March 2009

Faculty Focus: Kathy Korman Frey

Hundreds of businesswomen have shared their stories with Adjunct Professor of Management Kathy Korman Frey and her Hot Mommas Project.

By Julia Parmley

A breast cancer survivor whose nonprofit organization brings laughs to those battling illnesses. A single mom who dropped out of high school and now has a company worth $300 million. A woman from Egypt who owns her own global carpet and antique business.

What do all these cases have in common? They are part of Adjunct Professor of Management Kathy Korman Frey’s award-winning venture, the Hot Mommas Project, a free global database of case studies written by female entrepreneurs.

“Research has shown that role models can help raise women’s sense of self-efficacy,” says Frey. “The women’s leadership community is working very hard to provide strong, well-publicized female role models. The Hot Mommas Project is part of the solution.”

The idea for the project came to Frey when she was an MBA student at Harvard Business School in the 1990s. One of her teachers, Myra Hart, was a founding officer of Staples and “the fairy godmother of women’s leadership,” but Frey says she did not fully comprehend the scope of Hart’s accomplishments until much later. “I had always worked in a male-dominated environment so there was much that I did not understand about the fundamental differences between men and women and the way our personal and professional lives play out,” she says. “When looking at case studies, we tend to look at the trophy cases with blue suits. Those are just one part of the picture. Success comes in all shapes, sizes, and career paths, and students need to see the other side.”

Frey began reading about businesswomen and was intrigued by the fact that although women were starting businesses in “record numbers,” they were not growing at the same rate as male-run businesses nor were they as well-publicized. Frey learned that role-model and mentor figures—even in the form of case studies—could improve the confidence of women entrepreneurs, and in 2002 she launched the Hot Mommas Project.

With funding from businesswoman Linda Rabbitt, M.A. ’72, and support from Dave Juth, B.B.A. ’88, of FMS Inc., Frey developed and launched a “case wizard” at Women could now come online and channel their own story and lessons into a teaching tool. Frey says the mix of personal and professional information in each study gives the project “a unique twist.”

To encourage submissions, Frey and her staff worked with U.S.-based women’s leadership groups, entrepreneurial associations, and the blogging community and publicized the project on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. With well over 100 submissions, the project is now the world’s largest free case study database. Frey and her staff also recently held a 2008-09 case study competition. The winners will be announced this month and their cases will be published in a Prentice Hall textbook and featured in PINK Magazine. Thousands of dollars in prizes will also be awarded.

The Hot Mommas Project is the recipient of a Coleman Foundation Case Award and is part of the curriculum in GW’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, which won a National Excellence in Education Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Ten of the project’s original case studies were published in Effective Small Business Management, one of Prentice Hall Business Publishing’s top business textbooks.

Frey manages the database with five GW student interns who were selected from a rigorous applicant pool. Frey says the students are constantly busy helping promote the site by setting up television and radio interviews, reading the case studies via podcast, and working on grant and sponsorship proposals. Frey also created a blog for the project: “Building a Million Dollar Business Part Time.”

Frey, who is an associate director of the School of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, came to GW in 2002 at the encouragement of Associate Professor Emeritus of Management Science Charles Toftoy, who was using a case study Frey had written in one of his classes. She joined GW’s School of Business as an adjunct professor and now teaches a women’s entrepreneurial leadership class. “The students are engaged and excited to have the real-world experience, and I really enjoy it,” she says.

Frey says her project has received a great deal of support from the University and her colleagues. “The GW community came together to help us,” she says. “This University really knows how to advance academics, and I truly appreciate the help.”

Frey grew up in Arlington, Va., and has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She now lives with her family in Northwest Washington, D.C., and while she enjoys spending most of her free time with her children—5-year-old Maxwell and 2-year-old Lilah—she finds time for her girlfriends, the gym, and to “consume some form of media” such as business books, movies, television, and social networking Web sites.

Pending additional funding, Frey says she will expand on the project with a 2009-10 case study competition; downloadable case curriculum packages for educators and business leadership groups; video case studies; a “Cool Daddies” project for male entrepreneurs; and “How to Be a Hot Momma,” a collection of best practices, case studies, and exercises she hopes to turn into a book. Frey says that Hot Mommas Project case authors are traveling from all over the United States and Canada for the case study competition awards ceremony at GW March 9. “These people truly care about helping the next generation and each other,” says Frey.

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