Perspectives: Women Who Excel 2013 – Realizing potential

Lisa Schiffman, Americas director, marketing and communications, Strategic Growth Markets, Ernst & Young LLP

Lisa Schiffman, Americas director, marketing and communications, Strategic Growth Markets, Ernst & Young LLP

Lisa Schiffman has always been an entrepreneurial, creative person throughout her career. She is always looking for opportunities to do things differently or start something new. At Ernst & Young LLP, Schiffman has been given those opportunities to make a difference as the Americas director of marketing and communications, Strategic Growth Markets.

“Ernst & Young has always given me the resources, the space, the time and the trust to go down a new path and see what would become of it,” Schiffman says. “It’s really important to know yourself and what your go-to skill set is.”

When you’re in the working world, you have to know what it is that people come to you for as opposed to going to someone else.

“That’s a very valuable thing to know because it enables you to navigate things that leverage that most optimally and move away from things that underoptimize that,” Schiffman says. “Most people don’t ask themselves that question enough.”

Asking such a question is what gave Schiffman a eureka moment in 2008 when she had the idea to create an Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program at E&Y. The annual competition and leadership development program identifies women entrepreneurs whose second-stage businesses show real potential to scale up but need to overcome barriers — and then helps them do it through five crucial accomplishments: Think big and be bold, build a public profile, work on the business rather than in it, establish key advisory networks, and evaluate financing for expansion.

“We knew if we could apply our resources to these women, big things could happen,” Schiffman says. “When you look at what gets in the way and why don’t more women entrepreneurs get over that inflection point and realize that real strong growth curve, there were a number of things.”

First of all, in some cases, it’s a failure to think big enough.

“That recognition that you have something that can really get big and you’re the one who can take it there is probably the most important moment in the program, because from that, all else proceeds,” she says.

Another obstacle is sometimes women have more of a tendency to work in the business than on it.

“We can get caught up in some of the operational details and not necessarily recognize the need to step away from some of the daily operations,” she says.

“If you’re holding on to too many things and your head is down every day and you’re not thinking about what’s next, you can inhibit your own growth. If my role is the CEO, it can’t also be the CFO, COO and CIO. I have to bring that talent in.”

A great way to gain that talent is through advisory networks.

“One of the things that can help an entrepreneur a lot is being surrounded by people whose experience is different than yours, whose expertise complements yours and who can provide you some guidance,” Schiffman says. “An advisory network is really important because none of us has a full complement of experiences that are required to grow a company.”

Lastly, you have to consider what kind of financing options you’ll need as you grow. Ernst & Young helps women make contacts and build relationships with outside investors as well as gives them education about financing and expansion.

But the main takeaway from Entrepreneurial Winning Women is that you can’t be afraid to seek help when you need it.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions on topics that matter that you don’t have the experience to know about,” she says. “People are a bit hesitant sometimes to probe and learn more. Most people are extremely generous and will spend a moment to offer some advice and insight from their own experience. We could all expose ourselves more to that and be better off for it.” ●

How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (215) 448-5000 or Ernst & Young is currently accepting applications for this year’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program through June 28.


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