On Oct. 15, NAWBO held its annual Remarkable Women awards dinner honoring three outstanding members for their accomplishments in business and in life.
It was my privilege, and my pleasure, to write the program bios for the three winners, so when I entered the banquet room to take my seat, I already knew quite a bit about them. But hearing them speak opened up a swell of admiration for these three vibrant, successful women. The room was filled with attendees representing all rungs of the ladder: those just starting out in business; those with long-established companies; and everyone in between. And there was plenty of wisdom and humor to inspire everyone and to confirm the rewards of innovation, effort, persistence and hope.
One recurring theme I heard running through these women's stories is that there is no instruction book on how to create a successful business. It was good to have this reaffirmed, because if there was supposed to be a manual for any part of life, it was not in the carton when I was delivered.
As is customary, our three Remarkable Women awardees addressed the crowd with amazing speeches. Here are some of my favorite moments from the evening.
Laura Neubauer, whose company Deliver It! has grown every year since she started it five years ago, was our Entrepreneur to Watch. I loved hearing her explain why she never worked for FedEx or UPS. Laura's reason: "Corporations have too many rules for me!" Having purchased three companies that she had to get ready to open within a 13-day period at the height of the holiday season in 2004, Laura told us that a sudden voice in her head asked, "Laura, what are you doing?" And her answer was, "I don't know." Listening to her, I realized that Laura didn't want to make mistakes, but she was not afraid to make mistakes. There's a huge difference. She explained that just like playing catch with a 3-year-old, there are going to be misses. But as the child grows, she's going to get better and better, and eventually, that child will be able to catch the ball and fire it right back. That's an encouraging thought to keep in mind.
Cheryl Osborn, founder of CASCO Contractors, was our 2009 Business Owner of the Year. Cheryl, who built a $25 million company starting from her kitchen table, told us that the two most important attributes an entrepreneur can have are ignorance and persistence. She reminded me of heroes I've read about who succeed against all odds and say something along the lines of "If I had known it was impossible I never would have tried." She also reminded me of the moment in "The Empire Strikes Back," when Han Solo says to C-3PO after hearing him recite the possibilities against successfully navigating an asteroid field: "Never tell me the odds." Cheryl's wisdom is the kind of knowledge that can only come from experience. And it speaks to me. I so often feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, but I try to move forward anyway. Cheryl moved forward in a big way and is a huge success today.
Heidi Miller, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award, had the vision early on to see the connection between the fitness movement of the '80s and the potential for marketing healthy, delicious snacks. She built Heidi's Frogen Yozurt into a 120-store chain. After selling that business 20 years ago, she opened Tight Assets, a group of women's exercise-clothing boutiques that merge fashion and function. Heidi has demonstrated, through her many accomplishments, the ability to weather economic cycles. She told us that entrepreneurs, like cream, rise to the top. They create from nothing. They know that economic necessity is the mother of reinvention. And they never lose hope, no matter the circumstances. In keeping with that, Heidi left us with these words: "When life gives you lemons, use the rind to garnish your martini!" That's an attitude we would all be wise to adopt.
Sitting in a banquet room, listening to three remarkable women tell us in their own words what they have achieved and learned is a truly inspiring experience. Worthy of a standing ovation – or three of them.