How I Made It: Stephanie Y. Drake on Her Fateful Journey To Heading Her Own Construction and Real Estate Services Firm

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Why did you want to establish yourself as an independent owner rather than working for an already known construction corporation?

Coming from a grass roots, hardworking family, I take ownership of everything I do. My mom is very hands on and I’m very hands on – I am truly my mother’s child. That’s just my make up, and that is how I approached working in corporate America. I was always the one that had to figure it out, and eventually I did. I never was one to ask someone to do it for me. Even with basic things such as writing letters.

I remember when I first started my corporate career and I had how-to reference books on how to write letters. That level of detail and understanding has always been my nature. I’m trying to work smarter but the only reason I can work smarter and have evolved into a creative thinker is because of the fact that I get into the minutiae, and it actually has paid off.  Don’t get me wrong I am a better business person because of my past experiences in corporate America.

Last year we maintained a little over five-million dollars in revenues, and could have been a 30-million dollar company had I opted to make different business decisions.   And one day we will be, I feel good about that. But I must say it’s never been about money for me. I prefer to grow smart, with the right alliances, sustaining for the long-term in order to keep focused on my underlying vision for Drake which is ‘impact’. It’s not just about the almighty dollar but choosing wisely to ensure long-term (vs. short-lived) prosperity.

That part of me is what my business coach describes as my personal responsibility.  Drake is that vehicle for me. So since I am clear on what I am about, the question is where  can I best accomplish my goals, my passion: In my own company where I am accountable for the actions and decisions, or as an employee of another organization that has its own, albeit noble, agenda?  I guess my answer is evident.

You mentioned you have a business coach. What is a business coach and how did you find one?

I was having that occasional feeling of burn out. I prayed about it,  because I was overwhelmed and had too much on my plate to prioritize. I got this strange call. I get a ton of messages a day, but this message was different. So I called him back. It didn’t take but five minutes and there was an instant connection like he was reading my mind. It was like the help I needed was here, he just showed up.  He actually was calling on behalf of an international organization that he’s affiliated with. He was simply doing his round of monthly outreach calls that they do for small businesses to see about setting up a one-time complimentary two-hour session, to offer free advice to business owners on topics such as business challenges. He offered to meet with me at no fee on regular basis and since I saw the value of working together, I have eventually engaged him as my coach, a very hands-on coach I might add.  I think a good business advisor is able to sit on the other side and really hear your vision and your mission; learn about your journey, where you are today and be able to assist you with getting closer to your mission and vision. And keeping you accountable because so many things will become a distraction and take you off course, because that’s one of the many challenges in running a business  — we all fall victim to that.

The good thing about having an effective business advisor is that they’re capable of exploring that passion, that vision and that calling with you. They can meet you where you are and [they’re] able to help you hear yourself,  provide constructive advisement, and help you to prioritize.

You said you don’t measure success by financial gain but by impact. How do you measure impact and, in turn, success?

As I touched on earlier, to me success is not only dollars and cents. You do have an obligation to run your business responsibly and want to see financial returns, and to me, my business is really a vehicle to fulfill my calling, my passion. If you can do what you are passionate about and make money doing it, that’s a great thing. I’d say my stretch board is how do I empower and give opportunities to others to grow and fulfill their dreams.  That’s the core of what Drake is all about.  That’s why we take being in a HUBZone seriously, that’s why growing the number of people we can employ is important to me, that’s why we are serious about employee personal and professional development.  I am crafting Drake after the same values with which I grew up.  We haven’t set a future date for success. These are the kind of goals we should be successful at everyday not at an imaginary date in the future.

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