Blazing Her Own Trail: How One Woman Started and Sold A Company By Age 34 (Forbes)

rachelwixson-forbesFeature article on Cumberland Managing Partner Rachel Wixson, included in the Self-Made Women issue of Forbes

The timing was right for Rachel Wixson. Ten years into a career with a large corporation, she was at a crossroads. Her company was tapping her to lead an expansion into the Middle East, but at the same time she wanted to spend more time with her husband and create the ability to have more control over her schedule.

She and some friends had recently started talking about starting their own business. “We came together in a bar in Seattle and started dreaming and talking, and it grew from there. Some of it was all being in the right place at right time, and some of it was recognizing a business opportunity and doing something about it.”

She decided to leave the large and established IT software provider where she had built her career and join two friends in launching an IT consulting firm, Cipe. It was a calculated risk.

Wixson, a Northwestern Mutual client, had been working with her advisor for years, planning finances and always saving diligently. That gave her the confidence to take the financial risk of setting out on her own.

“I’ve always been fiscally conservative, and I had built up a strong foundation. I felt I had the backbone and the nest egg to make a little bit of a leap. We started the company with a nominal personal cash investment and leveraged the skills sets of family and friends. My husband was our first website administrator, a friend created our logo, and we carefully added resources as we could.”

Taking that first leap took a lot of courage, but she was confident that she could offer health care providers and consultants a higher level of service than they were getting elsewhere.

“It was ‘right time, right place.’ I didn’t necessarily know where it was going from day one, but there was a need and I really wanted to do (this company) differently.”

Building and growing a business took a lot of sweat equity. She was the business’s first consultant, doing billable work 40-50 hours per week while developing proposals, handling staff issues and conducting interviews with potential new hires for her company on nights and weekends. She relied on one of her favorite quotes: “Just be kind and be brave; that’s all you ever need to be.” Being a self-described type A personality, her biggest struggle came in learning how to scale.

“The first time we had an employee out there representing my brand and it wasn’t me doing the work, it was scary. But in order for my company to grow, we needed to scale and build trust and solidify culture. It’s not just teaching someone to go through the motions, it’s teaching somebody to think and act like an extension of you and what you represent.”

The company went debt free in a short amount of time, and just three years later they were approached by a buyer. Wixson wasn’t building the company to sell it, so she was hesitant at first. But it wound up being a perfect fit. “We immediately felt aligned with the buyers, their core values and the opportunity that it represented for our consulting team. The quality and the brand protection was there, and we decided to go for it.”

She began working on the transition just one week after her first child was born and closed the sale at the age of 34 in the company’s fourth year of business.

Read the full article on the Forbes website here.