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Success on their terms

Some women are abandoning corporations to blaze their own business trail.

By Paul Swider, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


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ST. PETERSBURG - Mary Maskal had made the rounds in the telecommunications business when WorldCom started collapsing around her in 2002. She said she could have found another job in the field but, after 27 years, decided it was time to move on.

"I figured, if I'm going to work this hard, I'm going to do it for myself," said Maskal, 55, who, like growing numbers of professional women in the U.S., has struck out on her own, in her case with a publishing business.

Increasing numbers of professional women are deciding the corporate ladder isn't so attractive anymore and are stepping out and starting their own businesses.

According to the Center for Women's Business Research, since 1997, the percent growth in the number of women-owned firms was nearly twice that of all U.S. firms. Like Maskal, many women are finding the skills they learned in corporate America translate into valuable businesses that are more rewarding because they are their own.

"I work harder now than I ever did, but I'm having a riot," said Maskal, who produces cookbooks for yacht owners. "I have the biggest slave-driver of a boss, but it's amazing how much we agree."

Maskal said she doesn't regret her corporate experience and builds on it but is glad to be on her own. Karen Wise is another woman enjoying corporate-founded independence.

"What I do now, the gratification is phenomenal," said Wise, 58, who spent 10 years with Apple and another 11 years at Tech Data before starting her own human resources consulting business in 2006. "I don't look at my time in corporate America as bad, but when it was time to go, it was time to go."

Wise at first took time off after leaving her vice president spot with Tech Data.

She found sitting around the house inadequate and jumped in to help a friend with some subcontracting work. Word spread and others asked her to help out. Now she enjoys a six-figure salary working three or four days a week for clients she chooses.

"I work with all these different types of industries and I love it," Wise said. "I will never go back to corporate America."

Others have pursued a similar path but have come out only after difficult lessons. Author and businesswoman Kaira Sturdivant Rouda said that's the result of the generation of women working their way through the traps.

"A lot of us figured if we worked hard and did more than others, we'd move up," said the Ohio-based author of Real You Incorporated, a guide for women to find their own brand in business. "Then that glass ceiling smacks you and takes your passion away."

Nancy Horneman had that experience after 23 years with Motorola in South Florida.

She felt layoffs coming and started exploring side businesses, then made the jump when she found outside work more lucrative.

"I definitely felt held back," she said of her corporate time. "I didn't feel I was contributing. I was a number. I saw behind the scenes and I didn't like what I saw."

Horneman now works from her Treasure Island home as an agent for Pre-Paid Legal Services and is thrilled with her freedom and income. Karen Hankinson also tailored a home office for her financial advising business after feeling the squeeze at Honeywell.

"Things were happening around me and I didn't feel included," she said of her 12 years in accounting and information systems at the defense company. Though she said she felt held back more as a non-engineer than as a woman, "I couldn't see myself going anywhere."

Hankinson got her MBA and hung out her shingle. She now deals in specialized real-estate securities and has a successful niche working for high-wealth individuals. There's more of a gender issue now, she said, but being her own boss in a results-oriented business helps.

Sturdivant Rouda said the value of women-owned businesses is not only for gender equality but also because of a changing consumer marketplace. Whereas once men made most of the purchasing decisions, now the reverse is true.

"American women are the largest economy on earth," she said, emphasizing the value of women reaching women in business. "We are 51 percent of the population but we buy 85 percent of everything."

Part of the growth in women-owned business is also the result of technology, Sturdivant Rouda said.

Natural networkers, women have hopped on the Internet in the past 10 years to form active communities that help one another along. The same is true in person with local chapters of Business and Professional Women.

"We're a mentoring network," said Kris Self, computer consultant and the president of the Pinellas chapter of BPW, which counts many business owners in its membership. "It's a nurturing environment, but the more successful women we have in society, the better, even for men."

Sturdivant Rouda said much of the advice she gives to aspiring business women applies to men as well, particularly concerning authenticity.

Wise said part of her comfort with her business comes with how she perceives herself and success, as opposed to the political, dog-eat-dog corporate world of her past.

"I used to define myself by title and position," she said. "Now, I've been there, done that. I define myself very differently."

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

Women in business in Tampa Bay area

- 28.4 percent of all businesses are majority women owned.

- Those 68,951 businesses employ 68,782 and bring in more than $10-billion in annual sales.

- Between 1997-2006, number of women-owned businesses increased 88.9 percent; employment grew 38.4 percent; sales grew 28.4 percent.

- Tampa Bay area is 25th in top 50 metro areas in number of majority-owned women businesses, 24th in sales, 22nd in employment; the area is fourth, fifth and fifth in growth in those categories over the last 10 years.

Source: Center for Women's Business Research, www.cfwbr.org

[Last modified February 17, 2008, 00:04:41]


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