Kim Estep has worked in the commercial finance industry for over 22 years and attributes her success to understanding and adapting to the male professional psyche. Her husband, Scott, has been a stay-at-home dad to their two daughters, who are now both in college. Kim worked for her father for 10 years before buying the business from him in 2008. By 2012, she had grown profits nearly 5x.
When she graduated from Sweet Briar College, a women’s college in central Virginia, she had no idea she would someday be involved in high finance and macroeconomics. But that’s her passion and it’s served her well. She’s met numerous financial experts and dignitaries over the course of her career, from President George HW Bush to Howard Marks, Liz Ann Sonders to David Zervos, and many more. She has a giant passion for big ideas and big solutions. It’s this passion that has led her to create Women Nation™.
Although she was an equestrian from her childhood to her college years, in 2004 Kim discovered a new passion: racing cars. Her husband had gifted her a “day at the track” in their street car at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, and after only an hour she was completely hooked. Driving on the track began as a hobby but she progressed quickly, and by 2011 she was buying a race car and competing on the Porsche Club of America amateur circuit.
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Thank you so much for giving us your time! Before we begin, could you introduce yourself to our readers and take us through what exactly your company does and what your vision is for its future?
Kim Estep: I’m the oldest of 2 sisters born in the 1970s to a finance entrepreneur and a nurse-turned-Vietnam Vet-turned housewife. My dad started a financial consultancy in the very early 1980s and my mom stayed home to raise my sister and me. My parents were old house freaks—and they tore our house apart bit by bit to uncover its 210 years + historic alterations. We never had friends over because we didn’t have a regular family room or even a kitchen until I was in middle school. So, my sister and I started a horse hobby that entertained us at a local barn and kept us away from the dirt and dust at home. I was good in school but loved riding so much that I chose Sweet Briar College to get a liberal arts education and ride my horse at school.
After college, I made my way out to Boulder, Colorado, and held a few different jobs in customer service and sales. I met my husband where I worked. He and I had a house built and only seven months after moving in and beginning to really settle down, my dad called me and said, “sit down I’m about to ruin your life.” He asked me to move back to Connecticut to learn his business and eventually take it over. There are a bit more sordid details to the story and his resulting divorce from my mother, but obviously, my husband and I took the chance, moved back to Connecticut, and I eventually bought the business from him—during the financial crisis, no less. Then a few years later, I started another business called Convention Nation which was the ultimate convention directory. At the same time, I started another business called Women Nation, which I had problems scaling. Serendipitously, I met another female entrepreneur who succeeded in doing what I was trying to do, and now we are working together on building the Women Nation brand.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO/entrepreneur when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get where you are today?
Kim Estep: I’m so fortunate that I had the opportunity to take over the family business because as a child I never really knew what I wanted to do after college. My father and I share an inability to work for other people, so when he offered to train me in the business he founded, I knew I had to try it. And once you’re a small business owner, you train yourself to see what should be changed about the world. I still have the family business but I wanted to create something that was my own, too. It’s why I started Women Nation.
Tell us something about yourself that others in your organization might be surprised to know.
Kim Estep: I’m a hardcore car racer and have been for 10 years.
Many readers may wonder how to become an entrepreneur but what is an entrepreneur? How would you define it?
Kim Estep: Entrepreneurs are people who take a risk and start a business that solves a problem for a lot of people. We’re people who can’t settle for the status quo. We see opportunity everywhere. And we’re big risk-takers.
What is the importance of having a supportive and inclusive culture?
Kim Estep: Entrepreneurs are a little crazy, so we need to work with people of all shapes and sizes. And since a great idea could come from anyone, it makes sense to have an inclusive culture. The employees who support the visionaries in the company will be very important.
How can a leader be disruptive in the post covid world?
Kim Estep: I hate saying you have to have balls—but you have to have balls. I don’t mean testicles, either. I mean you must have the confidence, the guts, and the fortitude to stand up to what you believe in and stand against what could harm you, your family, and your livelihood. I can give an example of standing up to my father (then the boss) when he locked me out of the office filing cabinets until I signed my rights away in the company. I can give examples of how my co-racers mouthed off to me in the racetrack pits because they blamed me for something they had done. I had been hit from behind by another very powerful and wealthy racer, and he said it was my fault. He told the stewards it was my fault. And he told all of Porsche Club social media it was my fault! But I knew it was his fault and that by continuing to race, I would show the other drivers that I was as talented as they were. That took tenacity and stoicism—two other character traits that have contributed to my success.
Finally, you must have empathy. It took me a long time to figure this out since my parents are so unempathetic. But my recent success in racing and business has come from a deep understanding of myself and how I like to communicate vs. other people’s personality styles and their preference for how they like to receive information and how they view their world.
If a 5-year-old asked you to describe your job, what would you tell them?
Kim Estep: Well, in one of my jobs I sell money to people. In the other job, I teach women how to be business owners.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Kim Estep: I had to fire my biggest customer. He was half of my revenue but 99% of my stress. My other customer relationships suffered because this one guy wanted to be treated like he was my only customer. When I let him go, I could breathe again. My home life improved. And my other customers thrived because I could pay them the attention they needed to grow their businesses.
Leaders are usually asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is your most useless talent?
Kim Estep: I can recite the Grasshopper and the Ant in French.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. If you wrote a book about your life until today, what would the title be?
Kim Estep: “In a previous life, I was a famous male race car driver”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Kim Estep for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
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