By Chris Olsen
When Lani Basa heard the words, “You don’t need me,” from Myrna Marofsky, she wasn’t sure what to think. It was during a lunch conversation and Lani had just shared some big news that was a little scary. She was taking a giant leap off the corporate ladder, leaving her longtime leadership role in human resources for Target Corporation, and starting her own entrepreneurial journey as a consultant. She asked Myrna if she’d be open to some sort of mentorship. Only it seemed Myrna wasn’t at all interested.
As it turned out, the response wasn’t a brush-off. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Myrna had been a fan of Lani’s since she worked with her in a consulting capacity on diversity and inclusion initiatives for Target. The two hit it off right away and stayed connected after the projects had ended. Lani shared the same level of admiration for Myrna. From the moment they met, she could actually see herself leaving her corporate gig and going to work for Myrna. But Myrna believed Lani was perfectly capable of launching a business on her own and encouraged her to do so.
The next day, Myrna called Lani with an idea she had for a professional development group specifically for female founders. She envisioned something like the Women Presidents’ Organization—which she had been involved with as a facilitator for many years—only for businesses with annual revenues under $1 million. They discussed the potential of a member-based cohort of 10 to 12 women in noncompeting industries who would attend facilitated monthly meetings to strategize about business growth, hold each other accountable, and build powerful connections.
Lani felt completely energized by the conversation. She told Myrna she was in. They got started right away, putting their heads together to create the framework and reaching out to their networks to spread the word. They planned their first information session at the library at the Women’s Club in Minneapolis and expected to have a fair turnout. When it was standing room only, they realized they were really onto something.
The Business Women’s Circle (BWC) officially launched in 2009. Myrna took the lead, recruiting and bringing more women into the circles. Lani’s role was operational—getting the group format and content right and managing the membership program. When she wasn’t working on building The BWC, Lani was growing her own consulting business. She had developed a niche for herself, helping organizations apply Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), a holistic business model with proven processes. She was also sharing the tools and best practices with members of The BWC. Professional circles were added to support women in key contributor and leadership positions.
In 2016, Myra turned over the reins to Lani who became the organization’s sole owner and CEO. Since that time, The BWC has continued to thrive. Lani has grown a top-notch team of group facilitators who are true champions of women in business. She revamped the organization’s signature event, The BWC Annual Forum, bringing hundreds of women together for a day of inspiration, learning and networking.
As The BWC celebrates its 10th year, Lani continues to build a community of empowered women while carrying out her big vision for the organization. She hopes that will include having her own space someday. But for now, she has developed partnerships with The Coven and ModernWell, Minneapolis-based coworking spaces dedicated to supporting women. She has also added social enterprise/nonprofit circles for women leading mission-driven businesses. In addition to the Annual Forum, The BWC now offers several professional development workshops on a variety of essential business topics. Members and the general public are invited to participate.
Working with and supporting women has always come naturally to Lani. She attended an all-women’s college and worked with many women in leadership roles in the retail world for the first half of her career. But she knows women need access to resources to be successful in business. She believes that now more than ever it’s critical for all women to come together and lift up one another. And she plans to dedicate the next decade of her career to doing just that.
To learn more about Lani’s business, visit TheBWC.org.
Photo: Kimberlee Karr for My Founder Story
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.