NEW YORK -- Five women entrepreneurs were honored Thursday by Avon Corp. and the Small Business Administration for establishing successful small businesses despite great personal and professional odds.
The winners of the 1993 Women of Enterprise Awards were Anne Marie Colbin, 52, founder of a natural-food cooking school and institute in New York; Gladys Edmunds, 45, president of a travel firm in Pittsburgh; Mary Morris, 61, chairman of a marine-propeller company in Shreveport, La.; Suzanne Small Trusler, 43, owner of a construction company in Lame Deer, Mont.; and Pamela Yardis, 48, head of a computer-consulting firm in Stamford, Conn.
Avon started the Women of Enterprise Awards program in 1987 in conjunction with the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. Avon, the largest direct-selling company in the world, said the program 'honors ordinary women who have overcome tragedy, prejudice, professional hardships or personal handicaps to achieve business success.'
Colbin, the daughter of a Hungarian Jew who hid in a cellar as a young child in Budapest during World War II, grew up in Argentina and came to the United States when she was a 20-year-old bride. Divorced from her first husband, she remarried and had two daughters. Her elder daughter died at the age of four in a fire in her New York apartment, but despite the birth of another daughter, her marriage fell apart.
With two children to feed, she began offering classes in natural cooking. The business expanded into The Natural Gourmet Cookery School and The Natural Gourmet Institute, which now has annual sales of $850, 000.
Edmunds, a black unmarried mother at 15, sold fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door to stay off welfare and support her daughter. When someone offered her a $5 chartered bus ticket to a local racetrack, she quickly calculated the costs of providing this service and starting running her own chartered bus trips from a card table at home.
As her business grew, Edmunds joined forces with another larger travel agency, but ultimately decided to go it alone with her own company. Today, at age 45, she is president of Edmunds Travel Consultants, a $3.2.million business that provides domestic- and international-travel services to private and corporate clients.
Edmunds told the audience of 1,400 women who attended a luncheon for the Women of Enterprise Award winners that she's never forgotten her mother's admonition: 'When you see an obstacle, you've taken your eye off the goal.'
Morris, the daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper, dropped out of high-school and married at 16. But after nearly 20 years of marriage, she took her three children and fled with only $50 in her pocket, fearing her alcoholic husband's violent rages.
She became the first member of her family to earn a high-school equivalency degree and worked as a legal secretary before going into real estate, where she ranked among the top 100 performers nationally in her first year. But her career was sidelined when she injured her hip in an accident.
At 56, Morris bought out her son Steve's partner in a propeller manufacturing company for the marine industry. She is chairman of PowerTech! Propellers, a million-dollar company that is five years old and growing at the rate of nearly 50 percent annually.
Trusler, a member of the Northern Cheyenee tribe in Montana, obtained a government grant to Montana State University and became the first woman from her reservation to earn a four-year college degree. She believed her mission was to bring back to her reservation the lessons she had learned in another world.
In 1974, Tusler founded Morning Star Enterprises, a construction company, to build decent housing for the reservation and to reduce the 75 percent unemployment rate in her community. Local construction companies sued Tusler on grounds of reverse discrimination because she hired so many Indians, but they lost the case. Last year her company billed $5 million for building hospital, schools and housing on reservations in the western United States.
After the emergency delivery of her seventh child, Yardis was confined to bed with a back injury when her husband took a business trip. She soon received a note from him saying he was leaving her because he 'just wasn't happy.' In the next month, two of her children were hospitalized, her cars were repossessed and the bank threatened to foreclose on her house.
Yardis, who was trained as a teacher, enrolled in two Master degree programs at Columbia University an hour and a half away from home, gave students free rooms in exchange for baby-sitting, got student loans and nursed the baby as she did programming at the computer. She graduated from Columbia with two Master's degrees and a 4.0 average.
She worked her way up from computer sales representative to a vice president of a computer consulting company in New York in three years. But driving home from work one afternoon, Yardis was hit by a drunken driver and reinjured her back. Forced to work out of her home because of her injuries, she founded Chestnut Hill Consulting Group, which advises corporations how to best use computer technology and now is a $900,000 enterprise.
Avon conducts a nationwide search each year to identify self-employed women who qualify as contenders for the awards. More than 500 women's organizations, regional SBA offices and the leading U.S. women's magazines also are involved in the effort.