As a current Master in Management student here at IE, it’s hard not to get inspired by some of the incredible guest-speaking entrepreneurs and faculty we hear from everyday in class. From accounting to organizational behavior to marketing, we are introduced to and learn about those who have chased their passion fearlessly and made change in their industry. What struck me right from the beginning with this program, and this business school, is how well-represented women in business are in the classroom and curriculum.
Recently I wrote an article, Power to the EntreprenHer, detailing my thoughts about the power of the modern female entrepreneur, and this week I’ve been asked to share it on the blog. Enjoy! We’d love to hear your comments.
*The thoughts and opinions of this article are that of the author, this is not an official IE publication.
They’re reimagining the scope for every little girl’s answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” the world over. They’re making regular appearances on our newsfeeds, and more often than not, they’re popping up during our coffee dates and gossip sessions. Chances are, you know one yourself.
Ah, the modern era of the female role-model has been born.
The Arianna Huffington’s, Oprah Winfrey’s, Rosalia Mera’s and Sarah Blakely’s of this world. Not to mention the Beyonce’s. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and wives. And in their own ways, for their own reasons and on their own accord, they are entrepreneurs. Entreprenhers. They’ve made their millions (or billions), they’ve written bestsellers and a few have even reached Kardashian-status Twitter following.
They’re gathering a devoted fan base, “groupies” we could call them. I should know, I myself am a self-proclaimed, so-called entreprenher groupie. A business-obsessed, 20-something, Tory Burch wannabe, fascinated by (and determined to articulate) the optimal combination of ingredients, much less the recipe, it takes to “crack it”. Ha, as if it were that simple.
The question in my head that begs to be answered: how do they do it? Moreover, how do they make it look so fabulous, glamourous and (dear I say), easy?
Spoiler — it isn’t. Sorry.
Yes, there may have been a touch of luck involved, but I’d say it was more along the lines of hard work, self-belief and unrivalled determination. These women are strong. They are resilient, persistent, fearless, and they are passionate. (Passion, ugh. It’s the most overused noun in entrepreneurship. But if there’s one ingredient to success in any endeavour I am sure of, here it lies). They are determined for their cause. They’ve overcome obstacles to success you and I would merely trip up on and fall over, and they’ve embraced failure again and again and again. They’re a rare breed, but when they succeed, they shine.
One thing’s for sure, we need more of them.
In order to cultivate these fine women, we must first empower them. This is not about preaching the praises of the F-word, nor is it about downplaying the successes, abilities and achievements of our male counterparts. It’s simply about helping the women in our lives define and make the connection between possibility, drive and passion.
We need to free ourselves of the subconscious constraints we place on the ‘stereotypical’ woman entrepreneur; the one who ‘made it’ the day she opened the doors of her own fashion house. Let me tell you, those women did make it. In fact, many of them remain the legends, pioneers and original role models to young women and entrepreneurs alike all over the world — think Coco Chanel, Estée Lauder and Diane Von Furstenberg. They are women who defined the very concept of the entreprenher. But the fact of the matter is, the entrepreneurial spirit of the woman lives on, and is making headway in more industries every year. Biotech, real estate and technology are seeing more female entrepreneurs than ever before, and women are making their marks in these traditionally male-dominated fields. Now, this needs to be celebrated.
In fact, one of my favourite businesswomen to watch, and perhaps a new name to you, is LearnVest founder and CEO, Alexa Von Tobel. There’s no beating around the bush, I love this girl. She epitomises the very woman I’ve spent the last few minutes ranting about. She first caught my eye in 2012 as I stumbled across her TEDxWallStreet talk, 11 minutes of my life which turned out to be very, very well spent. I recommend you do the same.
A certified financial planner, Alexa left her job on Wall Street with the vision of making financial planning accessible to everyone in America. Sounds a little ambitious, right? She thought so too.
Alexa went on to raise outside equity of more than US$70 million from companies including American Express and Accel Partners. Today, her company provides approximately 1.5 million Americans with access to reasonably priced financial planning services. The happy ending? In April of 2015, LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., and Alexa continues to serve as the company’s CEO. This comes at no surprise. In 2014, she was named in Fortune’s 40 Under 40, and she’s even the author of her own New York Times Bestseller, Financially Fearless, which has coincidently become my own personal finance bible.
Miss Von Tobel is clearly a bit of an underachiever.
Okay, yes, she dropped out of Harvard Business School at age 25 to pursue her dream, a hypothetical decision most of us literally chuckle at the thought of, and that’s before even considering the odds of us nabbing a spot in the first place. But what struck me from the get-go with Alexa was the true meaning and belief she had in her start-up. She’s an A+ exemplar of the magical combination of work ethic and true passion, and its epic consequences. She identified the lack of formal education most Americans had around financial literacy, and made it her life mission/obsession to change this for the greater good.
Alexa’s not alone. Remember Jessica Alba? Inspired by the birth of her first child, she’s now the Founder and CEO of non-toxic household goods brand The Honest Company, currently valued at US$1 billion. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields brought us Proactiv. Cher Wang gave us HTC. What about J.K. Rowling, Gisele Bundchen and Sofia Vergara? These women are courageous to say the least, and each and every one of them is driven by her own mission to succeed in what she has set out to do. These are the women our young ladies should be learning about in the classroom, reading about in the media and talking about with you.
While I greatly admire (envy) the success these women have enjoyed and most definitely deserve, building a multi-million dollar company isn’t for all of us, nor is it likely for majority of us who want it in the first place. But success in our own endeavours — whether as a freelance creative looking for our next gig or an accountant dreaming of that long-awaited promotion — requires a recipe not unlike what these women have mastered.
They can teach us all a thing or two.