Entrepreneurial Journey: Donna MacPherson of Golden Isles Olive Oil
You know you have the entrepreneurial gene when your favorite saying is “Don’t ever be afraid to change”. Donna MacPherson draws on her formal training in Architecture and Space Design in her disciplined approach to running her business, Golden Isles Olive Oil. In fact, her story is more like a historical heroine.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Donna’s journey has taken her to California, Atlanta and St. Simons, Georgia, where she’s now laid down permanent roots. But Donna’s journey started in an industry far different from olive oil and balsamic vinegars. In fact, it started in concrete. In the early nineties, she became a trailblazer in the form liner concrete mold business. For sixteen years, Donna’s company grew to be a leader in the industry. Even more impressive is the fact that she was one of only two female business owners in North America in this male-dominated industry. You could say she is very business savvy. During her time running the concrete mold company, she took on some high-profile projects. She was called in to work on the Pentagon after 911 and she helped Jimmy Carter with his community center in Plains, Georgia. During that time, she formed a special bond with Mrs. Carter, volunteering with her many charities. They remain friends today.
To help you understand the spirit and drive of Donna’s entrepreneurial spirit, you might look to her hobby—offshore powerboat racing, which involves running a boat at over 100mph in the open ocean. She has performed at the highest levels, even winning the High Point Championship four years in a row. It takes nerves of steel to compete in high-speed open-water racing. Taking on new entrepreneurial challenges don’t seem quite as daunting.
Donna sold her multi-million dollar business in 1995 and stayed on for five years to help run the company. It was then time to look for new challenges. She wanted to fulfill her creative side, so she took on sharpening her photography passion by taking courses from SCAD in Atlanta, and aligned herself with successful photographers in order to learn as much as possible. “You should never stop learning,” Donna told me. “It keeps you young and fuels your mind to be open to new opportunities”. Her specialty was food photography and was published in several magazines. It is apparent that when Donna takes on a new project she goes in to it all the way.
Life works in mysterious ways. In 2012, a new relationship brought her to St. Simons where she continued photography as an exhibiting Fine Art Photographer. Now her subject is beautiful images including the marshes. This move also brought with it new friends, one of which happened to own Golden Isles Olive Oil. Her friend approached her about taking over the business…and the rest is history. Donna was ready for the challenge, using her solid business skills to grow the business. Grow is probably an understatement. In one year of ownership, revenues have increased 45%. Donna said, “I have always had a love for healthy eating, and the opportunity felt right”. Last year she went to Italy to become a certified Olive Oil Sommelier and recently received her Olive Oil Sensory Certification at UC Davis.
You could say Golden Isles Olive Oil is her sweet spot. If you happen to be in the St. Simons area, visit her shop in Redfern Village and checkout her Ladies Who Lunch Series where Donna collaborates with local Chefs and challenges them to come up with new recipes using one of her olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Details can be found on her website: www.goldenislesoliveoil.com.
I had the pleasure recently to talk with Donna MacPherson about her entrepreneurial journey.
What drove you to start your business?
Being ready to jump at new opportunities when they are presented. I was fortunate that the Golden Isles Olive Oil came to me.
What did you learn from your previous career that helped you with being an entrepreneur?
One the hardest lessons for me to learn as a young entrepreneur were to learn to separate business and emotion. It is difficult to make rational decisions when your emotions get in the way. Additionally, I learned how important it is to build a good team to ensure longevity and overall success. You can’t do it all. I believe in the African motto “Sticks in a Bundle”. A single fragile twig may be easily broken, but a bundle of twigs can be impossible to bend because of the inherent strength in numbers and solidarity.
What was your biggest surprise or most difficult thing about starting business?
The market doesn’t immediately notice you exist. It takes time to build a following and a brand for your business. It is important to put yourself out there. Use social media to your advantage, network with other entrepreneurs.
What is your Distinctive Selling Point or how do you distinguish yourself from others in your space?
Educating my customers whether it is an individual or a Chef. With so many choices, my customers are hungry to learn how to use the olive oils and vinegars. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring anymore. I enjoy getting people excited and sharing my knowledge.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone starting a new business?
Have a solid plan. See it, Create the Vision, Believe it. It’s about the passion and be ready to Receive it as it happens. Another piece of advice is to hire a good accountant from the start. Let them guide you financially to make smart decisions that foster growth.
What is your favorite part of owning a business?
The sense of personal fulfillment and professional accomplishment. Owning a business is a great deal of responsibility as well as a great feeling of achievement and freedom.
What is the best investment (money or time) you have made in your business to date?
Hiring the right people. Also taking time to network with others like attending conferences and summits like The Southern C are so valuable in your growth.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Decide what is important to you. Make conscious choices as to how you balance your time and commitments. It’s being mindful of how much you can accomplish in a day. Work smarter, not harder.
What is your personal definition of success?
Success is not necessarily attached to a number. Success is seeing your dreams come to fruition while maintaining a healthy work life balance.
For those of you attending the 2018 Southern C Summit, get to know Donna and Golden Isles Olive Oil at Wednesday evening’s Summit Soirée and Thursday’s Sip, Shop + Socialize event!
Donna is a dynamo! Love this feature, Louise – you always talk to the coolest folks!
Wonderful and insightful article. Donna is an amazing person and business woman and you have captured her energy perfectly.
I am so happy to have found ‘The Southern C” and this blog in particular. I started my own olive oil and specialty foods biz art the age of 49 with zero entrepreneurial experience. In fact, I have the same distributor as Donna. It’s women like her, and you, and their stories that motivate, inspire and encourage me every day. Thank you so much! Hope to make it to a Summit in the future.