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Entrepreneur Judy George MAG
In the predominantly male dominated world of business, Judy George is a breath of much-needed fresh air. An extraordinary businesswoman who knows what's important in life, Judy managed to combine her love of romance and elegance with her motivated attitude to create Domain Home Fashions, one of the nation’s most prestigious specialty chain stores. Judy is part of an elite group of women who have raised substantial funds. She has run her own company for almost two decades and understands what it's like to climb to the top -she established herself without family funds, a college education or a management team. Whether your goal is to be an entrepreneur, sports star or homemaker, Judy's words of wisdom will help.
What were you like as a teenager? Did you grow up thinking "I'm going to be the CEO of a multi-million dollar company?"
As a teenager, I always dreamed of being somebody. It was probably because my parents were entrepreneurs, and at a young age, I was left with people whom I considered strangers. I said, “Well, you know, I’m gonna have
to be somebody important so my parents will never leave me again. ” So when I got to my teens, I started living my dream of being what I thought was important. I became the first young adult chair of the March of Dimes on a national basis, and then I started speaking on their behalf and raising money.
I didn’t know that I would be a CEO, but I wanted to be somebody, somebody who was respected. When friends were hanging up pictures of movie stars, I was hanging up pictures of beautiful rooms and homes; I dreamed of the perfect home and the perfect family.
Do you think that teenagers of successful parents have added pressure because they feel like they have higher expectations to live up to?
I think that it’s easier if you’ve had great role models for parents. My parents never had a boss, so they didn’t answer to anybody. I liked that idea of listening to my own drum. I think parents who are high achievers and want great things for their kids are not always easy; sometimes you just want to be a teenager but when you have parents who are focused ons uccess, fame or fortune, you lose a bit of that childhood. So it’s challenging.
When I was raising my own children, I tried to keep that away from them, but I don’t know if that’s right either. I hid my success from them. In a way, they might have wanted to share more of my success.
You were able to establish yourself in the business world without a college degree. What are the chances that someone in the same position today could eventually have the success you enjoy?
I think today it’s almost impossible for people to earn the respect and to start new businesses, to raise money, without having a solid education. I was a great saleswoman. I have been able to sell a dream to people throughout my life. That’s a gift. It’s like being a great virtuoso. Our country doesn’t praise people enough who know how to sell a dream or concept. So because of that, and because having an MBA today is almost as critical as having a college education was when I was a kid, today it’s next to impossible to get people to bet on you without having some kind of college education. Though, there’s always that gifted individual who has a vision, who knows how to sell that vision, and it has nothing to do with education. Education does not make you an entrepreneur.
Are people ever intimidated by your status?
I think that when I’m passionate, I do intimidate. It’s not about gender. I can intimidate because I get excited about things. And it’s very different, being an entrepreneur and being a leader. They’re different skills. A leader has to listen to others’ ideas and motivate them. You have to make them feel like their ideas are as good, if not better, than yours. An entrepreneur only cares about their ideas, and I think I made a lot of mistakes, balancing the entrepreneur with the leader.
What about your employees? Do you ever have the feeling that they're bending over backward to please you?
Well, I think they bend over backwards not so much to please, but because I’m such a great saleswoman. I think I sell them so well because I can get them excited and motivated. And maybe afterwards they have buyer’s remorse and say, “Why did I tell her I would do that?” That happens a lot. At the end of the day, people like to do what they like to do. And it’s not fun to be always living somebody else’s dream.
How often do you let others' opinions impact your decisions?
Often. I love consensus. I always think I have a great idea, but if you get three or four really talented people, that idea can grow into a better idea. I’m like a talent scout. I love talented people; I love people who have dreams. I don’t work well with people who give up on life, who don’t understand opportunity, who don’t have a desire to have something for themselves. Not everybody has to be an entrepreneur, but you have to have dreams. I like positive people around me.
What's the biggest disadvantage to being your own boss? Do the positives outweigh the negatives?
Sometimes. Being an entrepreneur and being so passionate, the negative was that I wasn’t always available for my family, and that cost me. There’s no such thing as having it all. I’ve never seen it. Growing up, it was difficult for my kids because I wasn’t always there, even if I were in the same house. I think that when you run a business, you have to give up your personal life. At least for me, building the kind of business I did, I had no personal life. I was a great sportswoman, but I had to stop playing tennis and I couldn’t go skiing. I felt isolated at times; it really is lonely at the top.
Many people argue that girls and boys should attend same-sex schools in order to prevent girls from feeling intimidated by boys in the classroom. Do you agree?
No. I was always in coed schools, so I can’t speak about it. I come from a place that says, “If it’s in your blood, it doesn’t matter what school you go to, ” whether it’s all girls or boys or mixed. It really is, “What price are you willing to pay to live your dream?” You’re not going to get ahead unless you have a work ethic. I never was intimidated. I liked competing, so it really depends on the individual. I think you can start a business, be a leader or an entrepreneur no matter what school you goto if at the end of the day, you want to pay the price.
Did you notice major differences between raising your three sons and your daughter?
I didn’t raise my daughter any differently from my sons. As a matter of fact, she was more spoiled because I wouldn’t let her wait on her brothers who were older. But school and society played havoc because she was part of a system that said being cute and thin is most important. It’s changed a bit now, maybe too much. Sports weren’t as pushed as they are today. My daughter could outrun anyone at her high school, but nobody ever pushed her because it wasn’t feminine.
And peer pressure is horrendous for kids. I wasn’t loved in high school. I wanted to be liked, but I was driven and wanted to win. People don’t like women who want to win. It’s not feminine to be aggressive, and yet it was just the opposite for my sons. So no matter what I wanted, it didn’t matter since once they stepped out the door, society took over.
One of your secrets for success is not to start over on a beaten path. What exactly does this mean?
Learn from your failures. Let history teach you and go down new roads. So often people keep repeating their mistakes, and I think one of my strengths is that I was able to make those mistakes and learn from them. I love the idea of change and doing something different.
How hard was it to stay true to yourself? Did you ever feel like pleasing others to get what you wanted was more important?
Well, I think I spent my life trying to please others, a lot of times at my expense. I’m a motivator, I like to get
people aligned, and that’s pleasing people. So I pay a price for being a people-pleaser, and it’s very hard for me to give negative input. Sometimes I have difficulty letting people go even if it’s in the best interest of the company or the individual. It’s painful.
Typically, business professionals embody the persona of someone who is unrelenting, overly ambitious and cold. Do you feel that vulnerability and a gentle manner attract or detract from a businessperson's character?
I think it would be very attractive as a leader to be vulnerable but you can’t show that too much. You have to be careful because people need to know their fearless leader will get them to the top. But at the same time, once you’re there, showing how challenging it was makes you human. People like to work for human beings.
You have met several influential people, including former President Clinton. Has anyone especially impressed you?
Yes. When I was at my most difficult time in my career, Nkere Udofla (former manager of Harvard University’s investment funds) taught me some great lessons. I was having great difficulty building Domain, making money and hiring the right people, and he helped me understand what my best skills were and how to go about “hitting a single a day. ” He explained that my problem was that I like to hit home runs. But home-run hitters strikeout a lot. And I was striking out because I would go to bat and no matter what decision it was, I wanted to hit it out of the park. So he taught me, “We’re going to hit a single a day, because if you do you’re going to get on base a lot. And maybe you won’t get the big wins, but the smaller wins add up. And at the end of the day, you won’t have the strikeouts. ”
So instead of trying to be bigger than life, small is good, too. And starting off with a very precise vision of what you want to do and then going step by step to get there is a lot better than jumping from one place to the end result because of the thrill of it.
What can teenagers do now to prepare for a fulfilled, successful life?
I think the excitement comes from being able to have a dream, then being able to change, because that dream can get tired. Have new dreams, get educated, read, turn over every rock and never look back. Have the ability to inspire; I love the idea of being a mentor to young people. You’ve got to go into things with the idea that you’re gonna win. Whether you win or not is secondary. Even if you don’t come in first, the process will give you vision, and the more you pursue these goals, the more exciting it will be for you.