The trend of millennials who desire to be entrepreneurs and be their own bosses has not declined. The America’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) study, conducted in March 2017 by the Center for Generational Kinetics (http://www.genhq.com/), provided some interesting insights about these young new executives:
Nearly half of millennials (49 percent) want to start their own businesses in the next two to three years. Over half (54 percent) would quit their job and start a business in the next six months with the right resources.
Millennials were more likely (18 percent) to grow up in a household that owned a small business compared to baby boomers (12 percent) Gen Xers and (15 percent).
Almost three-quarters of millennials (74 percent) would be more likely to start a business if they knew where to go for help, and 6 out of 10 (59 percent) would start within a year with the right resources.
Essentially, millennials would start businesses sooner if they had help. This research supports the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s (NMSDC) decision to start the Emerging Young Entrepreneur (EYE) program three years ago. The EYE program was created in partnership with McPherson, Berry and Associates, Inc. (McPherson|Berry) and with MetLife as the title sponsor. EYE supports the commitment by NMSDC to advance business opportunities for certified minority business enterprises and connect them to corporate members to address supply gaps.
In the short time the program has been established, there has been great success. Phoebe Lee, CEO of Affinity Apparel, a national provider of uniforms and branded apparel, was one of 13 millennial CEOs chosen nationally to participate in the inaugural EYE program.
A magna cum laude (Business Administration/Supply Chain Management) graduate of Clark Atlanta University, Lee continued her studies as a fashion designer at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She also embarked upon a successful modeling career with Time Inc.—InStyle, People and StyleWatch magazines—regularly appearing on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Today with Katie Lee & Hoda, NY Live and VH1, among other local and national shows.
It was the EYE program and meeting LaSonya Berry of McPherson|Berry that Lee credits her current success as a CEO. Lee recognizes the program for helping her view her business from a “corporate-engagement and value-add” perspective. “Ms. Berry provided me with hands-on training. She coached me and brought out attributes needed to run a successful business. Her professional guidance greatly assisted me as a leader with the CEO position that I currently have at Affinity. She has truly inspired and motivated me to raise the bar and execute with excellence.”
Lee graduated in 2017 from the EYE Program fortified by its rich, thorough and intense training and mentoring. “Though I graduated, Ms. Berry and Pauline Gebon (MetLife) regularly checked on my progress. Their helping hands never left me as they continue to motivate and place me in settings [to] increase my horizons. Their collective introductions and corporate networks are invaluable. I am truly blessed to benefit from their tutelage and wisdom,” she says.
Lee assumed the CEO position after Affinity Apparel’s merger with VDP Safety & Uniforms, which she started. Affinity Apparel is positioned to be a leading manufacturer of uniform apparel.
Through her participation in the EYE Program, Lee realized how competitive she needed to be as a manufacturer. The “middle man” philosophy was a hindrance. Providing direct services to the end user enhanced the brand, authenticated their presence, increased competitiveness and helped deliver quality customer service directly. Though affiliated relationships had been established with a number of suppliers, it was Affinity Apparel that best suited her values. As she began the negotiations with senior managers, Lee hired a top law firm to represent her in the merger/acquisition. Through her perseverance and aggressive approach, she was able to leverage her long-term relationships, goodwill and national presence with clients.
With locations in Cleveland and Fairborn, Ohio along with a distribution center in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, Lee has taken her love for fashion to a different level as she guides a team of approximately 100 employees at Affinity. Reflecting, Lee regards her participation in the EYE Program as a game changer and an experience that is shaping her future.
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