Drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood at a young age, Isabell Estes (BSBA ’88) envisioned one day performing before crowds of thousands as a pop star. But she also had the foresight to realize that in addition to raw talent, she would need strong business acumen.
“I majored in business because I read a story about Elvis having to share 50 percent of his earnings with his manager,” she recalls. “I wanted to be a performer and to know everything about music, but I also knew that I needed to understand the business side of things so that I didn’t end up sharing a larger portion of my earnings with a manager,” she said.
Fortunately for Estes, she loved business. When faced with the decision on whether to pursue a career in music, she contemplated the meaning behind the phrase “starving artist” and instead set aside aspirations of fame for the practicality of making a solid living.
Estes hails from a family of TU grads, and ultimately chose TU over her other top contender (the University of Kansas) because of its smaller feel. “I felt like I could really blossom at TU, and I did.”
Her memories of TU include the supportive professors and opportunities to practice theory through applied case studies and real-world projects. In one of her marketing classes, she worked on a campaign for the Ansa Baby Bottle, a product originally developed in Muskogee, Okla. “It was a great experience to see it go from a startup business to being sold to a larger company,” Estes said.
She also values the liberal arts foundation TU’s curriculum provided. “My professors encouraged me to think instead of just regurgitating information. Arguing and questioning ideas were actually cherished. I was in my element at TU.”
While Estes didn’t end up pursuing fame, she did find herself climbing the corporate ladder within the entertainment industry as a marketing and public relations executive for TCI of Oklahoma, TV Guide Channel and Tele-Communications, Inc. (now Cox Communications). Once the trend toward cable consolidation began, Estes decided the timing was right to explore other options. She also felt a pull to spend more time with her three children. “At that point, in my mid-30s, I didn’t think there were a lot of options for someone who wanted to be a big part of her kids’ lives at the level I was at and within the corporate culture I was part of,” she said.
She made the leap to strike out on her own and founded Estes Communications, providing marketing and public relations consulting services to corporate and small business clients. Jumping in feet first, she learned a few lessons the hard way. “I did what a lot of entrepreneurs do, figuring I would just go out and make money with no business plan,” she said. “I would not suggest that to anyone. While I made money, I left a lot on the table.”
That experience led to her opening the Tulsa branch of Entrepreneur’s Source, a business that offers assistance to individuals considering franchise opportunities. “I learned a lot about what it means to be a business owner versus being the technician, and making the business work for you rather than working for your business,” said Estes. She even helped place her husband, Scott Estes (BSBA ’88), in his own franchise business after he was laid off from a 20-year career in the pharmaceutical industry. “He trusted me to help him launch Enviro-Master of Tulsa and truly was the wind beneath my wings as I found my calling.”
Armed with a renewed confidence after spending 10 years as a franchise coach, Estes returned to entrepreneurship for a repeat performance. She launched Encore WorkLife in January 2015 to help those at a career crossroads find success once again, just as she did.
“As a career strategist, I target people who have experienced success and have found themselves in a rut,” Estes explained. “I want to show them that they can have that encore work life by rethinking, refining and reinventing. That’s why I called my business Encore Worklife — it all ties back to being a performer. You want to perform so well that everyone calls you back out for that encore performance. It is possible to be successful again. You just have to have the courage to make a change.”