NOT SO LONELY AT THE TOP
WOMEN MEET MONTHLY TO SHARE TIPS ON RUNNING A BUSINESS
Author: Sandy Coleman, GLOBE STAFF
These CEOs start a business meeting with hugs and kisses. Then they launch into conversation about a cute suit, a fabulous new hairdo, and why one of them could really stand to eat more.
It's not the typical behavior expected from a group of high-powered business people. But these CEOs don't have a standard approach to business. The women also have a different way of conducting a business forum, as evidenced by a recent gathering at the Plymouth home of Claire Herlihy, owner of Frame-It Studio and Gallery.
Since 1999, a group of about 12 women business owners from the region have been a part of the Board Forum. Once a month, they meet for a half-day to brainstorm about problem-solving and expanding their companies. They help each other navigate personal and business issues, according to Laurie H. Kirk, who started the forum and runs the meetings.
"The most important thing to them is the combination of eliminating isolation and b! uilding in some accountability with a group of people that they mutually respect, peers. They are nonjudgmental with each other yet very, very honest," Kirk said. "They also feel it's an opportunity to let down all barriers."
When Lynne Davis took over her family's North Quincy business, Industrial Heat Treating, she turned to the group as she struggled to overcome her lack of business experience. Davis, a former operating room nurse, took over her father's company in 1998 after being part-owner.
"I went from the secretary's desk to the president's desk overnight by signing papers," she said. "I joined the group [in 2000] because I didn't have any mentoring."
When Peg Feodoroff, a North Easton resident who owns Inspired Interiors, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the group offered her rides to radiation treatments, as well as supportive shoulders, e-mails, and cards. At the recent meeting, they sat in Herlihy's living room and applauded Feodoroff'! s announcement that she was given a clean bill of health four weeks ago.
"They're like my surrogate sisters," said Feodoroff, who started her business 25 years ago when she couldn't get a job as an interior designer.
Some of the issues the group has tackled include what to do when one partner wants to leave the business, how to cope when a valued employee leaves and becomes the competition, and how to restructure a business approach that is not working.
"During the last four years, when the economy was affected for 20 percent of the businesses in the group, it was a very scary thing," said Kirk. "They all survived, but we really worked through `Should I keep trying to keep my business afloat or say this is it?'"
Kirk is the founder of Growth Strategies, which helps businesses design and implement management practices. She said she has 25 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies in strategic planning, and uses her skills to conduct workshops for members of The Board Forum. (Kirk runs two groups one for! women and another that is a mix of men and women.)
In addition to Feodoroff, Davis, and Herlihy, the other members are: Maggie Melanson, owner of Gimme the Skinny Catering in Norwell; Patricia A. Queeney, owner of Patricia & Company Cosmetic Solutions in Braintree, which provides cosmetic services for oncology patients; Joan Leanos, owner of the Olde Hitching Post restaurant in Hanson; Charlene Mastromatteo, owner of Party Cape Cod, based in Pocasset; Claire McArdle of Scituate, owner of the Brookline-based Beauty Therapies; Kathie Newhall, owner of Holiday Hang-ups in Scituate; and Marylou Sandry, who owns the Marylou's Coffee shops, which are well-known thanks to TV advertisements featuring women in pink T-shirts singing about "the best coffee in town."
Most of the women in The Board Forum are in their 50s. Their companies have annual sales of $500,000 to $11 million, said Kirk. Most of the businesses have been around for at least seven years and some a! re more than 20 years old. Many of them are growing. For example, Sand ry, who opened her first coffee shop in Hanover in 1986, now has 17, and will soon open her 18th store in Plymouth (the second in that town). Herlihy, who has a Frame-It in Milton and Canton, will open another in Plymouth in October.
Because the group is limited to 12 members to keep it workable, and the businesses are so diverse, there is no sense of competitiveness, say members. And they say their peers understand the dynamics of being a woman business owner in a way a mixed group might not.
"We are all much more forthcoming in our issues," Feodoroff said. "Men have this innate ability to make everything seem rosy and fine. [They say], `Oh yeah, business is fine.' And meanwhile, they are a million dollars in the red. But women talk about problems and make suggestions about how to get through things."
Said Queeney, "You're still always going to be a wife and mother if you are married. A man goes out the door and just goes to work. A woman goes to work a! nd takes her whole life with her.. . . In every business you get overwhelmed and when you have the business by yourself sometimes you hit a wall. When you love what you do, you want to have friends to encourage you."
Sandy Coleman can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright (c) 2004 Globe Newspaper Company