Empowering Businesswomen Here and Overseas

The 100-plus year-old Association for Women in Communications, composed of women in broadcasting, marketing and other forms of communication, usually honors one of its own at their annual conference with its Headliner Award -“ which they did this year. But the younger AWC Matrix Foundation also honored the head of a 35-year-old employee placement firm at this year’s AWC national conference.

Dr. Terry Neese.

Terry Neese, Ph.D., not only heads that firm, but also is a global advocate for women entrepreneurs. She has served on Presidential commissions, is on the U.S-Afghan Women’s Council, is a co-founder of Women Impacting Public Policy and a former Distinguished Fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis. She serves on the board of Northwood University and is considered by Fortune magazine as one of their “Power 30” -“ most influential women in Washington.


Neese also heads the Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women (IEEW), an organization devoted to encouraging women entrepreneurs by showing them how to build, or grow a business. Or several, as Neese is a self-styled “serial entrepreneur.”

One of the ways Neese and the IEEW accomplish their mission is by encouraging women to get involved in public policy decisions.

Asked to define public policy, Neese says, “If you run a business, and you’re not involved in politics, then politics will run your business. I think it’s extremely important for every small business owner to know their city councilperson, their mayor, their state house rep, their state senator, their federal legislators -“ because you’ll never know when you’ll need them. And,” she cautions, “when you need them is not the time to get to know them.

“I learned that the hard way,” Neese continues. She had had her placement business only a couple of years in the 1970s and was successful enough to purchase an office building on Route 66 in Oklahoma City. “I purchased it mainly because of the visibility. I had been in the building for six months before I realized that they were tearing up Route 66 to tie it into an Interstate. I had no access into my building for two-and-a-half years. I’m in the people business and I had no access, none. It never occurred to me to call the city councilperson or the mayor or someone for help.”

Dr. Terry Neese during her acceptance speech of the Journal Record’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her work to advocate for women business owners across the world.

Nevertheless, Neese says her business thrived because women were motivated to get to her. “I had women in high heels who walked in tar to get to my building from where they had parked two blocks away -“ just to apply for work.”

Neese explains that getting involved in public policy and knowing the political players is also vital to becoming successful in getting government contracts. “It’s important to know how that process works. It’s hard to get into that arena, but your elected officials can steer you in the right directions and help you. It’s just critical. Many times staffers in the offices of those officials can really help you navigate through the system. Knowing how to get the right private sector or governmental certifications as a woman-owned business can lead to major success. You’d be surprised how many women business owners are out there that don’t know about certification.”

Neese is interested not only in helping women across the United States but also in Afghanistan and Rwanda as well. She is the founder of the Peace Through Business program, which is predicated on the notion that “an economically sound country has a much greater capacity for peace.” Her approach to achieve economic stability in those two countries in particular is to empower the women there to become successful entrepreneurs. Her contention is that “the best way to develop economic stability is to build a solid middle class through the largest population demographic -” women.”

Dr. Terry Neese welcomes women business owners from Afghanistan and Rwanda.

She does that by, among other things such as a formal training program, seeking out mentors around the world whose successful experience directly matches the goals of an aspiring entrepreneur. Because of her many contacts throughout the world, Neese says, “it sometimes freaks me out, because when I need to talk with someone in, say, Bosnia or you-name-it, I generally know someone.”

She explains that she has “a huge database of e-mails and I just shoot out a request and I always get a response and it’s usually always positive and it usually always works,” she laughs. She and her staff also use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.

“Working with women in these two war-torn countries and providing them with the tools and resources they need to improve their lives is extremely valuable to them. And, it’s economically valuable to their country. Their two governments are so different that working with them is challenging.

“We have a unique feature in that we’re teaching in-country for eight weeks, then we’re bringing some of those women here for additional leadership training, and we match them with a woman business owner who has the exact same type of business. Then, in July we host the International Women’s Economic Summit in Washington as a part of their graduation.” It’s a bipartisan event, with Laura Bush and the President’s adviser for global women’s affairs attending.

“We really focus on their paying forward their knowledge when they get back home,” Neese continues.

The formal education process is held on the Texas campus of Northwood University, which has residential campuses in Michigan and Florida in addition to Texas-“ and has graduate-level programs through its DeVos Graduate School of Management.

Dr. Terry Neese addresses an audience of women business owners about the importance of small business owners’ involvement in public policy. Photo Courtesy Forbes Inc.

Asked if the advice Neese give to her local or foreign entrepreneurs differs, Neese explains that “We have similar obstacles and we have similar solutions. What I find that is prevalent throughout is that in order to be successful in business you have to find your passion. If you find your passion and you really stay focused on what that passion is, you’ll be successful. Oftentimes, without the funding you need, you don’t have access to capital, you don’t have a business plan written -“ if you have the passion to continue to move forward with your idea -“ you’ll be successful.

“I’m the perfect example of that,” Neese says. “When I founded my first temporary employment service I had no money, I was a single mom and I didn’t have a business plan. But I had worked for another personnel service for a couple of years and I loved the work. I loved to see the expressions on clients’ faces when we found the right job for them. That was my passion. It was a lot of hard work and sweat equity but I turned that into a multi-million dollar firm.

“So, when I work with women, whether it’s in the United States or anywhere in the world, I identify what their passion is. That won’t carry you all the way, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you stay focused on what your goals are and you’re motivated to reach those goals, you’ll be successful.”

Neese says she has classes starting in 2012 in Afghanistan and Rwanda. “We’ll have 30 women in the classrooms there in January and February, then bring 15 of them back to the Northwood campus. We then hold the International Women’s Economic Conference and their graduation in Washington in July. It’s a great opportunity to hear and meet with Mrs. Bush and President Obama’s adviser on international women’s issues, and the Afghan and Rwandan ambassadors to the U.S., along with their delegations.”

Complete details and an application to become a mentor are available on the IEEW’s website, www.ieew.org.