Last week I attended a local NAWBO event to hear Lauren Dixon of Dixon-Schwabl speak. Little did I know what a treat I was in for!
Lauren is part of the Womens Entrepreneur's Blog at Simon, sponsored by the Simon Graduate School of Business, in Rochester, NY. Her posts at that blog are personal stories of how she started her business, and also offer advice to those of us in the throes of just getting our businesses going.
The luncheon at which Lauren spoke was at Mario's, a favorite steakhouse that holds many events. There were approximately 80 people in the room - and they weren't all women! But, I can tell you that everyone in that room came to look, listen, and learn. And, learn we did.
Just a bit over five feet, I think... with beautiful blue eyes and a presence that is both commanding and humble, at the onset of the event, this successful business woman listened to each of the women at her table (I was lucky enough to choose the right place to sit, apparently!) explain their businesses, in turn, and it was clear she was interested. Really interested. Not just in what we were doing professionally, but interested in us as women.
When she rose to speak, she glided to the lecturn (in a bright red suit) and looked out on the room with a shining smile that put us at ease. All eyes were glued to her face. We left our salads alone, maybe we sipped from our water glasses, but no one wanted to turn her head, distract her attention, for fear of missing a single word.
What were we expecting? Did we think Lauren was going to show us the way? List the 10 successful ways to succeed in business, today? Reveal her inner most secrets and how it was that she took $22.11 and created an advertising firm that is worth millions - a mere 20 years later? Yes, that's what we expected. There we were -all sitting forward in our chairs, hands clasped in our laps, brains whirring with each word she spoke.
And she did all of the things above. She told us to have vision and to believe we could/can do it. She talked about wanting her company to be not just a good place to work, but a great place, a fun place. She cited the fun things (like a slide in the lobby) that happen at Dixon Schwabl, and the water pistol (filled with water) handed out to new employees on their first day. She revealed how hard it was, at the beginning, for a gal without any background in business, to take on such a monumental task as starting an advertising business with such a paltry amount of cash in her checking account.
But, better than all that - she made us laugh. She told her stories with an honesty seldom seen in luncheon business speeches. She laughed at herself, and poked fun at her early misconceptions of how to do things. She credited her Dad with great advice, and she credited her employees for helping Dixon Schwabl win the title of Best Small Business to work for, in America.
Noting that some of her clients were in the room, she leaned into the microphone and said, "I see some of my good clients here today. I would ask them to close their ears now. Because my next piece of advice might not set right with them. I want to tell everyone that the most important people you work with are...your employees. Not your clients."
And then, she advised us to hire people not only smarter than us but different than us - people who are inspired for passions' sake, and come to work not because they have to, but because they WANT to.
And so, in one afternoon, little more than an hour luncheon, I learned more than I have probably learned at many a seminar or workshop on how to build a strong, successful business. I learned it from Lauren Dixon - who is as friendly and down to earth as anyone you will ever meet. Afterwards, she stood (in high heels, bless her heart) for another hour, answering questions one-on-one, with the ladies who eagerly came forward to stand next to her, the better to have some of that illuminating Lauren Dixon fairy dust rub off on them.
I wish all of you the kind of approachability and insight and perseverence that helped Lauren get where she is today. And, when you speak of it - of your rise to success - I hope you remember to make us laugh. Laughter is a fine medicine - easily taken without that requisite spoonful of sugar our mothers used to tempt us with.