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A Culture of Comradery Part 3: A commitment to the mission, leadership and alignment

NAWBO Iowa has a rich history of empowering and assisting women business owners in the state. From humble beginnings in 1986 to becoming one of the fastest-growing NAWBO chapters in the nation today, the organization has grown and morphed to serve women leaders in many positive ways. This is the third and final installment of a monthly series telling the beginnings of NAWBO Iowa and the years since.

Part 1: Energy, enthusiasm and success

Part 2: A roller-coaster ride

After several years of inconsistency within NAWBO Iowa, some of the more dedicated members of the organization knew something had to change. There were peaks and valleys in revenue and membership. There wasn’t any sustainability.  

In 2011, a pivotal moment shifted the organization in the right direction.

After a previous president was relieved of her duties, Lynn Schreder (KHI Solutions), T. Waldmann-Williams (TWW Consulting) and Pam Schoffner (PS Writes) became tri-presidents. They all wanted to pursue the mission of bettering NAWBO Iowa and setting a solid foundation. The new leadership, with Lori Day (FocusFirst, Inc.) joining a couple years later, kicked off a crucial period in NAWBO Iowa’s history, a period that brought the success the organization sees today.

For Schoffner, the change was a long time coming. A member since the inception of the organization in 1986, Schoffner stuck through the hard times because she believed in the mission. The patience came to fruition with the extreme dedication of leadership, board members and committee members in the years following 2011.

“We continued to have problems getting dedicated members,” Schoffner said. “We were only as strong as what our board was, and we had weak leadership. Then the three of us came in together, and we knew we had to get this working.

“I stayed around all this time because I was waiting for a time when I thought we had the strength and the passion of the people to keep with it. With T. and Lynn, then Lori later, we suddenly had those people in leadership.”

Something had to break

Schreder was already familiar with NAWBO before coming to Des Moines in 2009. She worked with the organization while with AT&T in Minneapolis, which was a corporate partner. So when Lynn started her small business, KHI Solutions, she immediately turned to NAWBO Iowa as a support network.

“I could tell something was special was going on,” Schreder said.

But she noticed a disconnect between the organization and its mission. NAWBO Iowa needed more dedicated board members, new policies aimed toward sustainability and a better network with community leaders and policy makers.

“We tried to strengthen our board with the types of people who were committed to the same things we were,” Schreder said. “It was elevating what NAWBO Iowa actually was to the right people”

Another big reason for NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround was the first two “State of Women-Owned Businesses” reports released by American Express Open in 2011 and 2012. The studies, which sifted through all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranked Iowa 51st, the worst state to be a woman business owner.  

“You could see that poor ranking, and it was time to do something on a larger scale,” said Day, who joined the organization for a brief time in 2003, then rejoined in 2012. “It was time to find a solution to make our state better. We tried to beat the drum a little bit to help us grow.” 

Waldmann-Williams and Schoffner transitioned out of the presidency during the next few years, and Day was named a co-president with Schreder in 2013. Under their leadership, the NAWBO Iowa board and its committee members stepped up and drastically changed the organization’s foundation. It was a massive undertaking, but one that needed to be done.

Mission and vision

When Day talks about what fueled NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround, she continuously points to one thing: Staying true to the mission.

NAWBO has a powerful and captivating mission: to create a network of women business owners and advocate on their behalf. Iowa has more than 87,000 women-owned businesses, which makes the mission all the more important. That had gotten lost in the years prior. Going forward, any new programs, events or discussions had to revolve around the core message.

“We had to stay true to the mission of the organization,” Day said. “It’s a fabulous mission, and we didn’t want to stray from it. If it doesn’t fit with our mission, we don’t do it.”

One of the biggest changes came via NAWBO Iowa’s bylaws. In 2009, a co-presidency policy was implemented, and it was extended a few years later to board members. Each board position could be headed by two or three people. This took some of the burden off board members, who were running businesses of all sizes themselves, and allowed more women to pick up the slack.

The presidency role, which is usually shared by two or three people, was a sparkling examples of just how well co- or tri-chairs could work.

“Lori and I couldn’t have done all of this change alone,” Schreder said. “We could only do it together. Today, that model has been well recognized nationally, too.”

To bring some stability into the organization, board members were allowed to continuously serve over a period of years, giving members the means to complete long-term projects. It also ensured consistency.

A couple of years into Day’s and Schreder’s tenure, they implemented one of NAWBO Iowa’s most recognizable events: the NAWBO Iowa Celebration of Excellence.

Before 2014, the organization gave out several awards in several categories at a monthly meeting. But NAWBO Iowa wanted to create one event special for all women business owners — one that would engage community leaders and recognize women-owned businesses. In 2014, NAWBO Iowa held its first awards event, handing out three awards: Advocate of the Year, Women Business Owner of the Year and the Hall of Fame Legacy Award. Every year, the event welcomes more than 250 attendees and sponsors.

“The awards were incredible for the visibility and the momentum for all women business owners,” Day said. “It quickly became our largest event and became our largest fundraiser. The whole point was for the world to stop and, for that day, everyone would celebrate women business owners.”

During NAWBO Iowa’s shift, it also created regional satellite teams in the state with the goal of reaching out to metro and rural markets, a unique challenge in Iowa. The satellites use NAWBO Iowa’s website, registration system, communication channels and other infrastructure pillars, but still operate on their own with a committee.

Currently there are two satellite teams — one in Central Iowa and another in eastern Iowa — with plans to add more. The NAWBO Iowa satellite model has been used for other chapters across the nation.

“The benefit is they don’t have to build an organization from scratch,” Day said.

Success rolls in

With consistency, dedicated board members and a progressive structure, NAWBO Iowa, which switched its name from NAWBO Central Iowa a few years ago, has grown tremendously in the past few years, adding new members, partners and programming. But it took a couple of years to notice a change while the new leadership caught its bearings.

“It took a couple of years to see us growing,” Schoffner said. “But in the past three or four years, it’s been incredible. Our corporate partners have stepped up. We have more resources. We’ve added programs, and they keep growing.”

Day said she noticed a changed when there were more corporate sponsorships joining the organization. NAWBO Iowa was also retaining members at a greater rate than before.

“I could also see it through the talented and wonderful people on our board and committees,” Day said. “It’s just amazing what can happen with you bring together smart people with a clear vision and mission.”

The organization’s hard work has been recognized. In 2018, NAWBO Iowa was recognized as the fastest growing mid-size NAWBO chapter in the nation, an award it won in 2014 and 2015. It was also tabbed as the mid-sized chapter with the highest member retention rate.

In just five years, from 2011 to 2016, NAWBO Iowa tripled its membership, an incredible feat that speaks to how much work the board and committees put in.

“I’m just thrilled. I couldn’t have more joy,” Day said. “I’m proud of the contributions and respect of women business owners and the sisterhood that comes from that community. We had board members and committee members step up many, many, many times with their time, talent and expertise.”

NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround over the past seven years has created a strong foundation for the organization’s future. New co-presidents Kendra Erkamaa and Kathryn Towner, who took over for Day and Schreder in 2018, have a strong support system to work from.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Day said. “We’re going to get a lot of strength from them and from the board, and I think we’re going to continue to grow.”

Kathi Koenig creates her own track in accounting

Kathi Koenig’s path to accounting was a bit more unconventional than most.

Before Koenig, a partner at McGowen, Hurst, Clark and Smith, a certified public accountant firm based in Central Iowa, joined the accounting ranks, she was on track to teach elementary schoolchildren. Originally from Dallas Center, Koenig graduated from Iowa State University in 1973 with a degree in elementary education and teaching. She was a student teacher for a few months before deciding the career path wasn’t for her.

“I knew teaching wasn’t the way I wanted to go,” Koenig said. “I grew up in that era when your parents thought you should study elementary education or nursing if you were going to have a college education. I’m the first person in my family to have college degree, and I loved children and working with them. It just wasn’t for me.”

Koenig became a manager at a Hallmark store in Merle Hay Mall and continued working there for a couple of years before having her son and staying home with him for a year.

Without any accounting experience, Koenig re-entered the workforce in the late 1970s, joining the accounting department at the Iowa Machinery and Supply Co. Her first job was invoicing work. Before the time of widely used computers, Koenig performed elementary math, like adding a purchase of four hammers for $10, then adding sales tax.

“And I really enjoyed it, even without an accounting background,” Koenig said. “I think they hired me because I had a four-year degree.”

Koenig kept rising the ranks.

After the person in accounts receivable went on maternity leave, Koenig took over the workload. Then someone in accounts payable walked off the job, and the company asked Koenig to take over that position. Without any formal accounting training, Koenig kept taking on new jobs and tasks. She decided to attend Drake University for business and accounting classes and eventually passed the CPA exam. She was eventually promoted to controller at the company, where she stayed until 1986.

Koenig moved into the public accounting space shortly thereafter, joining her current firm, where she has been ever since.

“I love it,” she said. “Every day is a challenge, and every day I’m working with different clients and being a trusted adviser to them. It fulfills me to do that, and I love working with our younger CPAS and helping them.”

Koenig learned about NAWBO Iowa through her membership with the American Society of Women Accountants. She was on track to become partner at her firm and wanted to expand her network. She was also inspired by women business owners.

In 1993, Koenig joined the organization and fit right in.

“At the time, we were a pretty small group,” said Koenig, who also served as NAWBO Iowa’s president. “I’ve stayed involved all of these years because I always enjoy the camaraderie with other women business owners and the things you can share. I’ve always thought of it as a one-of-a-kind organization.”

Koenig still uses her teaching background, just in different ways. She loves to mentor young accountants at her firm. She also helps young women connect to larger networks, which can be a struggle at times for young professionals.

“You kind of forget how long developing a network actually takes,” Koenig said. “I’m trying to transition that to my younger CPAs and I love helping them connect.”