Here’s something I’ve noticed just a few days into this Women’s History Month, and I quite like it: There’s a notable decrease in articles and commercials about empowering women. Especially those that adopt the tone of saving her. Ugh! 

As I’ve written previously, I really dislike the savior posture. You can read about it here, but in short: in my opinion, women want and need access and support, they want to improve their skills, and expand their network, to name a few things. But, they don’t need to be saved.

At least I know this to be true of the women I know and admire. And I’m going to presume the same is true of those I admire, but don’t know. 

When I think of these women, I think of power. 

When I think of power, I think of these following characteristics: strength, influence, generosity, being a creator, and a multiplier (as in exponential). I also think of their presence – especially those with a quiet one.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share the stories of a few of these women. Their names may be familiar, or you may be “meeting” them for the first time. Some have made history; others are still making it. 

Each in their own way inspires me — teaching me a lesson about life, money and business.

Today, I want to put a spotlight on two pioneering women entrepreneurs: Madame C.J. Walker and Janice Bryant Howroyd.

Madame Walker

Madame Walker is known as being the first Black woman millionaire. She earned this title in the early 1900s(!) for her hair care product – Madame Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower – along with the value of her real estate and other assets. 

Her story reminds me of what makes for a solid business: 

  • She developed a treatment to help with an issue she was having (a scalp disorder). Turns out others needed her product, too.
  • She sold her products directly to Black women through her team of agents, or as she reportedly called them “beauty culturalists.” According to several sources, at the height of her business, she had as many as 20,000 agents.
  • For her agents, she organized the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturer Association in 1917. Why? Because she didn’t believe in just creating economic freedom for herself. In 1914, she’s quoted as saying, “I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race.”
  • She focused on brand recognition. She created a system – the “Walker System” – and made sure the packaging of every product had her image on it. 

I’ve yet to meet (or read about) an entrepreneur who isn’t optimistic! Including Madame Walker. I mean she incorporated her business in 1910 and invested $10,000 of her own money – without any guarantee of success!

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Mrs. Bryant Howroyd is the founder, CEO of the largest privately held, minority-women-owned personnel company – ActOne. 

In the 1970s, she started her staffing company with $1500 – a combination of personal savings and a $900 loan from her mother. The inspiration: working as a temporary secretary and recognizing executives in the entertainment industry could use help with hiring permanent and temporary secretaries. 

Today, ActOne has 2,600 employees, operates in 19 countries, and does about $1 billion in sales! 

I’ve listened to several interviews of Mrs. Bryant Howroyd (I even follow her on Twitter), and there’s so much about her story that inspires me. For example, like Ms. Walker and other entrepreneurs, she started her business based on a need she observed and with her own money.

Here’s what else inspires me about her and her business:

  • ActOne is definitely a family business. But she had a rule: Family members had to work at three different companies or have three promotions at the same firm before joining ActOne. 
  • After initially resisting the suggestion to get certified as a minority-women-owned company, she did it when she realized the expanded opportunities doing so would create. 
  • Based on the need of ActOne (notice a theme re: need?), they built an in-house technology to help manage the two inherent risks when placing temporary workers: paying the temps before you get paid by the client, and ensuring your sustainability in the process. When a client expressed interest in buying ActOne’s technology, her brother suggested they, instead, sell the technology as a service. Freakin ‘brilliant!

There’s another reason her story resonates with me: Her brother-in-law is the one who suggested she start her business, in the first place. What you may not know is that I started mine at the suggestion of someone who saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized in myself. 

What would you and I do without people who can sometimes see our potential better than we can?

Whenever I’m having a moment of self-doubt or bump up against a challenge that has me betwixt and between, I often think of women like Madame Walker and Mrs. Bryant Howroyd. Their stories help me to snap out of those woes-me moments. Plus, they reinforce for me that there are many different paths to personal and financial success.

Stay tuned for the next installment. But in the meantime…

Who is the woman entrepreneur who inspires you?

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