Stepping into a new world: Beth Slifer | VailDaily.com
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Stepping into a new world: Beth Slifer

Kimberly Nicoletti
HCBR
Special to HCBRBeth Slifer wasn't raised to think about a career, but she had a lot of energy that she wanted to direct in the business world. After working with President Carter's administration, she earned her master's degree in business and started Slifer Designs, one of the nation's top interior design firms, in Edwards.
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Just a few decades ago, parents raised their daughters to get married and start a family. Young girls didn’t have lofty ideas of becoming high paid executives or ski patrol directors.

But now, one in 18 women nationwide owns a business, according to the National Women’s Business Council, and Beth Slifer is one of them. She grew up in an era when adults didn’t encourage girls to think much about careers. But she wanted to work.

In the 1960s, she became the first woman community loan officer at Citibank.

“I just kept insisting that I was doing the work of a man, so why didn’t I have the title of the man,” Slifer said. “They finally gave in.”

After working at Citibank, she opened a small retail store in Atlanta and joined Jimmy Carter’s campaign for president. When Carter won, he made her a political appointee of the Environmental Protection Agency. She acted as the agency’s liaison between all other government departments and international bodies. The Carter Administration was “probably a little ahead of its time,” she said, regarding the number of women working for it. Even though Slifer ran into some “good ole boys” in the political arena who gave her flak for being a woman, the Carter Administration supported women in leadership positions, she said.

Internationally, the discrimination was more extreme.

“The first time I went to Japan, they absolutely did not know what to do with me,” she said. “They entertained us (women) with all the men, though they didn’t have the same entertainment they offered ranking men. By the second trip, they finally figured out how to do it.”

She never let other people’s opinion of her affect her performance, or her drive.

“In my case, I never felt I had to be as tough as a man or act like a man,” she said. “I always felt I had to produce good results, and that was the most important thing. As a Southern woman, I was raised to deal with (any discrimination). Sometimes it infuriated me, but I never overtly said anything. I just produced.”

When she left Washington D.C., she enrolled in the University of Chicago’s master’s in business program ” 20 years after graduating college.

“In the early 1980s, I felt that women needed credentials to justify, or to validate, their capabilities in the business world,” she said.

She wasn’t sure what she’d do with her degree, and, as fate would have it, she got married five months after graduation and moved to Vail in 1983. For the first year in Colorado, she maintained roots in Chicago, working as a marketing consultant. But traveling across the country quickly got old, so she followed the advice of University of Chicago’s professors: Examine the market and find a niche to fill.

At the time, the Vail Valley lacked professional interior designers, so she started Slifer Designs. She relied on the help of her mom, who was a leading designer in Florida, for answers on interior design basics, such as how to measure a floor for carpeting.

She found that her business degree gave her the credibility she needed.

Still, her business grew slowly because in the early 1980s Colorado was reeling from an energy depression that had economic impacts. Looking back, Slifer sees the slow growth as an advantage. In fact, when her firm boomed in 1999, it grew faster than its systems and management control could handle. The company expanded to 100 employees, and by 2001, Slifer Designs had extremely high revenue ” but it didn’t make a profit.

“We didn’t control costs or personnel,” she said. “We tried to solve every problem by hiring someone new.”

Since then, she has cut her staff to 70 employees. Slifer never dreamed she would set the standard for residential and mountain resort design; now Interior Design Magazine ranks Slifer Designs among the top three residential and restaurant interior design firms in the nation. One of her greatest rewards of owning a business involves providing professional job opportunities to Vail Valley residents, she said.

She credits an understanding husband with her ability to balance work and family life.

“He respects my work and desire to succeed and doesn’t resent it when sometimes work conflicts with personal responsibilities,” she said. “I think the most difficult thing for women in business is to balance their family and personal life with their business. Most continue to have motherly responsibilities that require more time than a man is expected to give his personal responsibilities.”

In fact, she says the only thing that holds women back is how they choose to balance work and family life. In her own family, she has tried to pass on how fun and satisfying work is.

She supports women starting their own businesses, because it sidesteps any discrimination they may encounter, and it gives them more freedom. She also believes a business degree is more important than ever, but her reasons have changed. Now she encourages women to earn a degree not for validation but because business has increased in complexity.


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