University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 59: Jane Henry

Jane Henry is the Founder & CEO of SeeHerWork, a safety consultancy and product manufacturing company that designs, manufactures, and sells workwear. Jane was recently selected as the Walton College Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year.



More Episodes

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts
Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on iHeart Radio
Listen on Stitcher

Episode Transcript

[music]

00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BeEpic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and what those values mean in business, education and your life today?

[music]

00:28 Matt Waller: I have with me today Jane Henry, who is an alumna of the Walton College, before it was called The Walton College. And she is the founder and CEO of SeeHerWork, which is a lifestyle brand that aids women in non-traditional work environments with clothing and equipment. And it's designed specifically for women, we're gonna talk more about that. Earlier in her career, she worked as a consultant for Accenture and she worked for Enron and she also is an executive coach. Thank you so much for talking with me Jane.

01:09 Jane Henry: It's my pleasure, Dean and I gotta tell you, you've got a radio voice, this is great, I understand why you do podcasts.

[laughter]

01:15 Matt Waller: I didn't know that. You know Jane, one of the reasons... You're really an amazing entrepreneur and one of the three strategic endeavors of the Walton College, is entrepreneurship. In fact, we just started the brand new academic department called The Department of Strategy Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation, but it's focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. It actually is official, starting in January, this new department.

01:47 Jane Henry: Wow, congratulations, that's awesome.

01:48 Matt Waller: Thank you. Yeah, so now we went from seven departments to eight. And I think... But it also is... It's a strategic endeavor of Northwest Arkansas, they're trying to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem. But when I heard about your company, SeeHerWork, I thought, "This is such a good example of entrepreneurship because the entrepreneurial mindset is looking for problems that exist and then figuring out how to solve them, and it always is much harder than anyone expects. Yeah. Would you agree with that?

02:30 Jane Henry: Without a doubt. Because the idea generation is the fun part, right? It's kinda like, "Let's throw a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks." Now, you know, I've gone through a couple of companies now and one of the things, and I appreciate you calling me an entrepreneur, both my parents were entrepreneurs, I said, "I'd never be one." I was like, "That is way too hard." And then just recently, I finally accepted the fact that I'm a serial entrepreneur. But one of the things they talk about and to me, there's very distinct phases of entrepreneurship and the first one, I like to call, "Is my baby ugly?" And it's like, "You have the idea, but you should spend a month, trying to figure out if your idea is a bad one or not, you should kill your idea first, before anybody else does."

03:20 Jane Henry: And that's one of the things we did with SeeHerWork. I put my idea down to paper, I'm a huge fan of the strategizer and the business model canvas. Oh my goodness, the stuff is great. And I took that, shopped it across the US, 50 focus groups and tried to kill the idea before somebody else did. So that was kinda the first one, which is... That's not... When I talk to different groups about this, I'll bring these things up because I don't believe that entrepreneurship is strictly external, I believe the internal aspect of it and the intrapreneur is just as important, and it's the same exact concepts, right?

03:58 Matt Waller: I totally agree, and I think companies are starting to realize this. I know Walmart for example, is really trying to bring in a lot of this through their product management, and so forth, and really trying to understand the customer's journey. Yeah, big companies are even doing it like that as well.

04:17 Jane Henry: I've seen the same thing, before, they'll give an idea, any kind of funding or resources, they have to complete these business model canvases, there are other groups that then allocate a certain percentage of an employee's time to just continue, maybe it's 10% of their time, to just continue to innovate and bring these ideas forward. But to your point on the difficulty level, I also talk about through these phases and to me, I have six distinct ones that I cutely named. In the first phase of, "Is my baby ugly?" Your hustle isn't that much because you can kinda glide into it and take your time because you want to be able to... If killing an idea is actually a success as well. But the next phase, which I call "Survival" is about really creating awareness. And for SeeHerWork, I often say,"This is where your cray-cray needs to come out, 'cause people follow crazy and if you're really gonna get something done, you gotta introduce a little cray-cray.

[laughter]

05:23 Jane Henry: So, after you've completed phase one, you can hear no's because you're such a believer at that point, you haven't killed your idea, it's okay to get a 1000 no's or whatever. When we started, SeeHerWork I immediately started talking to distributors, to employers, the traditional supply chain approach as a manufacturer and no one was buying it. In fact, did many pitch competitions, got kicked out of pitch competitions because people would just Google women's work ware, find something online and go, "Oh, it already exists." Not really understanding the problem with six million women, putting their lives at risk and rapidly growing since 2016. That the issue that we have behind it.

06:10 Matt Waller: Jane we were thrilled to select you as the Walton College alumni entrepreneur of the year. And after we met and talked, I could just hear and see entrepreneur mindset all over you. And so we're thrilled that on April 23rd, you are going to receive the award at the alumni banquet and then... Or the day before, we're gonna have you speak to our students as well, so thank you for agreeing to do that. But I wanna get back to something you said earlier, and that is, you had mentioned the canvas. You really like the canvas approach. And people apply that in different ways, would you mind telling us a little bit about how you view it?

07:00 Jane Henry: So as far as my consulting background goes, it was drilled into us, we always had to have a project plan right? Schedule, right? How are we doing on the schedule? And we also believed that as soon as we had safe, that the plan would change, but we needed to at least have a plan. For me the Business Model Canvas is that one page plan that you can get everybody on board with. I love the way that they sequentially step you through the development of it. In a way that you start with your customers and then go out to fill the other aspects to have a well-rounded business model that you can go to your board with. I will tell you, I still use that plan today. Yeah, I'm a big believer.

07:43 Matt Waller: So Jane at what point did you recognize the problem?

07:48 Jane Henry: Okay, so post-oil, I had a very large consulting business. I said very large, but for Houston and being a boutique firm after leaving Accenture went to Enron and had to find something new after that. I started my own company and refused to hire any employees for a long time, 'cause I was very fearful of what had happened at Enron happening to me. So I literally Googled, women business owners. 'Cause I thought, "Well if I can ask some dumb questions, I might feel comfortable asking them." And they were great. Found a little organization. I say it's a little organization,16,000 women business owners, 250 corporations that support them. They beat me around a little bit, had me hire my first employee and we took off like a rocket ship. 2010 to 2015, my first company grew exponentially, was recognized by Inc Magazine, multiple times, innovator, this sort of thing. And we had 35 consultants. And when oil price, and I was trying to diversify, right?

08:57 Jane Henry: And it was already getting into healthcare. But when oil price hits, it hits hard and quick. And my worst nightmare came true. So I found 35 of my employees jobs, and I was out looking on what I was gonna do. And I kept thinking about, "How do I use my skill sets? Maybe I should go back to industry. Like I said, I was struggling with this idea of should I continue on with entrepreneurship? I felt like I'd failed in such a big way. So I went back to school to get my MBA. And just partially through my first year in my MBA school, I get hit by Hurricane Harvey. And I had been kinda looking for a product-based business, I didn't expect one to fall literally on top of me with all that water. So my home was flooded, three feet of water, and it wasn't just water, it was mud. It was the nastiest stuff you can think of. I lost everything. My clothing, three paid off cars. Luckily we had flood insurance, but my insurance broker kept my check for four months, our payout was so large that I did not get any cash.

10:03 Jane Henry: So you can imagine as a consultant, there wasn't a lot of consulting work available in Houston at the time, and so I had volunteers for the first week, and then after that I called it dialing for dollars. All those guys that I, and gals that I made lots of money for, that owned construction companies or engineers or whatnot, I called them to start asking questions. And it was kind of like, "Hey Brad is this wall structural?" On FaceTime, right? "Jane, you know I can't do that. "I don't want that right now. I'm just making a plan, just making a plan." And then I was working and spray painting my new floor layout just to keep my ideas going on, trying to stay positive about the whole situation. And so I'm doing that, and then I'm continuing the muck-out, pulling out cabinets and I'm going to throw a board into the dumpster and my unisex leather gloves come, as I'm throwing the board, fly-off, the board comes back, hits my hand and pins it between the wall and the board. And I guess I just needed to get mad at something at that point, I had been putting on a proud face I guess for a while and I got really angry at the glove.

11:15 Jane Henry: And I got really angry at the fact that I couldn't find anything to fit me. Mind you, I'm also a division one athlete for the U of A. We're six brothers and two sisters. There was no way I was going to college without a full scholarship. So thank you for that. [laughter] But what I tell everybody is, being a lady's large athletic glove, and knowing what it takes to perform at a high level, looking at that glove was just completely angered at the safety situation and the performance situation of the glove. So luckily one of my hobbies is I love to sew. I went up stairs and we've got these little tools called a ripper. I ripped the seam out of the glove, I re-patterned the glove, turned it inside out, and remade it for me and then like you do in the industry, clipped it to my pants with the carabiner clip and went back to Lowe's. And I was in Lowe's and I'll never forget a lady stopped me and said, "Hey, where'd you get those?" And she's pointing at my gloves. And I said, "Frankensteins. I just made them." And then it hit me, and she's like, "We need to talk." And so she brought me back to my first site to speak to some of the women. And I started to hear the stories, about pant sizes that are male shaped pattern, shrunken down.

12:38 Jane Henry: And I'm sitting there going, "My goodness, I've been in oil and gas now, at the time, it was closer to 15 years, now 20 years. And it was like, "How come this never occurred to me before?" And so I'm looking at this, and I'm realizing how exhausted I am at the end of day, by just grabbing at things, or having to just take the gloves off to perform. And that's the story I started hearing. Inevitably, at the height of the interviews, we'd have 15 to 20 women in each session, plus a supply chain professional plus a safety professional. And I'd already prepped the safety professional on what I'd seen in some other areas, and asked his or her permission on you know, "Is it okay if you allow them to speak freely?" And so anyway, I'd start with the question, what do you think about women's PPE or personal protective clothing and equipment? And they would get kind of pouty and their lips would get stuck out a little bit. And they'd re-arrange themselves in the chair, and they would look at the safety professional with these beady sharp eyes. And they'd go, "May I speak openly?" And the safety professional is going, "Yeah, yeah." "We are tired of 'pink it and shrink it.' In fact, if you make anything pink, and put it on your website, we'll shoot you between the eyes." He said, "Ow, I value my life, thank you for that little feedback." [chuckle]

[chuckle]

14:03 Jane Henry: And they would go on, and they would tell me about some of the challenges. The firefighters, the female firefighters, are getting burnt on the back because of the pant problem. Pants falling down, so the tanks and the equipment are overheating and burning them on the back. But I created one of the first bras, it's a high neck, I call it the Debris Protect Bra. Because the women would tell me about the things that would fall on the front, right? And I said, "So you know I'm doing construction, and I had the saw dust, sometimes nails. It's falling on the front." I said, "What do you do?" And they would go, "Well, we live with it." And I was like, "For 14 hours?" And [chuckle] one of them says, "Oh honey, I'm a firefighter, it's 24 hours." And I'm like, "Oh, we gotta fix that, right?" And so it's just little things like that that seem minor but need to be thought about. Especially, as we continue to see the labor shortages that we have in the traits. And it's only gonna grow, so for every five baby boomer that retires, only one enters. And we're not tapping into 50% of our population.

15:13 Matt Waller: So did you focus on a narrow persona to start with, did you start broad?

15:20 Jane Henry: So what I did is, after interviewing all the different industries, I found the construction industry to have generically the base level items that everybody needed, right? And so I focused in on there. And then I looked at the type, and this was another thing as far as bringing awareness to folks. They're typically 5 foot, maybe a little bit taller than that, and athletic as all get out, really strong. And so as I was going out and creating awareness, what are the perceptions I receive, people were like, "Yeah, Jane, we get it. But how many people look like you?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" "Well, you know you're strong, you're athletic." I'm like, "They all do." You know, and only to be validated by one call I got from a global construction company, it was probably six months after I started, so I was just getting going. And he says, "Jane Henry, I got your name from another energy company, let's just say. We're a global construction firm. I've been trying to do this dang women's PPE program for an entire year. I'm a 6-foot over 200-pound man. My women are maybe 5 feet in a buck 35. I've asked all my suppliers to send me what they got. If it fits me, it ain't gonna fit them. What can you do?"

16:45 Jane Henry: And I laughed so hard, but that was the great short story. And I said, "Chris, if I do well here, can I use that story again?" He said "Absolutely." And so I put a package together and send it off. And he said, "Yep, that'll do. How do we get going?"

17:00 Matt Waller: A lot of new entrepreneurs underestimate, how much you really need to understand the customer and narrow it down?

17:08 Jane Henry: Correct.

17:08 Matt Waller: It's a lot of work, isn't it?

17:10 Jane Henry: It is huge. And then for me, even though I narrowed it down to there, they weren't my true customer. So yes, those are my customer, in a sense of that's my end user, but in the sense of who's gonna buy in these organizations? I talked about earlier, about how I went to distributors. So distributors are like, " No one's asking for it, we don't really know what to do, we can't help you." And so I'm like, "Okay, well I know there's a need." So then I said, "Well, then maybe if I come at this thing with a big bang, and get the awareness out there. Maybe we could start at least talking about it, and see if we can do something different?" During that time frame, continued to try to raise awareness and talk to people, and really get to, "Who are my customers?" And turns out this is safety professionals, but they don't know it.

18:08 Jane Henry: And the reason why they don't know it is safety professionals are a hugely underserved market. So I started hanging out at safety conventions, safety events, and I'm talking to them, and I say, "So you go to a site and you assess what your employees need to stay safe, right?" "Yes." And I said, "Okay, so how does that work, right?" And, "Well, you know you ought to take an OSHA class, and kind of learn some of those things." And I said, "Okay, I did." And so I took an OSHA 30 class, got my certificate and my card. And with all the best intentions of the world OSHA says there are three hierarchies to safety, right? You've got your engineering controls, making sure that barriers are up, that there's good ventilation, those sort of things. You have your administrative controls which is about leadership and training, and then you have PPE or Protective Personal-clothing Equipment and they say, "PPE is your last line of defense." Well, I started saying, "Last line of defense, but first opportunity for inclusion."

19:09 Matt Waller: So you used their phrase.

19:10 Jane Henry: You're right.

19:12 Matt Waller: That they'll know and adapted it to include your mission to some degree?

19:18 Jane Henry: Absolutely. Right. So that was my big 'aha' was, number one, the priority job drops accidentally with the best intentions rule by OSHA training. So, how do we bring more awareness to, "Yes, last line of defense, we get it." Engine administrative controls are very important, but this is also about inclusion, which means we gotta get them fitted in well fitting gear, right? The second one is just that that need for individual fit was another challenge. So, I started talking more to the safety professionals. I even got a call from a gentleman, he said, "Hey, do you do female harnesses?" I said, "Yes sir, I can connect to the right individuals for that. Can you tell me how tall they are and how much they weigh?" And he says, "Ma'am. I've only lived as long as I have lived because I don't ask a woman those questions."

[laughter]

20:12 Jane Henry: And I was like, "What a great example of an unconscious bias, right?" There's no ill intention whatsoever and I was like, "You are too cute for words." But just to me, again, screamed at the need for better systems and processes by the employers.

20:29 Matt Waller: The first time we talked about this, that was one of the reasons why I thought you were an entrepreneur, when you did so much to understand the problem, who the customers were? And you were willing to take criticism and morph and pivot and not just stick to one thing, keep going, you've done that really well and that's gotta be one of the most important parts of entrepreneurship.

21:01 Jane Henry: I would agree. And I think I've also learned with a lot of the newer companies that are coming along. Take Bombas Socks, right? I think the mission is also very important. And so for me, while I had identified this customer set of these females in non-traditional careers, my mission was to reduce injuries, save lives and attract more women into these careers that were experiencing labor shortages. And I was able to use that mission to pivot.

21:37 Matt Waller: Tell us just a little bit about challenges associated with sourcing and finding manufacturing.

21:43 Jane Henry: So, one thing I know is, I'm definitely not the smartest person in the room, right? My job is figure out who is and get an alliance with them. So very early on, I hired a product designer. She had actually researched this exact problem before I had come along, for an entire year, to present it to a major that she'll remain nameless. And they just said, "Sorry women, it's not our core market." And I get it, 'cause, can you think about stopping the production line for an unknown need? It was too uncertain at that time. Even when I started this mission, it was still a lot of uncertainty. I'll put my gear on and run marathons, just so that people will ask me questions.

22:28 Matt Waller: Do you really?

22:28 Jane Henry: I do. I do. I'm a perfect dopey, which means I do the Disney Marathon every year. It's a four-day race, 5K, 10K, half marathon and the marathon, and I do in full gear. [laughter] Hardhat helmet and all, everything. So I haven't done the shoes yet, I'm not ready to risk my knees.

[chuckle]

22:46 Jane Henry: But when I talk about finding alliance, I wanna find an alliance with the shoe manufacturer, where I can do marathon, in their work boots.

22:55 Matt Waller: That's a great idea.

22:56 Jane Henry: Right? Well, because if you think about it, they are on their feet, that long. And that to me, was something that was just part of that bigger 'aha' moment. We missed that, and these need to be athletes.

23:09 Matt Waller: Well, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me. Let me ask you, you mentioned employers, what do you want employers to understand?

23:18 Jane Henry: The employers are the folks that need to lead this change. And in order to do that, they need to understand that it's not just a change in the products, it's a change in their processes and systems, and it's a big change. If you think about it, it's a 50-year barrier to entry for women, and we're about to experience just in the US alone, production-wise 32 million job shortages in these skill trades and with a large percentage of them being in construction and extraction, need them to proactively think about this now, and say that we're going to strategically invest in this, so that we attract and retain the top talent. That's what we need.

[music]

24:07 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the BeEpic Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching, BeEpic Podcast one word that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.

[music]