Butte Native, Business Professor Backs Women Leaders

By Renata Birkenbuel
The Montana Standard, Butte.

Butte-born Marilyn Besich recognizes a successful businesswoman when she sees one.

One-time engineering student at Montana Tech, Besich, 63, took in the second annual Pay Equity Summit at Montana Tech on Saturday.

Surrounded by 100 businesswomen of all ages and innovative skill sets, she listened to a powerhouse of women speakers talk about breaking into business and negotiating for raises on Saturday.

As one of a “handful” of women engineering majors at Montana Tech in 1970-71, Besich is a longtime business professor at Great Falls College Montana State University. She sees a definite shift in women’s approach to business.

“Women today have a stronger level of confidence,” she told The Montana Standard. “True entrepreneurs have a really high tolerance for ambiguity.”

Besich said contrary to popular belief, the so-called new paradigm startup business model that relies as much on collaboration, community and relationships as profits is indeed not a new concept. One fact remains true: even flourishing online businesses need support systems.

Entrepreneurs have all kinds of resources available to them, she said. The Service Corps of Retired Executives, for instance, provides a great mentoring and workshop system. The website suggests White Sulphur Springs, Mont., as the go-to state chapter for support.

“You can go to them and get help,” said Besich.

However, she teaches entrepreneurship and said the new community-oriented business model is “a positive extension” of more traditional business models.

Besich has seen the transformation of women entrepreneurs during the course of her 30 years teaching and working in business. Success is possible, with the right support and serendipitous pivotal moments, she said.

Her father, Clayton McDonald, a telegrapher at Butte’s Western Union office when she was growing up, embraced her every move up the ladder in education.

“If you’re independent and have an education, you can take care of yourself,” Besich’s father told her.

More out of fear for her future, he wanted her to be financially self-reliant, she said, at a time when it was a bit unusual for women to focus on their own careers in lieu of marrying and raising a family.

“That inspiration I got from my dad; he was my driving force behind me until I got my doctorate,” said Besich. “He so valued education. He only had an eighth-grade education himself.”

Her father encouraged her to enroll at Tech, where she delved into an entirely different culture from what she experienced as a “rural” Montanan in Butte. Even though she didn’t leave town, campus diversity was a bit of a culture shock, she said.

She said she experienced backlash from male engineering majors attending Tech from the Middle East who believed quite strongly that she and her female cohorts did not belong in the traditional male-dominated classroom.

“My dad wanted me to be a petroleum engineer,” she said. “He always thought women should have an education. Women who supported him — he got it.”

She remembers former Tech professor Jack Goebel teaching “math plus confidence,” a course that led her to other paths.

“He inspired me to go for it, whatever it turned out to be,” she added.

But she credits a “fabulous” UM business professor with changing the course of her life. After taking his marketing class, she switched her major to business.

“I got hooked on business,” she said. “That was my first exposure to it.”

She had found her lifelong passion.

Eventually she transferred to the University of Montana, where she earned a double degree in business and education.

She taught at a private commercial college for six years in Great Falls then worked as a filer for a leasing company, where she eventually moved up to a property tax position then portfolio manager.

Just as her father advised her, she sees young women entrepreneurs as a talented group that seizes opportunities, is self-reliant, independent and clearly capable of climbing the ladder of success.

“Women entrepreneurs pursue, and they persist forward,” she added.

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