By Richard Lee The Stamford Advocate, Conn.
Like most entrepreneurs, Robin Imbrogno's life as a business owner has been fraught with challenges.
But she has persevered and developed a Seymour-based human resources business that serves corporate clients across the country.
Imbrogno imparted some of her experiences to nearly 20 business operators Wednesday morning at the Women's Business Development Council's initial Strong Coffee speaker series event at the Stamford nonprofit organization's headquarters.
"My goal is to share my experiences, so maybe you as entrepreneurs won't have to stumble over the same things I did," Imbrogno said. "I enjoy working with small businesses."
A mother of two, Imbrogno started The Human Resource Consulting Group 25 years ago with meager capital of only several hundred dollars, and has grown it into a business with 31 employees, while retaining some of the same clients she had when she started.
"The great thing is that I've been able to put two kids through college," said Imbrogno, who started working for the former City Trust Bank after graduation from high school.
She moved into a human resources position within the bank and earned her bachelor's degree after attending college part time for eight years.
As her business started to grow, Imbrogno brought in a partner, but the partnership soured after questions arose over clients' taxes, forcing her to sue the individual -- a case she won.
She assured her clients their accounts would be made right.
"I wiped out my 401k and took out a second mortgage," said Imbrogno, who reimbursed her clients over five years. "I learned a lot of lessons about myself. You need to know who you're working with and do due-diligence. I'm definitely a different person."
Looking back at the start of her business, Imbrogno said she should have sought out financing to help it grow, and as a member of the WBDC board of directors, she urged the audience to take advantage of mentoring programs offered by the organization.
"There weren't as many opportunities to learn as there are today," said Imbrogno, who has learned that she cannot control the business as she did in the early years. "I like being the quarterback. I don't control input, but I control output. It's definitely all about output. You really have to love what you do and be passionate about it."
A business owner for 14 months, Jean Carucci, owner of Carucci Consultants, a strategic planning business in Stamford, said she was impressed by Imbrogno's ability to bounce back from problems.
"I thought her story of the pitfalls was incredible -- the due-diligence that needs to be done when you're seeking a partner," said Carucci said.
To ensure that she provides solid service to her five clients, Carucci said she demands that businesses she aligns with share the same high standard of ethics.
After working at her business, Sitara Collections, in Stamford, on a part-time basis for several years, Linda Singh quit her corporate job in June to devote her full attention to the business which sells online hand-crafted jewelry and home decor items made by Indian artisans.
Recalling that Imbrogno put making payroll at the top of her priority list, Singh said sometimes has a been her concern.
"Making payroll is challenging, but I'm coming into the busy part of the season," said Singh, who intently listened to Imbrogno's story about her failed partnership. "I don't want to get into a partnership with anybody. I'm set up as an LLC, and I like it that way."
Midway through Imbrogno's talk, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., entered the room and advised participants in the session to take advantage of WBDC programs.
"The WBDC is as good as it gets," he said. "I'm a strong supporter."