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After decades of exclusivity, we’re finally witnessing what can happen when we champion female voices in the workplace.
Just look around you. Women now sit at the helm of large corporations like Hershey Company, General Motors, and IBM, in addition to smaller, fast-growing companies like Minted, Create & Cultivate, and Glossier. Per a 2019 report from Guidant Financial, four out of every 10 U.S. businesses are now owned by women, with the number of female-led businesses growing by 58 percent from 2007 to 2018.
Michigan, specifically, has seen explosive growth within its female entrepreneurship scene. In 2014, Fortune magazine called Detroit the “new face of female entrepreneurship,” citing the city’s low barriers to entry, growing demand for products and services, and legions of incubators, accelerators, and resources as reasons behind the trend. Female-run companies like Drought, The Lip Bar, Workit Health, and countless others call the state of Michigan home.
In an effort to encourage this entrepreneurial spirit, we’re spotlighting five female business leaders who’ve started their own companies, climbed to the top of traditionally male-dominated fields, and helped create jobs in their home states. Find their stories and their best piece of career advice below.
Cynthia Pasky has been a fixture in the Detroit business community since 1990. Armed with a winning idea and a small team of five, Pasky started Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3), a staffing and consulting agency located in the heart of downtown Detroit. S3 quickly grew into an international, $350 million IT and business services corporation, opening branches in 25 U.S. cities and seven European locations, including Great Britain, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Unsurprisingly, Pasky’s success has earned her a laundry list of awards and accolades. She was named one of the “10 Most Intriguing People in Staffing” by Staffing Industry Review, one of “Detroit’s Most Powerful People” by Crain’s Detroit Business, and one of the “Top Woman Entrepreneurs in North America” by Women Impacting Public Policy. What’s more, S3 was selected as one of the top 25 women-owned businesses in the country by Women’s Enterprise Magazine.
Professional success aside, Pasky is a diehard Detroiter and community servant. She sits on the board of countless Detroit-based organizations, including Endeavor Detroit, Downtown Detroit Partnership, and numerous nonprofits. She hasn’t missed a Detroit Tigers opening day game since she was seven years old, and her ringtone is the sound of a revving race car engine.
Pasky’s best piece of career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Don’t wait. There’s always an excuse to wait. Go. Do.”
Bridget Russo helped make Detroit’s famous Shinola brand what it is today. Upon moving to Detroit and joining the team in 2012, Russo oversaw global marketing and communications for the entire company, working across departments to grow the brand from the ground up. Russo’s passion for ethically-driven companies, coupled with 20+ years of experience in brand-building and storytelling, has elevated the design brand to a national household name.
Shinola wasn’t Russo’s own brainchild, but her entrepreneurial spirit runs deep. The native New Yorker first made a name for herself in the fashion world, starting her own consulting firm specializing in ethically-compelling fashion brands called Passion Projects Consulting. Modern Meadow, a biotechnology company that designs and produces biologically advanced materials, brought Russo back to her native NYC, where she currently works as the brand’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Despite her new zip code, Russo is deeply involved in the Detroit business community. She’s an Endeavor Detroit mentor as well as an advisory board member for both Floyd and TechWeek Detroit. She was also selected to be a member of AdWeek’s Brand Genius Class of 2016, which identifies the 10 most talented people in marketing.
Russo’s best piece of career advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs: “Remember your worth and do not settle for anything less. If you have a number in mind that you think is fair, ask for more. If there are 10 requirements for a job or a business pursuit, don’t discourage yourself from doing it just because you feel you may only have half. Our male counterparts wouldn’t blink to go for it for even less. Surround yourself with good people and never forget to support them and give credit when credit is due. This is how you build trust and both you and the person will grow from the experience.”
Gretchen Perkins has made a name for herself in Michigan’s finance and business development sectors—both traditionally male-dominated industries. She’s currently a partner at Huron Capital, a Detroit-based private equity firm that specializes in growing lower middle-market companies. With over 25 years of experience in the field, her resume is bulletproof. She’s held leadership positions at companies like Long Point Capital, a middle market private equity fund, IRN Inc., a market research firm, Fleet Capital Corporation, and GE Capital Corporation.
Perkins’ dedication to finance is only rivaled by her commitment to the Detroit community. She’s an Endeavor Detroit mentor, a board member for the Michigan chapter of the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation, a board member for the United Cerebral Palsy Organization of Detroit, a mentor for the Women of Tomorrow organization, which mentors at-risk high school girls, the director at large for the Association for Corporate Growth, Inc. (ACG), director for the Detroit chapter of the ACG, and co-chair of the ACG’s Public Policy Committee.
Perkins’ best piece of career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Be unapologetic. This doesn’t mean being a reckless bull in the china shop, if you will. It means [never] doubt yourself and commit to action when surrounded by inaction.”
Terry Barclay currently sits at the helm of Michigan’s only educational and charitable nonprofit dedicated to women in business. Inforum, which was founded in 1962 under the name “Women’s Economic Club,” helps companies recruit top-notch female talent in addition to giving women a place to learn, network, and find speaking opportunities.
Though Inforum is currently considered one of the “most prestigious, active, and influential women’s professional organizations in the U.S.,” according to their website, the club has humble beginnings. Motivated by a desire to “create a vibrant force for the advancement of women” in the early 1960s, Detroiters Marie Moon, Alice Snider, Thelma Murrell, and Dorothy Seifert gathered a group of 23 women to discuss the formation of a business club. Women weren’t allowed to belong to the clubs that men used to build and advance their careers, so they took matters into their own hands.
Today, Barclay and the Inforum team have taken Moon’s mission a step further. In 2002, Inforum created the Inforum Center for Leadership and the Executive Leadership Program—two educational branches of the organization dedicated to boosting talent initiatives for companies and accelerating the careers of women.
Barclay’s best piece of career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Find the best external advisors that you can—people with deep experience and knowledge of the elements most important to your company’s success and growth. You need people who will challenge you and have the kind of connections that will open doors that you don’t even yet know you need to open. You also need people in your advisory group who will contribute to your recovery and resilience, because this is hard work!”
Lynda Applegate is one of Harvard University’s most accomplished professors, researchers, and department leads. Specializing in entrepreneurship, technology, and human resources, Applegate has built countless programs at Harvard, including the Technology and Innovation Special Interest Group and the Entrepreneurial Management Unit. Under her leadership, the latter organization grew from being one of HBS’s smallest executive programs to one of its largest and most successful. She is the author of over 40 articles, books, and book chapters, and over 350 published case studies, online learning DVDs, and course materials.
As a Detroit native, Applegate is inspired by the “entrepreneurial passion” currently fueling the city. She compares it to the excitement she felt growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s, when the auto industry was booming. “I saw what positive energy and good jobs could bring to our communities,” she explains, adding that it’s “important to support entrepreneurs who are positively impacting Michigan’s economy.”
Applegate’s best piece of career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “When entrepreneurs are scaling their strategy by expanding into a new market or exploring new opportunities within their already existing business, it’s critical that they also scale their leadership teams, their organization, and their governance. As you move into a more complex set of markets, you have to have a leadership team to actually work on those different lines of business.”
If you’re a high-impact entrepreneur looking to scale your business, see our application page and learn more about becoming an Endeavor Entrepreneur. We look forward to hearing from you.
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