NAPW members talk about how they found success, the obstacles they have faced, the people who have inspired them and the advice they have for young professional women
February is Black History Month, so what better time to celebrate the successes of black women business leaders than now… and what better place to find examples of successful professional black women than right here at NAPW!
When we invited members to share their stories of success as a black woman business leader, we were flooded with responses from women around the country. All were eager to tell us about their professional—and often personal—journeys. We were inspired by each and every one.
Although space doesn’t allow us to feature all of the members we heard from, we are proud to share the accounts of the following members: Angela Alexander, Author and Inspirational Speaker; Diane Griffin, Founder and CEO, Security First & Associates; LLC; Jacqueline D. Jones, Founder and CEO, Divine Beginnings, LLC and Kathleen Collins Williams, CEO, NightLife Hair Wrap LLC.
While each of their stories is unique, we believe these black women business leaders represent the perseverance, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of NAPW members and all women everywhere.
Angela Alexander’s story begins with a tragedy that many of us find hard to imagine: the loss of a child. It was April of 2000 while Angela was serving in the military. Her husband and four children were involved in a fatal car accident; her twin eight-year-old sons were killed.
Angela’s strong faith not only got her through the unimaginable tragedy but also inspired her to write her autobiography, Miracles in Action. Highly successful, the book has been turned into a documentary with Angela as the Executive Producer.
“Recently, I began a business / ministry called, Helping Hurting Hearts Heal, and planning my first retreat in May 2016 in Texas,” says Angela. “We are holding our first retreat May 27-29, over the Memorial Day Weekend for men and women.” Her sons and her faith continue to inspire her. Her advice to young women who are pursuing writing or speaking careers: “Be prepared to share your story daily. You should be willing to speak for free to build up your experience, resume and clientele.”
Diane Griffin had a highly successful career in a male-dominated field when she decided to make the bold leap to entrepreneurship. She took the industry skills and knowledge she had garnered during her years working in high-level security positions for a wide variety of government contractors and founded her company in 2002.
“I was recently divorced, a single parent and working a full-time job,” she says. “I went out on a limb but with my skill set, my networking experience and my passion for security, I established Security First & Associates.”
To help grow the company, Diane is joining forces with other industry experts. She is currently working with Insider Threat Defense to offer courses on how to create an insider threat policy. “We are also teaming up with Hire Image LLC, for background screening services,” she says. “Background screening should be implemented as a part of any organization’s onboarding process as the wrong hire can do tremendous damage to a company.”
Although her journey has not always been easy, Diane says she is continually motivated by the words of her mother. “I hear her saying, ‘I did not raise a quitter,’” says Diane. That mantra helps her when she finds herself facing obstacles as a woman, especially a black woman business leader. “Certainly, even [while working] at the top levels of the most diversity-oriented organizations, I looked around and didn’t see many women of color in top roles … I’m proud to be running my own firm and filling a unique niche in this sector.”
Nearly 13 years ago, Jacqueline Jones took the first step on her entrepreneurial journey. It was just after the birth of her first son when she was scouring the marketplace looking for nursery and clothing items with inspirational and faith-based themes. “I found nothing to my liking . . . that started me to thinking that someday I would create my own line of Christian-themed products for children to meet this void,” says Jacqueline, who is a woman of strong faith.
A successful marketing professional for more than two decades who has an M.B.A., Jacqueline began “planting seeds to become an entrepreneur” over the years. Today, she is Owner and CEO of Divine Beginnings, LLC, a multi-cultural product line of custom-themed apparel and products for infants, toddlers and small children that features biblical scriptures and spiritual and inspirational messages.
Like many professional women, Jacqueline struggles to find the right balance between her family and running a successful business. She is inspired by Oprah Winfrey. “Despite her mega success, she still turns to her faith in all things. Because of this, she remains humble, grounded, transparent and true to herself. I often reflect on Oprah’s life story and business savvy,” she says.
Jacqueline also believes strongly about giving back to her community, and despite her hectic schedule, recently committed to volunteering at a home for teenage mothers and orphans. “As a black entrepreneur, I love to mentor and I know there’s a generation of young black women who need me,” she says. “It’s up to me to take advantage of opportunities to serve and give back . . . I’ve been given the burning torch by my mentors so I have a responsibility to pass it on—lest the flame will burn out.”
It was during the recent economic downturn when Kathleen Collins Williams realized her once-successful interior design business would probably not survive the recession. She came up with a new business venture by using her head—literally! “It started as I heard a popular radio host and his side-kick make disparaging statements about how bad women looked in bedtime hair wraps,” she recalls. With little sewing experience but plenty of faith, she created her first hair wrap. She is now the CEO of Nightlife Hair Wrap, LLC, which offers a full line of stylish, comfortable wraps for women.
As a black woman business owner, Kathleen says she has faced many obstacles, mostly from men who told her she must have a male partner to succeed. “I was even told by one man that I should not use my first name anywhere in my business,” she says. “He said I should just use my initials, this way I would be better received!”
Ignoring the naysayers, Kathleen persevered and today is running a very successful business. “Annual sales in 2015 increased at a rate of 40%,” Kathleen says. “A new national / international advertising and marketing push will be implemented next month and sales are forecast to increase 100% in the third and fourth quarters of 2016!”
She is inspired by other black women business leaders, including Carol’s Daughter Founder Lisa Price and NAPW President Star Jones, as well as by her strong faith. Her advice to young black women just starting out: “Reach out to seasoned business women for advice, find a mentor, educate yourself in your field, be the expert. Don’t let failures trip you up; use them as learning experiences to jump forward!”
We want to hear from you! What obstacles, if any, have you faced as a black woman business leader? Who or what is your biggest inspiration? What advice to you have for young professional women just starting out?