FIRST GENERATION OF A NEW BREED
“Either quit or grow. That is the way business is in the United States. You cannot be half-assed successful.” - Desi Arnaz
Forty years ago if I were asked what my adult life would look like today I would have responded that I would be retired as a former pilot for commercial aviation. Little did I know the universe had other plans for me.
In 2008, when I launched the Center for Women Business Owners, I researched data about how many small business owners reach the seven-figure mark. Astonished by the low numbers, I contacted the U.S. Census Bureau and requested the raw data to confirm these results. Overall, less than ten percent of all entrepreneurs reach seven figures in annual sales. I could not believe what I accomplished compared to average business owners in the United States. I learned how to be an entrepreneur the hard way, from end to end, and beat these odds four times.
Why I Became an Entrepreneur
In the 1970s, I prepared to complete a pilot application with United Airlines. The terms clearly stated the minimum pilot requirements for height and weight. Even today with a private pilot’s license, at five feet, five inches tall, and 120 pounds, I still have not reached their former physical requirements. I got the hint women were discouraged from applying.
After graduating from college with a degree in music theory and composition, I was unable to find a job in my field. I was hired as a manager for a customer service department for a large corporation, Bell & Howell Schools. In the late 1970s, I did not view this position as a long-term career. Through a fellow employee, I was introduced to the world of commodities trading. At night I studied everything I could about commodities. At that time, Merrill Lynch advertised their search for women traders. My dream was to own a seat on an exchange.
I completed all the training and passed at the top of the class at the Chicago Board of Trade. I applied and was tested at a Merrill Lynch office located in the same building as the exchange. After passing their written tests I started the oral interview process. The conversation was going well with their trading manager when he said:
“It’s unfortunate you are female; you have all the qualifications. However, I am tired of buying boxes of Kleenex every time a woman cries when she loses a sale.”
Not to be discouraged I searched for employment with ContiCommodity, another large brokerage house, formerly owned by Continental Grain Corporation. Their Human Resources Director invited me for an interview process. I was prepared for a full day of interviews. After meeting with him, I was interviewed by the trading floor manager. He determined if I had the skills to sell intangible items. Passing his evaluation, I was invited for the final discussion with the office’s senior executive. His last question was:
“What will you do when you start having babies?”
I replied by quoting the current federal gender discrimination laws and left his office. Then I searched for and purchased my first business. The following is a list of businesses I launched. Please click on each of the following company names to read more about each business.
Although it wasn’t any easier for women to own a business during that time, from that point on I knew becoming an entrepreneur was the only way to fulfill my dream of being successful. I owned my first business because I was turned down for two potential long-term profitable careers, a card and gift shop located in a commuter train station in Palatine, Illinois.
A friend suggested I go back to school to learn information technology. The future was computers. In the 1980s, I found a six-month course with Control Data Institute that taught me everything I needed to learn computer science. Finishing at the top of my class, I was offered and accepted a position with a local computer consulting company. From there I learned enough about the business to launch my own firm. I called it Professional Solutions, Inc.
During the mid-1990s I launched another services company called Actoras Consulting Group, Inc. Taking all my business experience combined with my technological background, it focused on information technology strategic plans.
Before I launched another full-scale business, I took some time off and began consulting and advising other women business owners through an online mentoring organization called, Center for Women Business Owners.
I placed the Center for Women Business Owners on hiatus while creating a new business plan for an online travel agency. Its mission was to provide the best customer service by selling vacation packages that included cruises, hotel stays, and air travel. The niche was offering customers payment plans and options to revise and change travel selections while making these payments. Our clients were not locked into specific arrangements and could change travel depending on world circumstances and personal choices.
I spent forty-four years in my career as a serial entrepreneur. It began during the feminist movement when women could not easily get credit. Many were not hired for certain jobs and technology was virtually non-existent. I had no female mentors during my reign as a business owner.
Today I focus on advising other business owners on how to launch, grow and survive in an environment of readily available technology, with limited barriers to entrepreneurial entry and in extensive saturated markets.
Zyan, my Director of Marketing, recently asked about the value of my brand. He calculated it would cost someone $52.8 million to achieve my skill level. As a founding member of the First Generation of a New Breed, I’m proud to state that my experience goes beyond a lifetime of knowledge.
Written by Darlene M. Ziebell
Prominent entrepreneur, author, and business strategist, Darlene Ziebell launched several initiatives to help entrepreneurs prepare for and overcome challenges in launching and managing a business. This includes private consulting, live webinars, online training courses, books, and elite memberships in her brain trust groups dedicated to guiding businesses to grow.
Darlene bases her methods on lessons learned from her own companies and hundreds of consulting clients. She is a former CEO, director, and public speaker. Besides her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, her extensive career consists of practical experience bootstrapping four startups with growth into eight figures and advising 20% of the Fortune 1000 as a management consultant. She can be reached through her website: WWW.DarleneZiebell.com
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