Serial entrepreneur Cheryl Traverse has been the president of four companies and as CEO, has overseen the funding and acquisition of five companies. Yet she never officially came out until she retired in 2010.
“When you’re raising hundreds of millions of dollars, you need to be very subtle at the end. You don’t want anything to blow the deal,” she says. “But it’s painful not to be out. You can’t talk about the most important person in your life, or what you did over the weekend.”
Now that she’s retired, Traverse is free to include her domestic partner of 20 years, renowned photographer Terry Turrentine, in all aspects of her life.
“We’re making great progress with gay marriage, but we need to do a lot more so people can be out at work,” she says, directing me to a recent Wall Street Journal article that cites the Human Rights Campaign’s findings that while 32 percent of 35-to-44-year-olds are out at work, only 7 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds are.
Since retiring, Traverse has been supporting LGBT and women’s causes with a vengeance, serving on the board of Openhouse (Openhouse-sf.org), which provides housing and services for LGBT seniors, and mentoring women for Astia.org and StartOut’s Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program.
“Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of self-confidence,” she says. “My advice to entrepreneurs is to always attach yourself to a revenue responsibility. Women don’t always gravitate towards sales, but if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to know how to sell it. They don’t care who you are, as long as you can deliver the numbers.”
Born and raised in Scranton, Pa., Traverse got her BA in English at Wilkes College, then realized, “At the time there were two choices for women: schoolteacher or nurse.” She taught fifth grade for 10 years; then a friend encouraged her to move to New York and sell radio ads.
“For a woman, there was no career path — you took what you could get,” she says. “It was an opportunity, so I took it. I didn’t know a thing about the business, but I picked it up.” From radio sales, she moved to cable TV sales, and then her sales expertise led her to the world of enterprise software, startups, and turnarounds.
“I had a knack for taking small companies, figuring out their revenue, and then selling them,” she says. “I was the chief sales person in all of my companies.”
As CEO or executive vice president, she oversaw the sales of CAE Systems to Math Soft, Iband to Macromedia, Brightifo to Peoplesoft, Covigo to Symbol, and Immunix to Novell. She also served as president and CEO of Taviz Technology and Xceedium before retiring in 2010.
Having mentored some 50 companies and entrepreneurs since then, Traverse is now busy giving back to the community. “Mentoring is really important, especially for women and LGBT entrepreneurs,” she says. “It would have saved me a lot of trouble back then.”
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