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AAE Spotlight: Missy Rogers and Lyla Corkern

“How our businesses scale and what finances look like are very different,” says Missy Rogers. “Yet during our first one-on-one Zoom meeting, it was like there was magic. Lyla had strengths where I was weak and vice versa.”

In 2022 Missy Rogers of Noble Plastics and Lyla Corkern of Finding Solace entered the American Academy of Entrepreneurs (AAE), a mentoring program developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation for second-stage business owners. Hosted in Louisiana by the Louisiana Economic Development (LED), the seven-month program kicks off with an in-person retreat at the foundation’s learning campus in southwest Michigan and then mentors and mentees meet virtually for six months.

Rogers, who was the mentor, admits being puzzled when paired with Corkern as their industries were vastly different. Noble Plastics is an injection molding manufacturer and robotics integration firm while Finding Solace is a private counseling agency. “How our businesses scale and what finances look like are very different,” says Rogers. “Yet during our first one-on-one Zoom meeting, it was like there was magic. Lyla had strengths where I was weak and vice versa.”

As a mentee, Corkern also had some misgivings at the beginning of the program. “I remember wondering what we would talk about,” she says. “Yet it’s been mind-blowing how much we have in common. In fact, we probably met every two weeks instead of monthly.”

Getting a fresh perspective

One of the things Corkern values about Rogers as a mentor is how she provides a different perspective on business challenges. For example, mentees were asked to list specific pain points they wanted to address during the program. “I wrote down six, and Missy pointed out they were all the same issue… I had a cash-flow problem, which was coming out in different ways,” says Corkern. “This made me feel so much lighter. Whenever I have something that feels overwhelming, I have a conversation with her, and she simplifies it.”

In addition to working with Rogers on financial and operational issues, Corkern has made breakthroughs on the personal-development side — something she hadn’t anticipated. As a result, Corkern has made some significant shifts in how she leads her staff:

  • More hands-off — Corkern recognized she was trying to be involved in all conversations and decisions within her company. “I trust my staff completely, so it wasn’t a control issue or the inability to let go. I literally didn’t realize I was doing it,” she says. Now she is mindful of which decisions she doesn’t need be involved in — and which ones should remain in her lane. 

  • Collaborative communication — Previously Corkern would discuss specific projects only with the individuals who were involved and then make companywide announcements. “This resulted in some employees feeling in the dark and then blindsided,” she says. It also prevented her leadership team from being informed, which left them unable to answer questions that their teams inevitably had. In response, Corkern has implemented a software program for her leadership team that enables greater transparency, communication, and collaboration: Her team works together to identify business goals and projects, create tasks to complete them, and then assign them to individuals. “It has expanded our capabilities and improved our efficiency,” she says.

Lyla Corkern and Missy Rogers

“As a result of the AAE program, I feel much more competent… that I actually know what I’m doing,” Corkern adds. “Before, it felt like me against the world, like I was on an island. In addition to having Missy, I also feel like I can contact anyone from the retreat to consult or get validation or vent.” 

Case in point, she asked another member of her AAE cohort, Jason Bergeron of Stratify MSP, to observe her office. “He gave us a list of action points to streamline operations and increase efficiencies, which has exponentially changed our workflow and how we do meetings,” she says. Bergeron also connected Corkern with a statewide business organization that is further expanding her network.

“I’m also much more involved in community and state policy issues,” Corkern says, noting she has joined the board of her local chamber of commerce, which she chalks up to having greater self-confidence. “Instead of wondering why I’m in the room, now I speak up and give my opinion.” 

Unexpected value for mentors 

No stranger to mentorship programs, Rogers found that AAE delivered unexpected value for her, both personally and professionally. “It comes at mentoring from a different place,” she says, referring to the program’s structure and blend of formal and informal contact. (During the kickoff retreat, AAE facilitators meet with mentors and mentees as separate groups to discuss their respective roles and share techniques for working together; and to provide additional support, they also check in with each group a few months later to see how things are going.)

“The materials presented at the retreat were very powerful,” Rogers says, noting that Shirzad Chamine’s concept of positive intelligence and saboteurs (negative brain patterns) resonated in particular with her. “I hadn’t been exposed to this before, and it was a completely different way to think about some of the personality traits that could be detrimental to entrepreneurship. Learning about our different filters was really transformative for me.” 

As a result, Rogers has made some major changes at Noble Plastics, beginning with hiring a sales director, a job she had been doing. “I was a highly analytical engineer who had been forced into the sales role for years without having any professional training. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t doing a great job — even though my team told me that I was,” she says. “It was troubling, and I knew I was holding us back.” Since passing the torch, Rogers’ stress levels have gone down and her productivity has increased. “I can’t say that I would have been brave enough to do that if not for this process and for Lyla,” she says.

What’s more, Rogers has started delegating in other areas, which has enabled her to move back into a visionary role. “I’m much more effective — and it’s much more satisfying,” she says.  “If people are on the fence about the time commitment or traveling to the retreat, all I can say is ‘If you’re invited to AAE, go!’ ” Rogers adds. “As a highly busy and relatively skeptical person, I’m so glad I went through the program. If I had done this 12 years ago, my business would be in an entirely different place today.”

Published on June 1, 2023