Panelists to Women MBA Students: Owning a Company Offers Many Rewards, Challenges

UConn NAWMBA Panel Oct. 23 (Amanda Spada/UConn School of Business)
Sponsored by the UConn chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs, panelists spoke with MBA candidates and other guests at a program titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” highlighting the risks and rewards of leaving traditional employment to run one’s own company. (Amanda Spada/UConn School of Business)

“I Needed My Life Back”

On her final day working at a large corporation, Belinda Pruyne walked in singing, “oh happy day.” After all, Pruyne had chosen to leave corporate America to start her own business.

But when she walked out the door, after completing her last advertising assignment, she was filled with trepidation. “I remember thinking, ‘What the hell did I do?'” recalled Pruyne, who still had a family to support.

A four-hour daily commute and the realization that her work life wasn’t in sync with her values, made Pruyne desperate for a change. “I was dying inside,” she said. “I needed my life back.”

Pruyne was one of three panelists who spoke with MBA candidates, and other guests, at a program titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” highlighting the risks and rewards of leaving traditional employment to run one’s own company.

Sponsored by the UConn chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs, more than 60 people attended the Oct. 3 event at the Hartford Marriott Downtown.

You Have to Be Comfortable Not Knowing What Next Week Will Bring

While all three speakers highlighted the excitement and empowerment of running their own companies, no one pretended the task was easy.

“When you own your own company no one is ‘taking care’ of you,” said Beth Keegan, president of PREformance Marketing of Greater Hartford and a 1987 UConn business alumna. “You have to be willing to take the risk, weather the ebb and flow of cash, and be comfortable not knowing what next week will bring.”

Keegan is an award-winning sales, marketing, advertising and media executive with two decades of experience with Fortune 500 companies. Before striking out on her own she had endured 13 corporate mergers and acquisitions. But when five top women executives were let go from her previous company, Keegan said she no longer felt she could stay. She and a friend formed their own business.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Why not?’ We knew we were talented and we realized we were underappreciated at our company,” she said. Women have a tendency to be self-critical, but women are frequently even smarter and more capable than they realize, she said.

“Our ability to connect clients to consumers, and to each other, has been part of the joy,” she said. “Sometimes [in your career] you push—and sometimes you jump!”

You Can Accomplish Great Things at Any Age or Time

For Capri Frank, owner and vice president of sales and marketing at Miller Foods, Inc. in Avon, and a 2008 UConn alumna, her career path was something of a zig-zag. She worked in the family turkey farming business, left for a while to work elsewhere, raised four boys, and then returned to Miller Foods and led an e-commerce expansion and reorganization. She also recently founded another business.

“I grew up on a turkey farm, in a family business run by strong women,” Frank said. “Sometimes women feel challenged in certain ways, but I grew up in a business where women just did!”

“Not everyone is fortunate enough to follow a straight path. It’s important to know you can always accomplish great things, at any age or at any time,” she told the audience.

Passionate people are rarely 100 percent certain that they want to grow old working in one business.

“‘Should I stay or should I go?’ happens sometimes on a daily basis,” she said. Her father gave her and her siblings permission to explore other careers and it is something she extends to her son, who is also in the family business. “People who are motivated are always looking for the next big thing. It is part of your DNA.”

“There comes a time when you have to make a decision. Fear is part of the process of being human,” Frank said. “But don’t let it overcome you and prevent you from making decisions. Just don’t get stuck.”

Pruyne, who has been the CEO of the Business Innovation Group (BIG) an executive leadership advising business, which she established in Ridgefield, Conn., 10 years ago, agreed. “Fear is part of everyday life, but if it dictates your choices, it limits you. Put fear in the trunk, don’t let it drive the car!”

Epic Failures Can Lead to Innovation, Growth

Failure is inevitable, and is perhaps ultimately the greatest business gift, Pruyne said. A friend who owns an $8 million business told Pruyne that 80 percent of what she does doesn’t work; but the other 20 percent is incredibly profitable.

Frank agreed that failure is a partner in growth. She said recently Miller Foods had elaborate plans, financing, and a vision for a piece of equipment that ultimately failed. But, in its place, the company developed a thriving e-commerce segment.

“Epic failures always lead you to better places,” she said. “The failures make you dig deeper and find new ways to evolve, innovate and grow.”

Explore the Opportunities Life Presents

When the panelists were asked what they would like to have known before starting her own business, each woman had a different response.

“I would like to have known that a proposal isn’t a sale. The rejections and the ‘no responses’ are plentiful,” Keegan said.

Pruyne said that being a business owner you constantly judge yourself and sometimes beat yourself up. She has had to learn not to put so much pressure on herself.

“I wish I had known I had more choices,” Frank said. “Sometimes you think you’re ‘locked in,’ but it’s important to always look and listen. I probably missed some opportunities along the way that I should have tried. Sometimes we get very narrowly focused. You can always say, ‘No,’ but you should explore the opportunities.”