Whether it is spearheading a meeting for a local women’s group, organizing an annual women’s conference, passing along business advice in a networking situation, or setting an example for her two young daughters, Kara Gray loves helping women entrepreneurs succeed.
For that reason, and for her contributions toward supporting entrepreneurship, business ownership and professional development for women in West Virginia, Gray has been named the 2010 Women in Business Champion of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office.
Gray is the owner of New Horizon Consulting, a freelance copywriting and public relations consulting practice she operates out of her home in Dallas, W.Va. She describes her chosen profession as a career field she “accidently” discovered while a student at Bethany College.
“I actually went to college with the intention of becoming a television news reporter,” Gray said. “I had no idea public relations existed as a field, but sometime during my freshman year, I talked to a classmate who was studying public relations and I thought, ‘That sounds more like me!’ and immediately changed fields.”
Upon graduation, Gray went to work as the communications administrator for Ormet Corp., then the fourth largest aluminum producer in the United States with 3,500 employees at seven locations. She took this corporate experience to the National Technology Transfer Center at Wheeling Jesuit University, where she promoted the NASA Commercial Technology program and MountainMade, an e-commerce startup selling West Virginia art and crafts. When MountainMade became a separate company, she went to work there full- time, but was let go after just two years due to budget constraints.
“When I left MountainMade, I sent an e-mail to everyone I’d worked with to let them know who they should contact at the company in my absence, and that I would keep in touch,” Gray said. “I immediately received about four responses back from people offering me freelance projects to work on while I looked for work.”
She’d always thought about starting her own business, but the idea of leaving behind a steady paycheck and benefits to do so was tough to overcome. Gray stayed quite busy with projects from friends and acquaintances for about six months, which got her thinking, “Maybe I can do this for a living.”
She joined the Editorial Freelancers Association and began responding to job postings. This led to her first “real” client — someone she didn’t know for a change.
Not sure how to start a small business the proper way, Gray contacted her local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and scheduled an appointment with Donna Schramm, the center manager in the Wheeling office. Once she had all the particulars in place and was an official ‘small business owner,’ she soon began working with the SBDC to organize an Orchestrating Your Life women’s conference, which is now an annual event in Wheeling.
She serves on the organizing committee for the conference and continues to facilitate the monthly Ohio Valley Women’s Group meetings that were born out of the conference. She is a charter member of the Marshall County Women’s Leadership Council, which serves to enhance women’s leadership opportunities.
“Being a woman entrepreneur, it is very rewarding to help others overcome obstacles,” she said. “If I can save someone the time and frustration of learning the same lessons I’ve learned ‘the hard way’ then I’m happy to do it. It’s such an honor to receive this award and be recognized for something I absolutely love to do.”
New Horizon Consulting was founded in 2003 and has clients throughout the United States and around the world. Working mostly in the high-tech and information technology sectors, Gray helps her clients develop and deploy marketing and public relations strategies to help grow awareness of their brands and products. She specializes in crafting effective press releases and ghost writing by-lined articles, blog posts and other promotional content for brochures, websites and newsletters for businesses of all sizes.
“Of all the work I’ve done so far, I’m most proud of the example I’ve tried to set for my daughters,” Gray said. “I hope what I’m doing shows them a woman can do whatever she sets her mind to professionally and still enjoy her role as a wife, mother and daughter. And, thanks to modern technology, geography is no limitation to the career opportunities available today.”
When L.J. Hughes came to West Virginia from Indiana, Pa. in 1942 to do an exploratory drilling project he probably never realized he was embarking on an entrepreneurial endeavor that would extend through four generations of the Hughes family.
L.J., who started his diamond core drilling business in the 1920s, discovered a great demand for his expertise in the state and decided to relocate his family to the Summersville, Nicholas County area. In 1946 he was joined in the business by his two sons, Robert and Charles, and his daughter and son-in-law Evelyn and Fletcher Herold joined in 1952.
As the company progressed, a third generation entered the business; Charles’ twin sons David M. (Mike) and John M. (Mick) Hughes in 1973, Fletcher Herold, Jr. in 1975 and Fletcher’s sister, Rebecca Adkins, in 1990. In 2006, a fourth generation came on board, nephew Jeffrey Lilly.
This year the company named for its founder, L.J. Hughes & Sons Inc., is being honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as West Virginia’s 2010 Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business of the Year. The largest diamond-drilling contractor on the East Coast has also been selected as SBA’s Region III top Family-Owned Small Business. Region III includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia.
As for how the company started, L.J.’s grandson, and company vice president Mick Hughes said, “Our grandfather, who was a driller for the Hoffman Brothers Drilling Co. in the early 1920’s, was out-producing most of the 50 or so core drillers they employed. As the story goes, he asked Mr. Hoffman for a raise and was turned down. So he promptly quit and purchased two steam powered core drills and went out on his own.”
After the company began and the family relocated to West Virginia, L.J.’s children had no intention of going into the drilling business. But as Mick said, “It happened!” The same can be said for the current owners. After all had graduated from college, they too had no intention of joining the business, but again Mick said, “Here we are!”
As for Mike’s interpretation, he added, “I remember growing up every family meal seemed to be interrupted by a drilling related phone call. It was an awful intrusion on the family and it sort of ticked me off. I thought at the time I didn’t ever want to do that. But, as Mick said, here we are.”
Mike, Mick and Fletcher all worked for the company during the summers while attending school, obtaining a good knowledge of how the business functions from the ground up. They all worked in the field as drillers helpers, helped out at the shop, and did anything that needed done.
“After graduating from college we each realized through our working at the company during the summers, the family business gets into your blood,” Mike said. “I came out of college and started right in as a driller’s helper in the field. This position was one of the lowest paid in the company and, as I like to tell it, made me one of the lowest paid college graduates ever.”
It’s a good thing they learned the business as they later found out. Their father, Charles, and his brother, Robert, who both ran the company at the time, each passed away suddenly over a two-year period. These events necessitated the need for Mike, Mick and Fletcher to immediately fill the role as company leaders, one they didn’t necessarily want at the time, but were glad to fulfill.
“We each grew up learning every aspect of the business, which was the most valuable education we could have ever received,” Mike said. “It really prepared us for our roles today. With the experience we obtained, we can relate to any problem or answer any question that pops up.”
They give several reasons how business has survived over the past 80 years, but the real backbone of their success is best relayed by Fletcher.
“What have truly made L.J. Hughes & Sons so successful are its employees. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but through it all it’s the employees that have carried the company,” Fletcher said.
The trio is also aware very few family businesses survive past the second generation. They credit their ability to work together and strive to make things as fair as possible. They realize they don’t always agree on everything but things always work out.
Another factor that keeps them coming to work every day is found in its name, L.J. Hughes & Sons Inc.
“It’s our grandfather’s name that hangs out on our shingle and every truck we have on the road and we take a great deal of pride in that,” they all agreed.
If the past 80 years are any indication, that pride will keep this family-owned business around for generations to come.
Although young in terms of age, 27-year-old Jalon “Jay” Petre is anything but when it comes to small business experience.
As president of Renick Millworks, LLC, an environmentally friendly company specializing in wood products that are 100 percent reclaimed, Petre has been involved in entrepreneurial endeavors since graduating from high school.
Petre’s experience and success as a business owner are the key reasons he is being honored as the Young Entrepreneur for 2010 by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office.
Petre happened upon his current profession by chance. Fresh out of high school, he was helping manage his dad’s machine and welding shop when work slowed. His dad said it was alright if Petre wanted to go out on his own and find something else.
“I received a contract with the railroad to take down several buildings in the Fort Spring area, which I probably got because of my age (18-years-old) and I worked cheaper than the other bidders,” Petre said. “The buildings were constructed mostly of oak lumber, which once removed, was stacked around my dad’s shop because I had no idea what to do with it. A few days later a guy came by and asked if the lumber was for sale.”
Petre had already gotten paid to take down the structure, and selling the lumber put extra money in his pocket. From that experience, he realized there might just be a need and demand for reclaimed wood.
Along with his brother, Petre continued the demolition business taking down structures all over the East Coast, selling the wood and learning more about the reclamation industry.
“I was selling the wood to a lot of flooring companies and realized the price they were getting for the flooring was a lot more than I was receiving for the raw wood,” Petre said. “I thought there must be a missing link somewhere – somebody was making a lot of money and it wasn’t me.”
After talking it over with his dad, who was in the process of closing down his shop and relocating to Greenbrier County, Petre borrowed enough money from his dad to build a wood processing mill. Thus Renick Millworks, LLC was created.
“That was in 2005,” Petre said. “We started out small with a basic website and used the contacts made while in the demolition business, and have progressively grown each year since. Sales have gone from $180,000 the first year to around $1.2 million in 2008 and we’ve been able to add at least two employees each year bringing us to our current level of nine.”
Petre’s dad, who describes himself as semi-retired, also helps out in the mill from time to time.
It’s been a lot of learning, a lot of crawling, but we’ve really fell in love with the reclaimed wood. It just has a look that can’t be matched with anything else,” Petre said.
Though he and his brother are no longer involved in the demolition end of the business, as his brother has since relocated to Idaho, Petre acknowledges his experience in that field has helped create the reputable relationships he has today.
“There are so many people in the wood demolition business, some of which are a little shady,” he said. “You tend to learn who you can do business with and who you can’t. And if you treat people right, it generally works out in your favor.”
Renick Millwork’s customer base extends throughout the country but is mainly focused along the East and West Coasts.
“The flooring we manufacture appeals more to higher income households due to its uniqueness, although we are now developing a product for medium income households,” Petre said. “It’s a half inch engineered product that uses the reclaimed wood on the surface. It looks the same but is more cost effective.”
Petre’s company has been fortunate to count among their projects somewhat of a “Who’s Who” of the business world, providing their product to companies like LL Bean, Club Monaco and New Balance.
The company is also doing its part to help the environment as they are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, a member of the Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA).
As for being considered a success in the business sense, Petre said, “I feel I’ve been lucky, blessed or whatever you want to call it as far as having a business sense. I didn’t go to college, going to work right out of high school and as far as marketing, it’s always come naturally.”
If the past five years are any indication, the sky’s the limit for this young entrepreneur.