One woman wrestles slabs of beef while overseeing a $230 million-a-year restaurant empire. Another turns $1,000 into $12,000 by investing in cotton futures and went on to build a multibillion-dollar realty company.
What they have in common, says Gregory Ericksen, is a compassionate approach to customers and employees that their male colleagues in the corporate world would do well to imitate.
Mr. Ericksen, an executive at the New York-based accounting firm Ernst & Young, is the author of a new book, "Women Entrepreneurs Only," (Wiley, $24.95) which tells how 12 women built businesses out of nothing. The women are past winners of Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award, which Ericksen administers.
Women-owned businesses, he notes, are forming at twice the rate of other businesses - they already comprise 40 percent of companies in the US.
These 12 stories show some of the reasons for that rapid growth. "These women have done an exceptional job of staying close to customers. They've created organizations based on teamwork and sharing," which is an emerging model for management, he says.
"I think they're setting a pretty high standard for how you have to deal with people," he adds. They pay attention to details, and treat each individual well, whether a customer or an employee.
Ruth Fertel, the restaurateur, overcame business naivete and mishaps to build Ruth's Chris Steak House, now a large chain.
In 1965, she left a decent job as a lab technician and, against the advice of her banker, took out a loan against her house to buy a small steakhouse in New Orleans. Her motivation: to put her sons through college.
After just three months in the business, in which she worked 16 hour days, Hurricane Betsy struck Louisiana. With the power out, it appeared Ms. Fertel's substantial inventory of beef would spoil.
But she turned that adversity into a business coup, cooking all the meat she had and distributing it to those who were without food because of the hurricane. The generosity was reciprocated when many of those people became customers - as did the utility repair crews.
Realtor Ebby Halliday entered real estate serendipitously. She had opened a Dallas hat shop with savings and stock-market earnings. A customer's husband asked her to try her hand at selling all-cement houses that no one seemed to want. She sold 52 of them.
Soon after, she launched Ebby Halliday, Realtors. Starting in 1945, she aggressively pursued customers. In the book, one executive recalls that his transfer to another city was announced in the newspaper. The morning the article appeared, Ms. Halliday called him to persuade him to let her sell his house. Eight years later, when his return to Dallas was announced, she called again - looking to help him find a new house.
That tenacity, says Ericksen, is why Halliday's firm now logs more than $2.5 billion in sales per year.
The women were typical of those Ericksen met. "These people had ideas, and took advantage of them," he says. They also share a love for what they're doing. "Because they have a passion for their work, they don't view obstacles as insurmountable."