Across the country, women are advancing in business, and advancing business. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, over 10 million firms are at least 50 percent woman-owned. As of 2004 it is estimated there are nearly 90,000 privately-held, women-owned firms in Nevada – almost 54 percent of the privately-held firms in the state.
Being a woman can actually have advantages in today’s business world – for one thing, in industries traditionally dominated by men, they stand out and get remembered.
The Women to Watch in this article clearly deserve to be recognized as leaders in Nevada’s business world. In interviews we asked them if they had mentors when they were starting out, if they experienced barriers to advancement because of their gender, and how they circumvented those barriers. We asked them if they considered themselves role models for other women, and what advice they would give a young woman starting out in their fields.
Their profiles and answers are presented as insight into what makes a dynamic, successful businesswoman in today’s world and what it means to be a woman business owner in Nevada. We are proud to recognize these Women to Watch as leaders in their fields.
As president of Pro-Tect Security, Leslie Bruno oversees more than 700 employees from one Las Vegas office. Pro-Tect assigns security officers through several different divisions, including hospital security, school district and construction site security, timeshare security and a convention division responsible for trade shows. There’s also a personal protection division that protects celebrities and high-profile clients and works with dignitaries. It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job Pro-Tect’s owner Bruno likens to being born into the circus, and she’s been at it for 13 years. Her mother, Patricia Hamilton, bought the business in 1992, after running it singlehandedly for an owner who was out-of-state, and recruited Bruno back from London where she was working in marketing. It was a very male-oriented field and there were obstacles to overcome.
“You just have to be smarter, work harder, you have to prove yourself and you have to earn respect. Remain professional under all circumstances, know when to walk away, and I think really maintaining your own moral values and integrity is just key.”
Donna Curry wears different hats. She’s a Subway franchisee operating sandwich stores, and she’s a Subway development agent, selling franchises, negotiating leases, working through the construction process and working with field consultants who evaluate the stores and make sure franchisees are operating up to standards, are happy and making money. Curry and her previous husband moved to Las Vegas from Ohio 26 years ago and opened the first two Subway stores in the city. Curry’s first store in 1983 was number 282; the chain now numbers over 22,000 nationally. Curry herself currently has 87 stores, with 24 locations due to open in 2005. Women in business may face a few more challenges than men, but, said Curry, “You have to be willing to work a little harder and not take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Being in business is a lot like life: it’s a roller coaster, and when you get to the top you go back down again. You’re always going to be doing problem-solving. So be prepared for the downs as well as the ups. Feel the fear and work through it. When working with a franchisee, I always look to see if the person is a risk-taker. Is he or she able to go in and work hard? Because the definition of entrepreneur in the dictionary is ‘risk-taker,’ and there’s no doubt about that.”
JANTEC, Inc. is a prime contractor to the U.S. government, providing services including logistics, facilities and information management. Janet Dykes, president and CEO, originally worked as a technical illustrator at a Los Angeles Air Force base, a job under contract to the Department of Defense. She became a supervisor, returned to college to study government contract administration, and eventually became a project manager of a 75-man project. She went out on her own in 1985, encouraged by the fact that woman-owned businesses have good standing with the federal government. JANTEC usually employs between 150 and 300 people at offices in California, Nevada and Washington. Dykes never found being a woman a barrier and sometimes, when dealing with the federal government, it is an advantage. Her advice for anyone pursuing this career path is to get education in the field. “Government contracting is heavily ruled by federal regulations and laws. It is not based on logic – it is based on rules and regulations, and you must educate yourself to what those are.”
“I’d like other women to tell themselves, ‘Being a woman is not a handicap; in many cases it’s an advantage. I’m an intelligent human being, and if I do the best I can and work a little harder than everybody else, I can be a success at whatever I do.’”
Valerie Glenn is president and CEO of the Rose-Glenn Group, a fully integrated marketing communications company in Reno that handles a diverse mix of clients and provides services from public relations to Web site design to direct marketing. In 2005, the company celebrates 25 years in business. Glenn came into the business with a degree in journalism with an emphasis on advertising, but left Reno to work for the 14th-largest advertising agency in the world. She formed her first company in 1981, selling advertising to regional magazines, and in 1989 joined her father at Phil Rose Advertising. Glenn’s husband is also in advertising, and both her father and her husband have been mentors for her. Growing up with the business, Glenn didn’t experience barriers to advancement because of her gender.
“I certainly don’t think of myself as being disadvantaged because I’m a woman. I work hard and believe I have been treated fairly. We’ve gotten our share of business, and frankly there are a lot of women in our business. But I have always tried to think of it as working hard and proving myself. We have a job to do – let’s get out there and do a good job.”
Priority One Commercial
Cyndi Inman, president of Priority One Commercial, came together with her partner Julie Collins, secretary/treasurer and broker, over 12 years ago. The two worked for Inman’s brother’s firm in investment equity, Inman typing leases and learning to lease projects and Collins as a property manager. Inman learned on the fly, doing as she went, without any formal training or mentoring, which she said was both scary and exciting. In February 1993, Inman and Collins formed Priority One Commercial, a brokerage firm that handles commercial leasing and sales, and works with developers on listing their buildings. The firm also does property management out of its Las Vegas office. When they first started the business, there were very few women in the field.
“We worked hard to prove we can do the job as well as the next guy. I think we overcame the challenges by sticking with our values and morals, and just making sure whatever we said we were going to do, we’ve done it. We’ve been honest, and proved we’re able to do the work. You just have to keep trying. If you give up, you’ll never get there.”
LF Harris and Company, Inc.
Linda Harris is president and CEO of LF Harris and Company, Inc. She started as a secretary for a contractor in Ottawa, Canada, where she began estimating; she worked her way into a project coordinator position for a contractor building four-plexes and condominiums. The project brought her to Las Vegas, where she met Frank Harris when she was a project manager for Martin-Harris Construction. They worked together in the ’80s and married in 1985. Frank convinced Harris to start a company with him – she was reluctant, knowing she’d have to handle the financials, which wasn’t her favorite task. Today their company is a commercial general contractor doing both ground-up building and tenant improvement projects. They build offices and banks and high-end retail such as work on the Forum Shops and the Shops at the Venetian. Being in construction, Harris was bound to encounter barriers to advancement as a woman, but tended to ignore the men who had problems with her and kept on going.
To women starting in the industry, Harris advised, “Be credible. Know what you’re doing. Feel comfortable and confident with the technical knowledge. And it may be a little hard. You’ re going to be criticized and questioned and have to establish credibility with everyone, but don’t let it bother you. Do your best. You’ve heard many times before that you have to be better than the other guy, and that’s probably true, but why shouldn’t you be? There are guys better than the other guy, too.”
Sallie Haws started in the family business with a broom in her hand and has held a variety of positions on her way to president. Haws Corporation manufactures drinking fountains, emergency drench showers and eye-wash stations for the safety industry. It has developed into a worldwide manufacturing business with offices in Switzerland, Singapore, Brazil and Sparks. Haws’ background is in human resources, but she’s handled sales and marketing, information systems and even graphic design since coming onboard in 1984. In the mid-’90s she was promoted to vice president. When the president – her cousin – took a leave of absence in 2000, Haws essentially ran the company. She became president in 2001 of a company with 165 employees worldwide. “I think people thought being a family member in a family-owned business, I had it made, it was Easy Street. It wasn’t. I had to be better, stronger, faster and prove myself in a lot of ways, because there was the expectation that I was here just because I’m family.” The key to the manufacturing industry is open-mindedness, Haws said. It’s not a glory job, but it’s challenging and fun.
For women entering the field, “Continue to learn. Ask questions, step away from ego and expectation, be there to learn and find what is challenging and fun. You never know what’s going to float your boat.”
Jeanne Richard Jones
Jeanne Richard Jones is the owner of Alpha Services, based in Las Vegas with offices in Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C. and Madison, Wis. The company, founded in 1993, employs close to 100 people, providing administrative, technical and security support to private contractors and government agencies – everything from records management to procurement support, and information systems services to clerical support. Jones’ background in human resources and marketing for Fortune 500 companies and the original MGM Grand led her to leave corporate America. While she didn’t have a traditional mentor, she found the environment at MGM entrepreneurial, and many of her colleagues there struck out on their own as well. She did encounter challenges along the way because of her gender, but treated them as any other challenge, and found a way to work around them.
“You need to surround yourself with a strong team of people to help you get where you want to be, to the next level. You need personal qualities like common sense, being honest and reliable. Never forget those are the things other people see in you in a business relationship. I stress reliability. Once you say you’re going to do it, do it.”
Soozi Jones Walker
Commercial Real Estate
When the day comes that commercial real estate is no longer fun, Soozi Jones Walker says she’ll quit. Until then, she’s president of Commercial Executives, a commercial real estate company that leases and sells office, retail and industrial space and does build-to-suit properties in Southern Nevada. Walker headed into real estate in 1979 and started at Jack Matthews and Company, the only company that would hire her. Being a woman was definitely a barrier, first while she tried to get into real estate, and then when she tried to switch from residential to commercial. She overcame the barriers by working harder, working longer hours and educating herself thoroughly in the field. She worked 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week to make it in both residential and commercial, and her kids were raised around the business – her daughter followed in her footsteps over three years ago. Walker said both she and her clients have been fortunate she had three wonderful mentors who taught her to sell, and taught her the business in Las Vegas.
“Always put the client first. The moment the client sees dollar signs in your eyes, you’re going to lose. And whatever profession you get into, if it’s not something you love, don’t do it.”
Southwest Exchange Corporation
Stockholder, chairman and founder of Southwest Exchange Corporation, Betty Kincaid has been in real estate since she was 20, through every facet of the profession: commercial sales, leasing, investing and the title industry. In 1990 she formed Southwest Exchange Corporation, the largest independently owned exchange company in Nevada, which works as an intermediary between the IRS and real estate investors completing 1031 exchange transactions (in which an investor disposes of an asset and purchases another and defers capital gains.) Kincaid has had many mentors, mostly in the real estate community. She credits much of her success to the Women’s Council of Realtors, and is president of the national organization this year. Successful and self-confident and not letting gender stand in her way, she has become a role model for women entering the field. If she herself experienced barriers to advancement as a result of being a woman, she didn’t notice, but, “At times I have felt discomfort and had to overcome it, and remind myself I have something to bring to the table, as well as anyone else. I think as women we discount our place at the table and want to sit at the edges rather than up front.”
She advises anyone starting out in the field to, “Find your passion, figure out how to get paid for it, and throw yourself whole-heartedly into it.”
MRC Group Research Institute
Research and Testing
Lee Medick is president of MRC Group Research Institute, a qualitative and quantitative market research firm that tests everything from TV shows to new products to concept ideas, does political polling, customer satisfaction surveys and government work. The company will tackle anything to do with business and consumer research. Her background is in advertising and marketing, and her husband worked for Gallup in all facets of research and marketing. Nineteen years ago an opportunity to manage research work for a large casino on the East Coast led them to form their own company. Another casino led them to Las Vegas. Medick’s not certain she considers herself a role model for other women, but hopes people looking at how far she’s come will realize, if she can get there, they can too. Challenges along the way have been less gender-related and more financial: nobody wants to finance an entrepreneur, and she wasn’t starting as a small business, but at a higher level. Now that they’ve made it, everybody wants to be their banker.
“Before you start, in any industry, you have to do your homework. Assess the market. Who are your competitors? What is the client base? What are you trying to achieve? Does it make economic sense? Maybe it’s a saturated market. Really research the marketplace to make certain you’re in a viable city for your business.”
With offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Fernley, VPoint specializes in getting entitlements, working on zoning and land plans, and providing civil engineering and construction staking services for developers, and also does plan checking for public entities. It’s a business Kathy Smith grew up in. Her father, mother and brother worked as underground contractors, doing dirt work, pipelines and water tanks, and were her mentors. Even so, she said, “I think in the beginning you have to work harder, being a woman, but after people know who you are and what you can do, it’s easier. It opens doors for you and people remember you more when you’re a woman in a man’s field and you do a good job.” Now people ask her to work with their daughters (and sons) who are thinking of going into engineering. In December 2004, VPoint was acquired by the TRC Companies, but maintained its name and its management team. Smith said the merger opened up opportunities for her employees and let them take advantage of TRC’s resources, as well as its emphasis on environmental issues, energy and geo-tech.
“Today kids think it’s too hard, so we mentor through the office, have them come in and spend the day with us and show them what we do. And we also hire interns; we have six college students working part-time in our offices.”
Formerly a business reporter covering real estate for Las Vegas newspapers, Paula Yakubik worked with Stuart Mixer Commercial real estate and then Colliers International, doing public relations. Her background meant when she headed out on her own to found MassMedia PR, she had a speciality in commercial real estate and professional service organizations, such as law firms and accounting firms. Her boss, Jim Stuart, was not only a mentor to her, but offered to help however he could when she went out on her own, and still does (he now runs CENTRA Properties, a large commercial developer.) Rather than finding her gender a barrier in her business, Yakubik found it an advantage. When she needed financing to buy a building – one of her business goals – she found getting financing easier as a woman. And because more women then men are opening small businesses in Nevada, she helped one of her clients, Silver State Bank, put together quarterly roundtables on women’s business issues. To be successful, she believes companies need to stay in the black, and to forecast trends in their industries.
“The main advice I’d give anyone is to stay frugal. Everything our company has purchased, except for our building, has been for cash, so basically we have no debt. Another important thing is forecasting trends in your industry. Listen to your clients. It’s really helped us in our business.”