Community//

Rhonda Sciortino: “No employer wants a good employee to leave to become a competitor”

Women-led, mission-driven investment groups. Women who are in a position to invest money would do well while doing good if they would pool their time and treasure to help other women start businesses — especially mission-driven businesses. Women with the capital to invest in the businesses of others are likely of a certain age and maturity. (I […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Women-led, mission-driven investment groups. Women who are in a position to invest money would do well while doing good if they would pool their time and treasure to help other women start businesses — especially mission-driven businesses.

Women with the capital to invest in the businesses of others are likely of a certain age and maturity. (I can say that because I am one!) We have acquired a lifetime of wisdom about the issues that new entrepreneurs face, so we’re perfectly positioned to be able to help younger women business owners miss the pitfalls that we fell into.

Watching your money grow while adding value in the world is far more emotionally rewarding than investing in just another soulless mutual fund.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhonda Sciortino.

Rhonda Sciortino, author of 30 Days to Happiness (featured on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and included in her Kind Box), used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success. She built two successful businesses, then turned her attention to helping others to find their purpose and their authentic success. More info can be found at www.rhonda.org.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was in the child welfare system for the first 16 years of my life. I got there after my mother left me with a neighbor and never came back.

I spent most of that first 16 years with my dysfunctional grandfather and addicted grandmother in a shack the size of a garage that didn’t have functional plumbing. I spent a brief part of that time with a foster family who showed me that there was a different way to live. They didn’t yell or hit each other. They had a clean house and plenty to eat. They were kind to me. And the best part was that they believed that I had worth and value. They told me that there was a purpose for my life — a revelation to a little girl who believed that she was an accident of biology who was unwanted and unloved.

I was able to emancipate at age 16 because an amazing teacher taught me typing and shorthand, and an insurance agent gave me a job. What I had no way of knowing then was that I would take what I learned in the insurance office and pair it with what I knew about foster care, and I would spend the next three decades protecting and defending the good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are so many, but the first story that comes to mind is the first time that I went to an industry association meeting for child welfare organization executives. It was in Los Angeles at a fancy venue. I had never driven the “spaghetti bowl of freeways” in LA, I didn’t have the right clothes, and I was an off-the-chart introvert, so when I walked in and saw all those well-dressed professionals talking and laughing like they had all been friends for years, I was a nervous wreck, overwhelmed with intimidation.

I kept my head down and made my way to the ladies’ room. I sat in the little lounge area trying to muster up the courage to meet the prospective clients who wouldn’t be together in one place again for a year. If I didn’t pull myself together and get out there, I’d have to try to get appointments to meet them individually, which seemed like an even more overwhelming task.

As I sat there beating myself up for wasting time in the ladies’ room, a bubbly, vivacious woman came bouncing into the ladies’ lounge like the Tigger character from Winnie the Pooh! The minute she laid eyes on me she said, “Hi, my name is Connie. I’m here with the California Association of Children’s Homes. Who are you? Are you here with my group? What’s your name? This is my first time. What about you?” Her words flew out in rapid fire, and my mind was spinning. She was so outgoing and unafraid even though she was there for the first time just like I was.

Before I knew it, Connie grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out of the ladies’ room and into the meeting room. She literally took me from table to table and introduced herself and me. Everyone loved her. She was a bright light in the room! By the time we got to the fourth or fifth table in the room, Connie introduced me as the singer for the evening. I thought I was going to faint. After a brief pause, she started laughing, and so did the people at the table, and I could finally exhale.

That was 1989, and Connie Rae Clendenan and I have been friends ever since … and I never could have imagined it then, but we have been the singing entertainment at many conference receptions since our meeting in the ladies’ room!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is the most embarrassing thing I’ll ever admit, but here goes. When I was first starting out, I was flying all over the country working 60–80 hours every week trying to change the way child welfare organizations were insured. Back then I didn’t have an assistant. I was traveling so much and had so many different trips and meetings planned, that I would throw everything I thought I’d need for a trip into a standing file and not even get a moment to look at it until I had arrived.

On one trip, I arrived after 11 p.m. for a conference after a 5-hour flight from California to Florida. I got off the plane and made my way to the rental car counter. While I was standing in line to rent my car, I rooted around in my travel file to find my hotel confirmation. It wasn’t there. I dumped out the entire folder and found that not only did I not have the hotel information, I didn’t have the conference brochure. I had no idea where the conference was being held.

This was before everything was on the internet, so I couldn’t simply look it up. It was way too late to call anyone, so I turned the rental car towards St. Petersburg, Florida, the town where I remembered that the conference was to be held, and hoped the conference location would somehow come back to me during the drive. It did not.

For most of the drive, the street lights lit up the road, but there were no lights to be seen on either side of the highway. I had never been to that part of Florida before, so I had no clue what I was looking for. When I finally saw a gas station, I pulled off the road. The clerk had no idea what hotels in St. Petersburg might be large enough to host a conference. So I headed out to the payphone in the parking lot to try to find a phone book. (Note to the young’uns — phone books were these big directory books that listed businesses in an area.) I stood in the dimly lit phone booth looking for hotels in the yellow pages. (By this time it was around 1 a.m.) I called the ones that had advertisements because it seemed that they might be large enough to host a conference.

On the second call, GOOD NEWS! I found the hotel where the conference was being held. The BAD NEWS was that they didn’t have a reservation for me, and they were sold out. Yes, my most embarrassing moment was that I had registered for this conference months before, flown 5 hours, and had completely forgotten to make a hotel reservation.

When the clerk at the hotel told me it was sold out and that she had heard that the surrounding hotels were also sold out, I wanted to lose it. I was exhausted. I looked hideous. I needed a shower. And there was no way I was going to walk into a conference of clients and prospects after having slept in my rental car. I was telling myself, “Keep it together. There’s no crying in business. Knock it off!

As I was saying to the hotel clerk, “I’ll stay in a room that needs to be remodeled or repaired, a coat closet, a cot in the back of the office, anything,” I remembered a story I had heard from Zig Ziglar about a time when he had needed a room in a sold-out hotel. He asked the clerk if they had a presidential suite. She replied that they did, and he said, “Well, the president isn’t coming tonight, so I’ll take his room.” I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried that corny joke with the clerk. She asked me to hold on for a moment. When she came back to the phone, she said, “Come to the hotel; we’re putting you in the presidential suite. But we’ll have to move you into a different room tomorrow morning as soon as one becomes available.” I was never so relieved!

I arrived at that hotel looking like something the cat had dragged in. The lady I had spoken to on the phone came around the desk and put her arm around my shoulder. She walked me to the presidential suite where a basket of goodies was waiting for me courtesy of the manager who had given her the OK to put me in that room. Thanks to that reservations clerk, the night manager, and Zig Ziglar, no one, until now, knew what a boneheaded mistake I had made!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would have had to fold my tent and go home in defeat when the insurance company that was my primary partner filed bankruptcy if it wasn’t for Tom Mulligan, then the president of Western World Insurance Company.

My primary partner had been an insurance company that had been in business for over 300 years when they suddenly closed their doors.

I had a very short time to replace all the insurance policies with another company before all my clients left me, so I pulled out my list of all the insurance companies in the United States and started calling the CEO’s. I was literally cold calling insurance company presidents to ask if they would consider insuring homes and services for abused children.

After several days of leaving messages (with no returned calls), being hung up on, and a couple of “Don’t call again” responses, I was completely dejected.

I was profoundly sad at the thought of having to lay off my employees who had done absolutely nothing to deserve losing their jobs. I felt like a complete failure at the thought of closing my doors, especially after having worked so hard to create the only insurance organization in the United States that existed solely to protect the good people and organizations that were dedicated to caring for children who had been abused. I felt angry that the insurance companies and brokers who had taken advantage of these non-profit, child-caring organizations were going to get the clients back from me and go right back to charging exorbitant premiums. The thought disgusted me. So I knew I couldn’t stop trying.

I kept making calls, and finally I saw a tiny ray of hope. I learned that there was going to be a meeting of insurance company executives the following week on the other side of the country. I wasn’t invited, and I certainly wasn’t welcome to this closed, members-only event. But I decided to go anyway.

I bought a plane ticket (you know, the “full price” kind of ticket that’s your only choice when you’re buying just days before the flight), I packed my best power suit, and I flew off to crash the party.

There was security everywhere. No one was allowed to enter any of the meeting rooms without the requisite badge, which I didn’t have. You couldn’t even enter an elevator without a room key, which I didn’t have (because I was at the Motel 6 several miles away). I tried to enter meeting rooms by saying, “Oh, I must have left my badge in my room.” No luck. The security people told me to go get it. I tried to walk in with a group to one of the main meeting rooms, but drat! Every badge was being checked at the door. I even wandered around the lobby surreptitiously glancing into trash cans to see if anyone who had to leave early had thrown a badge away. Nothing.

I finally flopped down in the lobby completely deflated. I’d paid money that I didn’t have for a plane ticket only to be blocked at every turn. The clock was ticking, and I knew that every moment that went by was a moment I was closer to losing all of my clients and my business. As I sat there thinking about this dismal future, I watched the elevator doors open and close several times with people coming and going in and out of the elevator. Suddenly it hit me. The security guard who had been stationed in front of the bank of elevators checking room keys wasn’t there. I looked around, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I waited for a group of three or four people to gather in front of the elevator, and I went over and stood among them like I was with them. Boom — I was in!

I had seen signs in the lobby that said that the hospitality suites were located on the 10th floor, so I got off on the 10th floor and tried to walk purposefully down the hall, as if I knew where I was going. Door after door was closed.

I walked down that hallway all the way, turning at each dead end, hoping to see an open door. As I approached the elevators, I realized that I had walked in a circle around the entire floor of the hotel. The scheduled time for the hospitality suites had just ended. Everyone was gone.

I couldn’t believe it. This was how it was going to end — the trip, my business, and my career. I stood there (in 3-inch heels), trying to decide what to do, when I thought, “I’m here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up to this level again, so I’m going to walk around one more time before I throw in the towel.”

As I made my way around the long circle of hallways again, I saw a door open. I watched as the man who opened it put the little door stop down so that the door would remain open. Whew, I thought I was going to have to run in heels to try to get in that door before it closed. When I got to the open door, I put on my best fake smile and leaned in and said, “Hello, may I have a moment of your time?”

The man who had opened the door was clearly expecting someone else. He had a meeting. He didn’t have time for me. I said, “I’ll make it quick! I’m here to give you an amazing opportunity to take over my entire book of business of private, non-profit child welfare organizations. They are a great risk with a low loss ratio, run by some of the best people in the world, doing some of the most significant work anyone can do. Your company will do well while doing good! Will you give me a chance to show you how profitable this could be for you?”

The person whom Tom Mulligan had been waiting for never showed up, and he did give me the opportunity to make my pitch. He chose to take a chance on me, and that day we launched a business relationship that was beneficial to everyone concerned. My business survived, my employees kept their jobs, and we continued for many years to protect some of the best people in the world. (Tom tells the story slightly differently — he remembers me leaning in and saying, “You don’t want to insure homes for abused children, do you?”)

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar was one of many books that made a powerful impression on me. I built my personal and professional success on Zig’s saying, “You can get anything in life you want if you’ll help enough other people get what they want.” It’s true, and I’ve never forgotten that.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“You can succeed because of what you’ve been through!” This is relevant for me because it’s literally the story of my life! I used the coping skills from my abusive, chaotic childhood, along with the character traits I developed then — traits including resilience, resourcefulness, determination, perseverance, tenacity, and more — to succeed in business and in life.

I feel so strongly about not wasting our painful experiences that I wrote a book called Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, a bookabout mining the lessons out of our painful experiences and using those things as stepping stones to our successful lives. Among the other 12 books I’ve written is, Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Successful Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, which is specifically about the character traits of people who have survived trauma and gone on to thrive.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I founded a non-profit organization called Successful Survivors Foundation, which exists to help survivors of trauma to mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through and to use those “assets” to create their own successful lives.

I also launched the Love Is Action Community Initiative, which is a collective impact initiative that brings together community stakeholders to create connections that help to eliminate social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I suspect that fear of failure is the single, greatest issue that holds anyone back, but especially women because there are still people in practically every industry who expect us to bail out to focus on marriage and family.

When I met with the boss at my last employer to give notice that I was leaving to start my own company, he told me that if I was lucky, he’d give me a job when I “fell on my face.” He proceeded to list all the things that I didn’t know about running a business.

I sat quietly with a fake smile on my face until he was done. The entire time I was thinking, “I’ll dig ditches or wash dishes before I’ll ever come crawling back here looking for a job!” I thanked him for the opportunity to learn so much, wished him well, and left with my fake smile intact.

My boss was absolutely right. I didn’t know anything about running a business; but I knew that I would do it or die trying to do it. I never looked back.

No employer wants a good employee to leave to become a competitor, but hopefully most aren’t so discouraging as my boss was. In addition to concerns about having help raising our children, getting financing, hoping we’ll have emotional support from family and friends, finding good employees, dealing with regulatory issues, and meeting every other challenge faced by entrepreneurs, there will always be people, like my ex-boss, who secretly (or openly) hope for our failure.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

I created a curriculum called Your Real Success that helps participants find and fulfill their purpose. There is nothing more empowering than finding that thing at which we are genius. We each have it. Sadly, most people never find it, much less fulfill it.

I’m living out my authentically successful life, doing what I know I was born to do, and I want to help as many other people do the same before I leave this life. I hope that I am empowering every woman within my influence. I’m grateful to be included in this article because I hope it will help expand that empowering influence to many more women who haven’t yet found their purpose.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

We need more women founders of businesses because women are more likely to launch businesses to fulfill a mission that does a noble good in the world.

That’s not to say that women don’t seek wealth, fame, or power. I’m simply saying that these things frequently aren’t their first concern.

Also, I’m not saying that men do not launch businesses that do noble good in the world; they do. I just think those motives are more prevalent and primary in women business founders.

My story of quitting my job and starting my company is probably a fairly common one for women. I made a lot of lifestyle changes in order to follow my dreams. I sold my house and downsized into a tiny condo. I sold my Mercedes and bought a Subaru. I even sold my furniture, including my fridge. (That last decision was’t well thought out — I don’t recommend selling the fridge.)

I made all of these huge life changes so that I could combine my professional expertise with my passion for protecting people who protect children who have been abused.

I wasn’t chasing wealth or fame or power.

I was on a mission.

My mission was to help kids like I used to be. I had been in the child welfare system for the first 16 years of my life. Once I was in the system, I was forgotten. No one made sure I was OK. And I was not OK. I was emotionally and physically abused by caregivers.

I was willing to turn my comfortable life upside down because I believed passionately in what I was hoping to achieve, which was:

  1. To put millions of dollars back into the budgets of non-profit child welfare organizations that they had been sending to ridiculously profitable insurance companies.
  2. To make sure that the child welfare organizations were properly insured and that their claims would be handled appropriately and not mismanaged by people who didn’t understand their operations, thereby creating dangerous precedents.

It was a noble mission that was driven by my life experience and — at the risk of sounding braggadocious — I accomplished it!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

1 . Women-supporting-women business support groups. Imagine a monthly meeting of women in business where everything shared in that room stayed confidentially in that room. Imagine that competitors had to be in separate groups. Imagine that the group was never larger than 14, and that every month these women in business knew that they’d be able to share their issues and get advice, opinions, and resources from every other woman in the group. On top of all that, imagine a group facilitator who was a retired business woman who shared the wisdom and experience she had acquired in a career of successfully navigating the issues that individuals in the group faced.

This type of scenario exists, but not exclusively for women. A group of this nature, exclusively for women in business, would give us the space to discuss openly, without judgement or criticism, the issues we typically face alone.

Women business leaders cannot go to a networking or leadership group and be totally transparent about the real issues they face in business, personal relationships, families, finances, etc. The old saying, “It’s lonely at the top,” is more true for women than it ever has been for men because a woman who starts her own business typically has no one in her life who truly understands and can offer actionable advice and support.

How much farther would women business leaders be able to go with a group of like-minded, hard-working, resourceful women serving as their support group or informal board?

2. Community networks of women helping women in business. Women in business have the unenviable task of trying to balance work, family, finances, and myriad other responsibilities. Work-Life-Balance is a laudable goal, but out of reach for many women in business.

These community networks would be groups of women who help one another with child care, getting their children to and from extra-curricular activities, and helping with all of the things that women business leaders typically don’t have time to do, such as getting groceries, picking up dry cleaning, waiting on repair people, gifting, entertaining, etc.

When I was a young, single business owner with a child in grade school, I was constantly asking for favors from friends for help. Working 60 hours a week, traveling constantly, or working late into the night shouldn’t have to mean that children are home alone, left waiting at the soccer park, or scrounging through an empty kitchen for food. Constantly asking friends for help can put a lot of strain on those relationships.

A community network of women helping women in business would connect women in business with women who are retired, who are home with young children, who have disabilities, etc. The women in the community network could earn an income doing tasks for women who are working ridiculous hours trying to keep their businesses afloat.

3. Women-led, mission-driven investment groups. Women who are in a position to invest money would do well while doing good if they would pool their time and treasure to help other women start businesses — especially mission-driven businesses.

Women with the capital to invest in the businesses of others are likely of a certain age and maturity. (I can say that because I am one!) We have acquired a lifetime of wisdom about the issues that new entrepreneurs face, so we’re perfectly positioned to be able to help younger women business owners miss the pitfalls that we fell into.

Watching your money grow while adding value in the world is far more emotionally rewarding than investing in just another soulless mutual fund.

4. Women in leadership speaker series. I didn’t have any women mentors in business when I was rising through the ranks in my male-dominated industry. I didn’t personally know anyone who had gone into business, so I literally had no one in my life to turn to for meaningful business advice. I read a lot of books, but all of them had been written by men.

It would have been so helpful and empowering to hear from women who had successfully navigated through many of the challenges that threatened to tank me and my business.

Imagine hearing monthly from different women in business sharing the things they wish they had known before starting their businesses, the things that happened that they didn’t anticipate, and the advice that could save other women business owners a boatload of time, money, and heartache. Priceless.

5. National movement to support women-owned businesses. Lots of us would buy from women-owned businesses if we could easily identify among competitors which businesses were women-owned.

A hashtag, logo, or some other identifier of women-owned businesses could easily distinguish these companies so that it would be easier for buyers who want to support them to do so.

Imagine launching a movement that supported women-owned businesses that ultimately helped those courageous women to achieve their goals, feed their families, and fulfill their purpose. We know that communities (and even countries) do better when women do better.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m hoping that the LOVE IS ACTION COMMUNITY INITIATIVE will do just that.Love Is Action is a collective impact initiative that brings together community stakeholders for the purpose of eradicating social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it — societal ills that include depression and suicide, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and everything else that harms children and families and communities. It seems that an epidemic greater even than the COVID-19 pandemic is that of social isolation. The good news is, we can cure it.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet with Melinda Gates, Susan Wojcicki, Kamala Harris, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, or any other woman who has the gravitas and the desire to help make the only truly sustainable change agent, LOVE, a priority in our world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.rhonda.org

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

The Social Impact Heroes of Social Media: Rhonda Vetere is using her platform to inspire women to pursue STEM opportunities

by Candice Georgiadis
Community//

Women Of The C-Suite: “Be a True Corporate Athlete” With Rhonda Vetere

by Akemi Sue Fisher
Community//

“Show up early. Being 15 minutes early is being on time.” with Tyler Gallagher & Rhonda Vetere

by Tyler Gallagher

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.