Reprinted from CHICAGO SOUTHLAND BUSINESS, July, 2006

Chicago Southland Women Business Owners Have Skill Sets For Success

Two years ago Kathryn Humecki embarked on a dream, a dream of owning her own CPA firm and making it the largest women-owned CPA firm in the Chicagoland area.

She plans to have Kathryn E. Humecki & Associates, Ltd.., in Olympia Fields, grow by one employee each year, with a current target of four total employees by 2007.

Humecki is among the growing number women who own businesses in America. In fact, today there are more than 9 million women in business for themselves, contributing more than $3.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to the Business Women’s Network.

What does it take to be a business owner, male or female?

“It takes a certain type of personality,” says Humecki. “You have to have a drive to be independent if you want to be an entrepreneur. Anyone who starts their own business usually understands there are peaks and valleys. You go through ups and downs and it has to be within your personality to never lose your enthusiasm during those low times.”

Mary Jensen, owner of Bestitched Embroidery & Printing, Chicago Heights, agrees.

“It takes a certain type of character for someone to start a business,” says Jensen, who began her company out of her home 11 years ago. Today she has seven employees and markets her product on the Internet. “You have to have an open mind and listen to every side of the story. You have to learn about all aspects of the business (for her this includes everything from taking care of clients to fixing embroidery machines), and be patient as your customers increase in numbers.”

From female entrepreneurs leading a handful of employees, to female CEOs leading thousands of employees in offices around the country, business challenges are fairly similar.

“You have to have stamina and a desire to do what you are doing, to carry you through even on bad days,” says Ann Drake, CEO of DSC Logistics, Inc., based in Des Plaines. DSC Logistics consists of 2,000 employees in 30 offices across the country.

While entrepreneurs such as Humecki focus on routine business aspects and attracting new customers, being a CEO also means “managing humans,” says Drake. “You are hiring people and constantly figuring out how to motivate them to get things done. When you are trying to expand your business to different states, you are managing other things such as profitability, dealing with legal matters and regulations and so forth.

“Being an entrepreneur is one thing, but taking your business to the next level, that’s another,” Drake adds. Finding and hiring the right staff to help a company grow, and managing the company through those employees are among the challenges CEOs face.

Drake took over her father’s company in 1995. Noting herself as her father’s “only son,” Drake began serving on the board for the company in the 1980s. “I had a couple of other careeers and then earned an MBA in the 1980s. I was interested in my father’s business and he asked me to come on board.”

In 1990 she wrote a reorganization plan for the company, looking towards the future. She also convinced her father to allow her to be the new CEO. Her father founded the company in 1960 and still serves as chairman of the board.

“In the 1990s we consisted of 23 companies, all with different names,” says Drake. “I reorganized and created one brand name and one company for us nationwide. We offer third party logistics; we do warehousing services and transportation management services for manufacturing companies.” Today the company ships products to and from 80 countries.

In order for any business to be successful, there has to be a clear plan and all expenses must be defined.

That’s why Humecki’s firm offers unique financial services for regional entrepreneurs. Her firm helps people construct business plans and apply for grants so their dreams come to life.

“You need to find your niche and do not try to be all things to all people,” she says. “Choose your business target, educate yourself in your market and get your name out there. You can’t try to offer every possible service there is to people. You have to find a niche.”

Jensen said she feels her niche is not only excellent customer service and quality of product, but the fact that Bestitched will personalize one item for a customer instead of insisting on bulk orders. They also accept items from clients who want that piece embroidered. “Most companies don’t allow this, they want to sell you the product they embroider,” she says.

Humecki says working for herself is something she dreamed of for a long time. “I’ve always been an independent person,” says Humecki who worked as a CPA with another firm prior to opening her own business. She says her mother, Mary Ann Andress, inspired her seven children to “reap the benefits of their own hard work. She worked long, hard hours for a company and raised all seven of us by herself.

“When I became a CPA most people in this profession were men,” she says, noting that it was slightly difficult to build comaraderie in the offices she worked. Having her own firm now, this is not an issue. She also works with a large number of male clients who want to start their own businesses.

Business owners and CEOs need to continue educating themselves about the business world and network with established entrepreneurs and other CEOs. Drake suggests a couple of professional organizations for business women, including the Chicago Network, National Association of Women Business Owners and the Center for Women’s Business Research. She is a member of TCN and sits on the board for CWBR.

While many challenges for women entrepreneurs are going away, Drake says, there are still social norms that exist. For example, she pointed to some country clubs which still prohibit women from golfing golf during the week. She says statistically, women are still not making it to higher levels in business.

Still, she says, there are more opportunities for women if they want to start their own business. “Opportunities for women to obtain money to start a business and use that money to influence others is terrific,” Drake says. “I would encourage any woman to start her own business.”

And, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, Illinois is one of the top states for women-owned businesses. Every day, 1,600 women become new business owners and women-owned businesses represent almost 40 percent of all U.S. businesses, employing 27.5 million people, according to the Business Women’s Network.

There are advantages of being a woman entrepreneur or CEO, these ladies agree.

“In my opinion, I think it is an asset,” says Humecki. “I think there is a certain comfort level that people have with talking to a woman, whether you are a client or an employee.”

“I think that women are more approachable; they have a bit softer approach,” says Jensen. “They are possibly more patient when talking with customers.”

“Generally speaking, women are more people-oriented, more collaborative, they share information more and take a more team-like approach to business,” says Drake. “Men are more directive and less collaborative in their style. They often prefer to go it alone.”
© Copyright Chicago Southland Business. July 2006. All rights reserved.

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