Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in organizational development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Hile Rutledge, President & Principal Consultant of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), located in Fairfax, VA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

OKA is a training, coaching, and consulting firm that specializes in leadership and team development. With particular expertise in the use and support of a number of popular and powerful psychological models and self-assessment tools--like the EQ-i (Emotional Intelligence), the DRiV (motives and values), and the MBTI (Psychological Type), OKA has been a thought-leader in the field of learning and development since its founding in 1977. OKA has long been known as a source of highly interactive and experiential training (both in-person and online)--we train and support other trainers, coaches, and consultants as well as individual leaders and developing teams. Located in Fairfax, Virginia (just outside of Washington DC), OKA's clients are a combination of public and private sector organizations. OKA helps leaders lead, teams cohere and perform, and organizations grow and navigate change.

Tell us about yourself

Established by Otto Kroeger, OKA's core belief is and has always been that greater self-awareness leads to better self-management. I came to OKA as a client to get certified to use the MBTI in 1992--in my twenties. That is when and where I met Otto Kroeger, founder of OKA and trainer of my certification workshop. I was so struck by both his humor and the depth of his knowledge as well as swept up by the experiential training experience that OKA provided, that I started immediately working to have that kind of impact on the groups and leaders that I was working with. Within a few years, I was back at OKA--this time as a training Associate, delivering services as an OKA team member. Otto and I eventually became business partners for a few years before I purchased OKA from him in 2007. OKA's commitment to highly engaging and interactive, and safe spaces to learn has not just remained but deepened since Otto's passing in 2013. While we have more expert coaches and trainers today delivering a far wider variety of services (our tools and services and the platforms on which we can offer them have greatly expanded), what is at OKA's core remains unchanged. I am motivated each day to provide--through coaching, training, and a host of other support tools--a safe, engaging--even fun--place to learn, grow and develop.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Experiential training and really impactful coaching are personal and highly interactive engagements, and these were--while never easy--much easier to provide in an earlier age when in-person training and coaching and longer timeframes (full days and even multiple days) were more commonplace. When I think about the realities driving the fields of OD and Learning and Development and the steady push to deliver services ever-faster and more consistently online, I am most proud of OKA's ability to create and nurture safe, welcoming spaces and programs for leaders and teams to meet to learn, grow and get better regardless of the timeframe or delivery platform. OKA continues to bring a high-touch feel to its work--even in this high-tech environment.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

I am and have always been motivated by my work with leaders, groups, and teams--to do the actual work of self-awareness training and behavioral development and change. Owning a business dedicated to this work is amazing, but that also means there is a business that needs tending to. Accounts payable, accounts receivable, performance appraisals, difficult conversations, budgeting, and resource allocation challenges--the gears that operate a business require care and attention, and they are definitely the least interesting and draining way I spend my time.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Have (and keep in mind) a reason for being in business (other than the money). What do you do--what is the special something that you do, make, or provide that is special and wanted or needed in the world? Successful businesses have a focus, a niche, a space they occupy--or try to--that is defined. Successful businesses have a reason for being--what is yours? Making money is not it--you or your business may make a lot of money, but if you do, it is because the business has at its core a reason--a mission--that is clear and useful. Know and keep in mind your business' reason to be.
  2. Have a goal/plan, and be ready to shift away from it. Successful leaders are driven forward to do--something. What is your plan? Toward what are you moving and those around you? Leaders and business owners should be and feel like an engine, so where are you going--toward something, away from something? Tomorrow is coming--where are you going? Successful leaders have a plan. AND tomorrow is not going to be what you are prepared for. Successful leaders are able and willing--even if reluctantly--to flex their plans to a suddenly new reality--like the GPS on your phone trying to reroute and guide you down a new path to the city on the hill that you keep in your sites.
  3. Relationships will keep you in business--or shut you down. The relationships you establish, nurture, and pay attention to will support you--or destroy you. Whether your colleagues and trusted confidants, your direct reports, your clients and customers--or even the larger world of folks who know you only through reputation, social media, and the vague narratives of word of mouth, people are what matters--regardless of what business you are in. Relationships are web--a foundation--that is and will be the core of your success (or the reason your business fails). Pay attention to the people you know. Think and care about them. Spend time with them. Help them, and let them help you.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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