Article by Morné Stoltz, Head of MiWay Business Insurance
Women in business continue to face challenges. Overcoming them requires fierce commitment to knowing your core self, your goals – and a steely determination, says Bridget Theron, Business Development Executive at LRMG.
Exploring the realities of being a female entrepreneur, this article looks at somebody who left a safe job in corporate HR to the more precarious – but satisfying – role of an “intrapreneur”, creating growth opportunities within an established organisation.
Bridget Theron had an established career in HR, but decided to leave this comfort zone to take on a business development role at LRMG, a company that aims to improve its clients’ people and organisational performance.
“LRMG is essentially a performance architect and its key focus is integrating and improving the performance of people within the organisational framework. It’s an approach I bought into, so the company was a good fit for me – but equally important was the business development role, which gives me the opportunity to drive change across society, business and people,” she explains. “Once I realised that was really why I get up in the morning, it made sense to move into a role that allowed me to learn and influence many people across multiple organisations, not just one.”
As an example, Theron has helped a large global manufacturer and distributor roll out training to more than four million distributors globally. It meant designing and implementing a solution to deliver consistent, high-quality learning in 30 languages that would improve sales readiness and retention of new distributors, tracking what was delivered and measuring its effectiveness.
“For me, the lure is the chance to develop far-reaching solutions like this again and again,” she says. “In a sense, I have the luxury of being a serial entrepreneur.”
The road to successful intrapreneurship, as for entrepreneurship, is never smooth. She believes that she gets the strength to keep going when things don’t run according to plan because she has acknowledged what her higher purpose is.
“When the going gets tough – and it always does – you have to go back to what your fundamental intent and purpose is,” she says. “It is what will give you the motivation to reflect, ask yourself difficult questions, put your head down and persevere.”
Theron says that mentors have played a big role in helping her to build her personal brand and come to understand what makes her tick. Interestingly, she has assembled a diverse squad of sponsors: a judge, a doctor and an entrepreneur.
“Each sponsor offers different types of insight based on his or her life experiences and help me understand the broader context of everyday challenges,” she says. “They also offer practical advice.”
One often hears businesspeople, and successful people generally, speak about the importance of networks. Theron agrees they are important.
“As a result, women have to be more creative, use our advanced emotional intelligence and research innovatively to find entry points into companies or industry sectors; we also need to be able to turn rejection into a learning experience,” she says. “With persistence, consistency and empirical discipline, doors do open in the most remarkable ways.”
At the most practical level, women’s networks play a critical role as counterweights to existing, traditional networks. Theron is clear: women must (and do) open doors for each other.
Looking at the economy more broadly, it is clear that female entrepreneurs are everywhere – but are overrepresented at the micro-enterprise level. The question, surely, is how to help them grow their businesses to the next level. It is hard to overemphasise the importance of two apparently unrelated facts: micro-enterprises are notoriously unstable, and women are much more likely than men to invest in their families and thus in the next generation.
In other words, the more dependable and generous the income stream that women enjoy, the more society benefits.
An excellent way to support the empowerment of female entrepreneurs, Theron believes, is education about the simple concepts that underlie business success, delivered in bite-sized chunks via mobile phones. People learn best when they do it fragmentary and can apply it in their lives quickly. Creating networks with other entrepreneurs, again perhaps using mobile technology, could also help build up reserves of practical knowledge.
A big challenge is a perennial one faced by all small enterprises: access to capital.
“Traditional funding models have not evolved to meet the needs of entry-level entrepreneurs,” she notes. “Government has some funding initiatives, but not enough. Crowdfunding could offer some alternatives by allowing entrepreneurs to invest in each other.”
Entrepreneurship, she muses, is vital to create the jobs and opportunities this country needs. That means instilling the entrepreneurial spirit into our children from the beginning – entrepreneurship cannot be taught, especially by people who have never started their own business.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we developed a system whereby entrepreneurs who have received government help ‘pay it back’ by going into the schools to kindle our children’s entrepreneurial spirit?” she concludes.