Editor’s Note: The Story Exchange will head to Washington, D.C., this Thursday to moderate a panel with Sheela Murthy, Jeanette Prenger, El Brown and others at the Center for Women in Business’s annual summit.
It took Sheela Murthy, an Indian immigrant who graduated from Harvard Law, a dozen years to get her U.S. green card. The process was such a nightmare that it ultimately inspired Murthy, who had been working for big firms, to start Murthy Law Firm dedicated to immigration matters in 1994. Her Owing Mills, Md., firm, quickly gained a following by providing free legal information on the Internet, and now makes more than $10 million in annual revenue. It is one of the world’s most visited law sites, according to this ranking.
Learn more about Murthy’s Indian upbringing and American success story by watching our video.
Edited interview excerpts below.
The Story Exchange: Why did you start your own firm?
I felt that working so many hours and never feeling a sense of control or satisfaction did not make sense. So I wanted to try and live the American dream of starting my own business and helping people to accomplish their American dream of living and working in this great country. The idea was to truly take great care of people and help them to accomplish their goal.
The Story Exchange: How did you sign up your earliest clients?
My very first client was a referral. But soon after, at a fundraiser, I met the owner of a few health-care facilities who engaged me to help with processing all the immigration paperwork for his nurses, doctors and medical staff. Word of mouth on the Internet spread like wild fire with the reputation of our doing good work and really taking care of our clients.
The Story Exchange: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made (in business) – and what did you learn from it?
Not understanding how important it is to share my vision and passion for why the firm was started with the entire staff. If the team does not appreciate the story, vision, mission, values and promise we made to help others, then they are not as committed to serve the clients. I learned the importance of sharing [my vision] so that others will feel a sense of ownership.
[Editor’s Note: In TSE’s video, Murthy recounts how some of her paralegals walked out, in part because they didn’t share the same intensity she brought to the business.]
The Story Exchange: Who is your role model?
My high school principal was a strong and confident woman who was a wonderful role model. Watching her interact with others and her take-charge attitude made me feel, growing up in India, that it is possible to be successful, strong, bold and confident even as a woman. Luckily, the number of women leading organizations is growing all over the world now, whether in the U.S. or in India.
The Story Exchange: What’s your best advice for other women who are starting or growing businesses?
Just believe in yourself. If you have an idea and believe that you can make things happen, and you are willing to work hard with a strong sense of passion and a commitment to help others, magic happens.