An ICON for Women in Business

When Pamela Chambers O’Rourke started her career she was filled with dreams and ambitions – fueled from years of listening to her daddy, the late Jack K. Chambers, Sr.’s encouragement. Since then O’Rourke has accomplished almost all the goals she set out for herself when she started Houston-based ICON Information Consultants.

To start, she was determined to flourish in a predominately male-oriented world (IT) and rather than seeing this as obstacle, she leveraged her inherent strengths and differences as an asset to succeed.  Once she achieved stability she wanted to work with some of the world’s leading companies, and although it took time and persistence, numerous opportunities surfaced including a contract with Chevron (after eight years of persistence) as well as the most recent opportunity to participate in the HP Mentor program.

O’Rourke further dreamed about being able to one day give back and play an instrumental role in paving the way for other women to succeed.  O’Rourke accomplished this through her work with the Houston chapter of AVANCE – a nonprofit group associated with the federal Head Start Program. In donating time and money, she has been instrumental in creating a computer learning center. Now diverse families and children have a facility where they can acquire basic skills to be successful in life.

It’s not hard to see how O’Rourke has been able to systematically achieve the goals she set for herself. However, it was not until she recently received the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2009 Award, that she took a few moments to reflect and take it all in. “It was a meaningful experience. This is when I realized that what my dad told me was true,” she said. This moment of reflection also provided O’Rourke an opportunity to determine the path ahead as well.

Staying strategic

For O’Rourke, achieving success has undoubtedly been strategic, so it comes as no surprise that she is now pursuing formal alliances with women owned, veteran and minority owned companies.

Currently O’Rourke has two alliances in place – one with Atlanta-based MDI Group (Ella Koscik) as well as a relationship with the veteran/woman owned, Grayslake, IL-based Tech-11F (Terri E. McNally). In both instances, the alliances have resulted from the principals working together on the WBENC board, and building a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s talents. “More women need to come together to be the growth of the economy and turn this country around,” she said.

While some have difficulty actually pulling the trigger to make alliances official, O’Rourke said doing so has not been difficult thus far. “Using strategic alliances is another way to expand the organically grown company I have created. The key is that the alliance needs to make sense for everyone involved or it will never work,” said O’Rourke. “We work with different organizations and complement one another rather than compete with each other. We both add value and have strengths where the others have weaknesses.”

MDI is a VMS-MSP organization meaning that it has a different product to offer, yet something that is well aligned with what ICON offers. “They are a true vendor-neutral company. They provide a tool and/or technology and the services to assist a corporation,” said O’Rourke. “It is in MDIs best interest to take the leading IT, accounting, finance, HR, procurement companies with them. If they look good, the customer looks good and everyone looks great.”

Being able to enter into these formal relationships and work on projects together (the first with MDI being at BNSF) without apprehension has been a matter of trust, explained O’Rourke. “I know what Ella stands for, and I respect her philosophies. She is very ethical and only promises what she can deliver,” she said. “We have different contacts and have the opportunity to help one another significantly. How could I ignore that type of opportunity?”

Pursuing growth

In today’s tough economy, O’Rourke refuses to simply “stand still.”  Instead, she embraces the perspective that opportunity is abound – business owners just need to be ready. “By watching what was happening around me – oil pricing, new administration, turmoil from hurricanes, Wall Street’s demise – I could see that 2009 was going to require additional determination as well as preparation to not only hold our ground but ultimately grow,” she said. “To be honest, I don’t see 2010 being any different.”

As a result, ICON has experienced continued growth with new RFP opportunities and new contracts. “Its all about perspective. I know the competitor is always ready to seize any opportunities you leave open,” she said. “Plus, in today’s environment, some corporations have asked for cost reductions, but ICON has remained strong in part because I continue to reinvest in the organization.”

O’Rourke is also determined to continue growing as a leader, especially as she embodies the true role of CEO. For instance, when she attended the WBENC Advanced Tuck program (through an HP sponsorship), she went there intent to learn as much as she could from the best. “After all, continuous learning is a pivotal component in realizing sustainable growth,” she said.

Staying strong

According to O’Rourke, women on forums and boards need to learn to grow together strategically. “If the WBENC women just come together and form strategic relationships they can learn from one another, and contribute significantly to their mutual success,” she said.

This is especially true in today’s environment with companies bidding well below cost simply to obtain business, explained O’Rourke. “It makes you question whether the people can continue to deliver,” she said. “This is where the firms like ICON, MDI, Tech-11f, Mercedes Electric, Tectech Communications, The Roberts Companies and Neutral Posture will be there when the others make promises they cannot deliver upon. We just need to stay strong, stick together and support one another.”

O’Rourke told Women’s Enterprise that she will always hold firm to the belief of never giving up. “If you give up others win. Life is about winning, adding value and doing the right things,” she said.

Charting the future

The never complacent O’Rourke continues to stay focused on taking her business to the next level. Yet, she realizes that she cannot stay at the helm forever. “I want to grow the company as big as I can. I want to document, streamline and prepare for a turnover. Thinking about an exit strategy – even if it is in the distant future –is hard because it is saying that at some point you are stepping away,” she said. “You want to know that the next person has your passion and drive.”

According to O’Rourke, part of her future will include continuing to donate her time to groups like AVANCE as well as spending time assisting MWBEs in streamlining their processes, introducing new systems and documenting standards and procedures. “I also want to advocate telling all the little girls that the future is theirs, especially within the math and science fields,” she said. “They need to realize that there is not going to be any man waiting on them and pampering them. They will need to make their own money and support themselves. You go girls. You are the future of America and never forget it.”

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