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WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Why Cheerleaders Make the Best Employees

Heidi Sweeney of Slate Rock Safety hired a team full of cheerleaders for her uniform company.
We've Got Spirit--Yes, We Do Heidi Sweeney at her local high school
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Heidi Sweeney had a wide range of jobs, including show-horse handler and marketing manager, before starting her company, which sells uniforms to utility workers, firefighters, police, and military personnel. So, she doesn't have a long list of prerequisites for employees. The only thing she requires is that they have a cheerleader's enthusiasm--literally. As told to April Joyner.

Before I started my first company, I had worked as a receptionist. I was also given a little bit of marketing responsibility, and eventually I was allowed to go from marketing 5 percent of the time to marketing full time. That dramatically influenced the way I hire and manage employees. I try to give them opportunities to grow beyond their position.

We don't require people to have master's degrees and 15 years of experience in their positions. My business partner, Chad Wilson, and I look for people who are intelligent, have diverse work experience, and are very flexible. It's odd how it's turned out. All 12 of our employees are women, even our warehouse workers. That's not by design. We've interviewed as many men as we have women.

If you look at all of us on paper, we're very different. A friend of mine once told me that hiring a whole bunch of Heidis is not a way to build a great team. You need people who are introverts, who are detail oriented, things that I'm not. But once, while we were having a staff meeting, it came out that almost all of us had been cheerleaders. By no means was it a prerequisite for coming here, but it's a fun common bond. Our employees all bring a positive attitude and high energy, which works well for a growing business.

One of our value statements is, "Own every victory, every challenge, every mistake, and every failure, because we will experience them all." That goes right along with cheerleading: When you take a risk, I've got your back. It's about people working together to achieve a goal, whether it's a human pyramid or a business.

We're definitely a team. When our salespeople are trying to get a big government contract, everyone in the company knows they're working on it, and we all celebrate when they land the sale. There are also times when somebody from marketing may need to fill in for shipping and receiving.

We work very hard not to be your typical office of women. Communication is very important to me. There's just no place for passive-aggressiveness when we're moving this fast. Everyone knows that by the time something gets to me, I'm going to go in and say, "Let's sit down and figure it out," because having an office full of drama is just not an option.

I spend a lot of time talking to employees about what's going on in their world. If you're thinking you want to buy a house in three years, and you want to move into a certain position to do that, I need to know. And even if your dream means eventually leaving the company, then I understand. We had one employee who left us to live out her life's dream to be a missionary in Thailand, and we got together to celebrate that. It's important to me that people are able to evolve and get fulfillment from their jobs.

I want to make this a place where everyone wants to be. On Friday mornings, I will make coffee and play some high-energy music, like Salt-N-Pepa, on Pandora. I like to bring energy. Let's take the day by the horns, go and make sales, and do everything we have to do.




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