Updated: Dec 21, 2021
In proud salute to Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (November 19, 2021), Bank & Entrepreneur Africa magazine caught up with serial entrepreneur, Dr. Terry Neese. She is Founder & CEO of the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), past President of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), and Co-Founder of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). From turning her first business in the 1970s with zero capital into a multimillion-dollar company, to making history when she became the first woman nominated by a major political party for the seat of Lt. Governor of Oklahoma (USA), Dr. Neese’s life has been dedicated to advocating on behalf of women. During her incredible career, she has gone on to develop a myriad of businesses and nonprofits designed to increase women’s roles in business ownership and public policy. Through her efforts, countless women entrepreneurs from around the world, including developing countries, have received the training and resources they need for success. Hear her:
What should entrepreneurs understand to be the core difference between entrepreneurial education and enterprise education?
The core difference is an entrepreneur who has a unique idea in their mind with the passion to build a business successfully. Enterprise education helps students develop confidence and determination to succeed. I do believe that if a person has the passion to start and grow a business, they will be successful. Going to class at a university may make you successful in business; however, that is not necessarily the case! It's all about your ability to reach your goals.
“I really want to help more women with their businesses”
What is your take on entrepreneurs being more successful if they have had a university education versus those who take the apprenticeship or self-taught route?
In my opinion, a college education in entrepreneurship is very special. However, I have been a self-taught entrepreneur my entire life. I started a staffing business and loved the work. I honestly had no idea what I was doing but kept working on my entrepreneurial skills. Over the course of time, I set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. I also made sure I hired quality staff. We found jobs for over 34,000 Oklahomans, and we were very passionate about our efforts to help people feed their families and be successful.
How does one start a business with $600, and then turn it into a "multimillion-dollar business"? Please tell us your story, especially the key challenges and success factors for a female-led business
Not only did I have just $600, I had a child to feed and take care of. My first goal was to learn how to find the right person to fill the right job. I taught myself how to hire people to help me be more successful. My goal was to find one person a job every day, and that included the weekends. I was determined to be successful. I wanted to purchase my own building, and my husband told me not to do that, since I had just started on this trajectory. He was an accountant and a great, inspiring man who always encouraged me in business. But I was determined to buy the building.
I purchased the building in 1976 or 1977. I was so proud to own a building. My first major issue happened within 6 months of buying the building. The highway in front of the building (Route 66) was torn up for 2½ years, making it very difficult to position people to come to my building for a job. Women in particular had a tough time walking in tar in their high heels. We managed to be even more successful as we put up signs that said, "Our road to success is under construction—GET YOUR JOB TODAY." After the highway reopened, we were thrilled, and more people got jobs from Terry Neese Personnel. But, shortly after the highway reopened, my building burned to the ground. We lost everything we had!
There is much more to my story, but we have been very successful as we kept our spirits high and were determined to continue our success. On the success side, I have been honored by many organisations that presented me with awards. One of the highest awards is from Northwood University—I was presented a Doctor of Laws (2008), which I am very proud of. What are the most obvious/ helpful opportunities and resources that women entrepreneurs in Africa can access both locally and outside of the continent?
Build relationships with women business owners and discuss issues and success. There is nothing like working with entrepreneurs who can share their experiences. You can also do that around the globe. With webinars, WhatsApp, Zoom, and many other scenarios, you can find ways to be more effective as a business owner.
I started a nonprofit 16 years ago and have been working to educate women business owners in Rwanda and Afghanistan. We have graduated almost 1,000 women business owners with Northwood University’s curriculum. The nonprofit is The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW - https://ieew.org)
I really want to help more women with their businesses. I started the nonprofit and really had no idea how it would turn out—success around the world is my goal. Helping build businesses is obviously my passion.
Currently, Dr. Neese is dedicated to championing the efforts of women business owners in Afghanistan and Rwanda via Peace Through Business [ieew.org/tag/peace-through-business]. Launched in 2006, Peace Through Business gives intensive business training to women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda, providing resources that equip them with financial independence, community involvement, and political activism. Since its creation in 2006, the program has trained nearly 600 women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda, who have in turn employed over 13,000 of their countrymen and women.