Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Chicke Fitzgerald, Solutionz Group LLC: Business Journey & Future Plans

In this exclusive interview with Jesse Samberg, Chicke Fitzgerald, the founder of Solutionz Group LLC, shares her inspiring journey from a high school dropout to a successful entrepreneur in the travel industry. Despite facing financial setbacks and personal challenges, Chicke’s resilience and determination have led her to launch 13 startups and overcome the constant hurdle of funding. With plans to retire in three years, Chicke reveals her strategy for growing her business and passing on the reins to her leadership team. Join us as Chicke reflects on her unforgettable experiences with clients, her greatest business challenges, and the importance of building the right team in a competitive marketplace.

Interviewee Name: Chicke Fitzgerald

Company: Solutionz Group LLC

Intervirew Host: Jesse Samberg

The Interview

Let’s get started. First, we’d like to know more about how you started your business journey

Chicke Fitzgerald : When I was 15, I thought I wanted to quit high school. When I talked to my parents, they suggested that I might think about doing a work/study program instead. I got a job at a Christian Bookstore, where I trained as a retail clerk and a bookkeeper. I worked there until I graduated. Amazingly enough, I graduated a semester early and at 17, was accepted at Oral Roberts University. In my freshman English class, I wrote a paper titled The Value of Experience vs. Education. My professor, Mrs. Givens gave me an A+. When I went home for Thanksgiving, I told my parents about the paper and asked if I could quit and pursue a career in business. They told me that if I still felt that way at the end of the semester, I could quit and come home.

I did just that. I proceeded to get a job in the accounting department at Miller Brewing Company. Over the next few years I moved to a food brokerage company and then in 1978 I was hired as a bookkeeper in a travel agency. That began what has now been a 46 year career in the travel industry, with 17 years in corporate life and 29 on my own as an entrepreneur. I have written 3 books on global travel distribution and an allegorical business novel called the Game Changer.

Reflecting on your business history, what stands out as the single greatest challenge you’ve successfully navigated, and how did you overcome it?

Chicke Fitzgerald : After consulting for nearly a decade, I started my first tech company. I raised $6m and contributed $1m of my own assets. While this sounds like an amazing feat, we needed $10m. It wasn’t enough. My husband took me on a cruise for my 50th birthday and when I got back, my investor had shut the company down. All of my friends that had helped me build the company were let go. I tried to find additional investment, but the economy was tanking. The year was 2010. Fast forward through the economic crisis, past selling our office building and our boat, taking our kids out of private school and selling more things and past personal bankruptcy. One year later, I had an opportunity to bid on a $400k consulting gig with AARP. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket, let alone a hotel room. I was hosting a group called the Executive Girlfriends’ Group. That Friday on our call, I shared the opportunity with the women on the call and one offered me her frequent flyer mileage to get an airline ticket and another woman that I had never met in person offered me the use of her apartment in DC for the interview trip. The rest is history. The gig turned out to be worth $400k. I was back.

Businesses often face ongoing challenges. What does your business consistently grapple with, and how do you tackle these challenges head-on?

Chicke Fitzgerald : I am now on my 13th startup (lucky 13) and the constant issue that we grapple with is funding. I have tacked it head on by getting a team and a board that believe in me and have bought into helping me build the company for equity. We have had 65k hours of sweat equity put into the current venture. These resources would have cost me $5.6m to procure.

Can you share with us the most unforgettable story involving a customer or client? What made it memorable, and what lessons did you draw from the experience?

Chicke Fitzgerald : I had been a consultant at Carlson Companies, working on my first million dollar project put together by Ernst & Young. One day I was invited to a meeting with a number of scientists from Intel’s Pentium 4 team. They were in search of an application that would utilize the power that they had built into the new chip. Throughout the meeting, they addressed questions to the Carlson team and invariably, I was the one that answered them. After the meeting the Intel team asked if they could hire me for a half a day to teach them about travel technology. I said sure and we can spend the other half a day and you can teach me how to build a chip! While I said it tongue in cheek, they did hire me and it ended up being my second million dollar consulting gig.

Looking ahead, what are your current plans for your business when you retire?

Chicke Fitzgerald : I plan to grow the business and license or sell the various sectors that we serve to strategic partners, which will allow us to fund the growth plan. I will train my leadership team to take over the day to day so that I can retire when my husband is ready to retire. The current timeline is three years.

Navigating the small business landscape can be both challenging and rewarding. Can you share a bit about the specific hurdles you’ve encountered in areas like sales, marketing, and adapting to changing customer trends?

Chicke Fitzgerald : The challenge areas that you mention all boil down to having the right team. This is challenging enough in a competitive marketplace and doing it with a team that is all working on sweat equity demands even more ingenuity. We have used a mechanism called Slicing Pie to provide transparency and accountability to the team as it relates to their contributions. It allows us to reward special accomplishments and to keep them motivated. But at the end of the day, they stay because they believe in what we are doing and they know that what we do matters.

Leaders Perception magazine would like to thank Chicke Fitzgerald and “Solutionz Group LLC” for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!

Interested in connecting with the host of this interview series? Feel free to reach out to Jesse Samberg on LinkedIn: Jesse Samberg’s LinkedIn Profile

Explore additional categories

Explore Other Interviews