Women in Charge
Women presidents and CEOs of privately owned Alabama companies share their management experiences.
Cleaning up the environment — Shannon Riley of One Stop Environmental.
Photo by Steve Gates
Founder and CEO of One Stop Environmental LLC
Shannon Riley always saw herself as a research chemist, tucked away in a lab laboring over complex compounds and studying reaction times.
Turns out, the Mountain Brook native and mother of four is much more comfortable cleaning up a hazardous chemical spill on the interstate with traffic whizzing by.
“I had no idea this world existed,” says Riley, a certified hazardous materials specialist who launched One Stop Environmental LLC in 1999 and today employs 70 people at a company that earned around $12 million in 2011.
“We’re estimating growth of another 30 percent in 2012,” she says. “It’s just a steady process. We continue to expand geographically and to add service lines, but you have to maintain that focus on quality to ensure you don’t lose business as you add new clients.”
Riley says she started the company solely as an emergency response operation—working from a rotating list of firefighters on their days off—but the applications quickly outgrew her initial plan.
“Today, we deal with everything that can’t go in the regular garbage can,” she says, noting there’s no shortage of asbestos, lead and mold among other materials requiring her expertise.
Of course, that expertise has come with time, training and experience and not without its share of obstacles.
“In early days, people tried to push me around but that’s just part of it. You’re going to get tested. I’ve had to learn to say no and to not accept the answer no, but the trick is to be nice while you’re doing it,” she says, adding, “As a female executive you have to prove yourself—that you’re involved with the business decisions and not just a figurehead. And in my business in particular, you have to prove that you really do understand the technical side of what you do.”
Of course, gender also has presented a few advantages along the way, as well.
“As the only girl in the room, I usually get remembered, and I have found that larger companies really do try to set aside business for minority-owned firms. There’s no question I’m the best at what I do, regardless of being male or female, but those extra opportunities are just another chance to rise to the top.”
As a Christian-based company that truly values the power of “doing unto others,” however, Riley says One Stop Environmental operates very much like a family grounded in mutual respect.
“We definitely operate by the Golden Rule, and I wasn’t all that surprised to find others don’t, but when I run into different business people in social settings, I want to know I treated them with respect and the way I want to be treated. The same goes for my employees and always has,” she says.
Director, President and COO of Foreign Language Services Inc.
After more than 30 years running the daily operations of Foreign Language Services Inc., Caroline Myers says one truth remains.
Lack of clear, effective communication can wreck everything from multi-million dollar industrial development deals to tornado victims’ attempts to rebuild their lives.
“I think I’m happiest in my business when I know our translators and interpreters have played a role in helping a business or an individual truly communicate. It’s absolutely crucial,” says Myers, who co-founded Huntsville-based FLS in 1979 with partner Judith Smith.
The company, which provides technical translation and interpretation services to customers in more than 80 languages, uses the skills of six full-time staff members and more than 100 contract translators to help companies and individuals alike bridge communication barriers impeding forward progress, she says.
Myers says FLS certainly helps captains of industry broker the deals that keep the economy churning, but the company also spends a substantial amount of time on the front end of that process helping clients navigate patent application minutia. She is most satisfied, however, with FLS’ measurable impact on the communities it serves.
For instance, the company dispatched Vietnamese interpreters to Bayou La Batre following the 2010 BP oil spill, as well as Spanish interpreters in 2011 when the Alabama Department of Human Resources contracted their services to assist with food stamp registrations statewide. Most recently, however, Myers says it warmed her heart to send an American Sign Language interpreter to help the deaf head of a family negotiate with a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative and a contractor following tornado damage.
“When you stop and think about how strategic translation services can be, it’s almost overwhelming, and you know that what you do every single day matters,” she says.
Myers says she and Smith founded the company in the late 70s after both took time off from teaching French to raise their children. She says companies would call the school system seeking technical translation services, and school officials would call her and Smith. The demand became obvious.
A substantial contract with Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., paved the way for FLS to branch out quickly from simply developing proficiency tests for members of the armed forces learning foreign languages to educational contracts with the Peace Corps, import law translations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and more than their fair share of U.S. Department of Defense work as the Cold War raged.
In time, she says, FLS expanded into patent work, accepted the Alabama DHR contract to provide Spanish interpreter services in all 67 counties five years ago and only recently secured the FEMA contract for ASL services.
“There’s no question it’s all about accountability for us, not just to our customers but the many vendors we use, the contract translators and our staff. Accuracy is absolutely key to successful translation, so we go to great lengths to ensure our services are as perfect as possible and to give everyone we interact with exactly what they need,” Myers says.
Founder and CEO of MedManagement LLC
As an attorney specializing in healthcare compliance, Joan Ragsdale realized quickly the system fails both doctors and patients if doctors are ill-equipped to support patients through the complete continuum of care.
Birmingham-based MedManagement LLC was created in 1996 to support a comprehensive care management program that today serves clients in 15 states and sits poised to nearly double in size in 2012.
“We thought we could make a difference by supporting physician-to-physician communication and providing resources to the physician community to support clinical decision making and the acceptance of risk,” says Ragsdale, the firm’s CEO and one of several founders that included partner Gary Glenn and a group of physicians.
In simplest terms, MedManagement provides physician-adviser services to acute-care hospitals, ensuring regulatory requirements are met. The firm also serves physicians, hospital executives, individual practice associations, self-insured employers, benefits managers, wellness managers, insurance companies and inpatient rehabilitation facilities.
“We focus on getting the right information to the facility, on a timely basis, in a manner that facilitates the facility’s work flow, and we are passionate about helping our clients do the right things every time,” says Ragsdale, who practiced with both Sirote and Permutt and Bradley Arant before launching the company.
Demand for services has increased almost exponentially during the past few years.
With 100 employees, MedManagement served clients in only seven states at the start of 2011, and more than doubled that figure to 15 by the close of the year, increasing revenue nearly 40 percent compared with 2010.
All signs indicate the firm will double in size again in 2012, says Ragsdale, a Tuscaloosa native who now lives in Vestavia Hills.
And although Ragsdale is well aware of the stereotypes regarding businesswomen in general and female executives in particular, she says she wastes little time worrying about obstacles born of bias.
“Bias based on stereotypes is a weakness in a person, and in an organization. As an organization, we strive to eliminate that bias. We are a great organization because we hire great people, and we strive for a culture that supports individual growth and development, free from stereotypes,” she says.
While Ragsdale credits her passion and the passion of everyone associated with MedManagement for the company’s continued success, she contends a little maternal wisdom also goes a long way.
“We passionately pursue excellence in all we undertake, remaining focused on purpose, people and performance, but the real guiding principle is to do the things your mother always told you to do: Count your blessings; Treat others as you would want to be treated; Do the right thing every time; Always tell the truth; Share; Be respectful of others; Do your best; Don’t make excuses, and don’t whine; Listen; and Keep your shoes shined!!!”
President of AllStates Technical Services LLC
Andrea Hopkey’s guiding business principle is simple.
“Personally and professionally I believe the more good energy you put out and the more you can contribute to others—no matter the role you are playing—the more you will get back,” says Hopkey, president of Birmingham-based AllStates Technical Services LLC since 2003.
As a full service staffing firm, AllStates provides both employers and job seekers with contract, contract-to-hire and direct-placement staffing services while specializing in engineering, information technology, telecommunications, accounting, construction and professional administration.
“Regardless of the side of the fence you’re on, we’re focused on working collaboratively to find the right opportunities and the right fit,” says Hopkey, an Iowa native who’s worked in the staffing industry since 1994 and actually commutes each day from Atlanta to the Magic City to steer AllStates.
Of course, with 50 internal staff employees managing an estimated 2,000 contract employees throughout the United States and United Kingdom on any given day, Hopkey says her “road warrior” status keeps her focused.
“This will be our first full year operating in the U.K.,” she says, confident the company’s continued expansion will keep profits rising.
AllStates generated nearly $173 million in total revenue in 2011, representing an increase of more than 63 percent compared with 2010.
“With (the U.K.) operation fully functional, we are projected to grow another 43 percent as a company in 2012,” Hopkey says, building upon the firm’s more than 60-year reputation in the technical staffing sector.
“AllStates understands that a company’s people are a critical ingredient in achieving desired results and in meeting the expectations of investors and executive management. We take the time to understand the needs of our clients and our candidates and consistently provide the best talent in the industry,” Hopkey says.
As a female executive whose firm concentrates on traditionally male-dominated fields, Hopkey says insistence on mutual respect has kept the playing field surprisingly level.
“While there have been times where a client may have dealt with me differently because I was female, I mainly have been able to find commonalities with male clients and have been afforded fair and equal opportunities to be successful,” she says, adding, “Always treat others with respect, and treat every situation as if you were the recipient of the service or interaction…and then handle the situation accordingly.”
Above all, Hopkey says AllState’s razor-sharp focus on its clients is what matters.
“For the job seeker, AllStates has the connections needed to help you find the right opportunity, to provide you with flexibility and to get your foot in the door with some of the largest employers in Alabama and throughout the country,” she says. “For the employer, AllStates has the networks and know-how to find and qualify the specialized talent you need for project and long-term needs.”
President and CEO of LogiCore Inc.
When Miranda Bouldin considered her personal desire for flexibility, alongside her innate interest in the U.S. military and the defense industry’s immense impact on Huntsville’s economy, she knew immediately the three could overlap to tap an underserved market.
Ten years later, Bouldin serves as president and CEO of LogiCore Inc., a systems engineering and technical assistance services company serving the U.S. Department of Defense that sits poised to increase revenue in 2012 by an estimated 30 percent.
Her path to entrepreneurship began by studying business management at Alabama A&M University with concentrations in marketing and military logistics studies.
“I started learning all I could about the Army, the culture and how I could build a team to provide professional services in such a huge marketplace,” says Bouldin, who today oversees some 200 employees and reported revenue of $24 million in 2011, representing about a 20 percent decline compared with 2010. Specifically, LogiCore provides logistics, engineering, program management, and information technology services to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
“We had projected new growth of 30 percent in 2012, but we surpassed that goal with a new contract award in February that has increased our company size by 33 percent. We are increasing our prime contracting workload with the Army, doing more work with the Navy and supporting more large business customers,” she says.
Above all, Bouldin says her role as LogiCore’s leader dictates she not only ensure “everyone understands the vision and mission of the company” but that she also be accessible and approachable at all times.
“It means being a servant leader and ensuring employees have the tools and resources available to succeed,” she says.
In turn, Bouldin says she demands only the best from everyone she hires, placing the impetus on her to remain firm and consistent.
“The hardest part of this principle is recognizing when you have the wrong person on the bus—someone who does not embrace the vision or who lacks the necessary skills or emotional intelligence for the job—and removing them from the bus. In order to maintain a high performing organization, those who hinder growth have to be removed,” she says.
As for the role gender has played in building a multi-million dollar company whose prospects for growth continue to improve, Bouldin says it’s a purely semantic argument that’s ultimately worked to her advantage.
“As a woman, I was considered disadvantaged to compete in the Department of Defense marketplace. I was also considered disadvantaged as a small business. However, I was able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that the DOD put in place to even the playing field for women and small business owners,” she says.
President of Information Transport Solutions Inc.
Tomi Selby knew she faced an uphill battle launching an information technology company in the early '90s when the field was still dominated by men, but she put her faith in quality and customer service.
Today, nearly 20 years after founding Information Transport Solutions Inc. in her hometown of Wetumpka, Selby oversees about 140 employees, averages annual revenue of about $50 million and sits poised to expand into at least three new states this year.
“In the beginning, it was difficult because the business world did not expect a female to be running the company. Now that ITS has established a reputation based on service and customer focus, that is not an issue,” Selby says.
“In 2012, we’re looking to expand into Georgia, Mississippi and Florida, and we’re also expanding vertically in other markets,” she says.
Founded in 1993, ITS began as a part-time venture with a mission of providing information technology to small companies that could not afford a full-time IT staff.
In turn, ITS serves both government and commercial clients through an array of services including the design and installation of cabling for local area networks, as well as the provision of integrated voice, data and video communication systems; computer systems installation; systems troubleshooting; and systems performance tuning.
The company’s bread and butter, she says, is providing systems integration to K-12 and post-secondary school systems, as well as the banking and healthcare sectors.
“Our guiding principal is to provide technology with integrity, which means giving customers the right solution to meet their needs. Since each system is customized to meet the specific needs of the customer, clients are able to move seamlessly into the use of 21st-century technology,” Selby says.
Indeed, from digital signage and video conferencing to high-speed wiring networks, Selby says she remains passionate about providing “superior customer service and making sure the client’s expectations are met.”
Most recently, ITS opened a satellite office in Mobile and expanded service lines to include an Educational Services Division, “comprised of life-long educators that are fluent in the language of 21st-century learning and teaching and school transformation.”
“This group of professionals comes from educational backgrounds with specific experience in the areas of curriculum and state standards, technology integration, dropout prevention, total school transformation and more,” she says.
ITS’ focus remains, however, on providing the customized solutions that fit any IT need.
“The role that I play in the success of the company is to hire the best, stay on the cutting edge of technology and support forward thinking that allows us to continually grow as a company,” Selby says.
Kelli Dugan is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.