Work and Money
Courage Drove This Girl Scout To Become A CEO
A child can develop courage by trying new things, like learning how to ride a bike even if they are scared, or by trying to master a new skill, and keeping at it, even when they are frustrated. A child can develop courage by doing the “right” thing in difficult situations, like standing up for another child who is being bullied, or by admitting to mistakes, like owning up to breaking a neighbor’s window while playing ball.
Is there a correlation with a human’s building of the “courageous” muscle at an early age and the likelihood of them becoming an entrepreneur later in life? It would make sense, since being an entrepreneur means having the courage to go into uncharted territory and take a risk without a guarantee of success. This type of courage is how people become entrepreneurs in the first place.
Liz Mills, Girl Scout alum and owner of NEC Technical Services, is the personification of this theory.
When did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur, as is my father, so growing up, I thought that most people were entrepreneurs. I don’t remember there being a specific point where I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I just always assumed that at some point I would start my own company.
What services does your company offer?
My mother and I started NEC Technical Services Inc. (NEC Tech) in 2008. NEC Tech is a certified small, women-owned business that provides clerical, professional, engineering, technical, management, regulatory, operations, and staff augmentation services to Fortune 500 companies and federal and state government entities. We are headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, and have employees throughout the United States.
Describe how courage is an important trait and value for you and your business.
Courage is like a muscle that strengthens with exercise and it is a muscle that I continue to build to this day. I believe that courage should be taught to girls from an early age. Courage is important to ask for what you want and need, to stand up for yourself and others, or to speak out against a class bully. As we get older and the stakes get higher, courage becomes even more important.
In business, courage is needed every day in a million different ways. Courage is needed in situations such as selling to clients, difficult conversations with employees and clients, or courage to make a suggestion in a meeting.
As an entrepreneur, there are some situations that require courage that employees do not encounter. Courage is needed to take the financial risk to meet payroll, to trust the reputation of your company in the hands of your employees, and to be the final word and ultimate responsibility for all decisions on behalf of the entire company. Most of all, you have to have courage to continually take risks that will push you out of your comfort zone on an almost daily basis.
Do you remember any lessons or activities about courage from your Girl Scout days?
Absolutely! Door-to-door cookie sales required courage on so many levels. New activities at meetings taught me to try things outside of my comfort zones. Assisting with meetings helped give me courage to stand in front of a crowd. Finally, as a child who was terrified of insects, our annual camping trips required courage to even walk out of the cabin door. During those trips, I don’t think I ever sat down without my sit-upon.
How did being a Girl Scout shape you as a female business owner?
The lessons I learned while selling Girl Scout cookies definitely helped prepare me for business ownership. Most of my sales came from knocking on doors, so I learned I had to hustle. There were multiple Girl Scouts in my neighborhood, and we all wanted to be the first Scout to knock on someone’s door, because the first Scout could sell the most cookies. Our clients have various suppliers they can work with, and it is really in our best interest to respond quickly. Sometimes a few minutes can make all the difference.
I learned I had to have a good pitch and practice it beforehand. I remember writing my notes on the cookie form itself, so I could always read from them if my nerves got the best of me, and they very often did! These days I occasionally get nervous talking to clients, and I still review my notes before calls and meetings.
I learned there is a lot of hard work and preparation on the backside of success that others do not see. My mother was the cookie manager for my Brownies and Juniors troops. I remember our front room filled with cases of cookies, unloading and counting boxes, and separating my other troop members’ orders. I am not sure I would have thought about the efforts that went into filling an individual scout’s order if I had not been helping my mother count and sort boxes. This is the most valuable lesson that I learned: No one will know the hard work, late nights, sacrifices, criticisms, and rejection that will go into your success.
Liz Mills is a single mother, small-business owner, and advocate for gender equality. She was the Troop Cookie Manager for her daughter’s Juniors and Cadettes troops and is currently an Adult Girl Scout Member. Liz is the mother to Madison, a college freshman, and Penny, an 8-year-old chocolate labrador retriever.