Making Change: Success Story

In 1984, after a long and successful singing career, Carolyn Dickson stepped off the stage and into the unknown when she launched Cleveland-based VoicePro - a company that trains business leaders and leaders-to-be in effective communication. She started the business in her home with not much more than a pile of business cards and some space to hold workshops.

A decade or so later, when daughter Leslie Dickson arrived on the scene, VoicePro was a well-established, thriving, and no longer home-based firm. Leslie says her mother's success came as no surprise, any more than her initially blind leap into business had been.

Leslie Dickson: Mom has always been one of those people who tries something. She's always trying something new. She's reading a book that is the new book out, and then she's trying it to see what works and applying it. To hear that she was going out and trying this new thing, it was just something else she was doing. And she was always successful.

Carolyn Dickson: Did I know what I was doing? Not really. But nobody has all the answers, and there is no secret to success that you have to learn. We are all finding our own way, in all kinds of ways

Many people have sought to explain why one person succeeds in business, while another fails. Character traits like perseverence, creativity, and drive are often touted as key in business success - and there's no doubt they were vital in Carolyn Dickson's case. But something else emerges from her re-telling of history - the importance of timing. Carolyn was in a life transition and in need of a new challenge when she launched VoicePro. And when Leslie joined the firm, she, too, was at a turning point.

Leslie Dickson: I was unemployed and trying to decide what to do with my life. Mom, who had built up a very nice business and wonderful base of contacts in the area, said, 'Come into the office, talk to the people I know; network; find out what you want to do. And oh by the way, can you open the mail and answer the phone.' And then it was, 'Can you travel with me around the country to make sure the logistics of the program are set so she could just teach.'

Carolyn Dickson: I saw early on as Leslie had real knack for this, that it would be nice to have her around forever. But I tried very hard to give her the freedom to make those decisions on her own.

Leslie Dickson was far less sure of what she could bring to VoicePro and says she used her mother's techniques to grow herself into someone she knew could be a leader. For both women, again, timing was key. As Leslie began to see she did have the vision and capability to lead, Carolyn started to realize she had a tough choice to make - hang on to her company (quite possibility a recipe for stagnation), or relinquish control.

Carolyn Dickson: If I continued at the helm, we would just recycle. The writing I did sounded the same. The ideas I had had been recycled. So it was time for new ideas, new blood; a new management team to come in and take over.

Leslie Dickson: Mom started something that worked. And as we grew, what we realized was that the model she started, even though it was a great model, was not a good model for growth. So we had to shift it. That was tough. We had a way of doing things. It was a cultural change for all of us, but it gave us a foundation so we could grow.

Carolyn Dickson: For a founding entrepreneur, it is very difficult to just back off and not be the focal point of what's going on.

Leslie Dickson: Iit was a really interesting evolution. If you'd asked me 20 years ago if I'd be here, I would probably say, 'I really don't see myself doing that.' It's been a fascinating journey.

Carolyn Dickson: It has changed me enormously. I think my worldview is different. As a performer, I was in a narrow world, so to get out into the world has been extremely exciting, and I'm very much a different person because of it..

Carolyn Dickson is now Chairman of VoicePro, having handed the Presidential reins over to Leslie a few years ago. The business continues to grow - with clients ranging from Tri-C to KeyBank to Enterprise Rent-a-Car - its success fueled not only by Carolyn's original vision, but Leslie's willingness and ability to expand on that vision. Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz, 90.3.

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