When Gigi Stetler was in high school, she had trouble fitting in and was voted least likely to succeed by her classmates. She dropped out after ninth grade to work in construction because she didn't think a formal education was empowering her: "School just programs you to take your ideas and give them to somebody else to make money on."
"Entrepreneurship is not taught in school," says Gigi, who wanted an opportunity where she could "work to learn" but there weren't a lot of companies willing to hire a woman who didn't have a high school diploma. So, she got into real estate: she saved up enough money to buy an abandoned apartment building that she could renovate.
Gigi purchased a building in South Beach and offered a homeless man a place to stay, an act of kindness that eventually turned violent. "As I was doing the walk through before closing, I discovered a homeless man sleeping in the basement," says Gigi. "I felt sorry for him, so I offered him an apartment in exchange for painting and repairs of the building. One day, he was intoxicated, throwing beer bottles off the roof at passing cars. I went to talk him down from there, but that didn't work. So I went inside to call police, and as I was on hold, he entered and began to stab me. He continued to stab me 21 times. The police finally arrived, and he walked up to them with my blood all over him and the knife still in his hand and he asked if the b--- was dead yet. Well, I'm still alive and he went to jail."
Gigi never recovered from the emotional trauma, but she "moved forward with gratitude" and entered the male-dominated industry of RV (recreational vehicles) sales. She "hustled" her way to the top, working 11 years without missing a single day, and became the Number 1 dealer on the East Coast.
"In the first quarter of 2008, we were up another $1 million in sales over the previous quarter," says Gigi. "By September of 2008, I had a hostile competitor-Camping World-and the owner set his sights on destroying me for not selling my company to him. That's when I came tumbling down to over $10 million in debt. However, I quickly started over again, and I have managed to nearly pay it all back-without filing for bankruptcy."
Gigi credits her perseverance, in part, to rejecting feminism, even as "men would go out of their way to destroy [her]." As a young woman trying to break into the RV world, the older, male executives told her to "go home and bake cookies." When Gigi was in the emergency room, being treated for her injuries after the stabbing, detectives asked her what she was doing in an abandoned building. "They insinuated that I was a prostitute or a drug dealer," she said.
"Everybody has a different opinion on feminists, but [I'm not one because] a feminist to me is someone that uses a victim card," says Gigi. "Life is not fair, but if you play the victim card, it never works. That's because nobody really cares, so it will only slow you down. So stop whining and get to work."
Gigi believes that success is not about avoiding failure-it's about failing and being able to start again. "I greet life as a warrior every single day," says Gigi, the author of Unstoppable: Surviving Is Just the Beginning. "After that happened to me, every day above ground is a great day. That helps me move forward and continue to solve problems."