From Waitress to CEO: The Rise of Carolyn Gable

Carolyn Gable graduated from beautician school in the early 1980s, and then found herself working as a waitress at the revolving restaurant atop the Chicago airport. She liked watching the high-powered businesswomen she’d see come through the door. “They used to come in carrying briefcases and wearing those power suits with big shoulder pads,” Gable recalls. “And I thought, “I can do that.’ ”

Carolyn  didn’t have a college degree or a background in running a business, but as a waitress and mother of seven, she says she developed the skills of a CEO.  Carolyn was on Oprah & Friends radio show today talking about now being the CEO of her $28 million company and her new book, Everything I Know as a CEO I Learned as a Waitress.

“I didn’t have any supporting family or education,” says Gable, who has overcome that and has been recognized for her entrepreneurial savvy — in 2004, she won The Right Award for workplace excellence from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and in 2002, the Ernst & Young Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year award for outstanding customer service. “If I can do it,” she declares, “anyone can.”

Carolyn says waiting tables near Chicago’s busy O’Hare airport was “life school.” “What an education that was,” she says. “How do you teach someone to communicate? How do you teach someone to have a personality and be enthusiastic? You need to have all of those things to be a waitress.”

Carolyn shares ways that waiting tables prepared her to be a CEO:

  • She says waiting tables helped her showcase her values of honesty, initiative and hard work.
  • Carolyn says she is always upfront with her customers in the transportation business just as she was with customers in a restaurant. If something isn’t to the customer on time, she lets them know exactly what’s going on, rather than making excuses.
  • While handling money is part of waiting tables, Carolyn says it was her experience of balancing her personal checkbook that helped her run her company. She says she followed the simple rule of balancing what comes in with what goes out every single day.

At a book signing last night, Carolyn reminded us, “Customers will tell us what they want…..listen to them. Don’t give them what you think they need. We sometimes forget that customer care is # 1.”

   “Expect a Miracle” foundation. The purpose of this Foundation is to offer assistance to the single women and men that are working and trying to do well for their children, but are unable to provide the extracurricular activities that help a child build strong character for the society we live in.

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