Interview with Ms. Karen Kerrigan, President and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), an influential voice and advocate for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the United States. Our collaboration with Ms. Kerrigan dates back to 2012, when she visited the Program as a guest speaker and we are very happy to reconnect again through the i-MBA Scope.
Why and how did you start getting involved with entrepreneurship?
I’ve long admired entrepreneurs and small business people. Growing up in a small community, small businesses dominated the local economy and Main Street. These small business owners worked very hard and were also our community leaders. So when I arrived in Washington, D.C. after college, and following some career experiences in other areas, I saw an opportunity to represent entrepreneurs and small businesses on an array of issues where they did not have a strong voice or a “seat at the table.” Essentially, I saw a niche in the policy marketplace and founded the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. We’ve been doing a lot of exciting work for nearly 25 years.
What are your scripts for success in developing a new venture?
The keys are several: solving a problem or finding a niche in the marketplace, testing the concept or idea in the marketplace and conducting solid research to validate the service or product, aligning the venture with your knowledge and passion, being able to effectively communicate your purpose and mission to various audiences and through various modes, and embracing change and innovation. The work never ends, as you must continually work to retain, build and communicate with your customers in order to better compete, grow and innovate.
Which is the best advice that was given to you and what advice you would give to women who aim for leadership positions?
Be your authentic self. It is so much easier. Authenticity leads to a more successful career and business, and will make you happier. The other critical piece of advice I was given and share with others is to surround yourself with positive, high-quality people. This type of circle or network will make you a better person, strengthen your positivity, and challenge you to be the best version or yourself. All of these attributes will make you a more effective leader and role model for other women.
Which was the biggest challenge in your professional life and how did you deal with it?
The most difficult challenges have related to financial issues. Thankfully, they have been few and far between, but when you are leading an organization or enterprise they are bound to happen. Big projects, deals and contracts can fall through and sometimes at the most inopportune times. If worry and fear set in, these can immobilize you or make you do irrational things. Practical thinking, staying positive, taking control and never giving up is how I have dealt with these challenges. Reaching out to supportive people in your network is also important. I strongly recommend that all business leaders and entrepreneurs, and especially women, build this support network, not only to receive help when needed but to provide help and support when it is needed by others.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would rid the world of emotional pain. I see it in so many people and all the wasted energy and talent that could otherwise be channeled into positive activity. It really breaks my heart to see young people or children weighed down by emotional pain. If I had a magic wand, this is what I would fix. Not, the learning experiences and short-term pain that may come with typical life struggles, but burdensome and unfair emotional pain that is unrelenting and undeserved.