By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
Successful entrepreneurship depends upon many factors, but nothing beats a well-timed solution for a pressing need.
Just ask Suzanne Magee, the 57-year-old president and CEO of TechGuard Security, a multi-million dollar company founded eleven years ago when policymaker concerns about a national cyber attack began to rise. The Chesterfield, Mo.-based firm provides a wide range of products and services to help its government and private-sector clients protect themselves against threats related to cyber security and privacy.
Magee followed an unconventional career path to cofound a computer security business at age 46. In the 70s, she was a flight attendant, a position that took her to new places literally and figuratively.
In 1979, she parlayed the knowledge and contacts acquired from her day job to launch her first entrepreneurial endeavor: Flightgear, a mail order company that sold luggage and other items geared toward airline travelers. That experience, said Magee, taught her fundamental business operations, from filing quarterly taxes to processing credit card payments. More importantly, she realized she was capable of starting a business.
Later, Magee earned a degree in communications and international relations from Maryville University. She worked briefly for Ralston-Purina’s public relations department, where she learned the value of PR in advancing business objectives.
A Mission That Needed to be Addressed
By 1998, she was the director of business development for a computer startup. That year, President Clinton announced Presidential Directive 63, which called for a public-private partnership to protect the nation’s computer infrastructure deemed critical for national security and economic operations.
“I saw this as a mission that needed to be addressed,” Magee said.
When she broached a recommendation to expand into the security field, her employer wasn’t interested. She left her job, with a vision of starting her own computer security company.
To put her idea in motion, Magee needed help but wasn’t sure where to turn. That changed after she accepted an invitation to an event held by the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Inspired, she joined NAWBO, where she met an attorney and other professionals with expertise related to startups. “I used those contacts to get answers and go where I needed to go,” Magee said.
In February 2000, Magee and a small team began TechGuard Security in the basement of her home. With a patent for a new firewall technology in hand, she tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain funding from venture capital firms. After regrouping, she went to family and friends and raised $300,000 in startup funds.
The company had no revenue its first year. Then 9/11 occurred in its second year, prompting Magee to secure a low interest, $117,000 Small Business Administration loan that enabled TechGuard Security to weather the post-tragedy recovery.
By its fourth year, TechGuard Security’s annual revenue reached one million. In 2010, its tenth anniversary, the company grossed just under $10 million. Today, it has at least 20 pending or issued patents, 70 employees and offices in Baltimore and at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, in addition to its Missouri headquarters. The company plans to open new offices in Oklahoma City and other areas in the country, with an international expansion possible in the future.
Magee says networking led to an entry into government contracting, a major reason for the TechGuard Security’s growth. The firm was an early participant in an ongoing breakfast series to introduce St. Louis-area companies and government agencies to one another. Andrea Johnson, who cofounded TechGuard Security with Magee, remains active in the breakfast group.
A Business Partnership That Works
When they became business partners, Magee and Johnson didn’t think about whether their management styles were complimentary. It turned out that they were.
“We were just lucky, but I would advise others to really think about that upfront,” Magee said. “Entrepreneurs sometimes make the mistake of choosing founding partners who are like themselves, instead of bringing a diversity of strengths, talents and leadership styles that make a more complete team.”
Magee describes herself as “a risk taker” and “action oriented, with a big-picture approach.” Johnson, she said, “is more risk averse, thoughtful and pays attention to the details.”
“We are like yin and yang and the balance we provide each other is essential,” said Magee.
In evaluating other contributions to her success, Magee, a divorced mother of two grown daughters, sees her age as a positive factor. “Life experience drove me to entrepreneurship,” she said. “It has helped me tremendously.”
That experience includes extensive volunteer work. Magee is a board member for TechAmerica CxO and the State of Missouri’s Small Business Development Center. She’s also served on the FBI’s InfraGuard and participated in cyber security review efforts initiated by the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
“It’s in Giving That You Receive”
One of Magee’s goals is to serve on more boards. “It’s in giving that you receive,” she said.
How does she do it all?
“It’s good to take breaks and to give yourself time to think,” Magee said. Before bedtime, she’ll separate herself mentally from the business day’s events by doing a crossword puzzle or reading a newspaper.
In addition, Magee continues to leverage her network. It includes entrepreneurs from other industries, which allows her to hear different perspectives or to obtain information outside her normal scope.
Aspiring business owners should reach out to others as well, Magee said. Her other recommendations: find a mentor, ask people to serve on an advisory board and align yourself with those who have the same goals.
“Entrepreneurs,” she said, “want to give back.”
Just like Magee.