Freeland, CEO of Maryland-based A-TEK, Inc., and author of the book "Navigating Your Way to Business Success: An Entrepreneur's Journey," spoke recently at the UAB MBA Leadership Luncheon at The Club. The event provided MBA students with the opportunity to hear war stories from successful business leaders and to network with their peers.
Freeland told the students of the trials early in her career when she was working for a government contractor outside of Washington, D.C., and was passed over for important promotions.
"My husband encouraged me to start my own business, but I didn't know what that meant," Freeland said. "My father had worked for the same company for 30 years. I never thought about how to be an entrepreneur. I didn't really know what the term meant."
But she and her husband took a leap of faith and started the company, RGII Technologies, in their basement, where it lived for two years while they put a business plan together.
"It took time and effort, and almost becoming bankrupt," she said. "We learned to become entrepreneurs together. We made a lot of mistakes along the way. We learned a lot along the way."
The Freelands' first business venture was an IT company, though neither had any IT experience.
"We saw the need, and the one thing we were really good at is relationship building. We surrounded ourselves with good people," she said.
They sold RGII to Computer Horizons Corp in 2003, and Freeland prepared to retire. But opportunity knocked again, and she purchased A-TEK, Inc. in 2006.
"Entrepreneurship is not meant for everyone, but if you have the tolerance for the risk, the rewards are worth it," she said.
After Freeland's keynote address at the Leadership Luncheon, she was joined on stage by Alan Dean with Targeted Technology Funds, George Trible with Wells Fargo and Joel Dobbs with the Collat School of Business for an extended conversation on entrepreneurship, moderated by MBA Program Director Ken Miller.
The panel discussed the need for entrepreneurial thinking in all types and sizes of business organizations and what makes a business person an entrepreneur.
""Entrepreneurs tend to take on things that are difficult," said Dobbs, the Collat School of Business's executive in residence in entrepreneurship. "What drives them is not outside; it's what's within them."
Successful entrepreneurs, Dobbs said, have the ability to deal with ambiguity and risk.
"As you climb in an organization, you don't get the easy questions. You get the tough questions. You often have to take the first step without seeing the entire staircase."
See event photos