After years of babysitting and picking pecans for extra money as a child, at the age of 14, I got my first formal job. You know, the kind that you have to fill out an application for…I became the French fry girl at McDonalds. I don’t recommend it - the grease is terrible for your skin - especially at age fourteen.
At age 15, I took a giant leap in my career path and started in “tele-marketing” as it was soft-pedaled back then. I was actually cold-calling for a carpet cleaning service with a few of my girlfriends.
This was before I had my hardship license, so one of our moms would drive us to work at 5:00 in the afternoon. We’d walk in, be handed a phone book and a script, then start making calls, annoying people right as they were sitting down to dinner. All in the very noble pursuit of trying to get appointments for a carpet cleaning crew. I was the original robo-call.
Our call center consisted of telephones on folding tables, in a U-shape around a chalkboard, which displayed the appointment-setting progress of our motley crew of teenage girls and adults working second jobs. There was nothing fun about this. It was definitely not what my girlfriends and I aspired to. In all seriousness, we just needed a summer job that wouldn’t interfere with our sunbathing schedule. There were no funny characters like in an episode of “The Office.” No real camaraderie. Just us and a stranger on the other end of a phone line.
As gloomy as the job was, it was a “big-girl” job, in a real conference room with adults making calls from the same phone book and script as I was. Honestly, I was feeling kind of “grown-up” about things. About a week into it, on just a regular Tuesday night, something amazing happened. It was a small thing really. At a break, I looked up at the dusty chalkboard where everyone’s success was being cataloged and saw that I was winning! Winning!!!
Okay, maybe Charlie Sheen-style isn’t the best correlation, but I couldn’t resist. But seriously, competing with adults, in a real-world job, and I was winning the competition for setting the most appointments! In that small, meager conference room, I felt lifted into the light. I know it was just carpet cleaning appointments, but what an exhilarating feeling – and who knows, maybe a girl like me could make it in business? I trace the beginning of my fascination with business back to this very moment.
That humble beginning and subsequent jobs fueled the realization and confidence that I was very good at getting appointments. Mostly on the phone. A verbal foot in the door. Over the years, a skill born on a gold shag carpet blossomed into an ability to fearlessly pick up the phone, read the nuanced signals in that voice on the other end, and get appointments with…just about anyone!
My audaciousness grew into determination, determination evolved to perseverance and could have led me down a number of paths, and did, until I found myself in the commercial real estate business. There, I met an unusual, trustworthy broker who, like Braveheart, would fight harder for his clients than they would for themselves. I was impressed! Most brokers really don’t care that much.
Cliff Fischer and I were engaged in six months and wed soon after. I learned from phone sales to close a deal fast.
Cliff and I have been married now for over thirty years and are fortunate, our business partnership has spawned an extraordinarily successful real estate business. I would get us in the door, Cliff, the loyal broker a client could trust, would close the deal. Salt and pepper shakers. And with this winning combination, our company, Fischer, grew and grew and grew.
Today, Fischer serves Fortune 500 clients globally. For the second year in a row, we have been named one of the best outsourcing firms in the world right along with CBRE, JLL, and Cushman and Wakefield. We remain the only firm on the list that doesn’t try to represent both sides of a real estate transaction, you know, just as law firms can’t represent the plaintiff and the defendant.
As women in business, we still face an excruciatingly difficult challenge. For every glass ceiling we bust through, we’re presented with another.
My mom, a working woman pioneer, experienced a bullet-proof glass ceiling. Texas Instruments actually told her they couldn’t hire her because “all she would do is get pregnant and quit.” Well, she did get pregnant, four times! But, she never quit. So, we women, try harder, we set bigger goals, we plan grand frontal assaults, we often become set on an immutable linear path, and more often than not, we fail. There should be a lot more of us, shoulder to shoulder, with our male counterparts in the C-Suite.
Maybe, for some of us, there’s another way forward. A smarter way. Just as I trace my fascination with business back to that grubby blackboard, I wonder how many missed opportunities happen when we fail to recognize seeds of success lurking in unlikely places.
We live in a web of interconnected experiences and people. You never know where a canceled, irrelevant meeting might have taken you, what doors might have opened.
So don’t save your passion for only the grand plan, but apply it to everything, because you never know which path is your destiny. Attack what is placed before you, with zeal, even if it seems laborious or un-fun, it will serve you well later. And know that possibilities often wear funny disguises.
Embrace it all, the big and the small. Embrace failure. Failures can expose opportunities, just adjust, pivot and try again. Embrace the people you meet today at this wonderful Women’s Symposium. We’re all here for a reason. Edit less, and you just might experience more.
Maybe, as it is in my case, the way to break through, is a partnership. Who says you can’t follow your heart and be successful in business? Have you ever heard of The Gap? Forever 21? Houzz.com? Panda Express? The founders of these companies are long-time partners in business and marriage. With billions to boot. But I bet these women, even at their own companies, struggle at times to fit in with the boys, I know, because I have struggled to fit in with the boys at my company too.
Maxine Clark’s daughter asked her mom why she couldn’t make her own teddy bear the way she wanted, that was the impetus for the first ‘Build-A-Bear’ workshop, now with hundreds of stores. A few years back Maxine was named one of the 25 most influential people in retail. Yes, inspiration can come from love.
As women, our path to success is usually very different than the one open to men. It might have less to do with misogyny than with culture, that remains to be seen. But culture can be problematic and is very stubborn.
It’s true. Men succeed not necessarily on ability, but on relationship. Women, on the other hand, believe that if we work harder, faster, longer, smarter and so on and so forth, we will somehow be able to outshine or at least equalize the field. And sometimes it works. Sometimes not.
We lose not on talent, work ethic, and passion but often on socialization. Cigar bars, hunting and fishing trips, even golf foursomes are male social clubs that aren’t our venues. Yes, you may get invited, like some guest appearance, or a nod to diversity. But face it, in male socialization we are far more likely to be tolerated than truly accepted. I don’t know for sure but I hope we’re on the last leg of the Archie Bunker days!
Is it then, not so surprising that so many women find success in entrepreneurial ventures? This doesn’t take away anything from women who have found a way to navigate corporate America. I see many of you in the audience today! You are to be commended. But entrepreneurial efforts grow more out of the influences that have so molded how we approach our lives.
Women have many more self-directed opportunities built upon our personal uniqueness. Add that to our natural superiority in just about...everything, and you have a winning unstoppable combination. And without societal norms and protocol as impediments, “doing your own thing” should be the new definition of Women’s Liberation.
But, to go out, on your own as a woman, you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone. Some of us are ill prepared for that. Some might be better prepared because of the ills we had to contend with in childhood, or as teenagers or adults. Like many, if not most, I carry the scars of past cruelties and the shame that comes with those realities. I’ve learned that these things have the capacity to shape us much more than we realize as we carry, process and compartmentalize them over the years. I’ve accepted my personal reality. And I truly believe that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. When fearful, I go back and embrace the fact that some of my life experiences were far more devastating than anything the business world can throw at me.
I don’t know if any of you have had to deal with the realities of abuse, but I’m a survivor. And so are you.
So after helping to create a successful company, a life of relative affluence, raising three wonderful children who are the light of my life, here I stand. I don’t play tennis. I don’t lunch real well. I don’t have grandchildren. Though in the new sharing-economy, I should be able to source them, right? And of course, there are only so many trips I want to take. I think I do know who I am. I’m Gail Corder Fischer. I’m a fixer and a doer. I’m loud…maybe because I’m deaf in one ear, but the result on others is still unforgiving. I’m decisive, I’m fast…maybe bordering on impulsive. All of this to say that I do practice what I preach. My passion is my family and business. And it’s once again time to step out of my beautiful, box. At 55, I am once again a female, start-up entrepreneur.
Retail and Retail Real Estate are in turmoil. Business is burning. People are jumping ship and dumping their stock, closing stores, selling the furniture. It is Panic, and no one seems to have the answers. Having started Fischer in the midst of the 80’s real estate crash…this is the perfect time for me to enter retail. Adversity is the stepsister of opportunity, and so, I have recently formed Blitzn, a company whose mission is to redefine, reinvent, and continuously reimagine the future of retail. We are building something big, pushing the envelope of how inspired technology and human brilliance can construct perfectly balanced models of physical and digital space.
Is it out of my comfort zone? Of course. But that’s where the magic happens. And I personally believe melding an outsider’s experiences into a different industry is the new recipe for success. I’m the 15-year-old girl who set the most appointments for the carpet cleaners. I’m the girl who regularly set appointments with CEOs of the Fortune 500. I’m the girl who could even secure business in one call and launched one of the most successful corporate real estate companies in America. I’m the girl who can pick up the phone today and call the President, but was actually quite terrified of getting up here and speaking to you.
I - am - you. Our skills may be different. Our life experiences may be different. But here we are together in the Imperial Ballroom at the Anatole with D CEO sharing our stories. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Certainly, with hard work and determination, every one of us has the ability to achieve our dreams. Pursue with passion all that life puts before you. Always do the right thing. My grandmother Rosie was always saying, “Pretty is, as pretty does.” So look for the black and white in situations, don’t look at the grey. Anyone can rationalize, justify or minimize. Be different, set the new standard! And if you screw up, own it. We all screw up now and then. Think BIG, and NEVER, ever give up. Don’t dally, create a sense of urgency in your life and business. There are hidden gifts all around you, just open your eyes, your mind, and your heart. God never promised a perfect, or an easy life, but he gives each of us 24 hours in a day, deploy them judiciously, and get out of your comfort zone because the world wants, even needs to see your magic too.