The Accidental Entrepreneur
Our first leader is Kristina Bouweiri, President and CEO of Dulles-based Reston Limousine. Kristina is the recipient of dozens of awards including the D.C. Chamber’s “Business Leader of the Year” and SmartCEO’s “Smart 100.” In my interview with Kristina, she reminds us that passion, humility and a healthy dose of grit have helped her succeed in business and in life.
Schechter Reed: Kristina, you are one of the most “decorated” woman business owners in the D.C. area, with a long list of awards and accomplishments. What have you done to set yourself apart?
Kristina Bouweiri: I am in a male-dominated industry, so being one of the few woman-owned businesses sets me apart. I recently heard that 97% of woman-owned businesses do less than $1 million in revenue. We are now doing $25 million. I have always been the breadwinner in my family. My ex-husband was a stay-at home dad for most of our marriage. Many women have a husband paying the bills but that was never the case for me.
Schechter Reed: How do you stay humble with so many accomplishments under your belt?
Kristina Bouweiri: I am made for this business. It is my passion. I love it and it doesn’t feel like work. The downside of owning a business is that it is stressful. You have to have thick skin. I have been in business for 26 years and have weathered storms. I know that there are more storms ahead and that keeps me humble.
Schechter Reed: “Grit” has become the buzzword since Angela Duckworth introduced it in her TED Talk over three years ago. Where did you learn to be gritty?
Kristina Bouweiri: My childhood. I was raised overseas and moved every two to three years. My father was in the foreign service. I didn’t like it at the time but now see that it was an amazing childhood. It makes you adaptable. I have friends all over the world. It gives me that extra grit. I have a better perspective on life and how lucky we are to be Americans.
My parents raised us strictly and frugally. I always wanted more than we had. That drove me a lot in my 20s and 30s. I didn’t want to have worry about money.
Schechter Reed: I read about your commitment to team-building and culture at Reston Limousine. Of course, a good team starts with a good hire. What is your litmus test for making a good hire? How have you learned from your mistakes?
Kristina Bouweiri: I am the worst at hiring. I believe everything people tell me. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. My COO is a good match for it. For the first 10 years I was in business, I didn’t have good employees and didn’t have a good culture. I didn’t know what I was doing. I kept learning from my mistakes. I was good at certain things and not good at others. I like people to focus on what they do well. I started hiring people who were good at the things I wasn’t. I am a lifelong learner. I have always taken the approach that “I know nothing. Teach me.” I take a lot of seminars and I am in a peer group with 18 other CEOs.
Schechter Reed: We are in college graduation season. What is your perception of millennials? What advice do you have for today’s college grads?
Kristina Bouweiri: I think they are very smart and advanced technologically. We feel it is important to have someone from that generation in our company to guide us. It is a tough environment for college grads. A lot of them are going to have to just take something until they can get into the field they want.
My advice is to look for paid internships. Get great experience to put on their resume. If they can’t take a paid internship, work several jobs. I did it. I worked three jobs in between college semesters. I don’t see that fire in the belly of this generation. This generation is more interested in quality of life than money whereas my generation was after money.
Schechter Reed: What was your first job out of college? What did you learn from it?
Kristina Bouweiri: I did an internship for The Overseas Education Fund. I got two class credits working in my senior year. The job was to be the Assistant Program Manager for Africa. I had lived in Africa for 10 years because of my dad. It was perfect for me because it uplifted the status of women in the Third World. I did it for 10 years. I was the only person given an assignment to travel. I worked Monday through Friday, 9-5, but I would stay late and come in early and none of my peers would do that. They were paying me $17,000 a year. My take-home pay was $250/week and my rent was $400. I took a job waiting tables at night. I loved it and had no complaints.
Schechter Reed: Who inspires you?
Kristina Bouweiri: In our local community, Sheila Johnson. She and her husband sold BET for $2.3 billion. Now she owns hotels and is part owner of the Mystics, Capitals, and Wizards. She is African-American. She inspires me because she has so much money but remains active as a female entrepreneur. She could be sitting on the beach, but instead she is running hotels and has her hand in everything. She owns Salamander Resort. She does a film festival. She bankrolls movies. She inspires me. Sheila was the first keynote speaker of the Virginia Women’s Business Conference that I co-founded with Tina Johnson.
Schechter Reed: Do you have any final fun facts to share?
Kristina Bouweiri: I had four kids in three years. My first language was Japanese. I went to school in Africa with the children of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. We are still connected on Facebook together.