Q: Debbie, let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born?
A: I was born in Dallas, Texas.
Q: What was your childhood like growing up?
A: My parents worked in the retail industry and I was the only child in my household. I had a half-brother that lived with my grandmother.
Q: Do you have any siblings?
A: Larry, my half-brother, who was autistic but very intelligent. He passed away last year.
Q: What did your parents do for a living?
A: Varied retail Sales.
Q: How did your parents influence you?
A: Their absence allowed me to use my imagination to create activities for myself. I made up card games, taught myself a forward flip, etc.
My parents were very intelligent and witty. My father was very charming. However, with the slightest bit of adversity, they went to the bar. I witnessed firsthand what running from and not facing challenges does to one’s life. I became determined to ‘leave everything on the field’ so to speak. Many times I thought there was no way I could accomplish a certain goal, but I knew I had to try so I would never wonder the what would have happened if I had not tried.
Q: Outside of your parents, what adult had the most influence on you as a child?
A: My grandmother because she was sweet.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: Tyler Junior College and UT Austin
Q: Much of your early career, you were one of very few women in an industry dominated by men and yet you were very successful. What was your “secret sauce”?
A: Early on, I realized that showing weakness was equivalent to having an open wound in a sea of sharks. Regardless of what was said, I just had to keep going. No one expected me to be successful.
Q: You decided to start your own company in 1999 in your home garage. You were a single mom using $10,000 of personal savings. What gave you the courage to do this?
A: My path just led to this change. In my current sales position; I led the most productive sales department, making a salary that was almost half of my male counterparts, while having the clerical responsibilities of the office put on me because I was the female. The company was failing due to lack of productivity in other departments. So, I contacted my customers and with enough to follow me, I chose to go out on my own.
Q: What were your biggest challenges early on with your business?
A: Because of my gender, I was told I could not be a success. Also, due to gender, it was difficult to get a line of credit from my male customers.
Q: Were you able to get capital from banks?
A: I was a customer of Wells Fargo from 1987 to 1999. In 1999, I could only get a $10,000 credit card limit from them. In 2010, I was offered a line of credit.
Q: You have experienced great growth. Sales in 1999 were $133,000 and in 2016 over $10M in revenue. Do people treat you differently now that you are “successful?”
A: Yes, some do, but not all. Checking to see how I can benefit them. I am still treated sub-par by those that are not aware, as they look over me to the nearest male.
Q: You started another company selling tactical wear to first responders. What made you get into that arena?
A: My government sales representative for Pelican that sold to 5.11, informed me that 5.11 sold tactical gear and thought it would be a good fit for me to diversify.
Q: You are a member of Entrepreneur’s Organization. How have they helped you personally and professionally?
A: EO’s mantra is ‘Boldly Go’. I don’t always feel bold enough, so I appreciate this. Being part of a large group that share similar experiences provides strength. The small forum groups provide a safe and trusted place with like-minded people.
Q: What is your greatest strength as a leader?
A: Knowing when to ask for assistance. Leading but also getting in the trenches. Being generous (this was inserted by my employees)
Q: Who is your personal hero?
A: Those that stand in the face of adversity for the betterment of others, such as Martin Luther King and Ghandi.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
A: I go out with friends, travel to interesting places, enjoy quiet days at home working in the yard and spend time with my dogs, cats and pet cattle.
Watching my grandson play baseball.
Many different activities.
Q: You support many non-profits. What areas are you most passionate about re: philanthropic giving?
A: Environmental preservation. The respect and well-being of all my planet mates, human or otherwise.
Q: Define Success.
A: To surround myself layers deep with a circle of influence that would drop everything to help one another.
Q: Please leave us with your favorite quote.
A: It is a quote by Margaret Mead, but I would change her ‘small group’ to ‘one person’…
“Never doubt that (one person) a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
About Debbie Cooley
Debbie Cooley began her career in 1974 with a major packaging supplier as the first woman hired for outside sales servicing their 133 branches nationwide. M-Pak, Inc. began in 1999 in packaging distribution in Ms. Cooley’s home garage as its warehouse. As a single parent, she initiated the business with savings of $10,000. They expanded in 2012, opening their tactical clothing/uniform store. M-Pak is now an industrial packaging and tactical gear supplier for private businesses, local and state agencies, military, aerospace industry and major retailers, with multiple federal contracts throughout the country.
Awards they have received include: SBA Vendor of the Year 2004, GSA Exceptional Rating; Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000 for five consecutive years; Edison Award for sustainable packaging; Woman Owned Business of the Year, 2016; The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Top 3 Finalists in 2015 and 2016 for Small Business of the Year.
Their pride in and the success of M-Pak is its people. They answer the phone (really) and are glad you called…and you will know it!
Debbie is a mentor for The Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. She was honored to be selected for the Inaugural Class of the Fort Worth Business Press Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2016, and FW Inc’s 2017 Entrepreneur of Excellence.
Debbie Serves on several Boards of Directors including The Parenting Center, Entrepreneurs Organization, and Women’s Policy Forum. She is also active with many non-profit organizations including Dream Outside the Box and Como Lion’s Heart.