What about your work, company or role makes you most proud?
There is so much I am proud about our company and team. First, I am so proud that 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of our family owned management and technology consulting firm. Our firm that is named in honor of my grandfather William Everett Rozelle has worked hard to persevere despite many challenges and allows our family to make a real impact in our community. We are a “family” focused firm and that includes not just our actual family members, but our entire team/employees are a part of a cohesive family environment. I am so proud of the company we have built and our work in the community.
What is your favorite binge-worthy show or podcast?
My son and daughter who work in our family owned business introduced me to a new show “Succession”. It is a family owned business on steroids but is a great escape from day-to-day pressures.
What was your first job? What lesson did you learn that you will carry with you?
I have worked on and off since I was 14 years old and my very first job was working in a nursing home with my mother. I asked if I could come and help and she arranged for me to spend a few hours a week with her. It was the first time I saw people/seniors in a vulnerable state, and it taught me how to demonstrate compassion to others. I also loved the wisdom that was imparted to me by many of the seniors at the home. It certainly taught me more patience, humility and increased my listening skills.
Who was the best boss you ever had and why?
Hands down it was Ernestine Hanson, the person who trained me in my first management role. I was working at a large insurance company and felt I was doing a great job, but despite my efforts Mrs. Hanson would “ride” me about everything. One day I confronted her and said, “why are you always on my back, I am one of the top performers on the team”. She shocked me and said, “because I think you can be better”. She asked me about my career goals and explained to me that while I was exceeding certain performance goals if I wanted to be on the senior management team I needed to begin to model my performance and professionalism to align with the executives in the company. She advised me on how to dress, how to present myself in meetings, how to be proactive about being prepared and educate myself on the company mission and goals. After closely following her advice I was promoted over my peers into a key management role. Her mentoring has been with me my entire career.
Can you share a time when you had to reinvent yourself, your product/service or your brand?
When I started my company, I naturally assumed that my clients where I had built a stellar reputation with my former employers would automatically give me contract opportunities. I think it is a common assumption entrepreneurs make, and we quickly learn that is not always the case. It took me a few years to first clearly define why I was in business, what inspired me to run my firm and to motivate me to persevere when things were difficult. How could my old clients have confidence in my firm until I could closely define our service offerings? I tried to model my firm after the ones I had worked for in the past and quickly learned that I did not really want to do the same work. It did not bring me satisfy me and, in some cases, it was too risky. Once I figured it out, I pivoted to the work I truly enjoyed and found it much more fulfilling.
What’s your best “work from home” life hack?
On the days when the weather permits, I would prefer to do most of my calls from outside. I love my tiny city garden but also find the fresh air, birds, and nature calming. So, you might hear birds chirping in the background.
What drew you to Chicago as a business or personal home?
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, but my mother’s sister lived in Chicago and I have visited the city as young as five years old. Over the years I was so enamored with the beauty of the city, the arts and entertainment opportunities and most importantly I felt so accepted in this city. When I decided to become an entrepreneur, Chicago presented the best chance for a women and African American owned business to succeed. While there are still challenges and things that we can improve, I love this City!
Among the people you work with, who inspires you and why?
As a small business owner, we are always in search of great talent and folks who join our team and share our company values. Running a business is not just about making money. My grandfather owned a small neighborhood shoe store when I was growing up. I worked in the store with him and watched how he extended help to people who needed it and treated everyone with respect and care. We have adapted a similar approach to our mission and that involves demonstrating care for our clients and corporate giving through volunteerism, mentoring and charitable giving. I am so humbled by the generosity of our employees and their belief in our company and their willingness to help us grow and achieve these goals. They inspire me every day!
Ellen shared how valuable a boss who also serves as a mentor can be, and the importance of patience, humility and listening to personal and professional success. We would love to hear from you and highlight your achievements and tips in our member spotlight. To be featured or to recommend another member of The Executives’ Club to share a spotlight, please contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.