Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Sweet Taste Of Success...

Success Story Started With Secret Recipe

By Barrington Salmon, Special for USA TODAY

Twenty years ago, Michele Hoskins had left her husband, moved her family back home and was producing pancake syrup in her parents' basement. At first, she made just a little at a time to sell locally to markets in the African-American community in the Chicago area.

Today, she sits atop a burgeoning empire as owner of a multimillion-dollar company, Michele Foods, that produces a line of syrups and pancake mix. Michele's Honey Crème Syrup, Butter Pecan Syrup and Maple Crème Syrup and Michele's Gourmet Pancake Mix (as well as a low-carb line) can be found in 10,000 stores nationwide, including Winn-Dixie, Giant, Safeway, Kroger and Super Wal-Mart.

Sweet Expectations: Michele Hoskins' Recipe for Success

By Michele Hoskins and Jean Williams
Adams Media, 262 pages, $19.95

In her book, Sweet Expectations: Michele Hoskins' Recipe For Success, the Chicago native introduces readers to a life sweetened with success and triumph and leavened with challenge and trouble.

What Hoskins, president and CEO, offers isn't just any pancake syrup. It comes with an astonishing story. This recipe was passed through the generations from her great-great-grandmother, America Washington, an enslaved woman who created the recipe for the family she worked for.

The syrup, in the original recipe, was made of churned butter, cream and honey.

Her ancestor stipulated that only the third daughter of each generation could get the secret recipe, something that puzzles Hoskins to this day. And it wasn't just any third daughter. The recipe had to be passed only mother-to-daughter. Her mother won the prize recipe but she had only one daughter — Michele.

Hoskins managed to persuade her mother to share the recipe with her. She said that she wanted to pass the recipe to her third daughter, Keisha. Her mother relented.

"If I wasn't doing this, I'd still be an entrepreneur," she says. "I visualize America Washington sitting on a porch wondering what to develop. I was reincarnated in America and hoped I would be self-sufficient and a self-starter."

Sweet Expectations, written with Chicago journalist Jean Williams, is a folksy primer of business tips that Hoskins honed the hard way. It is also the story of a voyage from uncertainty and poverty to success.

Along the way, Hoskins learned how to produce the syrup for mass distribution and figured out the nuts and bolts of business, accounting and other critical elements of running a company. She mowed down or side-stepped racial and gender obstacles to get her product on the market. Little of it was easy.

"The difficult part was really not knowing about this business, walking into large corporations trying to sell this product. And I was an African-American woman, not being taken seriously. The hard part was just persevering. I had to keep going because I was on a mission," she says.

"Entrepreneurs are risk takers and kind of naïve — not knowing the obstacles ahead. Passion, perseverance and patience — just endure and let the success happen."

She writes, in a compelling way, about fear of failure. At one point, she had "a legal fight with my own family for the right to use the recipe as the basis for the business." The conflict, she writes, was resolved and "made us stronger."

At another point, Hoskins had a brain tumor removed in emergency surgery.

One day, her fear of failure came down to filling out forms to get her product to Jewel stores in Chicago. She was daunted but didn't want to show it. This was her first big sale, and she was determined to look professional.

"I took the forms home with me and pored over them, trying to make sense of them," she writes. "I had come too far in this process to screw it up now."

She "swallowed her pride" and confessed to the store that she needed help — and got it.

What She Values:

•Faith. "My basis and foundation has always been God. My mom told me to turn to Him because we had to have someone to rely on other than other people."

•Helping others. She started a national mentoring program, From Recipe to Retail, to help people get great recipes such as cake and jerk chicken to market.

•Her ancestor's gift. Through it all, she carries a great deal of respect for the gift that was passed down.

"It's ironic that the legacy started by a slave woman, my ancestor, would help liberate me," she says.

"My great-great-grandmother was calling out to me. It's like she reached out from the past and said, 'I have been waiting for someone to realize that this is more than a recipe.' "

•Leaving a legacy for her three daughters and granddaughter. Hoskins took advantage of programs that encouraged and supported minority- and female-owned companies, rode the wave of expansion of these types of businesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s and gradually built a network of colleagues who assisted and supported her.

Hoskins has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show three times and has been interviewed in Essence, Black Enterprise and Fortune.

For Hoskins, becoming an entrepreneur was "the only game in town."

Tune In To Listen To Ms. Michelle Hoskins On Tha Artivist Presents...W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio Coming Soon!!!

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