Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
If techno-averse folks could talk to Debbie Miller, they would likely change their perspective – and fast. With her down-toearth demeanor, confident personality and her extraordinary talent for big-picture thinking, Miller has taken companies from blasé to booming throughout her 35-year career in the high-tech field.
“I discovered early on that I loved the power of the big idea,” she says, “and that I could diagnose and fix problems fast.”
Clearly IBM saw the same when it tapped her directly from a college campus to join its sales team back in 1971, in the process making her one of the first women hired in such a way by the then male-dominated company. For 17 years, Miller continued to excel at IBM, eventually heading up its 3,000- employee, multibillion-dollar West Coast division in the Bay area of San Francisco, where she oversaw operations in 11 states with more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue.
Although she enjoyed the challenges IBM sent her way along with the relocating every few years, Miller fell in love with the Bay area once there and soon began toying with the idea of breaking out on her own.
“I began to get to know the folks in the Silicon Valley, and I decided I wanted to get involved there.”
After working in upper management for a number of high-tech companies, including Digital Equipment Corporation, where she led the $2.5 billion server business, Miller launched Enterprise Catalyst Group (ECG), a premier management consulting firm and leading provider of interim executive management. Founded in 1998, ECG offers companies a team of professionals from technology and medical product industries. Team members assess and resolve risks and challenges facing large, multi-national companies and small, entrepreneurial ones.
“I want to work with people who can think outside the box, which is what the liberal arts teach,” Miller says. “I also will only work with companies that have a product I believe in and think I can deliver.”
Miller found one such product with Ascendent Systems, a top provider of enterprise voice mobility solutions.
“They developed this compelling single number reach system where the number that appears on your business card actually has a series of numbers associated with it that are transparent to the caller,” says Miller, who served as the company’s CEO from 2005-07. “In using the system, a caller only dials the number displayed, but the technology employed calls each and every number tied to that number to find the person. It’s just fantastic software and a powerful system.”
Thrilled by what she saw, Miller sold the company to Research in Motion, which opened the door for Ascendent to integrate its voice application with Blackberry,® the leading wireless data device in the world.
“I’ve always been so excited and motivated about what I do and about the outcomes that can happen,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what you do, but to have a great life, you need to have passion. You need to believe in the power of your idea.”
At the same time, Miller loves to think about the possibilities.
“My mission is to bring the possibilities of the big idea to life. Some people have called me a sales and marketing visionary, and the definition of a visionary is someone who can see things where there aren’t paths, yet paint the vision and provide the paths to get there. For me, I like to take my toolkit and show businesses how to make their dreams come true.”
Katherine Bryan Hollingsworth ’74 Heather Campbell Martin ’91
Innovative InterChange Associates Oakwood, Ohio
Inside a makeshift office off her master bedroom, Katherine Hollingsworth has not only created a successful company, she has discovered her passion. After nearly 30 years in banking, the former National City Bank president for the southern Ohio region now wants to unleash everyone’s potential, and her new business, Innovative InterChange Associates, is allowing her and her colleague Heather Martin the chance to do just that.
“We help people figure out who they are and give them the tools to help them be the best they can be,” she says. “We help them understand that they have a choice.”
Although she talks in the collective “we,” suggesting a larger operation, Hollingsworth’s home serves as the company headquarters, and her full-time staff, in addition to her husband and two partners in Nashville, Tenn., consists of just two people, a marketing expert and Martin.
“Knowing that we were both Wittenberg alumnae made this seem all the more right,” Hollingsworth says.” It’s been an amazing journey.”
With more than 15 years of professional writing and editing experience, Martin, who recently left a prominent position as publisher of the Dayton Business Journal to join Hollingsworth, handles the communication aspects of the company, while Hollingsworth tackles the business side of things.
Together they have taken the writings of psychologist Charles Palmgren, an expert on personal and organizational effectiveness, and created pathways for presenting Palmgren’s philosophy and techniques to corporations, nonprofits and individuals.
“The Innovative InterChange process is about making the choice to fly, even when everything in your experience and everyone around you want to keep you from taking off,” Martin explains.
At just less than two years old, Innovative InterChange Associates’ mission is simple: “To coach people toward ‘Aha’ moments that transform their personal and professional lives.” Determined not to be the standard consulting firm, the company “provides in-depth communication and leadership skills training for those who wish to restructure the habits that prevent creative, authentic interaction.”
In addition to arranging seminars, preparing materials, running meetings and workshops, editing forthcoming books by Palmgren and coordinating coaching sessions for roughly 40 clients to date, Hollingsworth and Martin take care of numerous administrative tasks. Hollingsworth even makes deposits at the bank.
“Everyone just jumps in to help because the focus is on the company and its success,” Martin says.
“The name of the company and the philosophy are one in the same,” Hollingsworth adds, “and it can change your life.”
Hollingsworth knows this firsthand. A geography major at Wittenberg with thoughts of a career in urban planning, she ended up going into banking after graduation, and though successful, she admits that her current career choice better fits with her talent and passion.
“For the last five years at the bank particularly, I didn’t like getting up,” she says.
When that career ended, she found herself re-examining her life quickly, and in the process, she came across Palmgren’s work and the philosophy behind it. In short, she was inspired, so she began to brainstorm about how best to distribute the information she gleaned, which eventually led to Innovative InterChange Associates.
“I really never thought I would start my own business,” Hollingsworth says, “but I can see that all the networking and career resources I established in my previous career have led to what we’ve created. Now we work all the time, and it doesn’t feel like work.
“It’s a risk, but it’s not a risk,” she continues. “We would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Meg Kopp Walters ’75
Henri’s Cloud Nine Minerva, Ohio
With an accounting focus and business degree in hand, Meg Walters planned to pursue a career with Ernst & Young. Following graduation, she quickly headed to Canton, Ohio, to join the firm, but after a short time, she realized something; she hated it – all of it. So, at age 23, she returned home, where she and her father had a conversation. A businessman himself, Walters’ dad encouraged her to consider taking over a small bridal shop in her hometown of Minerva, Ohio.
“I had never run a retail business,” Walters says. “I had no experience whatsoever.”
Uncertain about her ability to succeed, Walters stepped up to the plate and decided to give it a go. Now, 30 years later, that small bridal shop has blossomed into one of the most successful online bridal businesses in the country thanks to her business savvy, competitive spirit and creativity.
“I just kept reading and networking,” Walters explains. “I also decided to stop following the way things were done and start doing things my way.”
The result is Henri’s Cloud Nine, a premier bridal gown and specialty dress store serving northeast Ohio, but with virtual clients nationwide. Her mission is “to provide a comfortable shopping environment where service, value and quality meet customers’ needs, and where knowledgeable and creative personnel get the answers customers deserve.” Her biggest customers are prom-going teens.
“By focusing on the prom business, I was able to create a niche,” Walters says.
That niche involved producing a beautiful, nationally distributed publication targeting high school juniors and seniors. More than one million copies are printed and mailed annually, and Walters then sells the dresses shown in the catalog exclusively to one store in each of the 50 states.
“With the advent of the book 10 years after I took over the struggling shop, the business mushroomed,” she says.
Since then, Walters has expanded and remodeled her store from 1,500 square feet to 15,000 square feet through the acquisition of two buildings, and now employs 28 people. She also often finds herself in China and at some U.S.-based manufacturers studying the latest in fabrics and related materials as well as overseeing photo shoots in preparation for the design of the publication.
“I have most definitely found my passion,” Walters says. “I discovered that I loved fashion, color decisions and the entire process, including the accounting aspects.”
She also loves that she can make her own decisions, right or wrong.
“You’re going to make mistakes, but you learn from them,” she says.
Despite thinking about her business constantly, Walters can’t imagine a better way to work.
“When you’re your own boss, the rewards are so much greater.”
Lisa Kothari ’93
Peppers and Pollywogs Seattle, Wash.
If party-planning had a poster child, Lisa Kothari would erase the competition with ease. For 10 years, Kothari offered advice and assistance on the side to parents planning their children’s parties, but nearly two years ago, she decided to quit the weekend work and go for it fulltime. The result is the Web-based business Peppers and Pollywogs.
“Although I thoroughly enjoyed planning kids’ parties, I always was very interested in helping parents everywhere plan their kids’ parties with simple, easy, budget-friendly ideas to pull their parties together,” Kothari says.
“Bringing Peppers and Pollywogs online has been a great way to reach both a national and international audience with a content library of more than 1,000 articles, a national entertainer and party venue directory, as well as interesting Web-based tools for consumers, including personalized rhymes for kids’ party invitations.”
Going from side business to full-time, however, required her to pull from all of her experiences, especially her time in the field of fundraising with the National Education Association and her stint at a start-up tech company. Both enhanced her event-planning and organizational skills, but the latter taught her more.
“This was an experience that taught me, in a very hands-on fashion, every aspect of running a business. Although I was not a founder, I wore many caps from marketing to contract writer to business development to administrator. I learned that in a start-up, you have to do just about everything and anything. If you suggest something, be willing to carry it through because there are few resources otherwise. This experience provided me with discipline and a realistic look at what a start-up takes to get up and running.”
Confident that she now had the skills and know-how to make the leap from her side party-planning business, Kothari launched Peppers and Pollywogs online and authored the book Dear Peppers and Pollywogs...What Parents Want to Know About Planning Their Kids’ Parties, which she is using to promote the business through a national book tour.
“The book came out in mid-July, and the tour has taken me to 15 cities to date across the country,” she says. “The tour has not only provided me a chance to promote the book and the business, but also showcase several party tablescapes to illustrate for people how they can pull a great party theme together with simple, fun and budget-friendly ideas.”
Since the launch of the book, Kothari reports that traffic to her Web site has increased significantly.
“We have five times the traffic that we had four months ago. It is amazing growth and exciting to see,” she says.
Yet, knowing that she can help parents make their kids’ parties special continues to be her primary motivation.
“I get up every day excited to work,” she says. “I absolutely adore kids and all things that make their lives fun and happy. Fundamental to childhood are parties, whether it is birthdays, special moments like graduating from kindergarten to high school to celebrating the annual holidays, parties are a time for kids to enjoy themselves.
“My passion is helping parents create these special occasions with minimal time and effort. When someone writes and says I helped to reduce their party planning time from 20 hours to five, it means a lot to me. It’s rewarding.”
Elizabeth Ann Armour ’74
Armour Associates Ltd. Hendersonville, N.C.
Though she never envisioned running her own business after graduation, Elizabeth Ann Armour couldn’t be happier.
“I majored in biology with a minor in sociology, believing that I would be pursuing a career in medicine or public health,” she says. “It was only years later that I understood that I had the skills, network and desire to determine my own way to work in the specialty chemical area.”
Initially a research associate with General Electric after graduation, Armour eventually moved to product management with Durkee Foods followed by strategic planning/marketing research positions at Rhone-Poulenc and the PQ Corporation, as well as chemical industry consulting with ChemSystems. She also spent eight years living and working in Europe as part of the strategic planning team for the Specialty Chemicals business unit of Rhone-Poulenc. As a member of the company’s Paris, France-base team, Armour began to consider venturing out on her own, and while there, Armour Associates transformed from dream to reality.
“Since my colleague and I knew several individuals in the former Soviet Union chemical industry, I originally envisioned the company bringing Russian chemical technology and products to Western partners,” she says. “It was a way to expand my own international knowledge and experiences in a field I had been working in for many years.”
Fourteen years later, Armour Associates remains “an international consulting firm specializing in the specialty chemicals industry, which assists clients in assessing and successfully responding to growth opportunities and business challenges on a global basis.” In addition to providing a range of consulting services from intellectual property evaluation to competitive intelligence and market evaluation, the firm also assists with international business planning.
“We are constantly striving to be the place where our clients can obtain timely and useful assistance in planning, new business development and technology assessment,” she explains.
Because of the strategic location of the firm’s North American and Western European off ices, Armour and her company are able to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of clients seeking to benefit from global opportunities in the chemical, pharmaceutical and related industries. She hopes to expand to Eastern Europe soon through another venture, AmeriCours, which she founded with two other American women while living in Paris years ago. Its mission is to bring English language capabilities to French senior management level sales and marketing individuals and to improve their cultural communication skills in a business setting.
“One of our strengths is that we can draw on an international network of colleagues and associates with expertise in areas that are not normally our particular areas of strength,” she says.
With a client list that includes some of the world’s largest chemical companies, Armour admits that her time is not always her own.
“Make no mistake, with your own business, normal business hours do not apply. One works literally any hour of the day and night, as well as weekends if required for a client, and the deadlines at times can be severe.”
Even so, Armour loves it.
“Having my own business is a passion that never subsides,” she says. “There is indescribable satisfaction in seeing our recommendations successfully integrated and to see successful clients, knowing you contributed to their success. Looking back, the decision has also led to knowing people all over the world and having experiences that I would never have had otherwise. Because of this, I have enriched my life enormously and hopefully have enriched other peoples’ lives as well.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112