Our Wildest Dreams: Women Entrepreneurs Making Money, Having Fun, Doing Good.
The facts: There are between 4.1 and 5.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, depending on how you do your counting (the higher figure is the most plausible). They employ as many people as the entire Fortune 500 and ring up half a trillion dollars in annual revenue. Women's businesses surged from 5 percent of all businesses in the United States in 1972 to 30 percent by 1987. Women-owned businesses are as statistically prevalent in construction and agribusiness as men-owned enterprises.
The statistics are important, but Godfrey's treatise is anything but a dry recitation of economic facts. On the contrary, half the book is devoted to case studies of women entrepreneurs-owners of trucking, marketing, construction, and computer companies and even one "upscale, fresh-flower mail order business."
Godfrey, a 10-year veteran of Polaroid before starting her own firm in 1986 (at one point she thought she could make a difference in a big corporation; "I was an idiot," she now claims), offers Wildest Dreams as an unabashed celebration of women entrepreneurs. "Women owners are still invisible," she writes; and with this book she makes them visible. Godfrey tells us that she intended to write a "gender-neutral" book but couldn't. She lost her voice, she says, and decided to write for women, though she contends (and I agree) that the book is also a useful primer for men.
In the preface, Smith and Hawken founder and author Paul Hawken flatly declares that "women's businesses are pivotal to meaningful change" in a corporate America that he sees as gone awry. Godfrey agrees. "Like water on a rock," she says, "womenowned businesses are eroding timehardened beliefs about the way business is and must be done."
In the opening chapter, titled, "The (New) Right Stuff," Godfrey begins:
I am not six feet tall. I don't wear Brooks Brothers suits. I don't own an HP calculator (although my business partner does). I cry. I laugh, a lot. I touch people. I talk about how I feel. I remember birthdays (most of the time). I take time off (at least a week or two a season; I get some of my best ideas while outside the workspace). I start work early--sometimes. Sometimes, I start late. I don't look like I have "the fight stuff," but I do. And so do my counterparts --women who rounded and run their own companies.
She goes on to enumerate some of the ways that women's businesses are different from men's (though she acknowledges many differences among women's businesses). Women, for example, are generally less concerned with control and put more effort into relationship development --a virtue for any manager in an emerging business environment where hierarchies are being flattened and business is being done through temporary networks rather than the old vertically integrated monster monoliths. Women have a greater "sense of artistry, imagination, and playfulness," Godfrey adds; and they are more thoughtful about integrating their entrepreneurial visions with business ethics.
None of this, she makes clear, means these business owners are patsies. Most see a clear bottom-line payoff from attending to such issues. Patsies? The way women owners must scramble for money to even start a business calls for the most extraordinary effort and ingenuity. Godfrey cites one entrepreneur who "used 15 credit cards, each with a limit of $5,000, to raise $75,000 in startup capital. Odd how banks are willing to give women credit cards but still find it a leap to give them a business loan."
Despite the last comment (and there are a few such jabs peppered throughout the book), Godfrey never becomes cynical--except when it comes to the Fortune 500. She is an unabashed champion of the entrepreneur, a female George Gilder who can't understand why women--or men-- would waste their time with lumbering, stumbling giant corporations. While I think she overstates it, I'd be among the first to acknowledge that it's a question well worth asking.
Both Godfrey and Hawken believe that women's approaches to leading and managing are harbingers of successful business practice in the years ahead. This was also journalist Sally Helgesen's point in her 1990 The Female Advantage: Women 's Ways of Leadership, a meticulously reported book about life on the job for four female leaders, including Girl Scout chief Frances Hesselbein.
"What business needs now," Helgesen claims at one point, "is exactly what women are able to provide." That "what" is a virtual carbon copy of Godfrey's analysis: more attention to business ethics, new emphasis on relationship development, and a sense of caring and artistry. While the Godfrey-Helgesen view can be overdone, it has merit and is worth exploring. After all, my 1987 book was called Thriving on Chaos, and as Godfrey, Helgesen, and others point out, women more than men are masters of that--their lives, at home and at work, are invariably jugglers' lives.
Despite the obligatory annual articles in Fortune and BusinessWeek on "women cracking the glass ceiling," Godfrey is right about women's lingering invisibility in business (and in business books, including, lamentably, my own). But that may start to change. And if it does, no one will deserve greater credit than Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. To my mind, her Body and Soul is one of the best business books written in years by an author of either sex. Personal proof: It is the single book that I choose to give young women--and men--thinking about a career in business.
Roddick, more brazenly than Godfrey, plumps for a new way of doing business. "The twin ideas of love and care touch everything we do," she writes. Roddick is a champion of passion's role in business, and fervently believes that doing good can result in doing well. Her doing good has included well-publicized campaigns aimed at saving the rain forests and working with Amnesty International. The doing well is not in question either. The first Body Shop opened in 1976 (the first day's take from the Kensington Garden Shop was (British lbs)130), and, in a mercilessly competitive industry, it's now grown to more than 794 shops worldwide, with an early 1992 stock market valuation of about $1 billion.
Roddick, who claims that "a great advantage I had when I started the Body Shop was that I had never been to business school," is as disparaging as Godfrey about big business:
For me there are no modem-day heroes in the business world .... I have met no captain of industry who's made my blood surge. I have met no corporate executive who values labor and who exhibits a sense of joy, magic or theater .... In the 15 years I have been involved in the world of business it has taught me nothing. There is so much ignorance in top management and boards of directors: All the big companies seem to be led by accountants and lawyers and become moribund carbon-copy versions of each other. If there is excitement and adventure in their lives, it is contained in the figures on the profit and loss sheet. What an indictment ! She's clear about what she's about, subscribing to a "loosely structured, collaborative, imaginative, and improvisatory management style, rather than doing things by the book." She adds that, "For us the business of business is to keep the company alive and breathlessly excited, to protect the workforce, to be a force for good in our society and, then, after all that, to think of the speculators .... If companies are in business solely to make money, you can't 'fully trust whatever else they do or say .... The whole sense of fun is lost, the whole sense of play, of derring-do, of 'Oh God we screwed that one up.'"
Godfrey devotes a whole chapter to fun and play ("Fun is not frivolous; it is essential, play is imperative"). How else, she asks, do you engender creativity and adaptability? Roddick would doubtless applaud. Her barebones principles of doing business:
First, you have to have fun. Second, you have to put love where your labor is [an acknowledged steal from Ralph Waldo Emerson].
Third, you have to go in the opposite direction to everyone else.
Some women (let alone men) bristle at the idea of women's ways of managing, and even call the notion harmful. "We finally mastered the ways of business," they say, "and now you're pushing us to acknowledge ideas that the old-boy network calls flaky." I can see their point, though I disagree with it. First-generation women in management, like it or not, had to master the intricacies of the National Football League's 3-4 defenses and basebali's sacrifice fly rule in order to gain acceptance. But the new generation of women managers--and women business owners---is at the point where it can take its own strengths seriously and straight to the bank.
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|Author:||Peters, Thomas J.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1992|
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