There are many trite but true expressions about dealing with adverse situations—“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” “A diamond was once a lump of coal that was put under pressure,” and “Necessity is the mother of invention,” are a few that spring to mind. Many famous people have quotes on adversity—you can find web sites devoted to these quotes. Gloria Carter-Hicks of Hicks-Carter-Hicks, LLC, (H-C-H) exemplifies the best of these expressions. Driven, passionate, dedicated, and honorable could all be used to describe the owner, CEO, and president of this management consulting firm. She started her own business in 1999 when the company for which she was working transferred her job function to Chicago. St. Louis was home and she wanted to stay so she made her lemonade from that lemon. At that point, she had 16 years of experience in business—sales, operations, and human resources experience in retail, food service, financial services, and she even worked in city government. Carter-Hicks grew up with parents who owned a small grocery store, so she learned how to be a small business owner from them. If Carter-Hicks doesn’t know an industry or job herself, she knows someone who does.
While her firm offers services in training, management consulting, executive coaching, and surveying employees, she has a special affinity and love for diversity management and inclusion training. In her “free time” she serves on the Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee and board of the St. Louis Minority Supplier Development Council, is on the St. Louis Workforce Development Board, and does volunteer work coaching minority and women-owned small business enterprises. As a female, minority, small business owner, she understands how perceptions can hurt or help a business. She coaches business owners on overcoming negative perceptions—especially those relating to small businesses or minority businesses. For example, some feel small businesses would not have the resources to complete a contract or job, and are hesitant to award contract business. She shows business owners how to capitalize on strategic partnerships and the multiplicative force of these partnerships. Hicks-Carter-Hicks is currently licensed to work in Missouri, Ohio and Maryland, with a long-term goal of opening an office in Maryland.
Carter-Hicks feels diversity is good for businesses and knowing how to work with diverse employees and clients will benefit business bottom lines. We live in a diverse society and we all bring different experiences and viewpoints which can enhance business profitability. Diverse work forces can create a synergy which engenders ideas and solutions that might not otherwise be forthcoming. She feels the opportunity for fairness and to be included is crucial and that businesses should “appreciate, respect, leverage, and value diversity.”
Customer service is H-C-H’s greatest strength according to Carter-Hicks. She will “do the unimaginable to make customers happy” and her goal is “customer satisfaction as opposed to customer service.” She works extremely long hours including the occasional all-nighter, but she doesn’t feel like it’s work. She loves her business, loves her clients, and loves what she does. She also inherited a strong work ethic from her parents so she expects to work for what she wants.
While Carter-Hicks advises other companies she’s also had help along the way. She knew many of the business basics—she understood numbers, politics, and the game of business and had learned about costing, markets, profits, overhead, sales per square foot, and other concepts those new to business might not know, she also knew there were areas where she needed help. As a small business owner, you need more than passion and a dream. You need to be able to pay yourself and others. You need to be able to pay your bills. You need to follow all applicable laws and regulations. She attended SCORE start-up classes prior to opening her business. She attended SBA’s Owner/Manager Boot Camp in 2005. She is State of Missouri certified as a Woman Business Owner and is currently in SBA’s 8(a) government contracting program. (She still uses the basic model of a business plan that she received in the 8(a) program.) She attended the e200 Emerging Leaders program in 2011, which she found especially invaluable for the connections she formed with other small business owners in the area. She also took out an SBAExpress Loan in 2004 for $44,000 which has since been paid in full. She feels it is “more important to work on your business than to work in your business.” This is a principle many new to small business ownership may lose sight of or never grasp without guidance. Working smart is more important than working hard—especially if working hard takes you in the wrong direction.
This strategy works for Carter-Hicks. She and her firm have been profiled in St. Louis Small Business Monthly and the St. Louis American. She has clients who write rave reviews—clients like the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MOHELA, Westfield Insurance and others. She has also received numerous awards. Most importantly, she continues to garner new clients—many by referral. Her emphasis on customer service insures she tailors her services to client needs, which ultimately is more cost effective. She can customize surveys, focus groups, training, coaching, and consulting services. This saves money and employee time. She can even help a client turn those challenges that they encounter into genuine opportunities. So not only does Carter-Hicks embody those trite but true expressions about turning adversities into advantages, she helps her clients do exactly that, too.
H-C-H is located at Two CityPlace Drive, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO, 63141, and can be contacted at http://www.h-c-h.com/ or 314-260-7587. SBA’s St. Louis District Office is located at 1222 Spruce Street, Suite 10.103, St. Louis, MO, 63103, and more information can be obtained at www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis or by calling 314-539-6600. SCORE can be reached by contacting your local SBA office or at http://www.score.org/.