Three local up-and-comers to watch.
STORY: Shemir Wiles PHOTOS: Fred Lopez
A quick look at history shows that women have always been about business.
Images of female entrepreneurship and modern-day businesswomen have become increasingly conventional in a world that once was male dominated. Today, women own more than 8.6 million U.S. businesses, generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenue, and employ nearly 7.8 million people.
They are marketing directors, chief financial officers, business executives, and managers. The opportunities for women’s advancement in business seem unlimited, even though it wasn’t that long ago that sexual discrimination in workplace was common.
Nevertheless, a quick look at history shows that women have always been about business.
In the early 1900s, many woman-owned businesses were born out of necessity. Some women found themselves shoved into the role of business owner after the death of a husband or father. Others, without breadwinning husbands, became entrepreneurs so they could take care of themselves and wouldn’t become a burden on society. Then there were progressive women like beauty product entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker who launched businesses to target the largest demographic of consumers: women.
However, the Great Depression spawned a societal reversal as public attitudes shifted away from embracing women in business and back to tradition, especially when it came to women’s and men’s economic roles.
When World War II broke out, women returned to the workforce in droves as men left to fight. Yet by the 1950s, the push for domesticity reared its head as women were urged to be more like June Cleaver and bombarded with advertising messages like “Christmas morning she’ll be happier with a Hoover.” The media heavily emphasized that a woman could best serve her country by being in the home taking care of her family, and the road to total fulfillment was paved in pearl necklaces and homemade baked goods.
Still, many women during that time capitalized on their domestic skills by establishing home-based businesses, though a number of challenges still existed. Banks usually did not want to lend money to women, and men typically did not want to do business with them.
But by the early 1960s, the social landscape was changing. Women were stepping out from behind the vacuum cleaner to assert their independence.
The feminist movement coupled with national legislation for equal opportunity employment served as the watershed moment for female entrepreneurship in the 1970s. And slowly, women began to assume more managerial positions at American corporations. By the late 1980s, women owned half of all American businesses and accounted for more than a third of MBAs earned in the United States in a single year.
These brave trailblazers gave way to the sweeping change in people’s mindsets — it was possible for a woman to be business savvy and successful. The small steps by those who sought to dream made a way for women to crash through the proverbial glass ceiling. Enter the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and Carole Black, who took it a step further by making themselves into household names that inspired a whole new generation of businesswomen to aim higher. And aim higher they did.
The battle for equality is not over. But as evidenced by three local women on the verge of leaving their own marks in the professional world, the revolution is still strong, although it has transformed. It is no longer just about infiltrating the “good ol’ boy” system; it’s about improving people’s lives beyond the bottom line and encouraging future business women to keep fighting the good fight.
Countless people talk about making a difference in the world, but so few ever do. Trisha Khanna is looking to be an exception, and given her grit and enthusiasm, there is no doubt this 22-year-old is destined to change lives.
Since a young age, Trisha has been a girl with big dreams. Her father, Dr. Dinesh Khanna, and mother, Seema Khanna, always encouraged her precocious nature and challenged her to strive for the best. Her mother, especially, has been a huge influence.
“She taught me to be strong and independent,” says Trisha. “A lot of what my mother would tell me made me want to do something noteworthy with my life.”
Spending time after school at her father’s medical practice fortified her desire to become a physician. She found herself drawn to the position of authority and care.
“I love people and forming bonds with them,” she says. “I find it gratifying to help and counsel people in their times of need. Moreover, I am a product of my environment because I grew up around medicine. I just really want to be that trustworthy and reliable person that people can count on.”
And while she is close to finishing her senior year at the University of Florida and deciding on whether Vanderbilt University will be the college she attends for medical school, Trisha has even bigger aspirations on her mind — aspirations that include helping women and the underprivileged.
“Medically, there are a lot of underserved areas. Unbelievably, some of those areas are in our own backyard, like Ocala and The Villages. As a physician, I want to do something to help people, especially women, gain access to quality health care,” she says. “I want to get involved in women’s social issues, too. I used to volunteer in a domestic violence shelter and it struck a nerve with me.”
Trisha also has her sights set on tackling another social issue that affects thousands of children across the globe, and even here in Central Florida—child trafficking.
“I read an article about it a few years ago in Style magazine, and it shocked me to know it was happening here,” she says. “Right then I knew I had to get involved. It is my hope that once I have my education and become a doctor, I can use medicine as a platform to help others.”
Though many young adults dream of the day they can leave their hometown to go out into the big world, Trisha wants to return to Lake County because she is passionate about improving her community.
“I don’t want to just settle and live a comfortable lifestyle. I want to come back and really make some changes for the better in my community,” she says. “My family has given me the tools to do well in life, and I want to show people I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I understand I have to work hard for what I want in life and help those who need it along the way.”
Anna Stanage never saw herself becoming a businesswoman.
“I’ve always loved kids, so I became a nanny after I graduated from Leesburg High School,” she says. “I also looked into teaching, but after having my first child, Kooper, I stayed at home.”
However, Anna soon found herself wanting something more. Therefore, when her husband, Brian, expressed interest in starting an arbor care business three years ago, Anna joined in to be the corporate face of the company.
“My husband had the tree service knowledge, but I had the professional skills to take care of the promotion side of the business,” she says. “I became heavily involved in the local business community.”
Anna, 24, not only is an active member of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, she is also a part of BNI Central Florida, a business networking and referral marketing organization. She believes networking and self-promotion are essentials for growing a successful business.
“I’m always out there talking to people,” she says. “It is important to stay plugged in to the business community and take advantage of the opportunities here.”
As a result, she has been able to surround herself with other like-minded businesswomen who share her drive and can impart their own knowledge of what it means to be a modern-day female entrepreneur.
“A lot of these local businesswomen worked extremely hard to get where they are and I am pleased to be around them,” she says. “It’s like we are all growing wiser together. I’m always learning something new from these incredible women who really blazed the trail that I get to follow.”
Haley Gerig’s love affair with fashion began with a desire to be unique. Living in a small town, she did not want to be stuck wearing the same clothes as her peers. She wanted to create outfits that not only flattered her body but also suited her quirky personality.
She began sewing at 13, and by 16 she was a business owner, starting Haley’s Comet Clothing to design custom apparel and home décor.
She draws most of her inspiration from her clients.
“It’s not just one style. I really design my clothes based on what the client wants,” she says. “It’s open, not cookie-cutter.”
After graduating from Tavares High School, Haley enrolled at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Orlando and earned her degree in fashion design and merchandising.
She then returned to Lake County to continue building her business and her brand.
“When you go out and start working for mass market retailers, your designs don’t stay your own,” she says. “I wanted to keep my business here locally to give more exposure to my designs while also giving back to my community.”
One wildly successful way Haley has put her fashion prowess to good use is by co-founding the annual Sweet Treats for a Cause event with her mother, Shelly Gerig. The fundraiser, which includes vendors and a fashion show featuring designs by Haley and other local fashion retailers, raises scholarship money for high school students who want to participate in school arts programs, but can’t afford to. The Educational Foundation of Lake County, Inc. is the recipient and fiscal agent for the scholarships.
Haley and her mother have been able to raise more than $19,000 over the past two years through the Sweet Treats event and other activities, an accomplishment Haley says keeps her passionate about preserving the arts in schools.
“Every year I would hear about funding being cut for the arts in public schools and it would bother me because I come from an arts background,” she says. “I want to make sure children have those opportunities that I had in high school, so it’s great to see the impact Sweet Treats has really made on lives. I like to see that it makes a difference.”