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Leaving Corporate America to Run Your Own Show

The 2010 Leading Moms in Business winners include not only 200 hard working moms, but also many former CEOs and other senior executives. Read about a few of them here.

Considering women make up about half of the US labor force, it’s reasonable to assume that many of the entrants in the 2010 Leading Moms in Business contest were working moms at some capacity before starting their small businesses. An interesting—and impressive—trend among this year’s winners is that many of those working moms were, in fact, participants in corporate America at fairly high levels. So, not only do we have 200 hard working moms, but we also have a decent share of former CEOs, senior partners, vice presidents and more.    

But, whether they are tired of corporate politics, are seeking more of a work-life balance or desire to spend more time with their kids, these working moms left Corporate America and entered the realm of small business.   

For Oana Hogrefe, after nine years of climbing the corporate ladder in a high-tech career, she was spurred to launch Oana Hogrefe Photography (ranked No. 136), her Atlanta-based business, when the software development company she was at restructured in 2008. The working mom was faced with the decision of keeping her job and relocating, finding a job with a different company or pursuing entrepreneurship, a dream that had always been in the back of her mind.

“As a corporate employee, you are ultimately working toward someone else’s dream,” admits Hogrefe, 38, reflecting on what ultimately pushed her to take the leap into entrepreneurship. “That can be wonderful, as long as it’s a dream that resonates with you and the daily efforts feel meaningful and relevant. But when one or more of those elements is missing, there is a feeling of wasted energy and lack of control. You are not free to go in the direction that makes the most sense to you.”

The working mom’s big decision

ArtWeLove founder, Laurence Lafforgue, felt the same way after her 2008 promotion to senior partner at global advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, which is why she took a three-month leave of absence to mull over her options. “You just don’t up and leave a career like that,” says the 35-year-old. “Senior partner is a big deal. I knew it would be a life-long commitment”—a commitment that might not leave time or room for anything else.

In the end, it was the “entrepreneurial bug” that won her over—she was previously exposed to and excited by the world of small business in a seven-year stint with a startup after college. So, after taking the break to write her business plan, build a team and secure financial backing, she resigned from Ogilvy, launched her web-based art gallery (ranked No. 31) that same year and never looked back.

Although she was overseeing a 16-person team in her previous position, Lafforgue prefers “driving my own boat,” she says. “It’s the difference between being a captain of a big tanker or being the captain of a small high-speed boat. You can see the immediate impact of your decisions.” Within a year of starting her New York City business, she became pregnant, ultimately adding the working mom title to her impressive list of others.

On her terms

According to a recent report by The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute, women are drawn to entrepreneurship by the appeal of managing a business on their terms—terms they might not otherwise achieve if they chose to adapt to the demanding expectations and requirements that go with high-level corporate positions.

Tobi Kosanke’s decision to leave a successful career as a geologist in the petroleum industry is evidence of that fact. Like Lafforgue, the working mom loved her job, but changes within the company left the now 46-year-old with a crucial decision to make.

At the time, her young daughter had special medical needs that Kosanke’s manager allowed her to accommodate with a flexible telecommuting schedule. But when a new manager took over, she was forced to choose between working in the office full time or caring for her daughter at home. “It was a no-brainer,” she says. “I chose my daughter.” While she was confident in her decision, the former working mom was faced with a 60-percent reduction in family income and some feelings of identity loss.

So in 2009, Kosanke focused her newfound free time on turning a former hobby of making products for her family’s farm animals into a full-fledged business, Crazy K Farm Pet and Poultry Products (ranked No. 8), based in Hempstead, Texas. Says the renewed working mom, “Although I miss the exciting day-to-day activities of a geologist, being a successful business owner is just as rewarding and provides me with a work-life balance that no corporate position possibly could.”

Hogrefe echoes that sentiment: “I don’t believe time spent genuinely doing your best is ever lost, but the higher you climb on the wrong ladder, the harder it can be to change. There is never a perfect time for change, but every day matters. So if you’re not on the path you’d like to be on, make the move.”

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