The idea behind Virginia Peninsula Community College’s “Tea with Dr. B” series is to tackle interesting topics in a conversational tone. That’s exactly what entrepreneur Whitteney Guyton delivered Feb. 22 with an hourlong talk about her journey.
“I hope to have conversations that other people find interesting,” said VPCC president Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon. “So far, it’s going well.”
Guyton was entertaining, straightforward and honest in telling the nearly 50 students, faculty and staff in attendance at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center how she started her first business at the age of 12, what have been the keys to her success, and how others can do the same. The only thing she didn’t discuss were her failures.
“I’ve never failed,” she said. “I learned, but I never failed. I don’t use that word.”
She prefers the phrase “trial and error” when things didn’t work out as planned.
“I’ve learned lessons that gave me the answer to the questions that I had,” she said.
Guyon grew up outside Chicago, but came to Hampton Roads to attend Norfolk State, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She also has a master’s in counseling from St. Leo University. Her business ventures include real estate, a residential mental health facility, a brewery and a restaurant.
One thing she does admit to is having struggles, but as with her “failures,” turned those into positives.
“In my struggles, I do not stop,” she said. “Most people, as soon as there comes some type of adversity, they stop.”
It’s about having the tenacity to be successful, to keep moving forward.
“It might be a new road, but I continue,” she said.
Some of her other thoughts and advice:
- She’s an advocate for children. What you say to them and how they play are important. She said some of the make-believe things she and her friends did as kids she is doing that now. “We have to make sure that we cultivate their imagination because you don’t know where they’re going to be in the future. I was always the boss when I was little, or in charge of something or doing something.”
- Producing a quality product, and putting in the effort every day motivate her more than money does.
- “My success is not more than somebody else’s success in the sense of whatever you set your mind to, if you do that, that is successful. So, we are on the same plane.”
- You cannot be successful on your own. “Position yourself with people that may know something more than what you know. Move outside of yourself. You cannot do this by yourself.” She knows she isn’t successful because of just herself. “I might be the Michael Jordan in my camp, but I’m not alone.” She pointed out even Jordan had trainers and people to show him the proper techniques. He answers to people, also. “He’s supposed to be the greatest. If he’s the greatest and he still has trainers and people to show him techniques, why aren’t you doing that to further you?”
- Be the steward of your business. You must know your business. Read everything. Ask questions. “It is OK not to know, but it is not OK not to ask.” Remember that your CPA, your accountants and others on your staff work for you. If you don’t know what they do, have them explain it to you. After all, it’s your business and your money.
- The customer is not always right, and when they are wrong, stand by your employees. Don’t let customers abuse your employees. Guyton said she can do without a customer, but she might not be able to do without an employee. “Employees are the most important thing to a business, period. I care about my employees over everything because I am here today because I have awesome employees. My employees come first.”
- Her final piece of advice covered what should students be doing now to be successful down the road. “Read. Whatever it is that you decide to do, I would like for you to be the guru of that thing. Take your time and really know whatever craft you are in.” She mentioned the phrase “jack-of-all-trades, but masters of none.”
“Do you know what that means?” she asked. “You kind of do everything kind of, sort of, maybe a little bit, but you have mastered nothing. Master something. Whatever that thing is, know it.”
Just as important, she said, is knowing there are going to be things you don’t know. That’s OK.
“So also listen. I talk a lot, but I listen as much as I talk,” she said, saying everyone can teach somebody something.
“Sometimes I’m the most successful person in the room and I’m still the quietest because I watch everybody else,” she said. “I just sit back and observe and learn. I study and I listen. I read and study everything, whatever it is I’m interested in.”
Guyton was the third guest speaker in the first year of the series. It kicked off Oct. 12 with a discussion on critical race theory with Dr. Jamel K. Donnor of the College of William & Mary. On Nov. 30, Mike Petters, a former president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, discussed service to country and others.
Brannon is hoping to reschedule Tanyika Mobley, a diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, for April. Originally, she was scheduled to be the guest at a January event.
This year’s topics came from Brannon, but she would like input from the faculty, students and staff.
“What I’m hoping is next year, these topics get driven by us and not just me saying, ‘I’ve heard you complaining about this,’” Brannon said.