“Optimism,” was the one word response Patty Vanderpool, President and owner of EAP Lifestyle Management, LLC, a certified Woman-Owned business providing global employee assistance programs that is headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, gave when asked what the key to her success has been.
“But,” she quickly added, “you can’t say optimism without perseverance and hard work. When you’ve got that, the rest will fall into place.”
Vanderpool’s own optimism and perseverance were tested early in her career. “I was a mother of two, in a bad marriage, and then got hurt in an accident that left me in a wheel chair. I wasn’t in great place, so I was thankful my boss was able to create a special, accessible office for me,” Vanderpool explained. “While I knew l had to move on, the idea of going into private practice was still scary. Eventually I found the courage to take the jump and hand in my notice. The day after I did, the building was condemned.”
Working as a consultant, Vanderpool was able to continue counseling clients from the large psychiatric facility she had left, while establishing her practice. Shortly thereafter, though, her two partners left the practice and forced her to reevaluate her career path again.
Vanderpool joined an existing employee assistance program (EAP) and created a unique arrangement that would give her the opportunity to grow her business and emerge as a business leader. “It was $500 a month, and free rent so I was able to maintain my private practice. It was a minimal amount of work, but my boss was an introvert so he valued my willingness to attend meetings and events. I worked hard to prove myself and was eventually given the first rights to buy the business. I thought it would be a steady position for five years or so,” she said.
Within one year, however, Vanderpool bought the company and quickly expanded it.
Networking to Grow
Today EAP Lifestyle Management, LLC provides workplace training, management consultation services and employee counseling throughout Alabama and Florida, where it has formed statewide workplace violence alliances with the Department of Transportation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide education and resources for workplace violence prevention and intervention.
The company also provides services to employees in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and China. It is the first facility of its kind to be recognized by the Chinese government.
“Taking advantage of various learning opportunities and support systems have greatly impacted my organization and benefitted me as a professional,” Vanderpool said. In fact, Vanderpool was introduced to representatives of the Chinese government through her work with the US Chamber of Commerce and credits her New York City based contacts with helping her set up the first steps as she moved towards international expansion. “I couldn’t have expanded without networking and the support of other organizations,” Vanderpool continued.
“I was on a plane heading to Beijing when I realized I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I would do once I landed. Not only did I not know what hotel I would be staying in, but I also didn’t know who exactly I would be meeting with… and, I had no Chinese money,” Vanderpool remembered.
After accepting that she would be outside of her comfort zone for the remainder of the trip, Vanderpool realized she would need to be flexible and respectful as she navigated her upcoming meetings.
“Thankfully there were folks waiting for me when I arrived,” Vanderpool laughed. “It turned out, that the harassment training I had flown in for was with representatives of the Chinese national government and top Chinese businessmen.”
As her trip progressed, Vanderpool forged a friendship with the government’s human relations director, despite not speaking the same language. “I realized that showing my hosts I was pleased to be there by being respectful and appreciative of their culture would allow me to lay the groundwork for us to work together. It was a productive trip, but a nerve-wracking flight home because I was paid in all cash!”
In addition to encouraging young women to “go outside their comfort zones” to grow like she did in China, Vanderpool emphasizes the importance of mentoring and professional development. “I have a group of women I can call for a pep talk and I participate in various professional organizations that are a great source of inspiration- like the Small Business Development Centers. The professional women’s groups I’m a part of have helped me to focus, feel rejuvenated and reenergized,” Vanderpool said.
Vanderpool reads and attends professional development events, like webinars and executive roundtables, to continue to learn and grow as a leader. “Take advantage of all opportunities to meet new people and learn new things. Volunteer your time, and think about how you can learn from your mistakes. Most importantly,” Vanderpool said, “take care of yourself and carve out time to get to know your colleagues. All of my employees are critical to our success.”
Vanderpool’s approach has established EAP Lifestyle Management as a company with reputation for providing unsurpassed customer service. Vanderpool confirms, “It’s important to develop a personal brand that captures your organization’s beliefs. I know that I’ve won contracts because of the personalized attention we give our clients. The ‘big guys’ have tried to buy me out several times, which means we are doing something right. I take those offers as compliments, but also as motivation to do more and continue to move forward. ”
Patty Vanderpool is the President and Owner of EAP Lifestyle Management, LCC, which has been recognized as a Small Business of the Year by the state of Alabama in 2007. She is also a member of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council and is an active member of the Chamber’s Center for Women in Business.