Karen Marie Shelton is the CEO and founder HairBoutique.com, a highly successful Internet venture since 1997. Karen, in her "spare time" is also the CEO of T&S Software, a telephony software company that continues to thrive even after the famous Telecom Crash of the late 1990s.
You can read all the articles written about Karen in the media (check the Search feature in HairBoutique.com or just go ahead and Goggle her), and you can also find out about the many awards she has won including Working Woman's Entrepreneur Of The Year.
However, this is my own personal account of the friendship I’ve enjoyed with Karen since I first met her in 1994.
I had moved unwillingly to Texas from my home in the Northeast with my first husband. I’d had a good job as a technical writer/editor, but my husband got a job in Dallas, TX, so, for the first time in my life, I left the Northeast. I found a contract job as a technical writer, and while working there, heard that IEX Corporation in Richardson, TX was hiring. Karen, then a supervisor in the Technical Publications Department, interviewed and hired me.
From the moment I started working for her, I liked her. Her work habits were (and are) formidable—she was in her office by 4:30 am, and rarely left before the stars came out. Although I was hired as a technical writer, she took me under her wing and made sure I developed the kind of extra writing skills that would give me a long term competitive edge. These included learning how to be a whiz at creating Help systems, finding all the tricky little workarounds to manage Microsoft Word, how to manage projects and milestones and never miss a deadline, how to make the most of your time, and best of all, some of her never-fail women-in-business tips. I can’t share them all with you here, but I will tell you one of my favorites:
Find out all you can about the people you work with, not just the usual birthdays and anniversaries. This includes finding out if the people you report to and interact with are visual or aural. Just ask, “Do you prefer getting your information via emails and memos, or would you rather I spoke with you directly?” Knowing this up front saves more than time and frustration, it makes you a better communicator. More than that, you are perceived more favorably by others, and we know in business, perception is everything.
I can’t tell you how her tips have helped my career, then and now.
Although Karen is one of the busiest people I have ever met, she always finds time for friends. I had a major project due the week I had to have my beloved 17-year-old cat, Billie, put down. When I showed up for work the next day, Karen met me at the elevator and put her arms around me. Always a stickler for meeting and exceeding deadlines, she told me I could have all the time I needed. All during that day, she made sure I was left in peace, and even brought me lunch.
Karen has a razor-sharp wit, and adores using stories to make a point. Once, when working with a chronic perfectionist who could never get projects done on time, she came up with the perfect way to make him understand his counter-productivity. She sat him down and told him the following story:
“Imagine that you are throwing a wonderful dinner party for your friends. You want everything to be absolutely perfect, and you go to great pains to get everything right. You’ve done everything except make the dessert, and your guests will be arriving soon. So, you make a fabulous pie from scratch, making your own pastry dough, putting the finest ingredients together for the filling, and then you decorate the pie with pastry leaves and flowers and fruit. It is truly a masterpiece. Then your guests arrive. They eat the wonderful dinner you made, and everyone has a great time. Then, when all your guests have a cup of your fabulous Mocha Java fresh-ground coffee in front of them, they are ready for dessert. You proudly bring out the lovely pie you’ve made and decorated so beautifully, and they all admire it.
However, because you took so much time decorating the pie, you never BAKED the pie! Your guests don’t want to LOOK at the pie; they want to EAT the pie!
It’s the same with your projects. You spend so much time tweaking every little detail until you feel it’s perfect, but all that tweaking makes you miss the deadline. All the perfection in the world won’t matter if you don’t deliver your project on time.”
He got it. And from then on, all she ever had to say to him was, “Just bake the damn pie!” and he never again missed a deadline.
It was from Karen that I learned how to play hardball in a business setting. The “old boy” network is alive and well, and women still have problems surviving and succeeding in it. But Karen showed me the fine points of managing both the old boys and the network. Some of her survival tips are these:
Karen also recruited me to write hair care articles for HairBoutique.com. Every month she would load up a box full of hair care items for me to test. Over the years I have tested and written articles for every kind of hair product from gel to wax, and even dyed my bangs turquoise at one point. Not only was it fun, but I got to write in a public venue, for which I am continually grateful.
The Karen Shelton I know is both a friend and an employer. As an employer what I appreciate most of all about her is her absolute commitment to her customers, both large and small. Her standards for conducting business include:
In addition, she stands by what she sells, and is dedicated to quality in every area of her businesses. Although Karen is generous to a fault, she is no fool. When you do business with her, you know you have entered into a relationship that will is based on trust, sound business sense, years of practical experience, hands-on experience with high-quality products, and a true partnership.
Is Karen Shelton a daring entrepreneur? Yes, definitely. Does she push herself and her peers above and beyond the edge of success? Frequently.
Does she demand from others more than she demands from herself? Never! At any time of the day or night, you are likely to find her hard at work, successfully managing both her businesses. She is never happier than when she is in the thick of a project, and when you are the customer she’s working for, you know you are going to get more than your money’s worth.
As a friend, Karen is kind and compassionate, and will quite literally move mountains to help a friend in need. When my afore-mentioned first husband left our marriage in 1998, it was Karen who again gave me a job and the confidence I needed. I was able to move out and move on, thanks to her. (We also had a lot of fun planning various horrible revenge plans on him. We never went through with any of them, but they really cracked me up when I needed a good laugh.)
So there you have it—that’s my history with Karen Marie Shelton. I still write articles for HairBoutique.com, although I now live happily in New Hampshire with my second husband. We still talk on the phone, email regularly and she is still a big part of my life.
As I mentioned in the beginning, you can read lots of articles about Karen-the-business person. This is my view of Karen-the-friend, and the influence she has and continues to have in my life. As a business partner or a friend, you can count on Karen!
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