- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2015

With fearless female CEOs like Gigi Stetler — who was stabbed and left for dead early in her career — it’s not surprising that the most successful businesses tend to have women in charge.

Having women in leadership roles is key for thriving business, a recent survey of businesses in the world’s top 21 global markets suggests.

The largest and most long-lasting family businesses have, on average, five women in senior executive positions and four women training for top leadership roles, according to the study.

Ms. Stetler, an accomplished Florida businesswoman, entrepreneur and single mother, battled her way to the top in the male-dominated industry of RV sales.

“Women, we just see things in a different way. We work twice as hard to get half as much,” Ms. Stetler said of her relentless compensation for gender inequality in the corporate realm.

When she first stepped into RV sales in the 1980s, Ms. Stetler was met with “a bunch of older, fat-cat, cigar-smoking, scotch-drinking good ol’ boys” who were not open to her fresh ideas. When she, for instance, suggested changing the hours of operation to better accommodate customers, the men in charge told her “to go home and bake cookies.”

Her male competitors’ refusal to leave their comfort zones helped Ms. Stetler gain market dominance. She eventually came to own a dealership, working 11 years “without ever missing a single day.” She “hustled” her way to the top, despite facing gender stereotypes, and became the No. 1 dealer on the East Coast.

All of this despite overcoming an abusive past.

When she was in her early 20s, a crazed homeless man stabbed Ms. Stetler 21 times and left her for dead after she allowed him to live for months in the apartment complex she managed.

“I don’t play the victim card,” she said. “I never have because it doesn’t get you anywhere, and it only slows you down.

“I greet life as a warrior every single day. After that happened to me, every day above ground is a great day,” she said.

Despite having jumped through hoops of sexism and patriarchy her entire life, Ms. Stetler does not identify as a feminist. She said feminists are “too victim-y” for her taste.

“Everybody has a different opinion on feminists, but a feminist to me is one that uses, like, a victim card. I’m not a man hater whatsoever,” she said. “When men go out of their way to find a way to destroy me, I take it as a compliment.”

Complicated trek

Ms. Stetler achieved corporate success despite having dropped out of high school in 10th grade. She does not recommend this method for everyone, but does stand by the idea that school prepares students only to make money for other people.

“Entrepreneurship is not taught in school,” she said. “To me, I think school and a good education prepare you to get a job to go work for somebody else.

“School has just programmed you to take your ideas and go give them to somebody else to make money on. So I have this concept, and I’ve had it very early on: Work to learn; don’t work to earn,” she said.

Ms. Stetler has a book titled “Unstoppable: Surviving Is Just the Beginning,” which outlines her obstacle course toward success. She now is writing a sequel.

“I’ve always considered myself a success born out of failure,” she said. “The measurement of success isn’t when you’re going to fail; it’s how fast you’re going to get up and start over. That’s success.”

• Emily Leslie can be reached at eleslie@washingtontimes.com.

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