When Lisa Hickey took over the ownership of her father’s business, Douglass Screen Printers in 1996, she not only faced a transforming industry driven by technology change but a more daunting challenge: being a female CEO in an industry where there were few peers.
“My father brought me into the business in the 1980s so I was very familiar with the screen printing business,” said Hickey. “When I took over as owner, I knew of very few women who owned businesses, and none like mine. It’s very important to have a network of trusted peers”.
Hickey accepted the challenge and moved forward to grow the business. Today, with three locations, employing more than 45 people and being ranked in the top 10% of all screen printing businesses in the nation, Hickey’s Douglass Screen Printers is a testament to success. She credits the company’s livelihood with taking advantage of entrepreneur programs at the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida. There she realized something that she tells every new, small business owner.
“If you want to grow your business, the resources are out there,” said Hickey. “I did not have all the answers to lead this company when I took over but I reached out for assistance and ultimately I achieved better results.”
Hickey also sought to have Douglass Screen Printers designated a woman-owned business so she could expand through government contracting. Though she says the number of women-owned businesses are more numerous than when she came on the scene, they still aren’t noticed.
“I was in rare company back then but today women are on par with men in the entrepreneurial world and women-owned businesses are providing half the jobs in the U.S.” said Hickey.
Douglass Screen Printers became a certified woman-owned business in 2002 through the National Women Business Owners Corporation, who is inducting Hickey into their Hall of Fame this May. Other certifications followed. In 2004, she received certification through Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). The State of Florida’s Department of Management Services’ Office of Supplier Diversity Woman Owned gave her their certification also in 2004. Two years later, she self-certified as a Small Business Enterprise 8(m) Women Owned Small Business under SBA’s woman-owned small business contract program.
“These certifications gave me an additional competitive advantage as we began to bid for contracts in the public and private sector,” said Hickey.
According to Hickey, 30% of her business is with the Federal government and the balance is private sector.
“While many of the federal contracts are valued at $1000 or less, they do allow us to perpetuate long- standing relationships with the federal agencies. They know our capabilities and they come back to us with more business,” said Hickey, adding “in fact, we are the only screenprinter in the top 50 suppliers to the US Government Printing Office and have been for several years”.
Just as Hickey succeeded her father as the CEO of Douglass, she attained her own retirement goal and turned over the reins to her daughter. But before the leadership change, Hickey pointed the business in a direction of greater growth through exporting.
“In 2010, I took the International Trade Certificate Training through the Florida SBDC and the company received a State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant that produced a marketing plan to grow our export portfolio. The trick in our business is to maintain diverse product lines and markets so we can focus where the growth is.”
If you were to ask Lisa Hickey what advice she can give to future small business owners, she’s not afraid to share her experience. In fact, she is often asked to be a speaker at business conferences. There, she tells listeners about the “wisdom list” she shared with her daughter during transition.
“Business owners should have a sense of humanity, compassion, a focus on performance, and a written set of ambitious goals. Once you’re focused on a goal, your decisions will be driven by that focus. Don’t make a big deal or stress over day-to-day events or challenges. If your decisions are driven by your goal, then there is ultimately little to question.” She adds, “And if you treat others as they wish to be treated, then you will build a lifelong committed team.”
Being personally responsible for what your employees do and understanding your head may be on the proverbial chopping block can be a detractor for many entrepreneurs considering their own business, explained Hickey. But the positives outweighed any negatives in her career as a woman business owner.
“I enjoy ‘choice’ as a business-owner. That’s very broad but I can choose who I work with, who works for me, and what policies my business should have, but ultimately it’s choosing how I want to engage that makes being a small business owner worthwhile.”
By her own admission, Hickey is looking for the next thing to accomplish. Whatever goal she has her sights on, being a woman certainly isn’t going to distract her.