"I was warned that I might get heckled," says Patti Glick, recalling one of her more memorable speaking gigs. After all, she had been hired to talk about feet to an audience of sewer workers, welders, pavers, and pipe fitters -- tough guys who lived in their steel-toed boots. But the boots came off for Glick. Not only did the laborers listen intently to her hour-long talk, but they lined up afterward to have their stocking feet measured by the woman who calls herself the Foot Nurse. And nary a curse was heard. Glick reports that only one worker refused (on religious grounds) to have his feet touched. Others pulled off their socks for impromptu exams. No problem for Glick, who has seen -- and smelled -- it all.

Glick is the Foot Nurse of Silicon Valley -- and maybe the only one anywhere else, too. She charges anywhere from $600 for a two-hour presentation to $2,000 for a daylong seminar called "My Aching Feet: Is It My Feet or My Shoes?" Her clients range from such stalwart Valley denizens as Intel to start-ups with names like Zaffire. Glick knows all about the bunions of the Valley's working class.

Standing five feet seven in her Easy Spirit sneakers, Glick, who is based in Cupertino, Calif., brings a message of foot redemption to audiences in eight counties. She shuns the clinical white dress, appearing instead in colorful scrubs or a comfortable pantsuit. And she never travels without her props: plastic foot models, shoes and boots sawed in half, enlarged photographs of good feet and bad, and the clunky metal Brannock Device she uses to measure the foot and arch length of nearly everyone she meets.

Born in 1954 in Seattle, Glick always knew she wanted to be a nurse. But after five years in the profession, she started fantasizing about getting out. She took evening classes in electronics and got a good job as a chip designer. Then she met and married Jeff Glick, an engineer at Advanced Micro Devices. The couple wanted children immediately. Part-time hours were hard to come by in high tech, and Glick didn't see any other options for balancing work and kids. "My goal was to become a full-time mom, especially after I learned I was having twins," she says.

The twins -- a boy and a girl -- were born in April 1990. After six months Glick, then 35, had an epiphany. "I knew I would go out of my skull if I didn't work," she says. So she returned to nursing part-time. That job introduced her to a variety of doctors, and one, Steven Tager, asked her to join his podiatry clinic. Glick's response was curt: "That's gross. Who wants to work around feet all day?"

As it turned out, she did. "I discovered I loved it," Glick says. She carved out a schedule that allowed her to be with her children four days a week. The work was fascinating -- and never ending. "We wouldn't get out of there until 6:30 or 7," she notes. But her heart broke on the nights she had only an hour to spend with her children. "I said, 'I'll be damned if a day-care center is going to teach them study habits," she recalls. In September 1996, as the twins entered first grade, she quit the workplace for good.

But Glick didn't become an entrepreneur overnight. She needed prodding. She got it from one of Tager's patients who managed corporate fitness programs and saw Glick as a natural speaker on the wellness-workshop circuit. Dr. Tager agreed. Encouragement also came from the Palo Alto YWCA, where Glick had signed up for an entrepreneurial program for women. "The more I started talking about it and the more support I got, the more I said this could work," Glick says. She envisioned a workday that would end promptly when the twins arrived home from school. "It was perfect. The work would be invisible to my kids."

Coming up with a company name was easy. "My daughter called me the Foot Nurse," says Glick, "and the name stuck." Spurred on, she wrote a business plan. She landed her first paid job in April 1997. Dana Schuster, another alum of the YWCA program, hired Glick to speak to the staff and customers at her start-up, Women of Substance Health Spa, in Redwood City.

It was a speechwriter who told Glick, "Patti, people don't want to know how a bunion is formed; they just want to know if they have one." Glick has been taking suggestions from a wide network of colleagues ever since. A wellness manager at Lockheed provided feedback on pricing. Glick's first Web designer conceived the company's tag line: "Keeping Silicon Valley on its feet." Even Steve Case helped out -- the cute wiggling toes that appear on Glick's Web site, Footnurse.com, are not her own; she got them off a clip-art program on AOL.

In her first year as a sole proprietor, Glick did 24 presentations for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, National Semiconductor, Cisco, and Applied Materials. The next year she did 46. But she dropped down to 28 in 1999, the year she broke her foot and became a human prop for her audiences. "I think God has a very good sense of humor," she quips. By late last year she was on track to hit 50 presentations.

Her biggest gig by far was the series of foot-safety workshops she did for the water and sewer workers. About 375 employees of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) turned out to hear her over a yearlong period starting in 1998.

Given the way word spreads in the tight-knit human-resources community of Silicon Valley, it's conceivable that Glick could quadruple her sales, which now stand at $20,000 based on her part-time schedule. And like any soloist, she can't be everyplace at once, so she's trying to leverage her time. Toward that end, she has produced her first audiotape aimed at the diabetic market. She is also slowly introducing foot-care products to her Web site, which is getting 500 to 800 hits a day. She hopes one day to speak at conferences and trade shows around the country.

But for now she's staying close to home so that she can help her kids with fifth-grade math and take them to tae kwon do class. She's also home to cook dinner -- a perk her husband doesn't mind at all. But he pitches in by picking up the kids from school some days and playing Mr. Mom when his wife speaks on weekends.

As for the decision to be a soloist, Glick says she wouldn't have it any other way. "I'd rather raise my rates than hire people," she says. She savors the fact that the business rises or falls based on her own actions. There is no one to disappoint and no one to disappoint her. "I have very few negatives I can identify with working alone," Glick says. "I'm a bit of an introvert and need a certain amount of quiet time to recharge." The family dog, a mixed-breed poodle named Honey, forces her to take breaks from the computer in her home office. Her working rules are no TV, no computer games, and no pajamas -- and she takes days off when she needs to. "I like the balance and the freedom," she says. "My kids are sick, I'm here."

A few serious medical issues of her own have given Glick pause. Eight years ago, she had a brain tumor removed. It was benign. But a blood clot three weeks later nearly killed her. Glick resolved then to change her priorities. There's a "spiritual" connection to being the Foot Nurse, she says. "I have found my life's purpose. That's what feels so good to me."

Susan Greco is a senior writer at Inc.


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Published on: Jan 1, 2001