By Robin McDougal
President & Founder
Given the challenging economy, organizations everywhere are looking for new ways to get more from less. Too often, women-owned businesses face a particular challenge because they cannot access financing or easily build their credibility.
As the owner of a small women-owned business, I have been impressed with the incredible work being accomplished by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
For years, Linda Denny (pictured above), has been the president and CEO of WBENC. In April, she will move on from the organization that she has helped foster. Before she does, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her.
Robin McDougal: You have a background in education, and worked for decades in the corporate insurance industry. Tell us more about your background and how that has affected your approach to helping women be more successful.
Linda Denny: I started my career as a teacher, which gave me the opportunity to understand how people learn. I then became intrigued by the corporate world, and went on to spend the next 19 years at New York Life Insurance. I also worked at ING, a leading provider of retirement and insurance products and services.
But I think the job that helped me most in my current position was the time I spent at Aetna Financial Services as the national director of emerging markets. I focused on assisting women business owners, and this gave me tremendous insight into the challenges women are facing in the business world.
Robin McDougal: In June 2007, you took over the helm of the WBENC. Can you tell us more about the organization’s mission?
Linda Denny: WBENC is the largest third-party certifier of U.S. businesses that are owned, controlled, and operated by women. As a national 501©(3) nonprofit, we are partners with 14 regional organizations to provide a national standard of certification to women-owned businesses throughout the country. WBENC is also the nation’s leading advocate of women-owned businesses as suppliers to America’s corporations.
Robin McDougal: The thrust of WBENC is to have more entrepreneurs become Certified Women’s Business Enterprises. Can you tell us the value businesses get from making that investment?
Linda Denny: This certification adds credibility to a company, because WBE Certification gives purchasing agents the confidence that a business representing itself as woman-owned is, in fact, women-owned, managed, and controlled. Many publicly held corporations, as well as larger private corporations, track and / or have supplier diversity programs for doing business with women’s business enterprises.
Robin McDougal: What advice do you have for women business owners?
Linda Denny: It’s clear that since the since the economic downturn in 2008, life has changed for all business owners. To succeed, we now need to be hyper-focused, trim any fat, and use sound business practices.
For those firms that embrace what is being called, “the new reality,” there are great opportunities out there. In fact, I have heard from my certified business owners that they are having the best year ever. I think there are many reasons they are thriving, and certainly one is that many businesses have been able to keep valued employees, attract experienced recruits and through training and by empowering them to do their jobs, they help the business grow.
Robin McDougal: I know you believe that fulfilling the customer’s needs is paramount to survival in today’s economic climate. In your opinion, how can today’s business leaders increase their survival quotient?
Linda Denny: The simple truth is this: “Nothing happens until something sells.” So the question leaders need to ask is, “What can my business do to solve the problem my customer has?” Price is not the only driver. Your customers are looking for solutions to problems. You must understand their business and where your company can help. Price is not the only driver in landing a contract.
There are many keys to successfully gaining a new customer; being able to provide the best solution to their problem through your product or service, relationship building and having adequate financing and technology systems and needed staff and, if needed, logistics to support the sale. Be sure you can tell a prospective customer why your company is unique and can be a successful problem solver for them.
For more information about WBENC, visit www.wbenc.org.
About Robin McDougal
For the last 25 years, Robin McDougal has been a marketing executive at Trans World Airlines and the Marriott Corporation, and has conducted space-flight simulations and developed a critical thinking and problem-solving curriculum for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. In 2001, she founded e-GLAM Inc., a manufacturer of high-end laptop briefcases and handbags.
For more information, visit www.e-glam.com.
Check out her blog, Robinmcdougal.wordpress.com
And click here to read how she Has It in the Bag.