This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Business Journal.
By Mercy Tolentino Steenwyk
When I came to the United States from the Philippines as a 25-year-old, I had a journalism degree and virtually nothing else. After working for a short time as a marketing consultant in construction, I noticed the need for the construction and legal industries to find reliable, well-informed subject matter specialists, consultants and experts. It was a challenge to locate that kind of leadership.
Any entrepreneur will recognize this as a classic “aha moment” — the presentation of an opportunity to create my own niche and write my own destiny. But while I pieced together my nascent expert consulting services company, a chorus of naysayers scoffed.
“You’re not an engineer,” they told me. “You’re not a lawyer. You don’t have a business degree. You can’t do this.”
I said nothing. I didn’t have to. I set a goal to start my own company. And I reached it.
The importance of a roadmap.
Today, after 26 years in business, my firm — ForensisGroup — is a national industry leader. I am told frequently that this is a remarkable feat for a woman and minority who took on a male-dominated industry and thrived.
But I don’t see it that way.
When I walk into a room, I see a level playing field. I have talents, and more importantly, I have vision. All CEOs are driven. The good ones know where they’re going.
When I look back at the young, undeterred woman I was 26 years ago, I realize that what has distinguished my career trajectory is a centeredness that has served as my roadmap. Each step I’ve taken along that roadmap has informed my direction as a mother, wife, daughter and business leader.
These five steps guided me back then, and continue to guide me today:
Step 1: Know yourself.
In 1991, when I started ForensisGroup, certain men that I encountered expected women to sit back and listen. The thing is, when you listen, you learn. I learned so much from people who had no idea they were teaching me. I’m still not an engineer, and I’m still not a lawyer. But I am a problem solver who has a purpose, knows her deep, driving desire and has always been able to bend negativity into life lessons.
Step 2: Focus on the big picture.
For me, family has always come first. While growing an idea into a $10 million company, I never missed a ballet recital or football game. One reason I decided to strike out on my own was to gift myself the flexibility to be a working role model and a present mother, daughter and wife.
That often meant putting the kids to bed and then working till sunrise. But I was young and driven. And more importantly, I knew where I was heading.
This devotion was my moral compass. For other women, the overarching motivation might be something else. Whatever it is, it is important that you have a focus. You’re not just making business decisions; you’re making life decisions.
Step 3: Believe in yourself, but be humble.
At the age of 62, with three grown, accomplished children, I now see the growth of my business as something that underscores my core belief: If you know yourself and keep that big picture in front of you, you can “predict” your future by writing it.
Remember, no matter how far you get, you don’t get there on your own. I hire people who are more knowledgeable than me. It’s more than a hiring practice. It is the basis of my company: Bringing the best minds together to uncover the truth when something has gone wrong. And then, ultimately, making the world a safer and better place.
Step 4: Never stop learning.
I read everything — newspapers, poetry and, of course, business books. I am a 15-year member of Vistage. And even as I mentor younger business leaders, I find myself learning from them as well.
Each month at ForensisGroup, we gather for pizza and watch “TED Talk Fridays,” because I believe strongly in cultivating a culture of intellectual curiosity and personal fulfillment.
Whenever I speak to leaders of my generation, I challenge them to adopt a growth mindset and to drive their businesses with purpose.
Step 5: Practice gratitude.
Education was my best gift. It made my world a smaller place and enabled my successes. That is why, in addition to the nonprofit organizations that ForensisGroup supports, I personally have a scholarship program in the Philippines.
The road to success for any business leader is far from smooth. But if you love what you do, are grateful for the gifts you have and give back, you can turn an idea into an industry — regardless of what anyone else says.
This article is also featured in Vistage’s Leadership Research: https://www.vistage.com/research-center/leadership/20170620-leadership-success/