Dealing with disaster has prepared this entrepreneur well for leading one the fastest-growing companies in its region.
Princess Ousley thrives in the extreme. It's what led her to work for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. In her first week on the job, she was deployed to Mississippi, under the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While there, she realized many people didn't have the knowledge or resources to prepare for the storm effectively.
"It started out with just my desire to want to help, my wanting to advocate for those that just didn't understand the process, didn't know the process, didn't have the resources to participate," she says.
In 2011, she founded Elite Business Strategies, an emergency-management company based in Tallahassee, Florida. "Fortunately, unfortunately, there's been a need for our services," Ousley says.
You could say the demand for services is as extreme as the weather that the company helps customers recover from. Elite Business Strategies has grown to become the No. 5 company on the 2023 Inc. Regionals Southeast list. The company had two-year revenue growth of 4,281 percent, posting $16.8 million in revenue in 2021. Preparing for disaster has positioned this entrepreneur well for leading a fast-growth company, replete with the communication, training, and contingency planning you'd expect from a leader committed to being there for its customers in their time of need.
A Knack for Planning
As Ousley began to build out her business, she knew it would have no shortage of customers. "Look at the impacts of the change in climate and how we're getting hotter, the waters getting hotter, and the storms are getting stronger," she says.
A big part of her business is helping companies and local and state governments through planning, training, and scenario-based exercises. Elite Business Strategies looks at all aspects of a company's operations, including supply chains, internet access, alternative work sites, and childcare.
Small to midsize businesses often have some sort of plan, Ousley says, but it's all in one person's head, typically the owner's. Her company thinks through and answers such questions as: What happens if you're unavailable? What happens if you're unable to communicate with your team?
This knack for planning and attention to detail is reflected in Ousley's leadership style and is key to her company's success. For example, she intentionally crafted a workplace environment that would feel like home to anyone from anywhere. She knew that with Elite's three divisions–emergency management, products and supplies, and construction and remediation–employees would get pulled in a lot of different directions. From the beginning, Ousley sought out people with a range of backgrounds, ages, and skills. For example, someone from south Florida knows hurricanes but probably doesn't have much experience with blizzards.
Getting Ahead of Potential Problems
To help cross-train her team, she created an accountability partner program. It pairs two employees–often in different departments–and asks them to share professional experiences and knowledge. Ousley says this approach creates a culture of sharing and support and also gives employees a better understanding of the business from a different perspective.
The strategy has paid off as employees are able to work with communities and disasters they're familiar with, but also learn from those with more experience to fill in knowledge gaps. The result? A more knowledgeable and capable workforce to meet the challenges of growing a business.
"It takes a special kind of individual, to jump in, lean in and say, 'I want to be there for people at their most vulnerable moments. And I want to not only help you during times of disaster and help you recover from it. But I also want to get ahead of it,'" she says. Founders in any industry would do well to build a team with that sort of extreme ownership.