If Rieva Lesonsky ever doubts that women in business have special concerns, her doubts disappear when the switchboard operator goes home for the night.
Usually, that leaves Lesonsky, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Group magazines in Irvine, and publisher Jim Fitzpatrick answering late-evening telephone calls.
"Sometimes (callers) ask me: Can you keep trying that number?" Lesonsky said. "I explain that I'm not the operator. No one ever asks Jim to do that."
Nor do they look surprised when they meet him, Lesonsky said, as many do when they meet her and realize that a woman is senior editor of a business magazine. Women also run into different challenges dealing with personnel. "Basically, we are not taken as seriously," she said.
Her awareness of the problems of women business owners is demonstrated in the pages of Entrepreneurial Woman magazine, which publishes 10 times a year, and reports a circulation of 200,000.
The readership, Lesonsky said, includes women who own 38% of U.S. businesses, whose companies generated revenue of more than $500 billion last year.
"We get four times as many letters to Woman as we do to Entrepreneur," which has 340,000 readers, said Lesonsky, who edits both. "Women tell me it's the best magazine they've ever read. Now, I don't believe it's the best--it's a good magazine. I think they react that way because they have found a magazine that speaks to them."
Along with Entrepreneurial Woman's success has come a growing demand for Lesonsky to speak to women's groups around the country. Usually, she tells about how she failed the first time she tried to start a magazine for women in business.
The magazine, called Choices, was launched in 1985 and published all of four issues. It failed in part because advertisers did not believe that there were enough women business owners. "We were literally giving away ads," Lesonsky said. "National ads were free."
She stresses when she tells this tale that the lessons she learned from failure made Entrepreneurial Woman--and even Entrepreneur--into better magazines.
Today, Entrepreneur Group and Lesonsky are about to launch a new venture. She has developed a daylong seminar series for women entrepreneurs, which will begin Feb. 8 in Irvine. The series, which has the financial backing of Toyota Motor Corp., the Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and accountants KPMG Peat Marwick in Costa Mesa, is intended to contain practical advice on starting a business and managing its growth.
"You're not going to hear how to get your face done or how to cook broccoli 40 ways," said Lesonsky, who is critical of conferences for business women that don't stick to business.
She will speak at an opening breakfast, then specialists will address various issues such as whether to start a business from home or lease an office, how to find legal services and how to write a business plan.
If the seminar series is well-received, Lesonsky plans to begin a national tour.
Lesonsky, who grew up on Long Island, decided as a teen-ager to become a journalist after watching Geraldo Rivera, who was then a crusading investigative reporter for local television in New York.
She studied broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1974. After a brief time working for book publisher Doubleday in New York, she moved to Van Nuys. She began as a researcher for Entrepreneur Group, and has worked there for most of the past 14 years.
Entrepreneur, originally a vehicle to sell the how-to business manuals published by Entrepreneur Group, has grown in sophistication. In each of the last two years, under Lesonsky's leadership, Entrepreneur has been named to AdWeek magazine's list of 10 hottest magazines.
Through her work, she believes that she has fulfilled that desire to make a difference that she saw in herself in high school. "Women's business ownership is really important to me," she said. "Through business ownership, you set your own worth."