of watching as an outsider as my father ran the family business, I was thrown feet-first into a company to which I had never been granted full access. The beginning of an economic recession, being a woman in a man's world, and having to learn a complicated business in a short timespan all made for a tough entrance. I was welcomed by colleagues with crude and sexist jokes and skepticism from employees.
I knew that if I was going to succeed, I was going to have to make my own rules and carve my own path. It started with enrolling myself in every fastener course I could find so that I could speak the jargon of the industry as well as any seasoned veteran in the field. But that wasn't enough--what I needed was an innovative approach to business. That's when I found the 10,000 Small Business Program. The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a $500 million national program designed to help small businesses in the United States create jobs and economic growth by providing entrepreneurs with a practical business education, access to capital, and business support services.
This program was unique in that I was surrounded by a group of small business owners who were looking for ways not only to be better business owners, but to be innovative business leaders. While I cannot discount the practical lessons learned, it was the creativity in the room that was fostered by a sense of shared accomplishment and community. Each business owner was forced to look "outside the box" in order to understand how to gain a competitive edge. It was in the program that we were given a soundboard and a place to learn from the failures and successes of each other. As a cohort we came together--not only to learn how to be better business owners but how to create new business models that were imperative for the success of the small business. Unlikely partners emerged and a new type of model created. Each of us crossed the stage on graduation day with a new voice and a new perspective on business that has forever shaped the manner in which we run the business.
Then, we took these models one step forward and introduced them to our communities. As someone who was thrown into my industry without all the proper training, I often wished that I had had mentors to ask questions and to garner insights. It wasn't until I found myself in the 10,000 program that I was given the support I needed. No small business owner should have to find all the answers themselves. As a community, we have a responsibility to help one another to provide the support that isn't readily accessible, whether it is for financial, gender, or other reasons. I have taken what I learned in the classroom to improve not only my own company but also those in the community. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I saw myself as a woman owner in this screw machine industry, I would have laughed at you; now not only am I a successful, woman business owner in the field, I'm a successful, woman business owner who's helping to change the industry.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.