She’s The Boss

The women of the B.E. 100s are setting a new standard of excellence -- and changing the face of business

easy. Her solution: “I manage with the help of my mom, my sister, nannies — I need proper support since I travel about 30% of the time,” she says.

Iloani wants to continue to grow her business. She also is optimistic that more black women will try entrepreneurship: “With all this education and wonderful work experience behind black women, they’ll naturally look for their own opportunities as they rise within the corporate world.”

Carol H. Williams, CEO, president, and chief creative officer of the advertising agency that bears her name, has never given much thought to failure. “Failure is a decision you make,” she says. “You may make a mistake, you may make an error, but as long as you have the courage to learn, change, grow, and keep moving forward, you can never fail.”

The success of Carol H. Williams Advertising (No. 4 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list and the 1999 BE Advertising Agency of the Year), her Oakland-based advertising empire, bears that truth. With $130 million in billings in 2002, more than twice the $48.5 million in billings it made five years earlier, the agency has wooed and won clients such as General Motors, Coors Brewing Co., Allstate, and Bank of America since it opened its doors in 1986.

Williams credits her success to her creativity, strategic knowledge, and an overwhelming passion for what she does. After a fulfilling advertising career with Leo Burnett’s ad agency in Chicago and Foote Cone & Belding ad agency in San Francisco, Williams left the industry in 1982 to start a family, with no intention of launching a business. But just when she thought she had left the business, “Different clients that I had worked with approached me about doing some general market and African American-targeted work,” she says. “As I got into it, it began to rekindle my passion for advertising and its strategic challenges. I always considered myself a problem solver.”

The load of freelance clients continued to grow until she needed help with all the work. “I’d gone from myself to several people to several, several people,” she laughs. “Then one day, my husband said, ‘I think you need to stop playing at this thing and recognize that you have a real business here.'” Once Williams made the decision to turn her part-time passion into a full-time job in 1986, she ran into some obstacles: Some firms struggle with the idea of a creative black woman handling their advertising business. “They simply couldn’t realize that creativity, strategic knowledge, and managerial skills could be housed in a black, female body.” About the companies that thought Williams’ gender impeded her creativity, she simply says, “They missed out on a rewarding relationship.” But she admits that in the early days of her career, people’s prejudices were “troublesome because you feel you’re not recognized for your brilliance. I literally have had men suggest to me that achieving my level of success was due to feminine wiles,” she says. How did she react to such slights?

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