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Women who mean business: it's a balancing act.


It's a Balancing Act

Much has been said--and written--about the effect of women on the American business scene. Some consider the demographic changes occurring in the workplace simply a reflection of today's realities--a consequence of women striving to achieve their natural potential. This often requires a great balancing act between the demands of a personal life which may involve a family and the demands of the workplace.

Here, Utah Business looks at some real women holding down real jobs in Utah's real workplace--they are in different life situations and businesses, from vice president to company owner. What do these women contribute to--and receive from--Utah's business environment?

Focusing on the Goal

Susan Mickelsen is vice president of corporate relations at Evans & Sutherland. This firm designs and builds large computer systems and applications for pilot training and for engineering and scientific applications.

Mickelsen, like many people in today's work force, has found herself in a field far different from the one she originally trained for. She worked for Dave Evans, founder of Evans & Sutherland, when a student at the University of Utah. After finishing graduate school and pursuing other goals for 10 years, she returned to work for Evans.

Her job involves shareholder relations, dealing with the public, and facilities planning and operations. She reports to the chief financial officer of the company.

Although single, Mickelsen hasn't opted to devote her entire life to climbing the corporate ladder. She has three adopted children: Lori, 22; Alan, 3; and Matthew, 1. Adopting and raising these children has been her "single greatest challenge and brought her greatest rewar," she reports.

"I have an entirely different view of the working world and how to live a balanced life since I adopted my children," she says. "I enjoyed putting in the long hours it took to be successful in the business world, but now I see the great need for business to be aware of the family needs of employees. In general, the policy setters in business don't have primary responsibility for young families and don't recognize the pressures."

Mickelsen has a nanny who comes in to care for her two younger children, but like all single parents, between her home and work responsibilities she puts in a 16-18 hour day.

Mickelsen feels that women offer a different perspective and often different skills than men in the workplace, a much-needed diversity that needs to be given equal voice and equal pay.

"Women can get ahead if they really want to, if they set clear achievement goals, work hard, and make sure people know they want to get ahead. I don't think women get automatic consideration for advancement the way men do. They have to really let it be known that they are working hard and want to move up. You don't get what you don't ask for in business."

Mickelsen is a good example of a woman who knows what she wants--and isn't afraid to let people know.

Tailoring the Workplace

Cheryl Snapp is the founder and president of Snapp and Associates, a public-relations consulting firm for high-tech companies throughout the United States. Her company's clientele includes Intel Corp., Codenoll Technologies, Notework Corp., and PowerCore.

Snapp had achieved a position as public-relations manager at a large high-tech firm when she decided to leave to start her own small business. "I don't feel that the corporate environment is favorable to mothers," says Snapp. "Women can be a great resource to the business world, but the corporate environment isn't set up to effectively take advantage of the skills we offer. That leaves a great opportunity for woman-owned businesses, where we can suit the work environment to our own situations."

Snapp says she doesn't see this situation as prejudice so much as inexperience. "Corporate managers aren't used to working with women so they don't know how to leverage what women have to offer," she explains. "They've set up the same type of working environment for women that they've always had for men. I wouldn't say it's intentional; it's just that corporations haven't yet learned how to use that resource to its best advantage."

Currently, Snapp's company has four full-time workers and one part-time employee. The hub of the business is Snapp's home office, where there are never more than three people working at a time. "Sherri Walkenhorst, Michelle Morris, and I are all mothers working out of our own home-based offices," Snapp says. "We tie in by fax and phones, and only meet together when necessary. Even though we're all putting in full-time hours and we're all account executives, we don't have to conform to the rigid work schedule that corporate life imposes on its workers."

The way Snapp runs her business, of course, ties into a strong business trend toward telecommunications and a growing trend toward offering employees greater flexibility than in the past. The increasing numbers of women in the workforce have clearly encouraged these trends.

Snapp feels that, for her, the typical balancing act every working mother performs is working out well. "It's working in large part because I control my own business," she says. "We've arranged the work environment this way for anyone who works with the group. They have flexibility; they have control over their own work environment. This gives people an incredible motivating factor--and the earning potential for everyone here is impressive."

Snapp points out that with the exception of the secretaries, everyone in her organization can determine her own income. "They can make as much money as they're willing and able to make. In every case, they've made substantially more than they made in equivalent company positions."

In three years in business, Snapp's firm has yet to actively market for an account; all their business has come to them. "But we're now starting to market more proactively," she says. "For example, we're going into some new projects through a partnership with Network Associates, an established marketing firm. Through that partnership we'll be able to market to bigger accounts because we're building a broader base of resources to offer."

Some people feel that the job of business management is to crack the whip rather than to cater to employees' needs. But Snapp must be doing something right: her business has doubled or more each year in operation.

Writing the Win-Win Scenario

Joan Pate, Coldwell Banker's Real Estate Person of the Year, is a real estate agent whose career has taken quite a different turn from that of many women. Rather than leaving the corporate environment to start her own small business, she built a business of her own and then sold it to a bigger firm. This move gave her the freedom she needed to do the work she wants to do.

Pate was an executive secretary who owned a modeling school. She originally took a class in real estate simply to learn the jargon so she could communicate with her husband, who was in the field. "I knew immediately that it was something I liked and something I could help people in," she says. "I saw it as a good area for self-investment for the future."

Pate sold the modeling school, quit her job, and joined her husband in the real estate business. When Coldwell Banker came to Salt Lake City, it offered to buy the firm out. Pate now works for Coldwell Banker--and her husband is now her mortgage banker. "When we sold our firm, he decided to go into the mortgage banking side of it," Pate explains. "Now he does loans for my buyers who need financing."

After 18 years in real estate, Pate is aware of the challenges of starting such a business. "You have to put a lot of money into advertising to start out," she says. "If things don't sell, you're out all the money. You're as successful as each of the agents in your firm are successful. Since you can't motivate someone else, you have to learn how to hire motivated people--people who are self-starters, who have a business within the business." Pate had 18 agents at the time her firm was bought.

Why did she decide to sell to a large national agency? "I could see the trend toward fewer, larger firms. I felt that the large firms would get larger and that the smaller firms would have a harder time with name recognition, competing with advertising dollars, and so forth. I felt Coldwell Banker's offer was good, and I felt that my time was best spent in selling real estate and not managing a business. I wanted to help people buy homes." For Pate, the advantage of moving to a larger firm was in being able to offload the administrative work to support staff so she could "just go out there and sell." Every advantage counts in the highly competitive Salt Lake City area, which has over 3,500 licensed agents. Pate feels that being a woman is an advantage in this business because "a woman looks for what the woman looks for. The wife usually makes the decision on the home." Besides, says Pate, women are trained by their experiences to keep many things going at the same time.

The biggest challenge in the business is giving the family definite, planned quality time. "You don't want to stand up your family as you become more successful and more in demand," she says. "If you'd let it, your business would take up your whole life, day and night. You can't let your job take control of you." She makes a concentrated effort to plan family time first and work the business around that. "I may have lost some business because of that," she says, "but it's a much lesser price to pay than losing your family. You can never replace them."

Pate's philosophy of doing business has held up well over the years. "Business should be a win-win situation. The buyer should win, and the seller should win. I don't like working with buyers who have to get a steal, so the seller gets hurt. If everyone gets a fair deal, we have a good business relationship and I frequently get calls back from both parties. Being open and honest with people is the way you stay in business in this field."

Flexibility and Autonomy

Lynn Cranmer's company, Visors by Lynn, is a wholesale manufacturing business based in Parowan. The firm currently offers some 30 products: sportswear accessories, such as ski headbands, gaiters, and fanny packs; and particularly hats and visors. Her major market is sportswear stores and resorts, along with contract selling for sportswear companies.

At one time, Cranmer was a marathon runner. "That's how I started the business," she says. "I started making visors not only for myself, but for my friends and my running club. It took off from there." Her husband is a dermatologist, so "heaven forbid I should go out in the deadly rays of the sun without a hat or visor."

Like most entrepreneurs, Cranmer saw a market niche that wasn't being adequately addressed. "Some of the visors already on the market were so heavy you couldn't run and perspire in them. Besides, when you're a woman runner, you're interested in looking halfway decent when you're out there. So I started making them to match my outfits. They started to appeal to other women. Eventually, my market grew to include men and children."

Cranmer accepts suggestions from her seamstresses and tries many of them out. But she tests product acceptance before adding a new product to her line. "That's how I really established my market," she explains. "I don't sell anything until I've done a couple of trade shows and we have feedback from the public." She knows within two or three months whether or not a product will sell. If not, she eliminates it.

In any case, originally is a key concept. "We make all of our own patterns from scratch; we try never to copy another company."

The major challenge in starting her business was the financing. "There's so much you need to know to start a business, and you usually need help with the financing," Cranmer says. "Utah has a lot of programs and startup money for [entrepreneurs] in business, as well as SBA loans."

Cranmer says that starting out slowly was part of her plan. "I didn't want to spend tons of money at the start. We're continuing to grow, and we continue to get cash in. It's usually three or four years before you start seeing any real money coming in, and then when you start growing you're shipping out so much and you have to wait for it to come back in and catch up with you."

Visors by Lynn has been in business for six years, and in the last two the company has grown about 300 percent. "Having my own factory helped; I have full control. Of course, I do work 10-12 hours a day." Moving to Utah from California also helped to bring down costs, and having her own factory means that she is no longer dependent on other manufacturers to get work done.

One business step Cranmer has implemented is to offer different shifts. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday the company has a night shift. "I found many talented, excellent seamstresses who wanted to work, but they couldn't during the day because of the children," she says. "So we developed a night shift, and it's worked out great."

Cranmer offers her employees as much flexibility as she can. For example, some take work home for extra money. Daytime work on-site pays hourly, but after-hours work done at home pays by the piece. "This kind of flexibility has helped the company's productivity immensely," Cranmer says. "Some people, in fact, work only the big, seasonal jobs when I need extra help."

Having a controlled, structured work atmosphere is good to a point, Cranmer feels, but flexibility is also important. "More managers should look at things this way so they can gain from what women have to offer. The hours some major companies make people work are terrible for people with kids."

Cranmer also emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle. "I know I'm a Type-A personality, but I think exercise is really important. I have much more energy; I'm more functional and creative; and stress doesn't get to me when I'm exercising regularly." Everyone, she asserts, needs to spend time just for herself.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Jackie Nicholes is president of Quality Press in Salt Lake City and past-president of the Utah Association of Women Business Owners. But she didn't start out envisioning herself as a businesswoman.

When her husband died suddenly in 1979, Nicholes inherited ownership of Quality Press, a commercial printing firm about 73 years old. "I knew I didn't know anything about the business, and the employees knew it, too," she says. "But I asked them to educate me. I felt that if they'd help me, we could keep the whole thing going."

Nicholes says the employees were very supportive. "I set a goal for myself that by the end of a year I'd know everything. At that time, I discovered I still didn't know much. I realized I just hadn't asked enough questions. From that point on, I became very knowledgeable."

An astonishing facet to this story is that Nicholes' other main source of help were her competitors. "They were sincere in their offers of help, and they gave me reasonable, intelligent answers I could comprehend," she says. "This is truly unique in business, especially when you reflect on how highly competitive the printing business is in Utah

As one might expect, she received quite a few buyout offers after her husband's death, but these offers only strengthened her conviction that the business was viable and worth hanging onto. Indeed, the business has had consistent growth every year.

Nicholes prefers to give employees a reasonable degree of autonomy. "When we hire, I always try to let people know that this isn't my company; it's ours. We're all a team." The firm invites new people to contribute ideas for improving the company. "We also hire people who need more training. I like to help people further themselves." Nicholes says that the company seldom buys equipment or makes changes without getting input from the employees who will be most affected. "Everybody knows what's coming up."

Nicholes finds the business a complement to her personal life. "I've never let a personal friend or an interest go--I've just added more through the business." Of her work life, she says, "It's fun! Parts of every day are difficult, but that's the case no matter what you do."

Women have as much to offer the business world as men do, Nicholes feels. The one advantage women have right now is that they come to the arena with brand-new ideas. "They haven't always had the opportunity to be a part of the game plan--but women getting into business are creating their own game plan with new ideas. They have a fresh perspective without so many preconceived notions." Of her own style of business, she says, "I don't make hurried decisions. I line up all the facts and then give myself time to consider them fully. I try to put myself in everyone's shoes and look at what will work best for everyone."

Nicholes spent much of her life in the traditional woman's role, but she's adjusted well to her new life as a businesswoman. "At first a lot of people assumed that I'd never make it. That gave me some motivation--to prove them wrong. But nobody ever said to me that he didn't want to work for a woman."

Give Them What They Want

Clark-Leaming is a long-established furniture and interior design company in Salt Lake City, founded in 1953 by Merlene Leaming, her husband George, and her brother, Howard Clark. Merlene Leaming refers to it as a "furniture business with emphasis on design and service."

"It used to be," Leaming explains, "that people would go to a furniture store, select what they hoped would look good, and then try to work with it. When we went into business, we realized that if people would take time to get an understanding of what they wanted a room to be like, they'd be happier with the results."

So Clark-Leaming personnel started meeting with people in their homes, making a floor plan and dealing with elements such as ceiling height and window placement to arrive at a finished, total look. They interview clients and find out precisely what their needs are and what their price range is. "Good design comes in all prices," says Leaming. This approach has built the business and has created satisfied customers who keep coming back for more.

Before long, the people at Clark-Leaming found that they could handle both residential and commercial design. "We'd do an office for someone, who'd then ask us to do his home as well," she says.

Leaming attributes her firm's success to "finding talented, young, innovative, well-educated designers and teaching them our ways. It's a two-way street; they give a lot, and they get a lot." She brings in most of these young designers fresh out of school. Since they're inexperienced at dealing with clients, she keeps them on the floor for a few months before teaming them up with experienced designers to work with clients. The company currently has 10 employees, including the people on drafting boards.

An important part of the business is communication. "Customer communication is key to being able to get your ideas into the mind of the person you're talking to. You have to communicate during the entire process--getting the

client, getting your ideas across, satisfying the customer. I discovered that this is where my talents were--talking to clients and showing them how we could help them."

Leaming's philosophy of business is "Buy it once, and buy it right." She also believes in not letting the customer be unsatisfied for any reason. She once fired a designer who insulted a customer, telling him she had no place for his attitude toward customers. When clients ask for something that isn't really workable, she says, "We could do that, but I don't think either of us would like it." She works with the customer until both are satisfied.

The business started when Leaming's daughters were three and five. "I worried about whether I was doing the right thing. But today I look at them and wonder if there's any way I could be happier. Our lines of communication are wide open." Women are too hard on themselves, Leaming says. "All people should be able to capitalize on their skills."

PHOTO : Susan Mickelsen, Evans & Sutherland

PHOTO : Cheryl Snapp, Snapp and Associates

PHOTO : Joan Pate, Coldwell Banker

PHOTO : Merlene Leaming, Clark-Leaming

PHOTO : Lynn Cranmer, Visors by Lynn

PHOTO : Jackie Nicholes, Quality Press

Barbara R. Hume, an entrepreneurial woman, is president of Tristan Gareth Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:profiles of six Utah businesswomen
Author:Hume, Barbara R.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:Women in the workplace: halfway there with many miles to go.
Next Article:Who's taking care of Johnny? child care attracts employees.

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