Pillars of North Carolina: Sheila Ogle’s pioneering career

 In September 2019

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By Vanessa Infanzon

Christer Berg

Sheila Ogle

Pillars of North Carolina features prominent men and women who have made a significant impact in their industries and communities.

Sheila Ogle was among a small group of women business owners when she opened her marketing company, Media Research Planning & Placement Inc. in Cary, in the late 1980s.

Ogle grew up in Raleigh but moved with her family to Cary while in high school. After starting her career at WRAL-TV, she worked at an advertising firm for 20 years before becoming a small-business owner. Her ventures have included a clinical-trials company, the Cary Innovation Center business incubator and The Matthews House, a special events venue. Her sole remaining business is the incubator.

Ogle’s book, The Pink House Circa 1830: A Love Story, is dedicated to her late husband, Carroll Ogle, and was published this summer. Ogle, 79, discussed her journey in comments edited for length and clarity.

My father moved us to this little hick town called Cary. It had 5,000 people. [It’s now 168,000.] Back in the 1960s, the trend was to move outside the [Raleigh beltline]. Now, everyone wants to live inside the beltline.

I was a registered Democrat. My parents were Democrats. I didn’t know there was any other party.

I worked as an assistant to Jesse Helms on WRAL-TV’s Viewpoint show and for Bette Elliott, the station’s women’s editor. It was a very “unglorified job,” but I learned so much from both of them. I did a little of everything to assist them as on-air personalities. Sen. Helms taught me to think about things that I never had thought about as a young girl just getting into the business world.

When I started my own business, I knew zip about how to read a financial statement. My strength was selling a media plan to the company’s clients. Selling my company was a totally different world for me. Then I learned about this group called the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. I bit the bullet and gathered up enough money to join. That decision was life-changing for my business growth.

One year, I was named the state’s top small business by the [Small Business Administration]. They invited all the state winners to Washington, D.C., for a congratulatory lunch. I invited Sen. Helms, and he very respectfully sent me a handwritten note saying that he couldn’t come to the lunch, but would I please come visit his office while I was in Washington.

And so I did. You would have thought I was the Queen of England. He introduced me to his staff. He took me in the Senate chamber, sat me down in his chair, and handed me his gavel and brought the photographer. It was just one of the most exciting things to be in Washington, D.C., and sit in Jesse Helms’ seat.

You can’t walk on water if you don’t get out of the boat. You have to step out of your comfort zone to find out if you can do something. It’s not shameful if it doesn’t work. It just means that you’ve tried something and learned. Go do something else.

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. Give them an opportunity to grow their career. It never bothered me when someone was hired away if I felt like they were going to a better job. It made me proud when someone was hired by a big advertising agency out of the state. I felt like we had trained them well to propel their career.

We still have to work harder to prove ourselves to get ahead. I think the pay that women get for their work versus their male counterparts is still way below. I don’t know how we can improve that.

I’d heard that the town of Cary wanted a downtown small-business incubator. It occurred to me that my space was perfect for a business incubator. I went to the town, and they gave me a small grant to start in that space. My partner, Ian Henshaw, is on-site most of the time. We rent office space to people who have decided to leave their home and get into a more professional office space. It is not coworking space. We enjoy bringing them in and watching them grow.

We didn’t have any mentors except ourselves. There were several of us [women] that were growing our businesses all at the same time, and we’ve all remained really good friends. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Learn from your mistakes. I try to tell people that if you have an idea and you don’t try it, then you never know whether it’s going to work or not. Every idea is not a good idea. The way that I’ve handled most of my mistakes is to just regroup and do something. Don’t sit back and lick your wounds and say, “Poor me.” Put on your big girl panties and move forward.

It’s our job to bring these young women up that are coming along behind us. We formed this group called “The Old Broads.” We won’t always be here, and we want them to be able to have it a little bit easier than we did.

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