It's A Woman's World: How Four Female Entrepreneurs Are Redefining American Business
The decision was already made.
Patricia Stout was going to be a home-maker. At least that’s what everyone kept telling her as she grew up in Mexico City in the 1940s and ’50s.
She was told she needed to learn how to cook and clean. There was only one problem: Stout didn’t want to be a homemaker. “People said, ‘She’s a little girl, she doesn’t need to worry about math,’ but I liked those subjects,” Stout says.
As a girl, Stout preferred the class-room to the kitchen, and she followed that passion to study business in college. Today she runs the Alamo Travel Group, which was barely breaking even when she took over the company in 1990. Now it is one of the largest privately held travel agencies in San Antonio, Texas, with a high-powered client list that includes major corporations and governmental agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense.
Stout insists she isn’t the sort of woman who would gloat or say ‘I told you so,’ but she doesn’t need to. Having joined the growing ranks of self-made businesswomen across the country, her accomplishments do the talking for her. She isn’t alone.
Indeed, when it comes to American entrepreneurship, it’s not a man’s world anymore. Women are opening businesses at a rate nearly four times higher than men, according to a recent study conducted by the National Women’s Business Council1, and pioneering businesswomen like Stout have helped pave the way by refusing to accept limitations and succeeding on their own terms.
Alice Houston, who has owned and operated her logistics and warehousing business since 1994, calls the meteoric rise in female entrepreneurship “a sea change,” and one of which she is thrilled to be a part. “There are more women at the table,” she says, “and we’re collaborating. We’re helping each other expand the pie.”
Take Rachel Wixson, a Northwestern Mutual client like Stout and Houston. Six years ago, at the age of 30, Wixson left a corporate job to start a healthcare IT consulting firm called Cipe, one of the first of its kind. It was a terrifying decision, naturally, but after working with her financial advisor, Wixson felt confident in taking the leap. “I’ve always been diligent about financial planning, and having a strong foundation gave me the confidence to go out on my own,” says Wixson, who quickly turned Cipe into a multimillion-dollar business before selling the company to Cumberland Consulting Group, where she is currently a partner.
Emily Ley, another Northwestern Mutual client, followed a corporate career path before leaving to pursue her love for graphic design. With a newborn son at home, she built a stationery business on Etsy that later grew into The Simplified Planner, a day-planner business designed to help other busy women stay organized. “It was slow at first,” admits Ley, “but we celebrated every little sale. Just because you start slow doesn’t mean it’s not going to turn into something incredible.”
That is an important lesson to re-member, since not every venture is an out-of-the-gate sensation. As it turns out, most female entrepreneurs are upbeat about their businesses. A 2015 survey by the National Association of Women Business Owners and Web.com found that 93% of women are optimistic about their companies’ overall performance2.
“Be persistent. That’s my favorite phrase, not only in business but in learning and developing as well. Always keep walking forward,” Stout advises.
Stout will be happy to hear that Wixson and Ley have no intention of slowing down or ever standing still.
“Women are doing what they love, what-ever sets their heart on fire,” says Ley.
“It is such an exciting time,” says Wixson. “I’m excited for my daughter. She’s going to grow up thinking she can do anything.”
And thanks to women like these, she can.
This story also appears in the June 21st, 2016, issue of Forbes.
Photo Credit: Tim Klein/Northwestern Mutual
1 National Women’s Business Council Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2012 Survey of Business Owners
2 2015 National Association of Women Business Owners/Web.com State of Women-Owned Businesses Report