Mary Parkin, founder and director of Women’s Business Factory

Parkin grew up in Dubuque and after graduating from Dubuque Senior High School, she went on an adventure to New Mexico. She received a Bachelor of Arts and an Executive Master of Business degree through the University of New Mexico.

Parkin was a stock trader, a self-starter of three businesses and worked for an art gallery in Santa Fe. After getting married to a southern New Mexican red-headed lawyer with two children and raising one of their own, they decided to come back to Parkin’s hometown. Her mother was reaching the end of her life and they wanted to share that time with her.

Parkin received training as a credentialed business coach and started working for the Small Business Development Center. She focused on helping women start businesses and, with a little help from her great friends, opened a nonprofit devoted specifically to the growth of women’s business confidence and success. The ultimate goal is to have a place where women can meet and feel comfortable learning and supporting each other’s businesses.

Mary, her husband, Marshall Martin, and their spoiled standard poodle Teddy have now made Dubuque their home.

Her hobbies are eating good food, reading, walking, kayaking and having lively conversation.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?: An organizational anthropologist named Judith Glaser would be my pick. Sadly, she recently passed away, but I was privileged to take a seminar she taught. She opened my eyes on the importance of conversation and the emotional content it brings. The conversational space that creates deep understanding and engagement is everything.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?: To stay focused on supporting the women who need help developing the necessary business skills. We need to listen to what they have to say, help them find the right fit and connect them to a community of people that can further their confidence and success.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?: Most of the businesses I deal with are small in size with a top of maybe 20 employees, so the institution part rarely enters. There are some great examples to study and learn from.

One company is Eileen Fisher Clothing. It does about $300 million in sales a year. Her company views collaboration as the key to innovation, realizing that no one thrives alone. Her leadership has made a commitment to making women’s lives better.

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision?: Core values shape our organization. We do not separate business growth from personal growth, nor do we separate economic development from community development. They are all tied together.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?: Kindness

What advice to you have for future leaders?: Look to the market disrupters, love that creativeness in business, always be curious, be clear in your communication yet realize people take in messages through their individual lens. Make sure you are in touch individually with your work force (if possible) and listen to them. Look at your leadership as a journey that should always keep you growing. It’s OK to have fun. It’s always about the unknown possibilities. I never cease to be amazed by what people can do.

How did you get involved in the field you’re working in?: In my mind there is a connection between literature and business creation — the human condition is fascinating to me. I have a literature undergrad major and an EMBA with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. I had three businesses and one of my strong suits was that of being a good communicator and boss. I went on to train as a business coach. When I returned to Dubuque I knew I wanted to focus on helping women succeed in business.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader?: Spotting the niche that needs to be filled. Getting everyone on board to achieve the vision by bringing out their best.

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