2018-03-28 / Front Page

LICP Panel On Women Business Owners

By Thomas Cogan
The Long Island City Partnership held its Empowering Women Business Owners:  Taking Calculated Risk breakfast in late March.  A panel of six, with five women, three of them entrepreneurs, discussed personal histories; contrasted starting from scratch and assuming leadership of an existent company; talked about the need to find time for personal matters, away from the stress of business; and evaluated future activities.  In addition to the panelists’ stories there were eight more contained in a “white paper,” distributed before the meeting.

The panel was moderated by Lidjia Nikolic of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  The entrepreneurs were Sandra Wilkin of Bradford Construction Corp.; Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread; and Hallie Satz of HighRoad Press.  Suzette Bather-Taylor of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (M/WBE), spoke of city efforts to aid and abet women’s business, as did the one man on the panel, Mitchell A. Drossman of U.S. Trust, Bank of America’s private wealth management entity.

Nikolic brought up the white paper, called “Women’s Entrepreneurial Journeys,” and introduced one of its creators, Karen Reynolds Sharkey, national business owner strategy executive at U.S. Trust.  She said that despite those rare, brave women executives who might have labored before the 1960s, that decade really marked a liberation point for women in general, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was good for women of any color.  Still, a decade later, in 1974, women could not get bank loans without the support of men, who co-signed them.  Now, a total of 11.1 million businesses, employing nine million and generating $1.7 trillion are run by women, said Sharkey, adding that companies addressing diversity issues get better returns.

The panel was introduced and Sandra Wilkin was first to speak.  She started her business in 1989.  As the name says, it’s a construction company, not only one run by a woman but by the woman who started it.  Her previous employment was as a nurse, assigned to construction sites.  Wilkin, who lives in Long Island City and calls herself the oldest “millennial” in her residential building, said that at the time she was so shy she couldn’t protest smoking in the hospital where she worked, though the Surgeon General’s Report was many years old by then. 

She said she felt encouraged by the emergence of Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm in politics, so much so that she took up schooling in construction management and later founded the Women Builders Council to prompt legislature concerned with women and minorities.  She felt ready in 1989 to lead a company by creating one, and Bradford Construction was born.

Amy Scherber was employed in marketing when she changed occupations by getting work in a restaurant as a baker.  In 1992 she decided to open a bakery with her name on it.  This new enterprise, located at Ninth Avenue and 46th Street, had 650 square feet of space and provided work for five that she had hired and herself.  It was a struggle at the beginning but a good word about the bakery came in the form of a laudatory notice in New York magazine.  Gaining a measure of success allowed her to move to Chelsea Market.  She’s still there but now has more than 200 employees and the business has expanded:  there are also retail cafés in Hell’s Kitchen and Greenwich Village, kiosks in the New York Public Library and The Pantry and a café in the Museum of the City of New York.  Five years ago she opened bread and pantry kitchens and business offices in Long Island City. 

Hallie Satz owns HighRoad Press, which she founded, but actually was born into the printing business.  Her grandfather founded Barton Printing Co. in 1922.  She said she got into the business pretty much because her family gave her menial jobs to do.  After she accredited herself as a worker, however humble, she persuaded the family to let her try sales.  When they did, she thrived and worked her way up to being company president.  She served in that office for seven years, until deciding to start a company of her own.  It took awhile to get loans, she said, but finally they came through.  She said she was looking at life as an adventure and when HighRoad Press was finally opened, expected business to be as steady as it had been at her family’s enterprise.  When it wasn’t, she turned to her old skills of networking and sales to bring business in.  She said that getting out of bed each morning with a bright-new-day attitude is crucial for her.

Satz got the loans that let her move into her new company.  Wilkin said she scraped up funds any way she could.  She flogged her credit cards and entreated friends and relatives to help.  She built relationships with bankers too and now advises that it is a most critical activity.  Scherber said she didn’t succeed in getting funds from the federal Small Business Administration and SCORE, so she turned to a friend who lent her $20,000 and her parents, who lent $25,000.  That was the start toward a total of $150,000 for the initial venture.  The next move, to Chelsea Market, was far more costly:  $500,000.  Business has expanded and she has become good at dealing with financiers.    

Drossman finally spoke when it came time to explain the recent massive tax reform and what it means to entrepreneurs.  He said such reform is coming into being quite slowly.  For now it is imperative to realize that certain tax deductions pertaining to limited liability corporations (LLC) and S-Corporations have an eight-year life remaining before expiring in 2026.  There are big benefits to estate planning too, but also it might have a 2026 expiration date.  His advice is that if you can’t get into estate planning now, prepare to do so before the big mid-20s sunset.

Bather-Taylor stressed the vital need to get city certification.  The city has been dealing in facilities assets, she said, as exemplified by a recent bank venture concerned with financing certified minority-owned business enterprises, or MBEs.  The possibility is for half-million dollar financing at 3 percent interest.  That may be a way to larger contracting opportunities, she said.

Satz said that when HighRoad Press was new she became certified, on the advice of a client.  Shortly afterward, at a meeting with many women owners in attendance, another advisor told her she shouldn’t become complacent, as all too many women become after gaining certification.  She said she has avoided that mistake.  She made an analogy about going to a dance and making it her business to get right out on the floor and dance well.  That way, you’ll draw dance partners, she said.

There was a short question and commentary period, begun when a woman from Aflac Insurance, Drew Robinson, asked Wilkin about nurses on construction sites these days.  She answered, remembering the commitment she felt when she was a nurse, then said that they are still very much employed on construction sites, being as necessary as ever. 

A woman got up to say that when she was a child in England she dreamt of becoming a Broadway star.  Instead, when she came to New York last year, she was in search of a company to buy.  She remarked that a British accent hasn’t got her as far here as she hoped it would, but she’s still trying and finds meetings like this one instructive.  

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