Woman of the Year

Competitive, compassionate and visionary, today's women business owners refuse to be ignored. Find out how they're making their mark.

The traditional image of women-owned businesses as small, slow-growing and consumer-directed is being annihilated. They start small but grow faster than the overall business expansion rate, selling not just to consumers, but, overwhelmingly, to other businesses. And they sell services just as much as stuff.

Between 1997 and 2002-the most recent figures compiled by the Washington, DC-based Center for Women's Business Research (CWBR)-the number of privately-held businesses owned by women grew 11 percent, compared to an overall rate of 6 percent. Women-owned businesses saw their revenues grow by 32 percent in the same period, compared to an overall rate of 24 percent.

"Women are creating jobs. Their expansion rate in hiring is faster than in the creation of new businesses," points out CWBR executive director Sharon Hadary. This breakneck growth means nearly half of all privately held U.S. businesses are at least 50 percent women-owned. One of every seven U.S. workers is employed at a woman-owned business, and over half of those employees are women.

Finally, women business owners are being taken seriously when it comes to getting bank loans and investments from VC firms. The CWBR reported in 2003 that 40 percent of women-owned businesses with external equity investment received it from corporate investors or VC firms.

That women have continued to expand their companies through a recession and lackluster recovery underscores their drive and experience, says Connie Duckworth, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs & Co. and co-author of The Old Girls' Network: Insider Advice for Women Building Businesses in a Man's World. "Often the best time to start a business is at the bottom of the cycle," she says. "If you can [get] traction, you can ride that positive wave up as the cycle improves."

Of the women who have launched their companies in the past 10 years, 65 percent have managerial or professional experience, and 45 percent have earned at least a bachelor's degree, reports the CWBR. Duckworth says that combination of on-the-job and book learning has positioned women to push their companies harder and faster than women entrepreneurs have done in the past. -Joanne Cleaver

Winner's Circle

Meet the winner of our Woman of the Year contest, and learn what sets her apart from the competition.

The power to create has always been a woman's prerogative. And for Liz Elting, the winner of OPEN: The Small Business Network From American Express and Entrepreneur magazine's Woman of the Year Contest, that means creating a life and a business that anyone would want to emulate.

Selected as the woman entrepreneur who best exemplifies competitiveness, compassion and clarity of vision, the president and CEO of TransPerfect Translations Inc. in New York City does not measure success in sales alone. Although she expects 2004 gross sales for her company-which provides translation, interpreting, typesetting and multicultural marketing to companies worldwide-to hit $35 million, for Elting, 38, success is wrapped up in the goals she meets for her business as well as the company culture she offers her more than 160 employees. "We are very entrepreneurial, very much a group of people building a company together," says Elting. "They're part of a professional organization with goals and a vision. It's a great place for overachievers."

People who want to control their own destinies flourish in the meritocracy that Elting has created. She prides herself on offering not only raises and opportunities for advancement (typically faster than other companies), but also benefits programs that include comprehensive medical coverage, a Caribbean vacation incentive, and company-wide celebrations that include networking and training exercises twice a year. Employees even get their birthdays off. Though they work hard, long hours are not as painful with the free dinners and car service that anyone from vice presidents to interns can use when working late nights.

Starting in 1992 out of her dorm room at New York University (NYU) with $5,000 in startup funding from credit cards, Elting set a goal: In six months, the company would move into office space. It did. She continues to set specific goals with her team each year, detailing the cities they want to expand into, the sales they want to reach, and the milestones needed to get there. "[It's good] to have a business plan," she says, "but you need annual goals."

This focus on goal setting and an employee-friendly corporate culture have helped Elting achieve her competitive advantage. To gain the customer service edge, she says, she and her employees listen and go above and beyond their clients' needs: "You don't need a novel idea-you [just] need to do it better."

Elting rounds out her business/life strategy with charity and community service-from involvement at NYU, where she speaks to student groups and does seminars to encourage the next generation of business leaders, to her company's contributions to charities that help children, support cancer research, fight for human rights and more. This entrepreneur, philanthropist and mother says, "I haven't found [that running a business is] more difficult being a woman. It's more about what you do than whether you're a woman or a man." -Nichole L. Torres

How to Win at Business

Want to emulate Liz Elting, President and CEO of New York City-based TransPerfect Translations Inc.? Try her tips for success:

1. Check your ego at the door. "[There's an] old saying: 'Hire people who are smarter than you.' Throughout TransPerfect's growth, I've sought out people whose strengths complement mine."

2. The harder you work, the luckier you get. "Year in and year out, I've watched hard work pay off for employees who have accomplished great things for us and [have] grown to be leaders at the company."

3. Keep your eye on the prize. "I set very specific goals for myself and TransPerfect. I communicate those goals and expect results."

4. Think positive. "Attitude really is everything. An upbeat, can-do attitude makes a world of difference in both how we feel and how we're perceived."

5. Proactivity prevails. "[For both entrepreneurs and employees], anticipating what your clients, your supervisor, your co-workers or your company needs, and acting on it without being asked, are key to being a success." -N.L.T.

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This article was originally published in the June 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Woman of the Year.

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