I felt like the little Dutch boy . . . putting my finger in the dike.
Sue Bohle started The Bohle Co., a public relations firm, eight years ago. It grew quickly and was acquired by a national organization. She is now starting over again, but this time, her business goals are being modified by her personal plans. Bohle, her husband John and their two children live in Sherman Oaks.
I grew up in a sleepy little town in Minnesota. My father was athletic director of the whole school system and coach of the football team. I had two brothers and I played all the boys’ sports since there weren’t any for girls. The sports had something to do with my competitiveness.
My father was a tireless kind of person. It wasn’t a high-income job and he had three kids to go to college. My dad used to referee nights and weekends for more money. He’d hunt pheasants all the way to Albert Lea and referee a game and then come back at midnight. He got us working as soon as we were 15.
After getting a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University, I came to California and took a job in public relations. After a few years, I decided that my career had flattened and I needed to do something about it.
My husband suggested that I start my own firm. This was really a different thought. The biggest scare was to my ego. Could I really succeed? I thought I could do the work, but would anybody hire me? I decided that I was either going to make it or go out with a big bang. So I took space in Century City from day one.
We started with a little tiny suite and we moved every year for the first three years. I started with myself and a new graduate of Pepperdine. In three years, we had 25 people. A lot of times, I felt like the little Dutch boy running around putting my finger in the dike because it grew and grew.
My husband and I were forced to back away from almost everything except our jobs. For two years, we worked every Saturday. The kids thought that all mommies and daddies worked six days a week. I used to be out the door at 7:30 and be home at 7. I’d feed the kids and, after they went to sleep, I’d pick it up again and edit papers, do the administrative tasks, read my mail, do some writing and make a list of the things I had to do tomorrow.
Learning about business became a life style. When we would go out and entertain, I was interested in finding out about business. Talking about business was certainly more interesting to me than talking about family. I just have a real zest for work and business. And I’ve never felt that way about anything else.
I spent 6 1/2 years growing my organization into an agency that was in the top 50 in the country. Then I sold it and became part of a major national organization. But after two years, I realized that our management styles were extraordinarily different and, as much as I tried to change mine, it just wasn’t happening.
They called me in for a discussion and, at that point, I decided to leave the company. To have anybody tell you that you are not doing your job is a tough thing emotionally for anybody to take. It was very tough for me to walk away because I had literally chosen every piece of furniture in that office, hung the pictures with a hammer and nails and watered the plants.
I now recognize that I want a little more balance in my life. Achieving that is more important than being successful. I don’t need a firm with 35 people again to prove to myself that I can do it. I plan to keep the business a little smaller. I’m looking to have time with my family that isn’t a time when I’m constantly thinking about the office. I think I am a person who is driven like my father but who is recognizing, like my father finally did, that there needs to be a balance in life.
Almost every stage of my life has been looking at the whole situation and making some sort of choice. In the case of moving on to a large corporation, maybe not the best choice, but still a choice that I made willingly. And maybe I’m only now at age 44 discovering who I really am.