Q&A Interview
Billie Bryant
President & CEO, CESCO, Inc.
Focus on Women Leaders Series

Billie, we’d like to introduce you to our audience. Where did you grow up?

I grew up on a farm in the countryside of East Texas between two small towns, Winnsboro & Mt. Vernon. We were 15 miles from Winnsboro and 24 miles from Mt. Vernon. Due to the district guidelines I had to attend the schools in Mt. Vernon traveling many miles each day. Despite the challenge of the distance, I was very active in school activities. I was a cheerleader for 3 years and played both basketball and softball. I formed long lasting friendships with my high school friends. We still have class reunions each year in Mt. Vernon during October Fest.

Who were the biggest influences in your life as a child?

My Mom. Dad was a farmer but he became ill at a very young age. My Mom led our family through some very difficult times. She was very creative in finding different ways to earn money despite our distance from town. She inspired me to know that with a strong will to survive, honesty, determination and hard work you can survive even in the most difficult circumstances.

Tell us about your education.

After graduating from high school I attended and graduated from a business college in Tyler, Texas

You took over your husband’s business when he got ill. Tell us about that.

The business at that time was a Coin Equipment and Office Equipment repair shop– only used equipment to sell. I had not planned to be an entrepreneur, particularly in such a non-traditional field for a woman with no inclusion into important business networks. I really did not know anyone. In addition, I was very naive as to the business environment for a woman at that time. In fact I assumed that the same environment that I enjoyed in my neighborhood would be available to me in the business community. I was so very wrong!

Needless to say, I had to engage in a quick learning process to figure out the current lay of the land. I began searching for other women owned businesses with like issues that eventually led me to a small group known as NAWBO. In NAWBO I established friendships and worked with them in creating our own business networks. Eventually this was the group that responded to many critical identity and economic needs for women owned businesses locally and nationally.

You were in a male dominated industry. Share what challenges you encountered.

There were little or no resources available. I could not go into the service department to pick up the coin changers for repair, competitors were suddenly woman owned, and the credit line was cut at the bank. I eventually got a SBA loan by putting up my farm for collateral. The most devastating difficulty was when CESCO lost the Authorized Service Center for Mars, which was a major source of income for the company. They gave it to a man in Oklahoma who came into Dallas to take over the territory. The only choice I had left was to increase the office equipment repair business.

After creating success in servicing equipment for many large entities in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region I began reaching out to the office equipment manufactures to market the company to sell their products. Thankfully a woman had moved up in the sales chain of Xerox, found my letter that was two years old, called me to see if I would like to sell their equipment. CESCO did then become successful in sales of the Xerox lines that they continue today. With the success of that one line we were able to add the other lines which are Lexmark, HP, Ricoh, Brother, Epson, and Dell in multifunctional devices, printers, copiers, plotters, scanners, 3D printers and supplies for all. Today CESCO is an expert in printing equipment and software solutions that include managed document services, managed print, mobile print, and digitized workflow solutions.

What has been your proudest accomplishment to date with regards to your company?

When I won the five-year Managed Print Contract at Texas Instruments as the prime contractor with Xerox and Y Soft as the subcontractors in 2013.

What is your greatest personal accomplishment to date?

There have been two very memorable personal accomplishments. The first was when I received the Applause Award in 2001 from WBENC. At that time this award was given to women who work to break down the barriers for women to have economic opportunity in both public and private industries. In 2016 I received the Maura Women Helping Women Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation.

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What attributes do women bring to the table in business that impact the culture and the bottom line?

Women provide many diverse skills into the business environment. We are creative in formulating solutions to perform certain tasks, also can organize to lead and perform the task successfully. We have communication skills and can be a valuable team player when given the opportunity.

You were a founding member of WBENC. Tell us about that group.

We were mostly all very small women owned businesses, left without credentials necessary for our identity and networking opportunities into mainstream markets. Many people categorized us as “fronts” which is and was a very negative term and an illegal benefit for anyone to create and receive. It was up to this very small group to prove who we were in addition to sharing the true economic picture for women in the workplace at that time. We utilized the statistical data from the Dept. of Labor- Women’s Bureau to show the picture at that time; not only to educate them on who we were but also to share our needs economically. We became very determined to accomplish the task of finding a way to create an organization with a certification process critical to establishing the women business owner’s identity, in addition to the tool needed to enter mainstream markets.

You recently joined the board of Going for the Green. Tell us about that organization.

First and foremost, I admire these two women as true trailblazers! They have been recognized in the WBE Hall of Fame. They started this organization while holding down fulltime jobs, one as a woman owned business, the other working for UPS. I suppose you could say I feel somewhat of a kinship with them due to similar experiences along the way. They have put together a great team of volunteer leaders to work on planning the conference each year. The volunteers include women business owners, corporate women, and nonprofits. WBENC participates in the conference on the planning and execution.

The local Orlando partner of WBENC does matchmaking with the major corporate sponsors and women owned businesses at the event. The event is more like a boutique happening compared to the WBENC events that are now so very large. Not to be negative about the WBENC events, they are as they should be in reaching even more women owned businesses each year. Go For the Greens offers ease of engagement in the networking in addition to the golf scramble event which is so much fun. This year we are adding a mentoring session for young girls interested in STEAM and entrepreneurship. I look forward to assisting in leading this part of the program.

Banks say they support small business, but the reality is that if the entrepreneur doesn’t have 20-30% in cash of the loan amount they need, they are out of luck. What are options for women who are looking to raise capital for their companies?

I agree with your comment. I have been down that path.It seems Goldman Sachs leadership and others are pushing Crowd Funding. In fact there is a video entitled think crowd funding with Wells Fargo.

There is the Texas Women Ventures as a resource. Valerie Freeman who was a member of our NAWBO group was one of the founders.

There is also a national organization known as Springboard. The President is Amy Millman. Amy was at the National Women’s Business Council (always a politically appointed person) when we established WBENC. She was a resource for us during those difficult times.

Funding links:

If you could give young women advice about business, what would it be?

Get involved in the business community in some way, try to get an internship in the area where you have interest if possible, search for a mentor and programs designed for future workforce training.

Who is a woman in business that you admire?

Vivian Castleberry – Vivian is a newspaper editor, journalist and women’s rights activist who was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984. She has awritten several books, one of those books is about our journey entitled; Seeds of Success, How a Few Women Changed the Landscape of American Business.

What is your definition of success?

When one has accomplished the desired results of their passion and has accumulated the necessary resources available to reach back and give more for the benefit of others.

If you had a personal tagline, what would it be?

‘Pooled Power of Women’ – Joining together is the secret for our collective power! What women can accomplish together is endless!

What is your favorite quote?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.

Billie, thank you for your time.