During the savings and loan crisis of the 1980’s, I was a property manager for several of my father’s properties when he told mehe would not be able to make the mortgage payments on one apartment building. In my twenties at the time, I was mortified when he requested I ask the bank for a 50 percent forgiveness of the loan. To my surprise, the bank agreed to forgive 40 percent of the debt because of how I handled the situation. It’s gritty, uncomfortable moments like those that I point to as my pivotal education, rather than classroom time.
My father was determined to teach me leadership and entrepreneurship from a young age—whether through motivational books or having me fill in for him on international business trips. He taught me to dream big, set goals, and then achieve them.
As chairwoman and CEO of The Dwyer Group, parent company of seven home-service companies, one of my great pleasures has been to mentor women into roles as franchise owners and service professionals in male-dominated trade industries—appliance repair, electrical, etc. Earlier this year, I launched a Women in the Trades program to help educate women on their opportunities in this field and assist them with needed training. So many women have excellent customer service and technical skills for this field, but lack resources and role models.
As a young CEO, I had to overcome similar obstacles. After I was named acting CEO, a group of plumbing franchise owners took a straw poll and voted against me. I met with them personally to address their concerns and asked them to give me six months to prove my competence, otherwise I would be the first to step down.
Don’t play the victim; if you know your field, if you’ve worked hard and have studied hard, then prove to everyone that you can succeed. Your best education is through hands-on experience and by always considering yourself a student. Seek out an internship, a mentor, or even a job in the area where you want to work, even if no one else is doing it.
My education as an executive came primarily from the strong team I built around me. Never—never—be afraid to surround yourself with people smarter than you. If I had been too shy to ask those more experienced than me for advice, then I would never be where I am today.