March 31, 2023

You’re the Boss: After a Year, Business Group Members Discuss Their Progress

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

About a year ago, the She Owns It business group began meeting with the goal of exploring the day-to-day challenges faced by four women who own and run companies. Since then, the group, which now has five members, has gathered regularly to discuss topics such as hiring and managing employees, health insurance, manufacturing, growing pains, and customer service.

Over time, the group’s composition has changed. Former member Carissa Reiniger left because lof scheduling conflicts. New members Deirdre Lord and Beth Shaw stepped in, joining veterans Jessica Johnson, Alexandra Mayzler, and Susan Parker.

The women’s businesses have also evolved. This post provides snapshots of three of the original businesses, and the two more recent additions.

Owner: Jessica Johnson.

Company: Johnson Security Bureau provides security services to government and commercial clients.

2011 Sales: $1 million-plus (up from $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: 100-plus (up from 60 in 2010).

The 50-year-old company was founded by Ms. Johnson’s grandparents. Last year, it increased both its annual sales and employee count. Ms. Johnson attributes this success to factors including a focus on customer service, more time spent on the hiring process, and expanding operations into New Jersey.

She recently said job creation had been her most important metric for measuring her company’s success. But looking ahead she said, “I may need to consider different metrics because my focus for 2012 isn’t as much on growth as it has been.” It has shifted to determining which business opportunities make the most sense for the company to pursue. The new metrics Ms. Johnson is considering include rates of employee turnover and sales closed.

Owner: Deirdre Lord.

Company: The Megawatt Hour is an online subscription service that helps commercial and industrial clients manage, track, and forecast their energy use and expenses.

2011 sales: The company, a start-up, began operating in December 2011 and had sales of $2,000 that month.

Employees: five.

For now Ms. Lord, who founded an earlier company and has an extensive background in the energy industry, is focused on building the business and continuing to tweak its products to meet the needs of customers and prospects. For example, after some experimentation, the Megawatt Hour is offering three service models: a transactional model for businesses that want to use the product only when they are about to make an energy-buying decision, and free and premium models that allow customers to monitor their ongoing energy use and costs. The company is also exploring various sales channels and recently started working with energy consultants who will offer the Megawatt Hour’s product to their clients. The product will be marketed with the consultant’s name and the information that it is “powered by the Megawatt Hour.”

Owner: Alexandra Mayzler.

Company: Thinking Caps Tutoring offers study-skills coaching, subject tutoring, and test preparation to middle- and high-school students.

2011 Sales: about $780,000 (up from about $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: five full-time, 45 part-time tutors (up from four full-time and 40 part-time tutors in 2010).

Ms. Mayzler started Thinking Caps from her dorm room at New York University in 2003. To determine how well the company is doing, she said she tracked the hours worked by her tutors, the number of client families, payables and revenue, looking for annual increases in all. By those measures Thinking Caps had a good year in 2011, she said. Additionally, after opening an office in Austin, Tex., last fall, Thinking Caps expanded into Houston in January of this year.

Owner: Susan Parker.

Company: Bari Jay manufactures and sells bridesmaid and prom dresses to retailers.

2011 Sales: $8.3 million (up from $7 million in 2010).

Employees: 17

Ms. Parker and her sister became co-presidents of their father’s business in 2008, following his death. With no garment industry experience, it was rough going initially for the sisters. But they sought guidance from some of their father’s longtime friends in the industry and managed to increase sales by 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. To determine how well Bari Jay is doing, Ms. Parker said she considered revenue, profit margins, and booked orders. Revenue and booked orders rose in 2011, and margins stayed about the same — as planned, she said. Still, there are challenges, most notably finding a way to keep up with orders and addressing production issues that arise partly from the increased cost of manufacturing dresses in China.

Owner: Beth Shaw.

Company: YogaFit trains yoga instructors, entering into exclusive partnerships with yoga studios and health club chains. It also hosts fitness conferences, teacher-training seminars and retreats.

2011 Sales: $4.4 million (up from $4.2 million in 2010).

Employees: 13 at company headquarters and 60 trainers (independent contractors).

Ms. Shaw, a former magazine advertising sales representative, founded the company in 1997, after becoming interested in yoga as a hobby. To measure YogaFit’s success, she said she looks at revenue. “I always want to beat the previous year,” she said. But sales are down since their high of $5 million in 2009, a fact Ms. Shaw attributes to factors including a more crowded market and the company’s unprofitable merchandising division, which is being trimmed. To get back on track, Ms. Shaw said she hired a chief operating officer who has “dramatically cut expenses” and added an experienced fitness industry marketer to her staff.

In future posts, the group will continue to discuss the realities of business ownership. Are there any issues you would like to see raised?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

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In South Sudan, a Rough Start to Press Freedom

It was hours to deadline for The Citizen, until recently the only daily print newspaper in South Sudan, and its staff had to wait until the generator was refueled.

Making a newspaper anywhere these days is not easy; making a daily newspaper in South Sudan can seem nearly impossible. The country is twice the size of Arizona and 80 percent of its roughly 10 million people are illiterate. Power losses, a scarcity of paved roads, scattershot Internet access and increasing tribal violence make it that much harder.

And yet since its founding in 2005 The Citizen hasn’t let down its readers a single day. But now the paper faces another challenge in the form of a new military leadership — one not always hospitable to a free press — running the world’s youngest state, one that gained independence only this year. On a morning in mid-November, a reporter named Ater Garang Ariath entered the news hut where two of his colleagues were discussing the day’s events. The editor in chief, Nhial Bol, was elsewhere. He had other things to do: the paper’s supplier of newsprint had stopped supplying it, so The Citizen had to decrease its circulation to 2,000 copies from 6,000.

That day, Mr. Ariath, 27, covered a dialogue forum for representatives of the South Sudanese media and national security services. He walked the mile to the event, since there was no bus stop nearby and a boda-boda, or motorbike taxi, was too expensive for him. Mr. Ariath said he made about 900 South Sudanese pounds a month, around $300. He has to write up to 40 articles for that and supports his family with the money.

Mr. Ariath began his career as a reporter at the paper of his refugee camp in neighboring Uganda. There is no one at The Citizen whose life hasn’t been affected by the war. Another reporter, Joseph Lagu Jackson, was a former child soldier and learned how to use an AK-47 at the age of 8; the news editor received death threats from the Arab rulers in the north when he was a radio journalist.

Though Mr. Ariath is very proud to work for one of the country’s most popular papers, he said the 16-page, English-language tabloid needed more editors. It is full of mistakes and typos, sometimes in the banner headline on the front page. Many reporters are not fluent in English. Mr. Ariath also said the paper needed more color. “In our pictures, Obama is white,” he said.

Since independence on July 9, several newspapers have been newly established in South Sudan. The country’s new constitution guarantees freedom of the press. But currently, that freedom is in jeopardy.

In October, another South Sudanese newspaper, The Destiny, ran a column that described the marriage of President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s daughter as unpatriotic because she had married an Ethiopian. The columnist and the editor in chief were arrested by the National Security Services and held in prison for two weeks. The Destiny was shut down. President Kiir later said the arrests were justified. The Destiny had tried to become South Sudan’s second daily.

A few weeks later in December, Alfred Taban, a former BBC correspondent in Khartoum, started the Juba Monitor which is now South Sudan’s second English daily. Mr. Taban’s Khartoum Monitor was banned by the Arab rulers along with five other South Sudanese owned newspapers printed in Khartoum when the south became independent. The Juba Monitor is also printed at The Citizen which is the only newspaper with a printing machine in South Sudan.

At the dialogue forum for the media and security services, both sides were called on to get along with each other. But the event didn’t seem to ease tensions. A spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or S.P.L.A. as the new country’s army is more popularly known, told reporters what they could cover and what would be risky for them — a list that included covering the army, for example. Philip Chol, a spokesman for military intelligence, said: “If you’re a responsible journalist, you will do something that is applicable to the country.”

Many reporters got angry. “The recent actions are actually the ones we suffered from in Khartoum,” said Mr. Taban, addressing the case of The Destiny. “I mean we’re trying to establish a democracy here.”

Many of the reporters who had come to the event said they had had bad experiences with the new military leaders who now ruled the country after years of oppression by the regime in the north. Mr. Ariath said when he once wrote about an official’s business deals, he got a phone call. If the paper ran the article, the person at the other end said, Mr. Ariath would get into trouble. The Citizen ran the article. Mr. Ariath was not arrested, but the editor in chief, Mr. Bol, was. Mr. Bol has been arrested three times since 2007 by South Sudanese authorities for articles that accused officials of corruption and mismanagement.

At 1 a.m., well after the writing and editing in The Citizen’s newsroom was done, four young men sat in the pale light of battery-powered halogen lamps inside the printing house next door. Listening to a smartphone playing Arabic folk music, they folded fresh copies of the newspaper by hand because the old German press couldn’t fold them automatically.

At dawn, Juba’s paperboys lined up in front of The Citizen. Some of them read the paper. Mr. Ariath’s article made it to the front page — with no misplaced letter in the headline, just a comma: “Deputy Minister Calls for Security, Media Cooperation.”

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