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AZRIELA JAFFE

9.15.99  
The Secret of One Highly Effective Supermom: She Delegates
This entrepreneur had twins — and let her motivated staff take the reins

Mary Lou Andre thinks of her company as her first child: She brought it into the world seven years ago, nursed it, and now delights in seeing it flourish without her constant presence. The Needham (Mass.) image consultancy, Organization by Design (www.dressingwell.com), now has four employees. It provides individual consultations as well as corporate and retail seminars on fashion and image. It also produces a fashion newsletter and booklets.

When I caught up with Mary Lou, she was learning some new management skills: how to care for twin boys, who were born this year. One thing she wasn't stressed about was her company, a surprising thing to hear from an entrepreneur who has just taken on a double dose of parenthood. I asked Mary Lou how she planned her three-month maternity leave to give herself such peace of mind.

Her reply is a blueprint for other mothers who also own businesses. Here's an edited version of her account:

"I'm naturally organized, and everything in our office has systems. Everyone can locate information and react to inquiries very effectively. I hired the very best self-motivated people I could find. I feel very relaxed during my maternity leave knowing that every call gets a very professional response. We had a staff meeting and came up with a three-page memo that detailed how things would run while I was on leave.

"Delegation is the key to my success. I keep a notebook with me at all times to record the status of projects. There is very little overlap in the office. The four of us work independently and are seldom in the office at the same time. Phone mail and E-mail are also my lifesavers. I am on the road a lot. I check in and leave very detailed information that gets handled quickly.

"We make time at least once a quarter to get together as a group and have fun. Staff members often model in our fashion shows -- then we go to lunch together. It's the little things that keep employees involved in a small business such as mine.

"There is a reason God gives us nine months before we give birth! I used the time to incorporate the pregnancy into my business. Our summer newsletter announced the pregnancy and featured tips on maternity styles. I also talked about our fall programs and what different staff would be doing over the summer to ensure that people knew the business could run without me and that I would be back in September to work with my private and corporate accounts."

Mary Lou's transition to working motherhood was smooth because she didn't keep a tight grip on the reins till just before she gave birth. She had been delegating all along. She got Olympic training for maternity leave when she broke her leg in 1997, which forced her to slow down, structure the organization better, and hire a fashion consultant to work with individual clients, a longtime goal.

Not that 1999 has been a down year for Mary Lou as an entrepreneur. She received the prestigious Avon Spirit of Enterprise Award in June, which named her an "entrepreneurial rising star."

Mary Lou would not consider herself an "entrepreneurial rising star" unless she found a way to be available both to her new sons and to the company she worked so hard to develop. She never wanted to be someone whose only focus was the business. By letting go of her company a long time ago, she could let her babies take full command of her attention now.


Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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