History is on your side — it shows that female-owned businesses are more successful than businesses started by their male counterparts and when one female succeeds, we all succeed.
You will be creating a path for other female entrepreneurs, which we greatly need.
Gender should not always be the topic of conversation — equality should be the mindset.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Woxland.
Jill Woxland has a superhuman ability to balance the needs of the business while constantly engaging and inspiring others. Her entrepreneurial spirit, drive, solid people skills and desire to place culture above all else leave a lasting impression on her employees and colleagues both near and far. She is a natural born leader who loves bringing people and clients together and is always taking the opportunity to share her knowledge and experience with others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I learned at a very early age that if you want something — anything — you have to work for it.
My parents believed that only straight A students should attend college and I was not a straight A student. Every trimester I hoped to make the B honor roll. That way, my name would still be published in the paper and I’d at least avoid embarrassing them if my name was not included.
Because I didn’t earn straight A’s, I had to find a way to earn a higher education on my own.
While attending college, I worked three jobs. I was a waitress, a nanny and a traffic reporter. After graduating and a brief stint as a camera operator for a local TV station, I spent 11 years holding various manager and director level corporate positions within small, mid-sized and privately held companies.
In December of 1994, I decided the time was right to leave my corporate position. In that role, it had become clear to me that there was a need for a specialized resource to help identify strategic partnership alliances, brand synergies, and related promotional opportunities — among others — between brands. It was a very different way to think about marketing and I knew I had to move on it.
I had a solid business plan, the support of my husband and my employer agreed to outsource portions of my former role to me. At the time, there was no access to funding for women entrepreneurs and while I had to bootstrap to begin my life as an entrepreneur, I was lucky to leave with a bit of income still coming in and seed money from my husband.
From there, I launched Intemark, Inc. at age 32. I had four kids, a supportive husband, a really good idea and a well thought out plan. And, not much money in the bank.
I started with a few small accounts and in the first year, securing MGM Studios as a client (among others), working on the James Bond Film, GoldenEye.
From there the company grew to where Intemark is today. My team of 25 highly skilled marketing pros create innovative, high-impact partner marketing and strategic marketing programs for high profile national and global clients and it’s an honor to continue doing what I set out to do 26 years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting experiences was while working at Carlson Companies, the 9th largest privately held company in the world. Curt Carlson, the founder, was still very involved in the company and was notorious for calling anyone in the company at a moment’s notice until someone answered the phone to provide him with the information he needed. One day, my phone rang and the caller ID said it was Curt. The fear that came over me was real — I can still feel it 28 years later.
I answered the phone because I knew no one else was in the office at the time — if he couldn’t reach someone, it never went well. He asked where my boss and boss’s boss were and I gave him a vague response. The next thing I knew, I was being summoned to his office. This is when the real fear set it — he could’ve asked me about ANYTHING in the company and saying “I don’t know” was never an option.
However, once I got there, I was greeted with a punch bowl, a tour of his Christmas decor and an invitation to chat about another one of Carlson’s operating divisions, specifically Radisson, while having a holiday drink. To say I was shocked was an understatement.
For two hours, we drank, ate Swedish cookies and chatted about my thoughts on an operating division within Carlson that I did not work for. We wrapped up by singing a few Christmas carols with his admin.
While it was clearly an incredibly memorable moment for me, I can’t say the same for Curt. The next time I saw him was in an elevator and he had no idea who I was, which was no big deal, after all I was just one of 80,000 Carlson employees.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my first year of business I landed a contract with MGM Studios and the James Bond film, GoldenEye. Pierce Brosnan was making his debut as 007 and it was a very, VERY big deal for anyone and certainly for me, a one woman show.
There was a big meeting in NYC for partners and the only hotel I could afford was at the Newark airport, basically on the grounds of the NJ State Penitentiary. Each day I would wake up at 5 a.m., prepare for an entire day and evening in NYC and then take a shuttle to the Newark bus station to ride into Manhattan.
On the most important night of the week, I was running to make a reception and I broke the heel right off my pump. I tried to break the other heel off to turn them both into flats. It didn’t work.
Trying not to panic, I ran into the closest shoe store I could find and picked out a pair of new heels, which I couldn’t afford. To pay, I wrote a check as I didn’t have a credit card in those days.
Apparently, the sales associate wasn’t familiar with this method of payment — she had no idea what to do with it and I was told they couldn’t accept it. I tried to explain what it was, how it worked and that it was ‘real’ money.
After getting a manager involved, a lot of pleading and the promise of tickets to the movie premiere (which I had no idea how I was going to deliver on), I walked out of the store with the shoes. A month and a half later, the check was cashed and two lucky sales associates were able to attend the movie premiere.
Some of the most valuable lessons came from this that I still carry with me today:
- Do what you have to do — find a way no matter what barriers are in front of you.
- Don’t be afraid to be bigger than you are and always be ready to think on your feet, even if the heel is broken.
- Wear flats when running around Manhattan and keep the dress shoes in your bag!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My late husband, Mike. He gave me the encouragement and seed money to leave my corporate job to start Intemark. At the time, we had three little kids, one heading to college and just closed on a new home. And for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to leave my solid corporate job!
In the beginning, I was scared to leave the security and perks my job afforded our family. Excuses kept running through my head — the timing wasn’t right, what would happen if it failed, how would we make up for my income and make ends meet?
I remember Mike saying that there was never a “perfect” time to take a leap. He said he didn’t care if we lost everything so long as we were happy, healthy and had no regrets for what could have been. That was the encouragement I needed to make the leap into entrepreneurship.
Along the way he continued to give me constant encouragement. He would often leave me notes, text messages or send news articles about successful women in business. Mike was always finding ways to do what he could to make being a mom and a business owner less stressful.
He insisted on driving me to the airport and picking me up for each and every business trip no matter the time, kids often in tow. For the early flights, he would have a cup of coffee ready as I was usually exhausted from being up late because I would insist on putting the kids to bed before I began prepping for the trip. For the late flights, dinner was always in the oven when I got home.
When things were rough, rather than fuel my fire, he would calmly evaluate the situation and encourage me to practice empathy and fight the battles that were important versus petty. I trusted his judgement as he seemed to always be right. Up until the day he died, he was my biggest supporter and was always by my side in life and with the business.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are two:
Good As Gold, The Story of the Carlson Companies
Leap of Faith, Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor
I was so fascinated by Curt Carlson and his humble beginnings starting with Gold Bond Stamps. I remember my mom and grandmothers with their stamps in booklets and turning them in for merchandise. Curt’s philosophy, “One dollar of mine and seven of somebody else’s” is a credo we lived by when I worked for his company and it’s the impetus for my business today — the art of negotiation, asset recognition, valuation and leverage.
I have read Queen Noor’s book a number of times. As queen of an Arab country, she was quite different than what one would expect. From the beginning, she wanted more than the role of keeping her husband happy which proved to be a challenge for her and she faced many obstacles, overcoming them step by step, and advocated hard for women’s rights in the Middle East.
After reading the book I had deep admiration for her for working relentlessly alongside her husband and his quest for peace in the Middle East with her young kids in tow. It was also a beautiful love story and one of respect and admiration between the two.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment”
Coming from parents and an extended family of high achievers, somewhere along the line this was drilled into me. I am not a person who just wanted to “show up” and not make an impact no matter how small or under the radar the task was. I strive to make a difference instead of just being “busy.” Accomplishment is always the goal within my philanthropic efforts, my personal life, my work life and hobbies.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am fortunate to be at a point now in my career where I can spend time serving on boards, volunteering, mentoring and contributing financially to organizations that are consistent with my values and those of Intemark.
Some of these include:
- Trustee of Phakamani Foundation — a foundation which empowers poor women who have both good ideas and initiative with the tools they need to succeed at micro- enterprise
- Trustee of Yontz Valor Foundation — a private foundation that that honors wounded US military heroes in reestablishing all aspects of their life when they return from active duty
- Mentor for Warrior Rising — a foundation that empowers US military veterans and their family members by providing them with opportunities to create sustainable businesses
- Volunteer/ Mentor with Minneapolis Public School System: I support college bound kids and provide mentorship and assistance in completing college applications, financial aid, grants and scholarships. I edit essays and provide overall support to young adults who may not have the support at home.
- Volunteer for The Advocate for Human Rights — a nonprofit organization who is at the forefront of human rights movement — representing refugees and immigrants- primarily for those seeking asylum due to violence, trafficking for labor or sex and the unfairly detailed
- Start Up Mentor: For various woman owned businesses in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area
- Board Member: 2021 Democratic Advisory Board
- Women Leaders in College Sports: Member
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I have never thought of myself as a female founder — only a Founder, so the above questions have never been something I ruminate on or thought much about until the past several years.
I have always considered myself to be on the same level as my male entrepreneur counterparts. I never wanted anyone to cut me a break because I was a woman. In fact, only with our municipal clients and other publicly traded companies has Intemark ever leveraged it’s WOB status either by requirement or as part of an RFP response.
However, based on my experience over the years and talking to and mentoring young entrepreneurs, particularly women, I often hear that it’s difficult to overcome ingrained social biases. People also tend to gravitate to those who are like themselves. Even when I began Intemark 26 years ago, there was the “Bro Culture” that often exists with entrepreneurship, particularly in finance and tech.
With banking and investing primarily dominated by men, women hold back in fear of not being able to secure adequate funding to start their businesses because they often don’t have similar backgrounds or experiences of those who are holding the purse strings.
Throughout all my years as a woman in business, “all the things” happened along the way that you read about — discrimination, harassment, bias — as I was building my company. I made some bold moves and fought back, which had consequences. In some cases, I pushed it down like many women in business have done and likely still do. We’ve made progress, however there is still work to be done.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
My role with the Phakamani Foundation allows me to spend a lot of time with budding entrepreneurs and supporting them in various ways — same with Warrior Rising. It’s important to be a resource for other women founders, whether it is guiding them on ways to access credit and capital, mentoring and providing business advice or making connections through your own robust and diverse networks, which is key — diversify your networks!
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
- History is on your side — it shows that female-owned businesses are more successful than businesses started by their male counterparts and when one female succeeds, we all succeed.
- You will be creating a path for other female entrepreneurs, which we greatly need.
- Gender should not always be the topic of conversation — equality should be the mindset.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
- More female Venture Capitalists
- Greater access to networks
- Larger roles for women in finance
- Pause the glorification of male entrepreneurs or give equal time to ALL entrepreneurs no matter how large or small or based on gender
- For large corporations to have a concerted effort to support women-owned business other than just working to meet diversity quotas
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would strive for acceptance and the ability to coordinate massive efforts to gain a broader understanding of the lives of others. Creating deeper connections with those around us will help to lead to greater understanding of one another.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
To me, he is a true revolutionary. He has revolutionized every industry he has touched or encountered. It seems he is always thinking about everything at once — what he can get done in the next ten minutes and what he can do ten years from now. I’m intrigued by what motivates him outside of money and his experience living on 1 dollar a day.
But most importantly, he is from South Africa and that is a nation that is close to my heart with the Phakamani Foundation. I would like to share with him the amazing things I’ve learned from these impoverished female entrepreneurs and what they’ve had to overcome to rise above the poverty line. I’d make sure to get his thoughts on how Phakamani can do more and how I, with my privilege, could do more.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.