Three years ago, Pamela Foster-Grear, president of The Foster Corp., came to a new understanding about life.
She was watching the business she had founded approximately 10 years earlier grow to a multimillion-dollar operation, but suddenly her focus turned in another direction: She was diagnosed with cancer.
I was blessed that after surgery, it was gone, Foster-Grear says.
It was a difficult time, but despite her taking nearly a year away from the company to regroup and decide what was really important in her life, her business thrived.
I guess realizing things are going to move whether you are around or not was a real awakening for me, she says. Im not as anxious, Im very much more humbling and, I guess, more serious about life and more settled.
Foster-Grear also has a lighter side thats evident when she speaks of her 8-year-old daughter, Noni. She enjoys traveling on business and vacation trips with Noni and Lance Grear, Foster-Grears husband, who also works at the company.
There are also the simple things she enjoys, like playing silly games.
My daughter will get a couple of her friends and Ill get a couple of mine and well play Twister, Foster-Grear says.
She says being diagnosed with cancer made her realize the importance of happiness in life. It also taught her how to give.
If I had a whole lot of money, I would be a philanthropist and just watch things grow, she says.
Shes already taking steps in that direction, recruiting peers to support her founding of Community Threads, a nonprofit organization through which she hopes to encourage youth in business. Community Threads has purchased a building in the Main Street and Kelton Avenue area, where she hopes to relocate her own business and have satellite offices of other companies to show youth real-life business situations.
While shes raising the $3 million needed to renovate the building, shes working with her peers to develop programming to teach students not only about entrepreneurship, but the importance of having good character.
We want to grow more young people up like us, she says. Give them the exposure and let them know that, yeah, going to college, getting out, working for a corporation is good, but theres another option: You can own a corporation. Wed like to give them those types of skills.
Perhaps its her own experiences that led Foster-Grear to have such a keen interest in encouraging entrepreneurship.
After all, she had decided to leave her job with the Ohio Department of Youth Services and travel to New Yorks Fashion Institute of Technology for research and training before launching her business in Columbus with zero dollars.
It was five years before she got her first paycheck from the company.
With her family in Cleveland, she relied on friends and her faith to bring her through the rough times, which she says didnt bother her because she had such a passion to get the business on its way.
Ive never been that focused in my life, says Foster-Grear, whose company now has 10 employees and two divisions one distributing uniforms and the other, safety items.
You might argue, however, that Foster-Grears focus and vision are just as strong now when you see her deliberate determination and dedication in supporting future and fellow entrepreneurs.
No ones an island, so with that, we need people, she says. We need other people to assist us in other areas, particularly where youre short. A lot of stroking goes on when youre out here doing your own thing. A lot of positive feedback needs to happen, and you need it all the time.
To build the interpersonal relationships she values so much, Foster-Grear has surrounded herself with other similar-minded business owners.
Take, for example, Consortium 2000, a group of nine fellow business owners with whom she establishes links for business and networking. She serves on the Minority Regional Council of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and on advisory committees for COTA and the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing & Cultural Arts Complex. Shes also a member of African-American Businesswomen CEOs, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, Urban Business Professionals Association and All Nations Church.
From these organizations, shes built relationships with entrepreneurs she admires.
One is Dwight Smith, a Consortium 2000 member who is president and CEO of Sophisticated Systems Inc.
He still has the passion going strong about the business and where hes going, Foster-Grear says, and hes always so willing to assist others.
Shellee Fisher Davis, president of Britt Business Systems Inc. and another Consortium member, says Foster-Grear is just as willing to share her own business expertise.
You always believe that other people can do the same thing, but they just need to be cultivated, says Davis, explaining her view of Foster-Grears dedication to the entrepreneurial spirit.
Shes always starting something. Thats one thing about Pam, you can always let her start it, Davis says. Then she wants to step back and let it flow. Shes a very easy person to follow and to work with.
Thats why you have the leaders in the world and all the other folks in the world.
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.