From Writing by Design Owner and Principal, Patti J. Purcell
On May 13, I had the opportunity to join two other CEOs to speak to over 50 students in Neenah High School’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) class to give students the chance to learn about what it takes to lead—and in my case, start up—a business. My “partners in crime” on the panel included Kevin J. Ralofsky, President/CEO of Verve, a Credit Union, and John Ernst of Launch Wisconsin. The program was provided in partnership with Verve’s Community Outreach efforts to reach students and help teach them about financial literacy and leadership while in school. Neenah High School’s innovative PBL class is a rigorous, personalized learning opportunity in which the students play active, self-directed, passion-driven roles in their own education. Both students and their family members attended this unique opportunity for students to engage with real-world leaders while on the road to success. We each shared our stories and fielded students’ questions.
I’ll be celebrating my 10th year as an entrepreneur and business owner this year and was so proud to have the opportunity to share my story with these bright students. My message revolved around working hard, and not expecting things to be handed to you to succeed in business. I shared with them the story of growing up on the South side (read, “poor side”) of Oshkosh, in a home where neither parent had gone to college. I had gotten straight A’s throughout my elementary and high school career, and was Valedictorian of my high school class—and I studied and worked tirelessly to achieve those grades; it didn’t come easy. Despite that, I may not have gone to college except that an interested teacher asked me (I think in the beginning of my senior year or later!) where I was going and I hadn’t applied anywhere or thought about the process. It was foreign to my parents who didn’t know what was involved with researching and applying for colleges. She helped me get an application into Lawrence University in Appleton, and I was accepted (with lots of financial aid, of course!).
I worked hard that first year, earning the same grades as in high school with lots of “heads-down” study time, balanced with a nice first year of college basketball there as well. In my sophomore year, I decided Journalism was the degree I wanted to pursue, so I transferred to UW-Oshkosh and completed my degree there. I went on to graduate and take on all sorts of marketing-related jobs, which all had strong undertones of writing. After 20+ years of marketing roles—my last as a product manager in marketing for Kimberly-Clark Corporation—I decided to stay at home for a bit while raising my boys, but quickly decided I needed the thrill of writing in my life again.
I incorporated my company, Writing by Design, in October of 2006, and it’s been a whirlwind ride since then. I’ve gone from working at home part-time to hiring employees and managing subcontractors and a national partnership team fulltime from an office in Appleton. We conduct writing projects for large, national and international companies looking to launch new products via our specialized concept-writing capabilities (one of a handful in the country) as well as provide communications support for many local companies. All of this came through hard work, perseverance and the fortitude to get back up after many failures, I reminded the students that day.
I wanted to let them know that I could have been any one of them in the classroom that day. I wasn’t a “rich kid” who came from money. I didn’t go to an Ivy League or Big Ten college. I was just an ordinary kid from the South side of Oshkosh who opened my heart to a dream of doing what I love to do best and doing it well for others. And they could do it, too. I only hope that on that day I served as inspiration for them all. I will be watching to see which ones follow their own passions and dreams, and I look forward to hearing their story someday at a panel like this!