We need to foster tolerance and fairness to others by starting in our immediate family. Children learn more by what their parents do than what they say. A family environment that encourages equality and opportunity– whether among gender, race or religion, will make our communities more robust, safer and better places to live. Parents: you are a role model every day; act like one.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Sara.
Liz Sara is Chair of the National Women’s Business Council, the non-partisan federal advisory committee created to serve as an independent source of advice and policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the SBA on economic issues of importance to women business owners. She is also Founder and President of Best Marketing, LLC.
Than you for joining us Liz! Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born in Manhattan to two Manhattan-born and raised parents. My grandparents immigrated from Italy when they were all quite young. When my brother and I were in grammar school, my parents bought our first house in the suburbs, just outside NYC. I mostly grew up there. All my grandparents and relatives still lived in the city — in Little Italy — so we spent a lot of time visiting them every Sunday. As an Italian-American, family holds an important place. Followed next by food, of course.
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?
I’ve been involved in the technology industry ever since I read a book in the early 80s called “Megatrends.” The book identified 10 directions that would transform our lives, one of which was technology. I decided right then that I wanted to be part of that — but as a businesswoman, not an inventor. Back then, the IBM personal computer was just emerging. Most people, myself included, had no idea about computers. But the notion of what technology would do fascinated me enough that I wanted to be a part of it. I’m probably the least technical person I know that has spent an entire career in the field. I like it that way. That one decision is really the only concerted effort I made about my marketing career ever since. From my first job in tech, my path and subsequent roles along the way were all accidental. From being a startup founder to working with startup founders led me to this role as Chair of the National Women’s Business Council. The Council is a nonpartisan federal advisory committee — we advocate for female founders around the country by making recommendations to Congress, the White House, and the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration on solutions that help women business owners start and grow their companies. This role was a really natural fit for me at this time in my career.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I have several. Many of them come from baseball, oddly enough for someone who never played sports. I especially like, “You can’t steal second base if you have one foot on first.” The quote summarizes risk. And risk lies at the heart of entrepreneurship. Nearly every role I had throughout my career in technology was entrepreneurial and involved tremendous risk. Risk of losing money; risk of losing the job; risk of losing the business altogether. Yet, I gravitated to every opportunity, especially its inherent risk. The risk actually lured me in and got the adrenaline pumping. In working with more than 100 startup company entrepreneurs over the last two decades, I see the very same magnetic pull of risk for them. We are willing to lose it all for the reward — and the thrill — that we might just succeed gloriously.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership involves crystalizing a new idea, innovation, strategy or plan into something real then communicating it so simply and passionately that everyone wants to be a part of it. A leader can take something modest or monumental and through sheer enthusiasm, charisma and unwavering confidence, garner disciples. That’s the key part: followers. You can’t be a leader if nobody follows.
Let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Covid-19 crisis. Racial inequality crisis. Partisan politics crisis. Unemployment crisis. Economic crisis. Any single one of these creates enormous repercussions. But we’re in the midst of all them at once. Since I’m not in healthcare or politics, I’ll leave the first three to the experts, and as a businesswoman, discuss the last two: unemployment and economics.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Let me start with the state of small business, currently in dire straits. Small businesses drive the economy’s engine and do more to create jobs than any other sector. The SBA estimates that small companies (fewer than 500 employees) create more than 1.5 million jobs each year and account for 64% of all new jobs created in the country annually. Women-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses and number about 12 million, according to data reported by the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). Women-owned businesses contribute about $1.9 trillion dollars in revenue to the economy. And, surprising to many people, 90 percent of all woman-owned businesses have no employees. When the pandemic forced us all to stay home and businesses to shutter, small businesses and women-owned small businesses slid into the economic abyss the fastest. National Bureau of Economic Research just released a report on this. Active business owners in the U.S. plummeted by 3.3 million or 22% during February — April. Female-owned businesses experienced a 25% drop. African-American businesses saw a 41% drop. Many jobs will be forever lost and many woman-owned businesses will never reemerge. These women own and operate Main Street companies — hair salons, yoga studios, bakeries and boutiques, to name a few. Depending on the state, many of these are still closed. Depending on the city, many of these didn’t make it during the riots. Depending on the women owner, lack of financial savvy and understanding will further hamper her survival.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
As Chair of NWBC, we have been monitoring the state of the really small woman-owned businesses over the past few months of quarantine. When publicly-traded restaurants landed million-dollar PPP loans (amidst loud public outcry), we spoke with the SBA Administrator. Our message was simple: ensure that the spirit of the PPP to prop up small businesses was met and that these micro businesses owned by women got a fair shot in the application process. We were encouraged by the SBA set-aside of funds for the small local and community banks in the second round of funding. This surely helped the small female business owners. As we monitor the PPP loan data, filtered by business size, we are hopeful that the female founders are included among their male counterparts. To support that, we’ve launched a regular series of webinars and virtual round tables for women business owners to highlight financial resources available to them — from the PPP and how to apply — as well as ways to leverage other capital sources. Currently, the Council has made financial literacy an issue we must address this year. We are working on identifying solutions to improve financial literacy among women business owners and plan to provide recommendations to SBA, Congress and The White House later this year.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
To heal our country, we must first start with ourselves. Everyone needs a remember that we all live in the same country. If the country fails, we all fail. We can certainly disagree with certain politics and politicians because debate is healthy. Yet, too many people have forgotten how to debate. Instead, facts have been replaced with personal attacks. We can each do our part to stop that behavior when we recognize ourselves doing it. Second, we need to foster tolerance and fairness to others by starting in our immediate family. Children learn more by what their parents do than what they say. A family environment that encourages equality and opportunity– whether among gender, race or religion, will make our communities more robust, safer and better places to live. Parents: you are a role model every day; act like one. Third, we need to support our neighborhoods to get those small businesses back to business. Make a purchase this week, large or small. And, I hope you buy it from a woman business owner. Fourth, cultivate open and positive workplace environments. Whether you are the entry level worker or the head honcho, take steps to promote an atmosphere that values people’s ideas and contributions regardless of their age, gender or color. Diversity multiplies value. Fifth, do something for a total stranger today with no expectation of getting anything in return.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
These ideas are not difficult to execute. They are all common sense, really. We seem to have lost that compass. But it won’t take much to get it back. Everyone who reads this today and can start immediately and watch what happens. We can each be a leader. And watch who follows.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I’m absolutely optimistic. Our country was founded as a result of a revolution against the most powerful empire on earth at the time. And we’ve created a nation where everyone else wants to live. We’ve faced world wars, stock market crashes, hurricanes and earthquakes and other health crises. We got through those, and we’ll get through this period. We can all do our part. But we must remember that when the country succeeds, we succeed.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We all want the same thing: a meaningful job with a steady paycheck, a safe place to live, a family and friends. When we attain these basic needs, we have the time to focus on others and the initiatives or innovations that can enhance and improve our lives and our work. I look at the volume of groundbreaking inventions that have occurred just in my own lifetime — color TV, microwave ovens, mobile phones, Internet, software applications, cable TV, on and on. Think about the advances in medicine and cures, not to mention advances in manufacturing, farming, aviation and in every other sector. Our country makes it possible for entrepreneurs to exist and flourish. The world benefits from that.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I’d love to have a private audience with Queen Elizabeth. She’s the longest reigning monarch of all time: 65 years. She outlasted all the kings! Boy, do I have a lot of questions for her.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please connect with me on LinkedIn (Liz Sara), on Twitter (@LizSaraPR). And, I invite you to join our email list for the National Women’s Business Council (www.nwbc.gov) follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter @NWBC.