Talking Shop with Jennifer Hendrickson of Hendrickson Business Advisors

Monday, August 17, 2009
Hendrickson Business Advisors includes Jennifer Hendrickson, rear, with Janet Livingston, left, Melanie Smollen and Dann Lies in their Cape Girardeau office. (Kit Doyle)

Hendrickson Business Advisors is a Southeast Missouri business success story. Started in 2007 by Jennifer Hendrickson, the business has grown from her home to an office at 1729 William St. in Cape Girardeau. Business reporter Brian Blackwell visited with Hendrickson last week to learn more about her business' growth.

Q: What motivates you to do your job?

A: Helping people. I've been very fortunate to have some remarkable professional experiences in my life. In my mid-twenties I took a bank public, bought and sold banks, performed several debt and equity offerings, managed $160 million and learned from one of the most respected CEOs in St. Louis. Many business people work their whole lives in business and never get to experience such things. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to put my experience and education to good use and help people.

Q: Why did you start your company?

A: When [husband] Rhett and I moved from St. Louis to Cape, it was for personal reasons. We wanted to start a family here and raise our kids with grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. I knew that Cape would not provide the type of corporate environment I'd experienced in St. Louis, but my priorities were more centered on family. I quickly learned that banks in Cape were not actively raising capital, going public or buying and selling each other, which was my background. I spent a few years working in the industry here and felt called to do something else. I realized there was a niche to be filled in management and marketing consulting. I was a chief financial officer and marketing director at the time and knew that I possessed both the skills and the passion to start a consulting firm to help small and mid-sized businesses grow and become more successful. With the support of my husband, I took a leap of faith and have never looked back.

Q: What trials did you experience along the way? Did you ever want to give up?

A: I've never wanted to give up, but this recession was certainly an unwelcome event for a new business. When I started the firm, I had business right out of the gate. Clients embraced the idea of outsourcing expertise and we grew very quickly. We added staff and bought a building in the first six months. The recession has changed the conversations we have with clients. Two years ago, it was "how do we manage our growth?" and "what can we improve upon?" Today, it's "should we stick it out or close the doors?" and "what can we do to promote our business on a shoestring budget?" Our clients stay with us because they value our expertise even more in the rough times, but many others who need our help are afraid to make the investment. Like most people, we are looking forward to an economic recovery.

Q: How does it feel knowing your business is now two years old?

A: Two years is a milestone with a new business. If you can make it two years, you are more likely survive in the long term. I feel great about the value we've added to businesses in the past two years and I'm really proud of my team. Janet Livingston, Melanie Smollen, Kelly Morton and Dann Lies are a joy to work with and they add so much depth to the firm. This is definitely not a one-woman show!

Q: What do you attribute as the secret to your success?

A: It is a combination of things. Education, experience and entrepreneurial spirit have all played an important role. I also surround myself with people that have different strengths than mine so we complement each other.

Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?

A: Plan, plan, plan. Have a good banker, lawyer, accountant, insurance broker and, of course, a good consultant. You will need more time, capital and patience than you anticipate. Leverage the power of marketing and wait until you have the dollars to invest before you make the leap. A good idea isn't necessarily one that will make money. And, above all, keep your priorities straight: Relationships are always more valuable than money.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?

A: I'm only able to do what I do because I have a supportive husband and family, a great team, wonderful friends and clients who believe that we add value. I thank God for all that he has given me, which includes the ability to help businesses grow and become more successful.

Tell me about life growing up, your hometown and family early on in life.

I was born and raised an only child in Springfield, Missouri. I have a great family and my parents have been married 40 years. They have always been amazing role models. I attended public school where I always made good grades and enjoyed learning. I lived at home all through college and went to Southwest Missouri State University, which is now Missouri State University. I started working part time when I was 16 setting appointments for my friend's dad who sold annuities to banks. That job introduced me to business and was the catalyst for additional education, climbing the ladder in the banking industry and my consulting career today.

What are your hobbies and why do you like to do them?

I guess with three graduate degrees from Vanderbilt, LSU and SEMO, you could say education is a hobby. Seriously, I do love to learn and strive to constantly improve, so I read quite a bit. I love anything outdoors and anything having to do with water. My husband, Rhett, and I became scuba certified for our honeymoon in 2000 and that has been one of our favorite things to do since then. Many of our vacations are booked based on the best diving destinations. I also like to cook, travel, camp, watch movies, shop, go to spas and spend time with family and friends.

What is your idea of a perfect day away from work?

My perfect day away from work involves sleeping late, shopping, having lunch outdoors with friends, taking a nap, reading a book in my hammock and having a nice dinner with my husband.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I love adventure. I've been skydiving, rappelling, down the Grand Canyon in a dory boat, night diving and white water rafting. I love the thrill of experiencing the outdoors in a whole new way.

If you could trade places with someone for one day who would it be and why?

I'd like to trade places with whomever was the president of the United States – just for one day. I'd like to see what a typical day is really like in the White House. I don't watch much TV, but my favorite series of all-time is The West Wing. That show was fascinating to me and gave me a whole new appreciation for what it must be like to live the life of a high profile government leader.

If you could eat a meal with any three people past, present or future, who would they be and why?

I'd like to dine with Jesus, Pope John Paul II and Abraham Lincoln. I think this would be some of the most fascinating dinner conversation imaginable.

Who has influenced you the most in your life and why?

My dad, Hal Smith, has probably influenced me more than anyone else. He held down three jobs when I was little, teaching me about hard work and providing for a family. He always pushed me to strive for excellence in academics and spent countless hours helping me with my homework at the kitchen table. He was a positive role model and taught me to think about the consequences of any decision I made. My dad always let me know that he loved me and my mom unconditionally and that made my home a great place to grow up.

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