They’re lifting up other women, fostering volunteerism, sponsoring students, promoting sustainability, donating a share of proceeds to cherished causes and much more. The two dozen women who applied to be featured by The Story Exchange for running businesses that are “doing well and doing good” have demonstrated many ways to make the world a better place, while also building profitable, time-tested businesses.
What sets apart the three women we have chosen to spotlight — Rebecca S. Hage Thomley, Audra Fordin and Miriam Farhan — is the strong connection between the overall missions of their businesses and their successful efforts to do good. Indeed, for them, business value is measured in ways far beyond simple profit and loss.
Take car aficionado Audra Fordin. On top of running a successful auto-body shop, Great Bear Auto Repair in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., she also operates Women Auto Know, which educates women about car maintenance and repair, so they feel more comfortable in this “man’s world.”
“Every woman I help — whether it’s online, at a workshop, or a one-on-one interaction with a customer — reminds me why my work matters,” she says.
Compiling the List
In previous years, we have published lists of outstanding women business owners that focused on specific age brackets — young up-and-comers in 2014 and established mid-career entrepreneurs in 2015. This year, we took a different route, choosing instead to emphasize the social goals that drive many women business owners.
It was a nod to our 3-year 1,000 Stories project, which revealed that many female entrepreneurs define success not only by the money they make and growth rates they achieve, but by the impact they have on the world around them. With the targeted goal of highlighting successful, established entrepreneurs in business for at least 3 years, who have also cultivated strong social components to their work, we received fewer submissions than in past years. But within that smaller quantity, we found a wealth of quality.
Our applicants were a diverse group with firms that run the gamut from smaller ventures in both revenue and employee count to multimillion-dollar establishments with sizable workforces. Some set up shop in the U.S., while others hailed from places as far as England, India, Malaysia and Romania.
Their businesses are in industries traditionally occupied by women like fashion and wellness, as well as fields crowded with men, such as technology, agriculture and management. Women of all ages and races put their names in the proverbial hat.
But the tie that binds all these women is a deep commitment to helping and improving the lives of others. Sometimes they accomplish their aims through the very missions and work of their businesses, and other times by simply finding ways to help, whether personally or by galvanizing their employees into action.
Many applicants also look close to home for inspiration, finding role-model material in their parents, their children and their faiths. And, as is often the case with more established entrepreneurs, many say they struggle with the work of scaling up their ventures.
One woman who has achieved significant scale is Dr. Rebecca S. Hage Thomley, the chief executive of Orion Associates, a 2,500-employee management-services company that hauls in $124 million a year in revenue. While growing a family of companies, Thomley has cultivated within them a pervasive corporate culture of volunteerism.
In fact, her nonprofit, Headwaters Relief Organization, has coordinated thousands of volunteers for disaster-relief missions across the U.S. and the world, including many Orion employees, their families and other individuals.
“We have volunteers as young as 4 and as old as 84, and we always say: ‘There is work for everyone,’” Thomley says. “We are good at looking for need and giving opportunity to fill those needs.”
Smaller in scope, but just as determined to be of service, is Miriam Farhan of textile and fashion business The Market Find, who is empowering female Pakistani artisans by employing them to make products she designs. Like many women business owners, Farhan is embracing a personal responsibility to create the change she wants to see in the world.
“Once women are better educated and are financially empowered, we will see real change” in how women are treated here and abroad, Farhan said in her submission. “We do not hesitate to do our part.”
We’re truly inspired by these hard-working women, who are dedicating time and energy — two resources inevitably in short supply for entrepreneurs — to making life better for the rest of us, even as they build successful companies.
Congratulations to Thomley, Fordin and Farhan — and to all of our applicants — on their amazing and important work!
Banner graphic by Natalie Gaisser