Weather Updates

Women business leaders, including Hefner, Ricketts, share advice for entrepreneurs

LaurRicketts speaker for annual Women's Business Development center Entrepreneurial Forum McCormick Place Thursday September 20 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Laura Ricketts, speaker for annual Women's Business Development center Entrepreneurial Forum at McCormick Place, Thursday, September 20, 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times

storyidforme: 37282837
tmspicid: 13639001
fileheaderid: 6282779
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: October 22, 2012 6:26AM

Richelle Shaw was once the only female African-American owner of a public utility company in the nation, an entrepreneur who watched her business go bust after 9/11, but bounced back.

Laura Ricketts, the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, learned from her billionaire father that failure is sometimes only a speed bump along the road to success.

And Sue Bhatia left a good job without a single client to launch Rose International, a technology services and staffing company in the basement of her home. Today that company employs more than 6,000 people in 21 U.S. cities and India.

The three joined Christie Hefner, at one point the longest serving female chief executive officer of any publicly traded company, in offering advice during a breakfast forum moderated by Sun-Times financial columnist Terry Savage. They addressed hundreds of attendees at the Women’s Business Development Center’s Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference at McCormick Place Thursday.

Shaw shared the story of how she went from bankruptcy to millionaire while speaking at the conference forum breakfast.

“You have to figure out how to deal with failure,” Shaw said. “How you deal with failure really determines if you ever get to deal with success.”

Shaw began working for a long-distance telephone company after running up a huge phone bill while dating three men in three different states in 1993. After joining the company, she said she was promoted four times in four to five years and went on to buy the business. She built it into a $36 million company, but after 9/11, her business faltered, and she was forced to file bankruptcy, she said.

Shaw went on to rebuild the company in five short months, a business she sold in 2007. Today, as CEO of RTS Publishing she has authored books and speaks about how to build successful enterprises.

“I filed bankruptcy. I if I was embarrassed by that fact, I’d still be laying on my mother’s couch, which is where I was,” she said. “If I had let that stop me, then I wouldn’t be here in front of 2,000 of you just living my dream.”

Ricketts, daughter of TD Ameritrade co-founder Joe Ricketts, offered similar advice.

“Failure is often the best teacher,” she said. “My dad, who is an amazing entrepreneur, has had a number of amazing successes, but also … a number of failures. He has always encouraged us to achieve all that we can achieve, to reach as high as we possibly can and to not be afraid of falling short of our goal.”

At the forum, WBDC Co-President Hedy Ratner noted women and minority-owed businesses play a major role in the economy. They make up the majority of businesses in the U.S. and are the fastest growing segment of the economy, she said.

“But our annual revenues are way lower than white male-owned businesses,” she said. “And the annual revenues of 80 percent of all businesses and over 90 percent of minority- and women-owned businesses in the United States are under $500,000. We’re here to do something about raising that.”

Forum participants shared advice on the importance of networking and working with others, among other topics:

On networking:

“The broader your circle of people are …. your brain trust, the more resources you will have to draw upon. ... You cannot know too many smart people and ... you will get out of the network of women and men that you form as much as you put into it. It is every bit as much about giving back as it is about taking out.” — Hefner, executive chairman of Canyon Ranch Enterprises and former chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises

On going it alone:

“For entrepreneurs I would advise them not to do it alone. There’s a lot of resources out there, the Small Business Administration has many programs for women. They will help you write a business plan, if you’re just starting fresh. There’s a lot of resources, WBDC.” — Bhatia

On dealing with difficult economic times:

“The general approach to how you manage not just in difficult times, but generally, is predicated on agility, so that you’re planning. You’re always measuring and adjusting. That ability to kind of course correct and modify and have a culture that allows for that is probably as important as anything.” — Hefner

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.