Corporate Ties

This entrepreneur turned to her former employer to get her business started

When Alice Turner Byrd left CIGNA Corp. six years ago and formed Turner Training USA, she never dreamed that her former employer would lay the foundation for her company’s success.

Turner Training USA, which began operations in 1997, provides corporate training to management and staff in CIGNA’s customer service division and also offers business training to young people seeking to enter the workforce.

Turner Training got its start when Byrd, 47, decided to leave CIGNA but agreed to continue to work with the company on a contractual basis. She secured a nine-month contract to train CIGNA’s staff and improve its customer service division. The $7,600 she earned paid for the company’s startup costs, which Turner said were about $3,000. The money went toward rent, a computer, a telephone, and office furniture and supplies. Byrd’s CIGNA contract was the catalyst for her business, which in its first year posted revenues of $170,000. In 2003, the company posted revenues of $383,000.

“I received the encouragement of friends and family who pushed me to pursue my passions and start my own business because they felt that I was so good at what I did that I could open my own business and be successful at it. They encouraged me to do what I had dreamed of, which is to pursue my passion,” Byrd says.

What was supposed to have been a nine-month contract with CIGNA lasted four years. Turner Training evaluated CIGNA’s customer service program and developed two manuals. One was a workbook that gave instructions to employees about how to correspond with customers who have inquiries or complaints. The other was a facilitator’s guide for instructors at the company who were responsible for conducting employee training in several aspects of customer service, such as communicating with customers on the telephone or online.

With increased confidence after landing the contract and the urge to expand the business outside of the healthcare field, Byrd turned to other sectors that required similar services. The company focused on education in what she calls the four cornerstones of effective business communication: customer service, business writing, management development, and workplace diversity. Turner has since won contracts with utility companies such as Northeast Utilities System, a provider of utility service in Connecticut, and the Metropolitan District Commission, which provides water service for Hartford County.

But it’s not always easy to land contracts, especially when a company cuts its spending and is unable to see the benefits of training staff in the areas where Byrd specializes. “I just had a manager ask me not too long ago, ‘What would happen if I didn’t train the employees?’ That’s usually the resistance I get,” Byrd says. Developing her own strategy for these responses, Byrd says she helps the employer understand the economic benefits of the services she provides.

Looking ahead, Byrd is optimistic that the company will post revenues of $1 million over the next two to three years. Last October, the company moved closer to that goal when it signed one of its largest contracts: a three-year

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