Ans: I spent the first 10 years of career with Procter & Gamble Company. I left there to work full time in the management consulting firm that specialized in diversity, inclusion and culture change with my husband, Merlin G. Pope, Jr. I have an under-graduate degree in business and social science and a MS Degree from Pepperdine in Organization Development.
Q 2. What inspired you to start Pope Consulting?
Ans: My late husband and I were doing this kind of work at P&G in the 1970s. I was the full-time employee there – he was an independent free-lance consultant who worked there just about every day for 4 years. When P&G offered him a full-time position, he decided that he really wanted to start his own company. I stayed at P&G for 3 more years after working most evenings and weekends with him to create our intellectual property, develop our business systems, etc.
Q 3. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Ans: If you don’t have much capital when you start, you need to be multi-talented because you can’t afford to pay all of the resources that you need early on – which means you will likely work 24/7 and won’t be able to spell vacation your first few years.
Know the difference between having a bank and having a ‘banker.’ That was a huge breakthrough for us which led to a business line of credit to handle short-term cash flow problems.
Be very careful who you partner with. Having a partner makes a new business venture feel less risky. Although the partnership is 50/50, the work rarely is. One partner is usually more dedicated and harder working – which eventually creates conflict. Thus, it’s smart to develop a buy/sell agreement when the relationship is good.
Q 4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful business owner?
Ans: Exceptional communication skills (both verbal and written).
A commitment to excellence — being the best at what you do. If you make a mistake, own it and fix it. Your reputation is one of your most important assets.
Effective interpersonal skills. There are very few businesses that don’t require interacting with people. If you can’t work well with others – your own employees or your customers, you’re going to have a hard time being successful.
Q 5. How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans: This is our 41st year in business, so it rarely is the 24/7, 52 weeks a year during the early startup days. Generally speaking, I normally work 8-10 hours/day, and it’s rare that I don’t do any work at all during the weekend.
Q 6. To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans: My husband and I were a great creative team together. We always said that the business was our first baby. It’s also critically important to understand that you can’t give up when it gets hard – and it will. Most new businesses fail within the first few years, not because they don’t have a good product or service, but because when it got hard, they got scared and ran back to being an employee in someone else’s organization.
Q 7. Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
Ans: My husband’s mother loaned him $15,000 to start the company. I stayed at P&G for 3 years to make sure one of us had a steady paycheck. That was it – and we grew that into a multi million dollar consulting firm that has worked with over 250 of the Fortune 500 companies.
Q 8. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans: For us, it was remaining focused on what we did well. My husband used to say, “We’re like Kentucky Fried Chicken. We do one thing and we do it right.” Certainly we evolved over the years and added more services to what we did, but we stayed in that same lane.
Q 9. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans: The nature of our work has continued to evolve over the last 4 decades and I’m sure that will continue. We’ve just gone through a rebranding process and our 3-year strategy includes proactively marketing our services to industries that haven’t done much work in this area and also exploring strategic partnership opportunities. Also, I’m building my succession plan so that in the next few years I have a strong leadership team in place to ensure the continuation of the business for at least another generation.
Q 10. Excluding yous, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans: I admire Deloitte & Touche and Sodexo because they’ve done some really great work in the area of Diversity & Inclusion.
Q 11. How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans: Critically important. We made the common mistake early on of hiring family and friends because we knew and trusted them. When those relationships didn’t work out, it is especially painful. We had to learn the hard way the importance of doing background checks.
Q 12. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans: If I think it’s a really good idea, I’m more likely to set it aside for a while to focus on other things and then come back to it to see if I still feel strongly about it. I typically invest enough time and energy into a new idea to ‘test it’ with clients. I may learn that my original idea doesn’t work, but am able to see other ways of making a similar idea work.
Q 10. What motivates you?
Ans: Creating new things. We’ve traditionally done instructor-led training. In 2002, I was approached by women women who owned a technology company and wanted to partner with me to create e-learning programs. I was really skeptical at first because I believed the topics that we deal with (prejudices and unconscious bias) didn’t lend themselves to on-line learning. But they persisted and convinced me to give it a try. Once I got into it, the creative juices were flowing and I loved it! Our first product won two international awards for innovation.
Q 12. If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Ans: Oprah Winfrey because she came from nothing and worked really hard to be a successful business woman – while never forgetting where she came from and her values. She’s demonstrated that if you are a good business person, you can successfully expand into a number of different industries.
Company Detail : Pope Consulting