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August 7, 2017
Mainebiz Women to Watch 2017

Women to Watch: Nancy Strojny, SCORE — Portland chapter

PHOTo / Tim Greenway
PHOTo / Tim Greenway
Nancy Strojny, chair of the Portland chapter of SCORE, meets with Jeffrey Blais, owner of the Portland salon Akari.
PHOTo / Tim Greenway
Nancy Strojny, chair of the Portland chapter of SCORE, in her office.

SCORE — Portland chapter

100 Middle St., Portland

Chapter chair: Nancy Strojny

Founded: 1964

Number of volunteers: 125

Contact: 207-772-1147 www.portlandme.score.org

In her own words

What triggered your career path? I loved making and selling things when I was young. Home craft items like potholders, napkin holders, and making fudge. No surprise I landed a dream job with a premier consumer products company. At the time, there were no women in “sales.” I had to change that paradigm. As a pioneer, you take a lot of arrows!

Did you have a mentor or role model? All my role models were men. I learned how to be a confident leader. And that knowledge is power. Solid communication skills are invaluable.

What advice would you give your younger self? Don't be afraid to be unique. Substance without style is just boring. It's not about your status, it's about your significance.

What keeps you up at night? Nothing! I love what I do. By the end of my busy day I'm ready to hit the pillow and recharge.

What's the last book you read? “Undaunted Courage,” by Stephen Ambrose. It is the true story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1803. It combines high drama, politics, adventure, drama and personal tragedy. One of my clients recommended it.

Nancy Strojny navigated the waters of mega corporation Procter & Gamble for 30 years in an era when few women dared. Then she changed careers to work in distribution and merchandizing for CVS.

After that, she pitched personal care products to hospitality industry executives in Dubai and Las Vegas.

She's as surprised as anyone that those decades she spent making a name in the high-powered world of corporate merchandizing were a perfect foundation for what she does now — running the Portland chapter of SCORE.

While SCORE, the Small Business Administration's resource partner for mentoring and education, may conjure images of dusty retirees sharing war stories, that's far removed from the 2017 reality.

Strojny, 67, started at SCORE in July 2010 and became chairwoman in 2012. She's mentored leaders at Sea Bags, The Holy Donut, employment agency MaineWorks and outdoor gear maker Flowfold.

"I tell people 'This isn't your grandfather's SCORE,'" Strojny says during an interview in the organization's Middle Street office. "We're building a team of volunteers with exceptionally relevant skills and experience."

In the process "we're helping [startups and entrepreneurs] find their own truth."

Margo Walsh of MaineWorks and Beth Shissler of Sea Bags, both former Mainebiz Women to Watch, nominated Strojny for the honor this year.

"She's shaping Maine," says Walsh. "Her bandwidth, her professionalism, her connectivity, is second to none."

Strojny could have easily landed somewhere with brighter lights and more money and action than Portland. "I've had a long and interesting career," she says.

A lifelong learner, she took a buyout in 2001 after 30 years at Procter & Gamble and went to drug store chain CVS.

At Proctor & Gamble, which includes dozens of familiar household and personal care brands, she became a senior sales and marketing executive focusing on branding strategy. At CVS, she was instrumental in developing the strategy for beauty products, focusing on merchandizing and distribution.

"I got to see the other side of the desk," she says.

From there, she was recruited by an investor forming a startup, Outsourcing Servicing Group, a contract manufacturing business that grew out of a nine-business merger. She managed the strategic plan, paving the company's relationships with large corporations.

The company divested after a few years. No problem, says Strojny: "What was so cool for me is that I got to be involved in a divestiture."

The same investor convinced Strojny to help him build a hospitality-focused beauty products firm in the Middle East. She started dividing her time between her home in Massachusetts and Dubai.

When the investor wanted to break into the Las Vegas hospitality personal-care market, Strojny was his go-to again. In a city where many of the hotels are owned by MGM Resorts International, it's hard to get a foothold. Strojny studied the local business process and started bidding on RFPs on behalf of the company, Power Brands.

"No one had ever heard of us," she says. But they won a contract with MGM's ARIA Resort & Casino, created a custom-branded line of products for the hotel, then picked up several other hotels.

A connection to Maine

Growing up, she spent summers in Boothbay Harbor, so in 2009, when she looked for a place to slow down, Maine seemed like a good spot. She wanted to volunteer — something that would help the community, but also scratch her itch for growing businesses. A mentor from Procter & Gamble suggested she try SCORE.

In Portland, just like Las Vegas, people "do business with people they know," she says. She wasn't familiar with the business community and didn't have any connections. Portland was welcoming, she says, but the culture is "show me, don't tell me."

And that's where the cool career paid dividends. She started by building relationships one person at a time.

SCORE "is all about the customer." She'd learned all about that concept at Procter & Gamble, which "was a phenomenal training organization and such a great foundation."

She was also steeped in branding, marketing, what it takes to start and run a business, from both P&G and those years at CVS and with the beauty products entrepreneur.

The model of mentoring

When SCORE was started 53 years ago, the initials stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives. Now it's simply SCORE, and the mentors range far wider than retirees.

As Strojny became familiar with the organization, the vision of the impact it could have grew, but perceptions of the old SCORE still lingered in the community. "I said, 'let's rebrand this thing.'"

And the community responded.

The idea is to help with the basics so those starting businesses can "get out there and do it." That philosophy translates across business platforms.

SCORE mentors "don't have to know how to fix cars to help someone start an auto mechanic shop," she says. It draws from a wide pool of experts — lawyers, business owners, web designers. Mentor-client relationships are built to be long-term.

Walsh attests to that. Strojny has mentored her at MaineWorks since it was "a business on the back of a napkin" in 2011.

"Nancy has been in every discussion" about the direction and strategy of the business, Walsh says. "She's the common denominator."

Kim Ortengren, who owns startup Wallace James Clothing Co., is also a Strojny client, and, by connection, is also being mentored by Walsh.

Strojny "makes the space for things to happen," Ortengren says.

She and Walsh agree that Strojny walks a rare line, mentoring while still pushing them to think like leaders.

"I still have to make my own decisions," Ortengren says. "I'm sitting there waiting for an answer from Nancy, but Nancy forces you to answer your own question, [working it over] until the answer is staring you in the face."

Patrick Roche, a SCORE client who began Think Tank Coworking in 2010, calls Strojny "one of Maine's great assets."

"She has a keen perspective on Maine's sprawling business ecosystem, knows all the players, and is quick to assess an entrepreneur or business idea," says Roche. "Nancy is a dynamo. She's exactly what Maine's entrepreneurs need."

Walsh says one of the most remarkable things about Strojny, is that she "crushed the glass ceiling" in an era when few women could make inroads. "She's my role model."

Many of SCORE's clients are young. Ortengren is 30, Roche 38. But Strojny "transcends generational differences," says Walsh, offering solid mentoring to those raised in the digital era.

Strojny is fully committed to volunteer life. She's a judge for Greenlight Maine, an MCED Top Gun mentor, an organizer for House of Genius and an advisor on the board of Maine Women Magazine.

She's also on the national board of SCORE. In 2012, she was one of President Barack Obama's Champions of Change.

She lives in Cape Elizabeth, a place she picked after visiting Two Lights State Park, with her husband. She has two adult children. She enjoys hiking and kayaking, listening to podcasts, including NPR's "How I Built This" and "The Grow Maine Show," which is produced by state Rep. Martin Grohman (D-District 12).

But her craft, and her passion, is business strategy and marketing. She has a "side hustle," Beauty Vantage, a consulting business she started after she left Proctor & Gamble.

But make no mistake, she says: "SCORE is my career."

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