I hadn't seen or heard much about Debra for some time, but from what I already knew about her, I figured the interview would be a pretty good one. I've learned that even without a lot of preparation, I can come away from almost every interview with something I can use. I've also discovered along the way that you can go into an interview with certain expectations and risk missing the real story.
It wouldn't have surprised me if Debra had told me that her company, Fox Learning Systems Inc., had grown into a very successful venture. After all, she was a pioneer of sorts in her first career, a woman in television news before she left the industry in 1986 to raise her four children.
Her business, producing videos for safety training and the long-term care industry, draws heavily on her skills as a TV journalist. Indeed, she believed that those skills would carry the day in her venture.
It took only a few minutes with Debra to realize that I had gotten more than I had bargained for. A few years ago, Fox Learning Systems struck a deal with a major insurance company that promised to provide it with a steady flow of income and development capital. The deal collapsed when the insurance company stopped writing most insurance in the United States.
Remarkably, this optimistic entrepreneur has managed to keep her company afloat and today is confident that she will succeed, not because she expected the unexpected, but because she accepted it and moved on.
In a region where there is lots of talk and concern about the demise of manufacturing, the future of family businesses and the flight of young people from the region, we might find some comfort and surprise in this year's selections for the SBA awards: a growing family-owned furniture retailer in the hands of its third generation; a French immigrant who launched a company to manufacture and sell sensors for use in the metals industry; and two young brothers who saw a business opportunity in their hobby, paintball games.
Meeting expectations can pave the way to a successful business, but meeting the unexpected with determination and creativity can make the difference between survival and failure. Or getting or missing the story.