An interview with Sue Markgraf, founder and president of GreenMark Public Relations Inc. in Mundelein.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
Owner: Sue Markgraf, founder and president
Year business started: 2006
Web address: www.greenmarkpr.com
A: I am founder and president of GreenMark Public Relations Inc. which is exclusively dedicated to increasing awareness about sustainable spaces, places and issues. Our clients are pioneers in the sustainable industry -- including one of America's largest rooftop gardens, the Midwest's leader in providing sustainable banking alternatives and one of America's oldest flower and garden shows. We strategize with clients large and small to help define what sustainability means to their unique businesses -- and then we help them tell their unique stories. GreenMark is passionate about helping sustainable businesses succeed because we believe in their best-practice values -- and because we share a passion for our industry, too.
Q: What made you start your business?
A: Ironically, it was the enjoyment I had in my previous position, leading public relations at the Chicago Botanic Garden, that became the seed for planting GreenMark. I woke up one crystal-clear fall morning, opened my bedroom curtains and said to the day, "I love my job. I do believe I could retire from there!" From out of nowhere, I had what felt like a panic attack. My heart started racing, my palms began to sweat and my knees felt shaky. I knew I had to resign, without a shadow of doubt. Simultaneous with panic, I felt immediate confidence that with a great team and my passion for the environment I could help do for others in our industry what we did at the botanic garden.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: I love what I do. This is my personal passion, my pastime and my profession. Not everyone understands this. Earlier on, negativity from others was a hard obstacle for me. But I'm a pretty focused person, and I've learned well that positive people thrive with positive people. Sharing positivity in the workplace is very relevant today, and so very necessary.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: I am proud of GreenMark's clients and their work to foster environmental and economic change. Our clients represent the best in the sustainable industry and supporting them is my greatest privilege. Many times, we're able to network our clients for their mutual gain, and that delights me very much. I also am exceptionally proud of GreenMark's team of senior-level communications professionals, all media veterans. We represent the best with the best and to have brought that to bear makes me feel humbled and exceptionally gratified.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?
A: My Dad was an entrepreneur, so I spent my teen years growing up in the family grocery business. I used to tease that while other kids grew up with home movies about family vacations, I grew up looking at home movies of produce aisles. But I realize that early exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables is very much part of my professional heart today. I also grew up in a rural farming town and had a small garden as a young girl. My dad would tell you that he always knew I'd be running my own business one day. He has been my biggest champion and mentor. But I never once envisioned myself running my own firm. Looking back though, there is a distinct thread in my life and career that runs a straight line to today. I am who I am because of the people and experiences that have fostered and enlightened the woman that is me. While I am a lifelong and very curious reporter and editor, my career history and personal interests are firmly rooted in a unique blend of agriculture and horticulture. So, what I'm doing today fully makes sense.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Honestly, I don't like email. For efficiency and effectiveness, I much prefer a verbal conversation after my morning cup of coffee. Plus, it's more pleasant to actually hear a person's voice.
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: Owning a business is one thing. Leading it is another. Leading requires faith, confidence in your team and understanding of your clients. It requires listening instead of speaking, surrounding yourself with positive people and humbleness about doing what is right because it is the right thing to do. It also requires balance, trust in the self within you, and knowing when to say no, as well as yes. Success isn't in dollars or titles. Success is in believing that your dream matters, because it's from that passion that the impossible withers and the possible blooms.
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