Pailor Women-Owner Spotlight

Sandi Capra, CEO, Capra and Company, LLC.

Sandi is an entrepreneurial, innovative executive with extensive high-growth business development experience within highly competitive markets. Her passion is working with companies to achieve their goals, especially those with important missions to help others. She prides herself on being a collaborative communicator continually focused on building relationships and leading major development projects including client strategic direction and new client acquisitions to drive positive change, cohesive, comprehensive business approaches and enhanced profitability.

Q: If you could explain yourself in a couple sentences, how would you do that?

A: I'm a strong woman. I'm a woman of faith and I faced some tough times in my life and that strong inner compass, that inner strength has seen me through.

Q: So tell me more about your business and your role within.

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A: I'm the CEO of Capra & Company.  I've been in high growth companies my entire career, either in house or for the last eight years as a consultant. I fell into consultancy. My last in house job, I was the VP of Marketing Communication and Development for a startup nonprofit, K9s For Warriors. I went from the for-profit marketing world and moved into the nonprofit world and I brought all the skill sets from my for-profit career into nonprofit.  I helped them grow from $169,000 in donations to a multimillion dollar organization. When I left three years later, we had an $8 million campus 100% donated and paid for. I left

them with $4 million in the bank and $3.5 million dollars in recurring revenue. But most of all, I'd built this tremendous team that was ready to fly and so I stepped away. It was like any other  startup, it was a grind. I was a little burnt out after three years, so I stepped away from that intending to take some time away but six of the brand partners I worked with at K9s For Warriors came to me and offered me jobs, which was very unexpected and very flattering, but my kids were in school and I didn't want to move. I turned them all down and three of them came back and offered me roles as a consultant and so my company was founded and I've been a consultant in strategic marketing ever since.

Q: That's amazing. Congratulations. That sounds like a lot of fun. So how did you decide to start your own business and what was the moment you went for it?

A: Well, gosh, I guess I've been entrepreneurial my whole career. Out of college, I was recruited to be part of a pilot program for Nationwide Insurance. There was a senior partner, I was the junior partner and I came in and we had a five year plan and we hit the ground running and we were able to accomplish everything in 18 months. We experienced rapid growth, opened a second office. At the same time, my husband, I had just got married at that point, went to work for a company that had $400,000 in sales and was losing $400,000.

I would literally work on my agency and then at night and on weekends, I would help with product development and marketing for his company. I'd even take time off to go do sales calls with his company. We turned that company around and my agency was also  experiencing high growth through that. In addition, we  also had two children in three years, so a lot was going on in my life at that time. I sold out of the agency and technically, if you looked at my resume, it looks like I had a 15 year gap, but during that time I became a shareholder in the company. We became partners in the company he worked for and we grew that company from $400,000 to $70 million.

We went through extreme high growth and I learned a lot of lessons good and bad about growing a company.  He and I divorced in 2009 and I was faced with starting all over. I was in my 40s. I had children, I was a role model for them and here I was. What did I want to be when I grow up, what would my next chapter hold? That's when I moved into the nonprofit world and helped them from the startup phase, as I said, to a multimillion dollar organization. After K9s For Warriors I  really had thought I'd take some time off to decide what I want to be, but then I fell into consultancy, so I am an accidental CEO but an entrepreneurial spirit has always been part of my career.

Q: Wow. It sounds like you were super busy. So what was the first year like for you?

A: I was lucky, I was drafted into creating a company, so I didn't have the normal grind that other companies have. I had clients ready, waiting to pay me. So, that was wonderful. In my entire  consultancy career, I've never had to do any marketing. I've never looked for clients. All of my clients come from word of mouth or referrals. I've now built a team of 10 people who work for me and have built this nice little solid small business.  I'm lucky and very, very blessed. I credit being ready to start a company from the experience I gained  being in part of startups before and going through that grind that prepared me for this.

It was funny because it wasn't until a year in, I even put up a splash website, here I was laughing because I'm like, "I do strategic marketing and I don't even have a website." Finally, I just put a splash page up. 

Q: So was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to become a business owner?

A: Oh gosh. So many. First and foremost, while I was in college, I worked for an insurance agent, watched him have a wonderful career, life and business. So, that was pretty easy when I got recruited by Nationwide to step into that role.

I have to give credit where credit's due. My ex-husband, he's a brilliant businessman. I learned a lot from him and from working with him, so he was inspirational. The founder of the nonprofit I worked for. And also I had some amazing female mentors along the way, the head of communications at PGA tour, Ana, and so many more people have helped me in my career. I belong to an organization called The CMO Club. To be in our club you have to be the Chief Marketing Officer and you have to control $1 million or more marketing budget,  there are so many people in the club that I've reached out to for advice and help along the way. So I've had some amazing people help me with my career. Just too many to even name.

Q: How do you define success for yourself both personally and as a professional?

A: Well, I can tell you, my life has shifted January first of this year, I hadn't felt well since Thanksgiving. I'm a busy woman and we as women don't take care of ourselves.  I had work trips to Detroit and Charleston, I had Christmas shopping to do. We were coming to St. Augustine for three weeks over the holidays, my stepchildren are in boarding school in Scotland and  they are coming home, my children from Miami are coming home, my elderly  parents are here, and so I had three weeks during the holidays to spend with them. I knew I was sick, I thought I had mono, but I just kept pushing, just kept one foot in front of the other, executing, getting the job done for my clients, making the perfect family meals and being superwoman.

On January 1st, I only went to the emergency room because I was scheduled to travel again in two weeks and I didn't have time to wait for a doctor's appointment. I go to the emergency room and they do blood work and then do a CT scan and then they do more blood work. Then the doctor comes in and he sits next to me and grabs my hand, which should have been a big clue, but I missed it, and he said, "Your spleen is really large, and your white blood cell count is very high." And I said, "Oh damn. I have mono, don't I?" And he said, "No, dear, you have leukemia." Life altering and then he said, "And you're in a blast crisis." Would it be okay if I say a prayer for you?" He prayed over me and prayed that my life would become an inspiration to others and left me. Then next thing I know a nurse is coming in with chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy drugs! I of course Google it quickly. I don't take anything without doing the research. Normally, I've had relatives with cancer, you get the diagnosis, they send you home, you have an appointment in two or three weeks. He's telling me I'm so sick that he can't even admit me to his hospital. They're going to have to transport me an hour away to an MD Anderson Cancer Center. Which once again should have been a big clue,  I'm in a lot of trouble here. I Googled my diagnosis, CML in blast crisis, that basically said weeks to live. And I was like, "Wow. Weeks to live. Okay, well, let's get to the next hospital." I attacked it just like I do anything I do in business or life. It's, “what's the challenge? What's the strategy? Okay, chronic myeloid leukemia, let's go and get a second opinion.”  I had to have a bone marrow biopsy. I started heavy duty chemotherapy, I had leukapheresis treatments, three of them, and I could feel myself getting weaker every day but I’m a fighter and this was the fight for my life. Time to put my emotions and fears aside and get my head in the game. Let's discuss treatment options. Let's put everything into getting well, let's go for it. I was in the hospital for the next 10 days getting intensive treatments.

I came home and thankfully, I was in a blast crisis, but I hadn't hit that tipping point where there's no return. Through prayer and through modern medicine, they were able to turn the tide and I'm still here six months later, I'm still here.

Q: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I couldn't imagine what you were feeling in all of those moments. Seeing on Google “weeks to live.”

A: And you wonder how you'll react?, I mean, you can never have enough time with your family ever. Of course I thought of weddings I would miss and things of that nature, but honestly I was at peace, as I mentioned I’m a woman of faith and with that comes amazing peace. I have great quality relationships with my family. I have the most amazing husband. I have great kids, I have great step-kids. How many people can say that? I'm just blessed. I have wonderful parents and friends and I was okay with that. And then the next piece, career. And I was like, "Okay, well, if I have weeks, what do I need to do to take care of the people who work for me? I've now built a company that can outlive me." Back in the day when I first started, it was just me and an assistant and if I went away, the company went away, but we've built something, what is that succession plan?

I hadn't even thought about succession planning. But what does that look like so I can take care of the people who helped me get here? But that was my only worry with business. I wasn't like, "Oh, I wish I'd done this or that." The only thing I wondered about is, could I have made more of a positive impact? I've worked for nonprofits, I've supported nonprofits in my career. I think I'm a positive person and I try to spread good in the world. But could I have done more? That was really the only question that I was unsettled about.

That doctor thought he had just given me a death sentence and he thought my inspiration would be the last few weeks of my life but , here we are, seven months later, I'm still here heading into month number eight. With leukemia, you never recover from it, but you can control it. I went from 97.5% cancerous blood at diagnosis to where I am now 0.7.

Q: That's great. Congratulations.

A: Thank you. I'm still on chemotherapy, but that's okay. That's keeping me alive. It's given me the opportunity to lead an inspiring life. What impact am I having? I had a passion project I really wanted to launch a couple of years ago, and I just let work get in the way and stayed busy but now, I am making that project a priority. I've  cut back on the number of clients I work with. As we speak,  I'm here at the beach this week, spending time with my family and enjoying life. Even in a COVID-19 world, I’m finding those ways to connect with people and have a positive impact where I can.

Q: I love that. So thank you for sharing that. It's great. So what has been the most important skill that you've developed to be a good business owner?

A: Building good relationships. Good relationships with your clients. Customer service oriented relationships. Good relationships with colleagues. One of my biggest business deals came because someone reached out to me and asked me to mentor them and I was busy, really busy. But I said, "You know what?" They asked, "I'm going to take 20 minutes out of my day and find time to work with them." And through those series of conversations, it was a year later one of my biggest business deals happened from that relationship.

And also, I think it's really, really important to have great relationships within your company. You're the leader. And so you're not going to be besties with the people who work for you. You have to accept that. It's like being a mom, you're their mom, not their friend. But it's the more important role with more serious obligations. You can build relationships with the people who work for you and care about their lives and what's best for them but you’re not their peer, you're their leader. I've always found when you do what's best for the people who work for you, they take care of the clients and it always returns to you 10 times over..

Q: So have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us the story?

A: When I was really burnt out at the nonprofit, I thought, "Well should I just retire?" So I really had thought about quitting then, I was like, "No I still have more, this is the second chapter of my life. It's not going to end after three years." So quickly turned that around. Obviously after my diagnosis I asked myself, should I quit working and just travel and do all of that now? And while I want to do more traveling, I'm remote, I'm a consultant. My whole team is remote, they stretch from New Jersey to California. So I just said, "Why not cut back and start to travel, but keep working?" And that's the happy balance for me.

Q: So tailing off of that, so what do you do when you feel like quitting or when it feels hard to be a business owner?

A: Once again, as I said, I'm a woman of faith and I have strong relationships. I begin each and every day with 20 minutes of exercise and 20 minutes of meditation/prayer. Just making those a little bit longer, working out a little bit more, gets that physical stress out and centers me. There's nothing like moving around and exercising to make you feel better, before my diagnosis I didn't do it as much as I should. It  feels so good when you do it! I also spend  time going inward. Every day I spend time focusing on my challenges, ones that have happened to me and challenges/goals I have set for myself. Going back to, "Okay, what’s the challenge, where are the roadblocks?. What are the strategies to get around the roadblock? Is it worth trying to get around this roadblock? Are these roadblocks being put in your way for a reason? Does this align with your inner compass what you want for your life and your company?"

When you hit those speed bumps or roadblocks, it gives you that time to step back and assess. I'm  really big about that, if something's too hard, maybe you're just pushing it because it's something you want, it's not necessarily your path.

Q: That is that great point.

A: But saying that, every path has some speed bumps and some roadblocks. So if it truly is your path, just because there's obstacles, find a way to get around them.

Q: As much as we all wish things would be smooth sailing all the time. That is a little unrealistic.

A: That is just not life. Life is messy.

Q: Absolutely. What does the future of your company look like?

A: Continued growth prudently. I'm big about not growth for growth's sake, but growing prudently. As I said, we're launching my passion project. I am not quite ready to discuss it yet, but hang on, stay tuned everyone, we're up to something big, we're doing the in-house project! You can follow me on Instagram or LinkedIn,@sandicapra  to be “in the know” when we launch. Pouring into that, nurturing and launching our project versus a client project. I've taken the space and the time and I've dedicated team resources to this project, and I'm looking forward to launching it.

Q: Exciting. I can't wait to find out what it is. I love surprises. So, keep me updated.

A: I will!

Q: Perfect. So I have my last question for you. If there's anything in particular, what would you want to learn from the community of other women business owners?

A: Women rock. We are the cornerstones of the family. We're so good at building relationships with others. And I just love to hear other stories. I love to hear other women's success stories and what they've done well and how they did it. Because there's always lessons to learn. And there's also lessons to learn when people stumble, how did they stand back up? Because women are so good at that. We stumble, but we'll stand back up. We persevere, as I said, we're the cornerstone of the family. Especially during this COVID-19 world, I don't have little children, but I so admire the women who are now the executive or the owner of their company and they're the teacher, the tutor and the guitar lessons and everything is being done inside four walls. How they're overcoming and the strategies that they're using. I just admire them. I'm an infinitely curious person, I love to learn, and I just love to hear other people's success stories, it’s what inspires me.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Sandi!