Despite maintaining some 145 chapters around the world, the Women Presidents’ Organization — a nonprofit peer advisory group that helps set up conversations among top female executives — is relatively unknown to the general public.
While that is very much by intention, Linda Price said it’s not an ironclad rule.
“We’ve been very insular,” Price, who serves as the local chair of the WPO, said. “We’ve really never come out to the public and said, ‘Here we are.’”
But that is beginning to change. Even though there’s very little turnover in the chapter — called “Fairchester” to reflect its county-straddling territory — Price said the decision to expand its reach was the driving factor behind a June 21 event held at Putnam & Mason, the luxury home design firm that opened in Greenwich last year.
“This was the first time in my 13 years with the group that we’d done something like that,” Price said. “We felt that there are so many women-led companies being started in the area that it would be ungenerous of us not to introduce ourselves.”
Although turnout at Putnam was strong — Price said 18 women showed up — how many members the Fairchester chapter will add remains unclear. One barrier is that the WPO requires its members to be presidents of companies with at least $2 million in gross annual sales for a product-based firm or $1 million for a service-based enterprise. They must also have an ownership interest in the company and senior management responsibilities for attorneys and accountants.
Membership fees are also based on revenues: $2,000 or $4,500 for entrepreneurs who gross over $10 million annually — average revenues for this group are $44 million — and $5,000 for those with gross revenue of over $50 million annually; average revenues are $150 million. Alumna and “at large” memberships — for those based in a region with no WPO chapter — cost $900 per year.
Fairchester now has 13 members — chapters tend to max out at 20 — who meet once a month for three hours. Topics discussed include how to generate more profit, how to deal with pressing employee issues, the potential applications of artificial intelligence and so on.
Price — the former founder and president of executive training services firm Ronin Enterprises in New York City — said she became aware of WPO soon after its 1997 inception. What attracted her, and has induced her and most of her fellow members to remain, was the fact that the 501(c)(6) organization “is the only one that’s designed for women who are in the second stage of their careers. There are lots of organizations that support women in the startup phase, but this is more about learning from peers how to build an infrastructure and a culture as you expand from being a startup to having 20, 50, 100 people or more.”
Like Price, most WPO members seem to be in it for the long haul. WPO said it has more than 2,000 members around the world — it has a presence on six continents — who represent an aggregate 150,000 employees and companies that have aggregate revenues of $26 billion.
Seventy-seven percent of WPO members do business with each other and 82 percent believe the organization helps manage their business concerns more effectively, according to its research.
“Right now women are stepping out and up more powerfully than ever before,” Price said. According to American Express’ “State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” from 1997 to 2017 the number of women-owned businesses increased by 114 percent, a growth rate more than 2.5 times the national average.
The WPO further maintains that one in 11 adult women is an entrepreneur, and that more than 11 million U.S. women-owned businesses generate more than $1.6 trillion in revenues and employ 9 million workers.
But lest one think the WPO is all business, Price said the group’s members are more like a sisterhood. “We’re there to support each other in life as well as in business.”