Host, Nathalie Virem, interviews Dr. Marsha Firestone, the Founder and President of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO). In this interview Dr. Firestone shares the story of the origin of this amazing organization, some of the mind-boggling facts about its success, general advice for female entrepreneurs and business owners, and some of the exciting initiatives WPO is hosting this year.
Nathalie Virem: How did the idea of creating the Women Presidents Organization (WPO) from multimillion dollar, women-led companies come to you?
Marsha Firestone: I was working for a non-profit in New York City called the American Women Economic Development (AWED) Corporation. It was an organization that helps to start and grow businesses for women. I realized while I was working with this group, primarily comprised of startups and young businesses, that there was nothing for women who have already achieved a certain level of success. At the time, I was being considered by AWED to become president. As part of my plan of action as president, I pitched them my idea for WPO to the board. Ultimately, they chose someone else. And to be honest, I was devastated. I’d been there for five years and loved the organization deeply. At some point, my mentor told me to stop pouting and complaining and just go out on my own and create what I envisioned. And so, I did.
I started the first chapter in New York City in 1997, the second chapter the following year in Los Angeles, and the third chapter again in New York City. I began to realize that I was meeting a need AWED hadn’t been addressing. The market was responding. Successful women wanted something like WPO.
Nathalie Virem: What would you say WPO’s main value proposition was at the time in comparison to existing organizations like AWED?
Marsha Firestone: WPO was and continues to be an educational business organization. The main difference is: it is a pure advisory group for well-established and fast growing businesses. In order to join WPO, your revenues must exceed $1M if you have a service based company and $2M if you have a product based company. As opposed to AWED’s model of focusing on young startups, we wanted to help address problems for women running companies in the second stage of growth.
Nathalie Virem: What meaningful numbers and statistics can you share with us today that give color to the richness of what’s going on right now at WPO?
Marsha Firestone: I am proud to say we have 2,000 members, 137 chapters on 6 continents, and are continuing to grow. The average revenue of our members is $14M, while the aggregate revenue across all of our members is upwards of $26B (yes, billion). Our members have an average of 22 years’ experience in business; aggregated that must be something like 150,000 shared years, which is important to note because WPO fosters a supportive, collaborative confidential setting where knowledge and advisory is shared. About 20% of our members are international. We are starting some new chapters this year–one in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and hopefully one in Egypt. And finally, the average age of our members is 49. Although I must say, we do have a lot of younger and older women—remember that’s just the average!
Nathalie Virem: What advice do you have for women not just in business but also in life?
Marsha Firestone: Well, I will suggest that they first identify what they want in terms of goals and then actually move towards those goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked because so many women are not sure what they want to accomplish. Entrepreneurship is a great path. I call it the great equalizer for women because it’s one sphere where women can have more influence and more control of their time and how much they get paid. But I realize not everyone is called to entrepreneurship. That’s why it’s critical to determine your own goals.
Nathalie Virem: How would you say business women can not only create wealth but also leave a lasting legacy that has a positive impact in the world?
Marsha Firestone: A lot of women are into social entrepreneurship. Doing good and doing well are tied together in this space. So, that’s one road to take. Another road is for women to use the money they make to invest in what they care about and want to support. If, for example, you are committed to helping other women, you have the ability to donate time, money, and energy as a woman of wealth to other women. This second path can be harder for women to walk because research shows they are not that as comfortable around money. It’s something we think is important for us to work on to collectively improve.
Nathalie Virem: What can you share with us about WPO’s upcoming projects and events?
Marsha Firestone: First, we are very excited to be having our first international conference in Portugal on October 25 and 26! We’ve been having these every year in the United States, but it’s really exciting to be taking it abroad. Second, we always do a program to recognize women of color, who are not only successful business owners but who have given back to the community in meaningful ways. This year we are granting these achievement awards in Nashville and Seattle, which will signify having hit 20 cities with this initiative. And finally, we publish a list of the 50 fastest growing women-led companies every year. This year, we will be presenting it at our conference in Portugal. And then it will be available with all previous years’ lists at www.womenpresidentsorg.com.
The Women Presidents’ Organization is located in New York City. Founded in 1997 by Marsha Firestone, its global impact is far-reaching as exhibited through its impressive membership statistics and continued growth.
If there’s anything we hope you take away, it’s that there are a lot of remarkable women doing inspiring things in the international business community today. And as you’ve read here, having an impact on a global scale simply starts with identifying a problem or a gap in the market and having the will to solve it, just like Marsha did.
We want to thank Marsha for her time and willingness to share her story and all of the contributions she’s made to women in the business community.
For more information about joining WPO or to see past lists of the top-50 female-led companies, please visit www.womenpresidentsorg.com.
Dr. Marsha Firestone is the Founder and President of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), which began in 1997 as a peer advisory organization for women who own multimillion dollar businesses. She is also the Founder and President of the Women Presidents’ Educational Organization, dedicated to increasing access to business opportunities for women’s business enterprises (WBEs).