March is Women’s History Month and a time to reflect upon Fort Lee’s long history of women establishing their business roots in the town. The first female film director, Alice Guy Blaché, co-owned Solax Studio with her husband, Herbert Blaché, and a partner, George A. Magie, from 1912 to 1918, and she also became president of the Fort Lee-based company.
Today, women business owners across the United States are forming their own companies. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, 10.1 million firms are owned by women and make up 40 percent of all privately held companies.
In Fort Lee, two women cited different reasons for starting their own enterprises and making their own “herstories.”
Changes in the television industry, prompted entrepreneur Fern Silvernagel, a Certified Professional Organizer, to start her own business, Gifts of Order, LLC, nine year ago.
“I was a television production manager/line producer," she said. "The television business was changing, and I didn’t want to work in the reality genre, so I thought I’d take my unique problem-solving skills into a new arena. I went from organizing shows to organizing spaces.”
Silvernagel pointed out that organizing is not about perfection.
"It’s about finding systems that let you do what you need to do in the way you need it done … only better and more efficiently," she said. "Solutions can be unique and customized for every individual. Not every file drawer has to be A-Z."
In fact, Silvernagel said, there are "non-traditional" ways to file, which may work better for visual/creative clients or those with special needs.
"Finding ways to organize by how a person thinks and capitalizing on that creates more long-lasting systems," she said. "I see things that most people miss, such as hidden storage space and ways to repurpose containers and products in new and different ways."
Silvernagel's company helps residents and businesses throughout New Jersey and Rockland and Westchester in New York manage their paper, time, space and “stuff,” as well as create room strategies.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Silvernagel identified several women business owners she admires.
“Oprah Winfrey, media mogul and philanthropist; Joy Mangano, inventor extraordinaire; and Lucille Ball, actress, comedienne and pioneer in the TV industry, all have made significant contributions, which have positively impacted their industries and our lives,” she said.
Originally from Brooklyn, Silvernagel, who has lived in Fort Lee for 16 years, is also a member of the .
For Fort Lee entrepreneur Esta Steckler, a sense of security was the impetus to launch Linwood Group.
Before starting her firm, she worked for large companies doing financial systems, but during difficult economic times, companies cut back on systems work.
"I decided that there had to be a more secure way to support myself, and my business was born,” Steckler explained.
With an undergraduate degree in accounting and a love for numbers, Steckler started her own business more than 10 years ago.
“I am described as the very best accounting department that a small business can have," said the 15-year resident of Fort Lee. "I provide accounting services to firms too small to require full-time accounting staff. My clients are in New Jersey, New York City and Long Island.”
Steckler added that her business offers QuickBooks set-up and training for those who want to run the system themselves, as well as Daily Money Management for individuals.
Born in Brooklyn, Steckler noted that she has resided in New Jersey long enough to feel like a native.
“Both my children were born and raised here,” she said.
Silvernagel and Steckler described the benefits of being in business for themselves.
“The TV/film business is often 24/7," explained Silvernagel. "Fortunately, there are few organizing emergencies to contend with in the middle of the night. There is no office politics, and I get to work with wonderful clients. It is personally much more satisfying to be able to help and impact someone’s life in such meaningful ways.”
“My business gives me the chance to experience many different types of firms," said Steckler. "I work with creative firms, high tech firms, as well as many professional and service providers. Each firm is unique, and I am constantly learning about new areas.”
We can only imagine what Alice Guy Blaché would say about these Fort Lee women business owners and the inroads women have made leading their own companies.