Editor’s note: Traditionally women have taken the back seat to men in business leadership roles. Heather Capps, founder, president and CEO of HCK2 Partners, an award-winning woman-owned business, urges women to play outside the sandbox. She is also actively involved in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. In this article, she shares insights on being an entrepreneur and taking on leadership roles.
SandHill.com: Historically there haven’t been many women CEOs. Things seem to be changing, however. A good example is Silicon Valley, where there are now a handful of women at the helm in leading software companies. Why do you think there are not very many women entrepreneurs or CEOs?
Heather Capps: I think women really have to prove they are an asset and show that their skillset goes beyond that box they were put into when they were originally hired.
SandHill.com: What’s your experience in that area?
Heather Capps: I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager. In high school I started working part-time at a hair salon as a receptionist. I immediately started asking questions like “That’s how you’re reconciling your books?” “That’s how you’re ordering your products?” “That’s how you’re scheduling all the stylists?” I approached the owner with my ideas about improving operations. The next year I was managing the front desk. I ended up running all of the operations, the marketing and the PR.
SandHill.com: What is your advice to a woman who wants to take the path you’ve taken?
Heather Capps: This is a conversation that just came up this morning. I had carpool to take several 15-year-old girls to volleyball practice. They knew that I had just finished filming a video for a Dallas Business Journal’s Facetime feature and asked how the shoot went. I told them that I expected all of them to be CEOs and presidents one day.
I gave them this advice: Don’t let someone put you in a box. If you begin a job and are given a particular job description, don’t be afraid to play outside of that sandbox. Challenge yourself, and challenge the organization around you. Look for work you enjoy. Learn a new skillset so that you can always come to the table with more than you’re asked to do in your job.
SandHill.com: How have the work situations you’ve experienced as an employee shaped your decisions as a woman in the top role of your current company?
Heather Capps: I’ve seen that often it’s not so much that women are unwilling to try to push themselves, but people who could give them those opportunities didn’t open the doors.
Also pressures are put on us from a societal standpoint. Women continue to struggle with being able to raise a family, take care of the home, take care of your husband and still have a thriving career.
If I had run up against a brick wall in the organizations that I was a part of, and the people who were in charge weren’t open to my new ideas, I don’t know that I would be sitting here today.
I try to encourage colleagues and other CEOs, female or male, to make sure that you don’t put people in a box, to make sure that you allow people the opportunity to expand their skillset. You need to give people the opportunity to thrive.
SandHill.com: How can companies do that?
Heather Capps: We offer all of our employees help with continuing education classes for their current set of talents or to explore something else. Each individual is then asked to share their learnings with the greater team.
SandHill.com: What advice do you have for women who aren’t fortunate enough to have those opportunities where they work or they encounter actual resistance to moving outside the box?
Heather Capps: I think that you have to be a very good salesperson. I did a good job selling myself, selling my ideas and selling progressive, forward-thinking ideas for organizations where I worked. You need to be very polished, have a lot of foresight into questions that are going to be asked when you raise the issue of a new area that you want to be considered for leadership or implementing a new type of service.
SandHill.com: Tell us about your work with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).
Heather Capps: It is an incredible organization with well over 8,000 businesses in 40 countries. I serve on the board in the Dallas branch.
Being an entrepreneur comes with a certain set of burdens, challenges and risks. We have mini groups that meet on a monthly basis. These forums really become more like a CEO’s executive board. Through this group, people share the challenges that come with being a CEO and also the successes. It’s peer-to-peer mentoring and camaraderie.
We also have universities that are held all across the globe. We hold monthly learning events and lecture series for all the members. It presents great opportunities to learn more how to run a business. There are also lectures on managing family and home life while running a business. And we have social events.
SandHill.com: How many women CEOs are involved in EO?
Heather Capps: It’s probably 70 percent to 30 percent of male-run companies versus women CEOs. Hopefully that will change.
SandHill.com: From your personal experience and from being involved in this organization, what would you say are the biggest pitfalls that entrepreneurs most often encounter when they are thinking about launching a company for the first time?
Heather Capps: I can tell you one thing I have lived through with the startup companies that are on our client list at HCK2 Partners as well as what I’ve heard from members of EO. Typically, an incredible engineer, developer or inventor comes up with a fabulous service offering or product. When it comes to engineering prowess, the nuts and bolts, the details of that product or service offering, no one knows it better than that person. It’s a great idea and it gets well adopted into the marketplace.
But that person forgets that a business is more than just a product or the service. It’s also operations, finances, sales and marketing and HR. When CEOs don’t recognize that their level of expertise stops in one of those areas, they begin to struggle to do it all.
SandHill.com: You wear a lot of hats in your organization. Has that happened to you?
Heather Capps: I am extremely lucky to have a really diverse set of skillsets. I am our CEO, our CFO, our COO, and I am immersed in a lot of our technology platforms here at the agency. I manage HR and I am the creative director. However, now that we are a $5-million company, in an incredible growth pattern, I’ve had to come to the realization that I can’t do it all. That would actually be a detriment to the company.
When you find yourself in that situation, you really should focus efforts on certain areas and surround yourself with very talented people who can take over those areas of leadership. That has definitely enabled us to continue to move forward as a company.
SandHill.com: As the leader of a full-service PR firm, what is your advice for companies that are thinking about incorporating social media data into their marketing and PR campaigns?
Heather Capps: We first advise clients on whether they should, in fact, embark on implementing a social media strategy in their business. Our experience and market observations clearly indicated that’s necessary for B2C marketing but rarely proves fruitful in B2B efforts. Where it is appropriate, it then boils down to coming up with a custom program based on the company’s objectives
SandHill.com: There is a lot of talk now about the need to provide better education in math and science in the United States. I assume this will also enhance opportunities for women to become leaders.
Heather Capps: We have been fortunate to work with the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas for more than two years, and in celebration of their 100th anniversary we’re rolling out a program to focus on where Girls Scouts is headed for the next 100 years. A lot of beautiful things are happening in Girl Scouts when it comes to getting them more involved in math and science (STEM) enabling women to be better prepared to go into leadership roles.
Girl Scouts has an incredible exhibit at the State Fair of Texas happening Sept. 28 – Oct. 21. More than 150,000 people all ages will go through this exhibit. An entire technology center by presenting sponsor AT&T has been set up on site. There are a series of green screens where a girl comes up to the green screen and her picture is taken; that picture is inserted into a stock photo of future leadership scenarios – including STEM. One picture is of a fancy boardroom where men are sitting at the table and at the head of a table is a silhouette of a woman in her high-powered business suit. That little girl’s photo is going to get inserted into that picture and then it make a composite photo. The idea is for these girls to realize that one day they can be standing at the head of the boardroom. Girl Scouts has found that if girls can see themselves there, then they can realize where want to be and this is part of the Girl Scouts ToGetHerThere.org campaign.
One poster at the State Fair exhibit talks about the badges. In 1912, when the Girl Scouts organization started, the only technology-related badge that a girl could earn was to be a clerk or to learn how to work a telephone switchboard. Twenty years later, that was still the only badge of that type they could earn. Today, forget about getting a badge for learning how to sew or bake cookies. The 2012 badge is for writing a business plan and talking about how to implement that plan.
SandHill.com: Do you think there will ever come a day when there will be more women CEOs than male CEOs?
Heather Capp: I’d like to think so, but I’m a realist. I feel a lot of hope that things can shift, but I will be happy if it’s just 50/50.
Click here for more information about the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
As president and CEO of HCK2 Partners, Heather Capps leads the agency’s operations and oversees an award-winning team of creative, interactive and PR professionals. Establishing HCK2 in 2004, Heather created a mid-sized, integrated communications agency that couples large-firm expertise with a small-agency environment to provide customized service. Throughout her marketing career of almost two decades, her extensive portfolio ranges from building brands for visionary entrepreneurs to sustaining awareness for national enterprises. Heather can be contacted at Heather.firstname.lastname@example.org/www.hck2.com.
Di Freeze is editor at SandHill.com.