Women in Business // Holly O'Keefe

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Women in Business // Holly O'Keefe

In a lot of ways, I’ve never considered myself a “woman in business.” I’ve considered myself young in business. I’ve considered myself going to school and in business. I’ve even considered myself as a mother in business. Now, as I approach the fifth anniversary of co-starting and co-owning Rapid Cycling, a bicycle shop in St. George, it is an ideal time for me to consider how being a woman has influenced and helped me achieve my career goals. After all, I am a woman in business. It is time I embrace it.

My success story isn’t overly triumphant. I grew up in suburban Chicago, took AP classes at a competitive public high school, attended prom and played volleyball and served on the student council. I didn’t stand out. As one of four daughters, there was never a question of what I would do after high school. College was always the goal, for me and my sisters. (Shout out to a mom and dad who had high expectations but didn’t put a lot of pressure on me.) 

I left Illinois and landed in Provo, Utah, to attend Brigham Young University. Again, I didn’t stand out. I went to bed before my roommates and got up early for 7:00 and 8:00 am classes. I graduated with a journalism degree, got married and started working for a small company in Chicago as the marketing department. Yes, as the marketing department. I was a one-person show and reported directly to the owner of the company. Although I had taken advertising and public relations classes at BYU, many of my responsibilities were relatively new to me. I worked all day and read marketing and design and business books at night. When I realized I wanted more formal education, I hopped right back into school at night and on the weekends to earn a masters degree in Integrated Marketing Communications while I worked full time. 

By the time I finished the two-year program, I’d accepted a job with a local branch of a national company. Officially, I was the Marketing Communications Specialist and was responsible for the messaging of 13 branches in the Midwest. Again, I was the marketing department. I wrote, designed, strategized, planned and executed marketing plans. I had creative freedom and responsibility. Even then, it didn’t occur to me that I was a woman in business. I was respected because I worked hard and tackled advanced projects.

With a move back to the Wasatch Front a couple years later, I accepted a Marketing Manager position with a local homebuilder. I was 25 years old, managed a team of 10-15 sales people, and absolutely loved my career. I was young. Many of the people I worked with had a decade more experience than me, but I never looked around and thought I was out of place. I was confident in my capabilities, falling back on a formal education and eagerness to excel in a marketing career. 

And just as I was on the cusp of really advancing to a more powerful position, I quit. I quit to stay home with a baby and to start a marketing communications consulting business that afforded me the luxury of setting my own schedule, accepting client work when it suited my needs and really stretching myself creatively. I’ve never looked back. As crazy as it is, it was this decision that empowered me most professionally and personally. As a woman, I loved working. As a woman, I was good at what I was doing. As a woman, I knew I was smart and determined and willing to work hard for what I wanted. As a woman, I knew what I wanted was to both raise a family and execute successful marketing plans. My education and my experience gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted.

In 2013, things really changed for me and Rapid Cycling was born out of opportunity. At that time, Southern Utah already had great bicycle shops. My husband Kevin, the avid cyclist in the family, felt there was something missing from the cycling community. With my marketing experience and his love for cycling, combined with the hard work of a manager who had worked in bicycle shops for 20 years, we set out to give Southern Utah the Rapid Cycling Experience. 

In five years, Rapid Cycling has grown into two locations and 15 employees. My involvement has evolved in that time. Ironically, the only regret I have in my almost 20-year career is that I let myself be relegated to “the owner’s wife” in the early days of the bicycle shop. I let my insecurities put me in a place where I accepted a lack of respect in the industry. I had never worked retail. I loved riding my bike, but I didn’t know the mechanics of a bicycle. I was in unfamiliar territory and my footing was not secure.

I was quick to pick up the new skills I needed and that professional determination was reignited. As I embraced my role at Rapid Cycling and remembered what it felt like to work in a group setting, confidence came back. I am now very comfortable in my position as co-owner. I have found my voice and find myself, again, falling back on a formal education and years of experience that give me certainty as a woman in business in Southern Utah. 

Holly O’Keefe

—Published in the Fall 2018 Southern Utah Business Magazine