The Art of the Follow Through: Growing a Business with Integrity

CISCO

It was 2005, and I was close to retirement. My children had left the nest and started lives of their own. I’d built a house on a large piece of land, and was looking forward to taking a step back from my IT career. But things took a turn when a company here in Kansas City approached me with the opportunity to support a minority-owned business through a new diversity program. Together with two other entrepreneurs, I took the plunge and founded Technology Group Solutions (TGS).


TGS is a full-service IT consulting firm with capabilities to manage all aspects of a client’s IT environment, including data centers, software, security platforms, and end-user devices. Since 2005, we have grown by an average of 20% every year, and we now have more than 80 employees across four national offices. 


We are committed to a customer-centric, holistic approach. We provide clients with solutions that will accelerate their investments, and those solutions are backed by our on-demand, certified support staff. Our clients are from various industries, such as banking, construction, public utilities, telecommunications, and hospitals. One of the hospitals here in Kansas City has been with us since 2006, and we’re still their primary supplier.

Thriving in Business Means Learning to Lean on the Right People

I have an IT background, but I was new to entrepreneurship back in 2005. I knew that the bank account had to have money in it, but that was about the extent of my business knowledge. I had so much to learn, and a potential client pointed me to the Kansas City Council and the Kansas City Women’s Business Center.


Kansas City is good to its entrepreneurs, especially in making resources available to women-owned and minority-owned businesses. I quickly realized I should lean on these people who had the knowledge I lacked. They walked me through the certification process as a minority-owned business and helped me get my ducks in a row before we began to grow TGS. 

When starting a business, you need to surround yourself with trusted professionals who can answer the questions you don’t know to ask.


I tell local female entrepreneurs: If you’re starting a business, reach out to the Women’s Business Center. I didn’t know about P&Ls, operations agreements, or licensing, and they helped me find my feet. Were it not for Sherry Turner and her staff helping me all those years ago, I wouldn’t have realized as much success.

I had to learn my business ABCs.

  • A—make sure you have a good attorney. Starting a business requires signing many agreements, and it’s much more than simple payment terms. You want someone to explain what these agreements mean and what they should include. 
  • B—you need an excellent banker. You don’t have credit for your business when you start, and you don’t want to use personal credit. Establishing good lines of credit is critical if you need a loan. In my line of business, we provide installation and support services. We can bill for a project once it’s completed, but the product ships now, and the vendor wants their payment. A good banker will help you learn to negotiate appropriate payment terms and forecast your income versus expenses. We’re lucky that so many banks in Kansas City support small and minority-owned businesses.
  • C—Every business owner must have a top-quality CPA. There are so many potential tax advantages and disadvantages you wouldn’t know to consider when you first start your business. For example, I ship to 50 states, so I may need a license in all 50 states. With a good CPA by your side, you can make the right decisions the first time rather than fix mistakes later.

As an entrepreneur, learning your business ABCs is critical. When starting a business, you need to surround yourself with trusted professionals who can answer the questions you don’t know to ask.


The first two years are challenging for any business. We had a little bit of success here and there, but nothing was guaranteed. When we first started, I thought I’d be happy with $5 million. These days, we see up to $142 million in revenue. Even though TGS is successful now, I still benefit from being a member of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. I recently got a tip from another member about a contract opportunity in Florida—something I may have never uncovered on my own. 

Communicate with Honesty and Build Mutual Respect

Just as I learned who I could rely on to help make business decisions, TGS has come to rely on our technology partners. We turn to Cisco for their knowledge of networking, cloud, and cybersecurity solutions. Our clients are enterprise businesses, and we can’t fail them. Security is top of mind for everyone, and Cisco has the best security solutions out there. Without Cisco’s support, we couldn’t do our part to support our customers. 


Our clients are big enough that they have their own IT departments. These teams try to stay abreast of the latest developments and threats, but the goal posts move so quickly that information can fall through the cracks. Our relationship with Cisco enables us to fill in those gaps.


Cisco keeps our professional and sales teams informed on the latest and greatest technology, along with providing product updates. Their team regularly visits our office for updates on product road maps. That’s really valuable to us. A successful long-term business partnership is just like a successful long-term marriage: You have to communicate and see each other. And Cisco does that. 


Anybody can go to a convenience store and buy a candy bar. I want TGS to offer that special candy bar you can’t find just anywhere. But how do we create added value for our customers as we grow? Because Cisco keeps us in the loop, we can turn to a client and advise them if a favored solution is being discontinued within the year and steer them in a direction that gets them the most out of their investment. Sometimes, the client might not have staff certified in their chosen Cisco solution. Because the TGS team has Cisco certifications, we can also help them in that way.

A successful long-term business partnership is like a marriage: You have to communicate and see each other.


Kansas City is a small community, so failing to follow through on a commitment to a client could have a devastating impact on TGS’s reputation and prospects. Thankfully, our local Cisco team is excellent around product availability and support. And when we do hit a snag, we have a reputation for being honest with our clients. That’s one of our strengths, and people respect us for that. It’s why our clients keep coming back. They know that in working with TGS, we will follow through. 

Expanding Opportunities for Others

Over the years, I’ve often been the only woman—and sometimes the only minority—in the room. It’s disappointing that there are so few of us, but seeing others in space taking the plunge is inspiring. I’m proud that TGS is part of the African American Cisco Partner Community, part of a program where Cisco has set aside $50 million to help grow minority-owned companies in the United States.


TGS has started a project for inner-city high school students in Kansas and Missouri who want to work in IT. We hope to illuminate the IT industry as a possible career path for the youth in our community, and encourage these students through internships and mentorship. 


There is so much local support in Kansas City, and I want to give back to the community and do my part to expand opportunities for others. I promote women’s groups more than anything because I don’t want women to be scared of asking questions. That would be my biggest piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We Win As a Team

I’ve received many awards and recognitions, including Ingram’s 250 Most Influential Business Leaders for 2020 and Enterprising Woman of the Year 2018. It’s nice to see my name out there—and it’s good for business—but I prefer that TGS receives recognition, such as being in the top 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Companies worldwide. As an entrepreneur, you need other people to help you, and all of our TGS team members contribute to our success. I may have the vision, but I can’t do it alone, and our employees support me every step of the way. 


TGS has a lot of high-profile clients, including Mastercard and the Kansas City Chiefs, so our name is out there a lot. The stakes are high, but our employees keep me going. If someone needs help, someone else extends their hand. I could have retired years ago, but my employees keep inspiring me to continue pushing forward. We have a good group of people here, and it makes all the difference. 

Leadership Is in my Blood

I never thought I’d be a tech CEO. Then I looked back on what my mother achieved. My mother had only an eighth grade education. She used to clean houses and she would outfit me in expensive, brand-name, hand-me-down clothes. One day she got the idea to resell these items and opened her own store. That business became her primary source of income. Eventually, we moved to a new house, and she kept the previous property for rental income. She had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I must have gotten some, too.

 

Growing TGS has been an incredible journey. Even if it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve had a lot of support, and I’m grateful to Cisco for its commitment over the next five years to help grow other minority-owned businesses. That commitment makes a difference, and I will continue extending a hand to others so we can all move forward.


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