Today we are walking a mile in the tennis shoes of Elizabeth Ghaffari, founder of Champion Boards and Technology Place Inc. Both firms provide consultancy services for effective business management. She challenges you to think differently about your career and your business and the role that a great board of directors or circle of advisors might have for your future. Elizabeth is a firm believer in helping women take their business to the next level and why it is so important for women to be on boards.
Hillary Gadsby: What drew you to working with startups and predominately women-owned startups?
Elizabeth Ghaffari: Primarily because I am a woman entrepreneur who remembers how difficult it was to start my own firm from scratch. Beginning in the mid-1990s, I offered to teach Internet business courses to students at Pacific Coast Regional Corp., an entrepreneurial development entity. I realized how much help women-owned businesses needed to compete effectively in today’s more challenging online marketplace. I’ve continued to study and work with women entrepreneurs and women investors in an effort to “move the needle” and increase the number and enhance the quality of deals brought forth by women-owned businesses to the investment community.
HG: What has been the most challenging project you have been involved in?
EG: The most challenging project always is the one you’re working on now, because typically you’re in the middle of a host of new decisions, choices, and challenges. The projects you’ve finished have a finite character: you know what you did, you know how it turned out. The current project is the one with the greatest number of variables to juggle. The current one is the most likely to stretch your talents and teach you the most. These days, I’m working on tools to ease and enhance the dialog between entrepreneurs and investors. So, stay tuned!
HG: What is the best advice you can give to startups when building their board of advisors? How important is it to build a strong board? How important are women on boards?
EG: Startups that have a serious expectation of growth absolutely need some advisors on board. It does not need to be as structured as a corporate, fiduciary board; but there are unique benefits to tapping the right skills and expertise that you do not possess within the company. The real challenge is in knowing how to manage the advisors, as the head of your own company, so you don’t abdicate control over your firm. Rather, you work with them, consistently, to develop the strategy that is most appropriate to your firm and to your objectives. That’s what most entrepreneurs don’t understand – advisors are there to help you, not to do for you. It’s important to build the most effective board that you can work with to chart your course as a growth company. More important than simply “a strong board” is a board or a group of advisors (maybe even 2 or 3) with the right skills and the right collaborative talent to work with you at the stage of development in which you find yourself currently. As for the “women on boards” issue, it’s more a question of how important is it for women to be ready, willing, and able to perform at top tier board levels. A board role is not simply another notch on your resume – it is a frame of mind, a business perspective, it is a way of looking at economic opportunities with which you wish to be strategically involved. As I said in the concluding chapter of my book, Outstanding in their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed: “How does a woman find a corporate director role? She doesn’t. She builds a career of achievement and leadership. When a board of directors needs her skills and competencies, it will find her. And she will recognized it as an opportunity too good to resist.”
HG: Who inspires you and why?
EG: I’ve written two books describing the persons who inspire me on boards of directors and in a variety of work settings. I’ve taken the initiative to find and interview, hopefully for the benefit of the next generation of women in leadership, a vast number of very talented women. The women I’ve interviewed inspire me because they defy all of the myths that too often are bandied about concerning women leaders. They teach us how not to limit our horizons. They break the mold and push the envelope in every field of endeavor. And they are gracious, above all. Whenever I have a moment’s hesitation about facing some new challenge, I have the gift of imagining one or another of them on my shoulder, telling me “You can do this.” “We need you to do this.” And I try. Also, I have read and written about the works of women authors who have educated and informed me and expanded my understanding of the topics they’ve researched. Women like Pat Heim and Susan Murphy, Elga Wasserman, Joline Godfrey, and many others are examples of authors you might not know, but you would benefit from knowing their work as business women.
HG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
EG: I offered to share my running shoes because exercise is such an important part of life. I learned this through the LA Leggers, the Marathon Training Program now approaching its 25th year helping people “go from the couch to the Coliseum” – safely and with enjoyment. Running shoes represent the fact that the most difficult thing to do, when you are facing any great challenge (such as a marathon) is to put on the shoes, lace them up, and go out there and “just do it” (to cite the Nike motto).
HG: What are your top 3 tips you can give for a successful business?
EG: Earlier in October of this year, I wrote in my ChampionBoards blog about the key factors women entrepreneurs need to consider if they are serious about starting and growing their business. My point was that, if we want women to build profitable, successful enterprises, they need to think much more purposefully about the nature of the business, the problems they believe are worthy of solution, and the customers and markets which they realistically can address. I described five core topics women entrepreneurs must address: Problem - Solution analysis Customer - Revenue nexus Team building Executing up to scale Returns to investors - the "end game" Any three of these is simply not enough. I’d be glad to elaborate on these or the reader is referred to the post on October 3, 2013. See: http://www.championboards.blogspot.com/2013/10/on-horns-of-dilemma.html "If we want more women entrepreneurs to succeed in business, then these are the expectations we and they must meet in today’s more competitive economy.
It’s up to us – nobody else can do it “for us.” To find a copy of Elizabeth's books, check out the sites below.
To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, check out the links below.