Long before she was running her own business and co-writing a book, “Women in High Gear,” Amy Howell was a little girl in overdrive.
“I was a tomboy,” Howell, CEO of Memphis-based Howell Marketing Strategies, said of her earliest days in Austin, Texas. “I’d tell the neighborhood what we were going to do, whose house we were going to go to. They kind of looked to me to figure out what we were doing.”
Amy Howell of Howell Marketing
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
In a way, those neighborhoods kids – especially the boys – were her first clients. Not that it was a straight shot from organizing the kids on the block to running a business. It wasn’t.
Howell will share her story – and the larger story of women attaining new heights in the working world – when she delivers the keynote address at the Women & Business Seminar Feb. 27 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The 2014 Seminar Series is presented by The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. The Women & Business seminar will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. To register, go to seminars.memphisdailynews.com. A wine-and-cheese reception will follow the event.
In the book, “Women in High Gear: A Guide for Entrepreneurs, On-Rampers, and Aspiring Executives,” Howell wrote: “High gear for me is the point where you attain confidence that comes from staying power in the business world. It’s that voice deep down that calls you to action and keeps you focused on your goals. Some people have tried to define me, but I refuse to allow others to define my journey.”
Her mother, of course, would be the exception to that rule.
“I was a lifeguard in high school and a swimming teacher,” Howell said. “My parents teased me about always having a clipboard and a whistle. And I say in the book, somebody had to be in charge, it might as well be me. My mom told me, ‘you don’t need to be following; you need to be leading.’”
That’s more easily accomplished in the neighborhood than in a corporate setting. Howell, 49, who came to Memphis to attend Rhodes College, knew early on she would have to meet men where they were to better understand them and the business world.
She says in the book, which she co-wrote with Anne Deeter Gallaher, who is CEO of her own marketing firm in Harrisburg, Pa., that she used the acceptable role of “note-taker” to sit in on board meetings and strategy sessions.
She also stretched herself.
“I learned to play golf,” Howell said. “I didn’t like it. But in the ’80s, that was the only way to meet men in influential positions and figure out what was going on in the business world. Even if I just drove the cart and passed out beer, I was meeting people.”
Frank Ricks, one of the founding principals of LRK Inc. architectural firm, employed a young Howell. Today, his firm is one of her longtime clients.
“She’s clearly an extrovert,” Ricks said. “She has a knack of making connections which, in my mind, is different than making introductions.”
Howell introduced Ricks and Dr. Scott Morris, CEO of the Church Health Center in Memphis.
“We hit it off,” Ricks said, and that connection has led to LRK doing some pro bono work for the Church Health Center.
Howell is simultaneously intuitive and bold, which might seem like a contradiction, but really isn’t. She is, after all, a CEO, a wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister and a friend.
“You have to wear different hats when you have different tasks in front of you,” she said.
Howell tells a story in the book of being in a meeting – 12 men and her. The meeting bogged down over minor details. It was late in the day. Her instincts told her to order coffee and cookies and so she did – without asking.
“The negotiations had come down to something so ridiculously small I felt like they were little boys arguing over about who got to ride in the front seat,” Howell wrote. “I wanted to yell, ‘I call shotgun!’ Instead, I fed them.”
And in a short while, all was resolved.
Danis Fuelling, CEO of Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment in Memphis, who is a client and a friend of Howell, said: “Amy just kind of puts it all out there. If you know her, you know.”
So it should come as no surprise that Howell and her co-author decided to self-publish their book, which is available through amazon.com and locally at The Stovall Collection and The Booksellers at Laurelwood.
“We didn’t want anybody telling us what to say and how to say it,” Howell said.
Or as she wrote in the book: “I have a saying in my firm: ‘Tell your own story or someone else will.’”