Shari King: The Accidental (But Successful) Entrepreneur
Shari King had no real burning desire to become a successful entrepreneur. But sometimes things don’t go according to non-plan.
“If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d be running a business today,” says the Fuse5 CEO, “I’d have politely asked what planet you were from. But here we are. It’s been an interesting trip – interesting and unexpected.”
That trip started in late 1999, when she arrived in Houston to work with an agency that handled part of the Shell account. Her duties included overseeing the ad campaign and public relations strategies for the company’s “Count On Shell” campaign as well as the production, placement, and research for the Shell Global sustainable development campaign.
“Great work and a great experience, for a great company,” King recalls.
It was also, in a way, a great eye opener. She saw everything that managing a huge global client involved and discovered she had the ability to juggle all the required balls at once. An inescapable conclusion followed:
“One day I said, ‘I think I can do this on my own.’”
So, armed with 15 years of experience in advertising, marketing, PR, production, and project and event management – to say nothing of a warped fondness for 70-hour work weeks – she set up the first of two companies that would later evolve into Fuse5.
The decision paid off in more ways than one.
Having managed projects and production for a large ad/PR firm in the South Atlantic region, King could put her finger on every bit of waste in the agency process. “I don’t mean to be critical, but come on,” she says. “There’s no rule that says you can’t be efficient and profitable.”
So she built Fuse5 on a business model designed to eliminate the practices that tend to drive up agency fees. That, combined with a commitment to keeping overhead low – and contracting non-core competencies out to a handful of strategic partners – translated to lower costs for clients.
She also runs the business according to another inviolable rule: Clients deal only with the principals, and work is not passed off to less-senior personnel.
“Maybe it’s because I’m a control freak, maybe it’s because I’m a workaholic,” King explains. “But I’m not going to lure a client with the promise of great skill and expertise and then hand the work over to someone who can’t do it right. I’d rather do it myself.”
She has, too, for clients in the energy, legal, financial services, health care, non-profit, manufacturing, and technology sectors. And each year she oversees the Hunting Art Prize, a yearlong competition sponsored by energy services company Hunting PLC; the $50,000 prize is the most generous annual arts award in North America.
So given all that, does she still look back over the past 10 or 15 years and see anything that smacks of would-be entrepreneurialism? “I don’t have time for reflection,” she laughs. “I’m too damned busy working.”