Published: January 2007
WOMEN ON TOP: Redefining power and the nature of success for the 21st century.
Women on Top - Extract 2:
Creating Value out of Nothing
Over the last ten years, I've met hundreds of fascinating women business owners, many of which you will meet in this book. They aren't obviously exceptional people – some graduated college, some did not, most had no MBAs – but they've all had something to prove and they've proved it. They have all been devoted to their people and to their businesses. But one woman stands out particularly because she was an early pioneer who started with so little. (Indeed, it strikes me that there's a piece of inverse logic that say the less you have, the more you do for others.)
Carol Latham started her business, Thermagon, with nothing. Her husband had divorced her, her kids told her she was crazy. She rented out her home and went to live in an inner city apartment, funding her dream on the difference. After years in the wilderness, her ideas started to take off, the company began to grow. A lot of that is pretty typical of many an entrepreneurial venture.
But, as the company grew, what Carol did next wasn't typical. Situated in inner city Cleveland, she desperately needed people. So she took the ones she could find – mostly Hispanics, inexperienced, uneducated. She hired them and she gave them chances. And she gave them classes.
"We'd screen them to see if they'd fit, if they had the right attitude. We'd test people for basic math. Their English was not always very good. So I got the Cleveland school system to provide us with teachers and we taught them English, math, computer skills – all on company time. We had a classroom right here in the factory! And lots of them, they did so well, they got lots of promotions. And then they'd recommend some one else – and so we ended up hiring lots of inner city Latinos and Hispanics. The impact on peoples' lives has just been phenomenal."
I couldn't tell you what drove Carol more: her desire to prove herself or her desire to look after her employees. I don't think she could separate them. In the course of building her company, Carol made many discoveries, breakthroughs in thermal conductivity. But her biggest discovery of all was the power she gained when she gave free rein to her instinct for looking after people.
"It's a pretty neat thing. You can create value out of nothing! Nothing – that's what we started with. You create value out of nothing with people just by giving them a chance to prove themselves."
You create value by giving people a chance to prove themselves. That's what business is. That's how women do it. By giving themselves a chance first, and then giving chances, help and support to others. It is a very, very virtuous circle.