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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home grown entrepreneur gives advice on success

Pembroke’s own Donna Lowry spoke November 11 as part of the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Speaker Series sponsored by the School of Business at UNC Pembroke.

Donna Lowry“What I am going to talk about are the things that helped me be successful,” said Lowry, CEO and president of Caring Touch Home Health Care. “These are the things that took us from a mom and pop business to a small business.”

Caring Touch may no longer be a small business, as Lowry’s company has more than 600 on its payroll and revenues of $15-17 million annually. The business started in her kitchen with three people in early 2005.

“You have to set goals for yourself,” Lowry said. “Remember, the more people you tell your goals to the more people will hold you accountable.

“My goal with this University is to establish an endowed professorship in my daughter’s name,” said Lowry, who is a member of UNCP’s Board of Trustees. “That’s on the record now Chancellor Jenkins.”

The health care entrepreneur showed the audience of 75 her “goal sheets,” which are 8 by 10-inch sheets of colored paper with photos glued to them.

The goals were small – “eat healthier” or “spend a weekend with my husband at Biltmore” - to career changing – “pass my nursing boards,” “begin my career at Southeastern Regional Medical Center” and “start a business.”

“It doesn’t cost a lot to create a goal sheet,” Lowry said, preparing her audience for the more difficult part. “You must put your goals somewhere where you will see them every day.”

In all, Lowry offered 25 tips for success, some of which are daunting.

“Pick your battles,” she said. “There are times when you can’t do anything about it; you just have to go with the flow.”

That is the kind of advice that comes from experiencing $30,000 a month in cuts from the Medicaid program as Lowry’s company did this year.

“What are you going to do, call Bev (Gov. Perdue), (U.S. Rep.) Mike McIntyre and (state Rep.) Ronnie Sutton and give them a piece of your mind?” she asked. “Or, go back and plan to continue to grow your business with budget cuts?”

Lowry noted that keeping calm in busy business and personal life is not easy. But she said it helps to follow another of her rules: “don’t burn bridges.”

Another rule in Lowry’s strategic business philosophy is to “listen to your employees.” She said she pays for good tips from employees.

“We survey our employees annually, and one year my employees said they had trouble reaching me on the phone,” she said. “I didn’t see that one on the next survey.”

Another employee told her several times that a Blackberry cell phone would help her become more efficient.

“I didn’t want one,” she said. “Now I check my email on weekends, in doctor’s offices and in the car, but only when my husband is driving. It saves time.”

Another old adage – “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” - has proved its worth.

“That was hard for me,” she said. “I wanted everything my way.”

Another important part of her code of conduct is honesty and integrity.

“Sometimes it will cost you, but you have to honor promises,” she said.

Lowry also said it helps to get good advice.

“I have to thank Carmen Calabrese (director of UNCP’s Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship) and Beth Wilkerson (of the Small Business and Technology Development center at UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development),” she said. “Their help was important to my success.”

There were more pieces of the code that included the importance of professionalism, hiring and keeping good people and having a supportive family. The lecture was well received and concluded with this question from a student.

“How can I join your family?” a student asked.

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