Terry Neese, Inspiring Women in Business

By Cydney Baron Claremore Daily Progress, Okla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  Among Terry Neese's accomplishments, a book, titled "Power Tools for Women Business Owners." After penning it she went on a 14 city tour working with women entrepreneurs on "the importance of being involved with their government on the local, state, and national level."

Claremore

Terry Neese is busy.

More often than not she's working harder, and smarter, than everyone in the room.

The self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" is the founder of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women and Women Impacting Public Policy and the National Grassroots Network.

She became a member of the U.S. Afghan Women's Council through a request made personally by Barbara Bush.

She is an inductee into the National and Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fames.

Neese made history in 1990 when she became the first woman nominated by a major political party for the seat of lieutenant governor of Oklahoma.

Through all of that, she started Terry Neese Personnel Services and spent over 30 years helping people find careers.

All things considered, it's no wonder she was recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the "Power 30" most influential small businesspersons in Washington DC.

Neese has been featured by MSNBC, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner and the Washington Times.

Oh, and she's a pilot.

Terry Neese is busy.

But this week she said yes and accepted the invitation of the local chapter of Philanthropic Educational Organization and spoke at Rogers State University as part of the Carl. G. and Gladys L. Herrington Distinguished Lecture Series.

She was introduced as "Oklahoma's Most Admired CEO."

"I grew up at the end of a dirt road, two miles west of Cookie Town. Population five," she began. "That's where I received the values I hold dear to my heart right now. I plowed when I was nine years old. I picked cotton and gathered eggs, all the things you have to do in farm work. Which, I hope I don't ever have to do again."

"Although, I do own the farm which my grandfather homesteaded over 125 years ago," she said. "I used to walk that dirt road and think 'how am I ever going to get out of here?'"

Neese said she loved basketball and was the all district forward.

"Our school board voted to outlaw girls basketball when I became a senior in high school, after I was all district forward as a junior," she said. "That was devastating for me."

Fast forwarding, Neese said she went to college at the University of Oklahoma when there was "only a couple three things women could major in.

"Nurse, teacher, or secretarial science," she laughed. "So, that's what I majored in. Secretarial Science."

She later applied for a job at a staffing firm, got the job and showed up for her first day of work finding people jobs and found a note taped to the firm's door: "I hired you yesterday. I'm leaving. The petty cash is in the bottom drawer of my desk. I will not be back, Mary."

One phone call to the owner later and Neese, 20, was running the firm.

That went really well.

So she opened one in Enid, and Edmond, and Woodward, and Dallas and was set to franchise nationwide.

"I got a message from God that said 'that's not what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to combine everything back into Oklahoma City. You don't want to do franchising," she told the audience. "And I was like 'really? Okay.' Therefore we started the staffing firm in Oklahoma City with $600, because that was all I had, and a prayer we could get through the first month."

She didn't have the first month's rent but asked to pay it out. They said yes.

"After a year, I decided I wanted to purchase my own building and my husband said 'that's crazy, you can't do that. You've only been in business a year,'" she recalled. "So, I purchased the perfect building on Route 66 in Oklahoma City."

Neese added, "Women couldn't borrow money nor get a credit card in those years without the signature of a man."

She said she was not about to have her husband sign for her to get a loan. So, she asked the builder if she could pay installments. He said yes.

"He was very excited to get out from under the building and I didn't understand why. But turns out, about six months after I owned the building, they tore up Route 66 and built Interstate 44 and I had no access into my building. Now, remember, I'm in the people business. And people had no access into my building for two and a half years," she said.

"Women and men would park on May Avenue and walk to my building literally in tar to fill out applications for jobs." Despite the roadblock, Neese said business was good and revenue kept increasing.

"Remember the $600? We were now in the hundreds of thousands in revenue. We were doing really really well. The road opened after two and a half years. Yay," she said. "And about three months after that my building burned down and I lost everything I had."

In a day of paper records, Neese said everything--including accounts receivable--was lost.

"That could have been a real killer for me. However, in 24 hours we were back up and running a couple doors down in another building. And we quadrupled our revenues over the next couple years," she said.

Later, Neese wrote a book, "Power Tools for Women Business Owners" which was sponsored by AT&T. She went on an 14 city tour working with women entrepreneurs on "the importance of being involved with their government on the local, state, and national level."

"Then a phone call came from Laura Bush's office at the White House, asking me if I could help women in Afghanistan grow their businesses because they were beginning to open their businesses back up after the Taliban had been eradicated somewhat," she continued. "I said 'you want me to do what?'"

She was encouraged by the former-first lady to spend a week on the ground in Afghanistan with then-Secretary and Ambassador Paula Dobrionski.

"In Afghanistan? I asked her. 'Yes, Terry, in Afghanistan' she said. So, I went home and told my husband about it. He said 'you're not going to do that,'" she said.

"Next thing I know I'm on a plane, landing in Kabul and being told to put on my 50-lb flat jacket and walk out of the plane door, not turn around to look at anything, and get in the SUV at the end of the steps."

Neese said she met wonderful women that week. Women who had owned businesses and were wanting to open them up. And young women who wanted to start businesses.

On the plane back home, an inspired Neese said she started to put together a business plan to help the women.

Neese regaled the group stories of her entrepreneurial endeavors, the obstacles and the yes's.

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