Is there anything from your Episcopal experience that comes into play in your world?
Johnson: So many things! Independence, leadership skills, confidence, an “I can do it” attitude are at the top of the list. But perhaps the most important was the ability to manage my time. At EHS you have to decide how to balance sports, friends, homework, applying to colleges, and more, and you’re managing all these things without your parents holding your hand. You’re learning to make decisions, tackle challenges, and prioritize your time in a way that you might not at a less-rigorous institution.
Now, as an entrepreneur, I know how to manage my laundry list of competing priorities and how to take on complex problems in a way that I probably wouldn’t have had I been at home with my parents helping me along the way.
Rowson: I came to Episcopal from a small town in North Carolina where I was doing great in school and everything was easy breezy. At the School, you’re challenged and you’re encouraged and you have all these new feelings and influences in your life. It opened my eyes to so much more and to the idea that there’s so much more I can do. I can work harder. I can work smarter. I can manage my time differently. It does give you real-life experiences so early in your life.
When you talked to students, what was your advice about entrepreneurship?
Rowson: I have had so many job experiences that informed the way I create our office culture or the way I interact with our employees or clients. I worked at shops that were crazy creative, and I learned so much about design. Then I worked at others where I really admired how they operated the business, and I learned so much from them. I told the students today not to limit themselves to one track. You can be focused on, say, design, with your head down just looking only at design, but that creates a very limited experience. So I told them to try it all. Go for it.
Johnson: Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Even if you fail, you will learn something. Before starting Weezie, I was on a very comfortable career path in finance and was hesitant to deviate. Starting a business is scary, and it can be tempting to toy with the idea and dip your toe in the water slowly, but I don’t think you’re giving yourself a real shot unless you fully go for it. The longer you test the waters, the less likely you are to take the plunge. My advice to students is if you are interested in entrepreneurship, just go for it. The time is always now.
*Editor’s update: Since the coronavirus outbreak, staff at the graphic-design firm that Courtney Gunter Rowson ’95 founded has made a smooth transition to working remotely. Most of their clients are national, so the firm is accustomed to connecting and collaborating through video calls and email. “I'm learning, both working remotely and sharing the day with my family, to be more flexible and to take it one day at a time,” she says.
*Lindsey Dorman Johnson ’07 writes of her e-commerce firm Weezie: “Since this article was written, Covid-19 has flipped the retail industry on its head. ... More than ever, I'm leaning on those lessons of prioritization learned at EHS, particularly as things evolve on a daily basis. While we don’t know what the future holds for the retail industry or the economy, I’m confident that Weezie will weather the storm and emerge stronger once it has passed.”