By Jane M. Von Bergen
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
If all goes according to plan, and it should, given how much Geri Swift believes in the power of planning, Swift, 68, will welcome 3,000 attendees to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s 2014 convention at the Convention Center on Monday.
It will be an important moment for Swift, a former Catholic school teacher and legal secretary turned entrepreneur who grew up in a three-bedroom Manayunk rowhouse with her parents and 10 siblings — if you count the one on the way just before the family moved to Roxborough.
These days, Swift, a cofounder of the group meeting at the Convention Center, relies on lists to get everything done as president of the Women’s Business Development Center and the Women’s Business Enterprise Council of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey.
In her Manayunk days, Swift’s mother was the master planner, devising a system to move 12 people through one bathroom each morning.
Question: What life lesson have you learned from sharing one bathroom with so many people?
Answer: I guess to be planned and organized with your time. You had a scheduled bathroom time and if you missed it, you missed it.
Q: Your organization certifies businesses as being women-owned so the businesses can bid for minority contracts. I’m cynical. Aren’t many of those firms actually run by men?
A: You might have a man whose wife has been involved in the business, but the only work she’s been doing is the administrative and bookkeeping. [Whatever her title,] she’s not a president. Unless he takes the time to train her and gives her the expertise, and he no longer is the key person, it is not going to be a woman-owned business.
Q: Is it easy to game the system?
A: The certification process is stringent. [The woman has] to be able to provide legal, accounting, background information, current clients. We interview the woman when we go out to visit about the clients and the relationships. We look at contracts and see who signs them.
Q: Why did you become involved in helping women business owners?
A: When I started my business in 1980, I basically was a sole proprietor. I went to look for other women business owners to help me. There wasn’t anything in Philadelphia.
Q: Later you left your data-management business to start this organization. How did that happen?
A: Volunteerism is what gave me the path to plan my life’s purpose. I realized that I loved the [volunteer] work I was doing to help women become economically self-sufficient. It fulfilled me in ways that my business work didn’t.
Q: What’s a common mistake made by businesswomen?
A: Wanting to be perfect holds you back. It does.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake a business owner can make, male or female?
A: To not plan. Businesses don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.
Q: You plan your personal life as well — you even planned to find a husband.
A: When I was 40, I decided I wanted to get married. I told everyone I knew that I wanted to get married. Most people didn’t see me as the type of person that may want to get married. I set my goal and within two years, I was married.
Title: President, Women’s Business Development Center, Women’s Business Enterprise Council — Pennsylvania, Delaware, Southern New Jersey.
Home: Chestnut Hill.
Family: Husband, Stephen Pearl.
Diplomas: John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School, Peirce College, associate’s degree in science; Antioch College, liberal arts.
Ruler on knuckles: As a Catholic grade- school teacher, Swift gave her students extra recess.
On TV: America’s Got Talent.
FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS
What: Women’s Business Development Center and Women’s Business Enterprise Council.
Mission: Women’s business development, education, certification.
Who: 53 businesses, government agencies with supplier diversity programs.
Budget: $1.3 million.
Employees: 8 full-time.
Women-owned certified businesses: 749 in Pa., South Jersey, and Del. totaling 27,832 employees and $6.9 billion in 2012 revenue.