Heroines of Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship #1: Pamela Slim

Ramit Sethi

Interview contributed by Cody McKibben.

Pamela Slim is a tremendously friendly career and entrepreneurship expert who left corporate life in 1996. Her Mesa, Arizona-based company Ganas Consulting helps professionals and entrepreneurs find and do their best work. Some of her corporate clients include Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Charles Schwab, and Sun Microsystems. She also helps corporate prisoners become thriving entrepreneurs through her tremendously successful blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and the Escape from Cubicle Nation podcast. Ramit has featured Pam on Friday Entrepreneurs before, so check out that interview if you’d like to learn more about her. Today, our talk is a little bit more focused on women and entrepreneurship.

Before you went into self-employment, you were the manager of training and development at a $300 billion investment firm, Barclays Global Investors. What was the corporate experience like before you decided to escape?

Despite the name of my blog, I actually really loved my job. I had an absolutely exceptional team, manager and Vice President that taught me most everything I know about organizational and executive development. I was still in my twenties, so I had a lot to learn about business in general and my field in particular. I had great education benefits which I took advantage of by taking a bunch of training and development courses from UC Berkeley. We learned, we created, we had fun. Then, quite unexpectedly, the manager and VP left, since we went through an acquisition. A totally new management team came on board and *poof* from one day to the next, my “dream job” turned into a nightmare. It was then I realized that who I worked with and for was much more important than what I did. I quit shortly thereafter, and never looked back.

So what are you doing now?

I work with frustrated corporate employees who are ready to bust out and start their own business. My services including coaching individuals, teaching group classes on particular topics like 10 steps to starting a business or how to build platform, as well as doing some freelance projects like writing and recording podcasts or articles. My blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, focuses on the particular period of transition between deciding you can’t stand another day at your corporate job and opening your doors for business. I try to balance informational “how-to” information with analytical “why do I feel so crazy” information that explains the emotional side of personal change in a way many people can understand. I also publish a bi-monthly podcast, and a weekly radio show, on VoiceAmerica Business. I am writing my first book, and working on an information product that I hope to launch right before my baby is born, at the end of September.

Congrats on the book deal, and especially on the new addition to your family! Your company, Ganas Consulting, helps coach clients through starting their own businesses. You’ve said that you often find your clients feel like prisoners in the corporate world — unable to express their creativity and so forth. From your experiences, do women in corporate life feel these effects in any unique ways that most men tend not to?

I think that we all experience the “imprisonment” feeling in different ways. I certainly hear lots and lots of men express their despair living in corporate dronehood. Their pain and discomfort often manifests as it does in women through the physical realm…muscle aches, tight necks, heart trouble, high blood pressure, etc. Where we might differ slightly, depending of course on the home situation, gender roles and if kids are involved, is the general added pressure some women feel to take care of business at work, at home and with the kids. The amount of responsibiity can feel uneven and crushing to some women, and they feel trapped in all roles, unable to get a free moment to speak their mind as a person, not as a mom, wife or employee. But given the natural juggling many women do in their daily lives, they often adapt to entrepreneurship easier than men.

Interesting. What about you personally? What challenges did you have to overcome in the process of setting up Ganas? Did you face any hardships you think most men in the consulting business might not face?

I actually had it pretty easy when I started my business since I got a nice, juicy client right off the bat (Hewlett Packard) and a six-month project that guaranteed I could pay my bills without worrying about hustling for new work. Since I was selling my brain and not a physical product, there were no big start-up costs or financing hurdles, which is sometimes where you hear stories of slightly increased challenges for women to get VC funding or bank loans.

My challenge in the early years had to do with pricing my services appropriately, since I tended to undervalue my services and felt uncomfortable asking for “too much.” I know that this is something that affects many new entrepreneurs, but in my 11+ years of self-employment experience, I would say that it affects women at a much higher ratio then men. It could be that there is a big conspiracy by the misogynistic male white corporate machine that starts to disempower us in kindergarten and stop us from all kinds of things like getting into math, finance and engineering careers. I discount nothing, as I was raised with a healthy dose of skepticism and a fondness for theories of oppression.

Another likely theory is that females are raised in many societies to be in a “helper” and “nurturer” role, and to downplay material gain. Fathers historically talk to sons more about business and finance than they do their daughters. Women are taught to compromise and broker peace, not to engage in hardball negotiations. Whatever the cause of my beliefs, I had to get over some ineffective mental blocks in order to charge what I was worth. I am always curious what other women (and men!) think about this topic, so please comment here.

You say you went through a phase of self-employment evangelism. What are some of the more effective methods you found to encourage others to go solo?

My best experience with encouragement is through my blog. I call it the Magical Mystery Tour, because ever since I began to write it, I have experienced a strange and wonderous connection with thousands of people I never would have had the chance to talk to. I never know which topic or post is going to make an impact…sometimes what I consider the most off-topic or “out there” subjects get the most heartfelt responses. Perhaps my favorite compliment ever came from a reader who told me that I represented “virtual hope.” How cool is that? I would like to stress that my goal is not to have everyone in the world quit their corporate job to start a business. Some are not ready, equipped or naturally suited to self-employment. What I do want to do is demystify the process so that more people feel comfortable exploring the option to see if it is right for them.

Ramit writes about personal finances for young people, but only about 20% of his readers are women. Suze Orman’s new book, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny, points out that most women are not as engaged with their finances as men. Do you agree? Why do you think this is?

I totally agree with Suze Orman’s assessment that women are not as engaged with their finances as men. I gave some of the reasons in an earlier response: socially, women are not encouraged to be money-focused, but rather family- and relationship-focused; statistically, parents don’t talk to their daughers as much as their sons about finance-related topics; women are often steered into more “helping” professions like HR, marketing and teaching rather than science, math or engineering where they would have more exposure to and application of statisics, numbers and analysis. I am sure there are some really smart academics that have published mountains of research on the question, I just don’t have access to it. I definitely think one big flaw is that basic, financial literacy is not taught as a core curriculum at every grammar, junior high and high school around the world…which is one more reason why Ramit should go on Oprah to shine some major media light on the issue and get people all riled up!

I agree! And he should take you and me with him! You have a good relationship with Dr. Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star. Tell me a little bit about Dr. Beck and what you’ve learned from her. Do you have any other favorite female role models in the business world?

I joke with Martha that if she didn’t agree to work with me, I would stalk her, so it was good she chose the path of least resistance, and not restraining orders. Martha is one of the smartest people I know. I love two things in particular about her: she is extremely practical in her approach to coaching, and has come up with some of the best tools I have ever seen to help people move from misery to what she calls their “right life.” She is also not afraid to tap into the intuitive, organic, some would say supernatural part of the human experience. In modern western life, we are so obsessed with left-brain activities that we forget that since the beginning of time, societies around the world have trusted their natural instincts, embraced signs, symbols and serendipity, viewed themselves as part of the entire natural system and placed as much value on feelings as thoughts. I kind of snicker when people write off all talk of intuition as “new age”…it is about as “old age” as you can get. Sure there are lots of hucksters and hustlers who peddle enlightenment and wealth via the number of times you view The Secret. But the true wise people I know like Martha see that in order for people to make significant life changes they have to engage all parts of themselves…mind, body and soul. I call it a “full-contact approach to life.”

Obviously Martha is a great example of someone who has built amazing platform, since she cavorts with Oprah and has her pick of high-profile media opportunities. The cool thing is that she is 100% genuine, and is as down to earth in person as she appears on TV. Plus she is incredibly funny, a vital quality in a role model!

I don’t really use gender as criteria for role models…it is more the connection I have with the person, and how I see them live their life. Recently, Bob Sutton and Guy Kawasaki have been very encouraging, as has Andrea Lee of Multiple Streams of Coaching Income.

Any last words of advice for young readers who are interested in following in your consulting footsteps?

Don’t spout bullshit. Focus on the business needs, not the short-sighted desires of management. Run from projects that you know are inane and doomed to failure, no matter how much they offer to pay you. When inevitable failure occurs, they will always blame the consultant.

There is a reason why many consultants have a reputation like “The Bobs” from Office Space (if you haven’t seen it, you must go out and rent it — required viewing for consultants in training). It is not that hard to jump like an eager puppy and complete a project that a swaggering CEO requests you complete. 25 deathly meetings, 322 PowerPoint slides and hundreds of victimized employees later, you may think that you have done your job by creating a new process or program, or whatever else they tell you to do.

The real art and value in consulting is in the initial scoping of the project. Question assumptions. Dig to get the “real story” behind the initiative. Very often, it is a political or lawsuit-saving move. Figure out if it is truly worth the effort to undertake, and propose
an alternative if you don’t think it is.

Pushing back to your powerful client will scare the crap out of you. But it is the only way that you will gain their respect and be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.

Thanks so much Pamela! It is always a delight learning from you. Tune in to Pam’s awesome blog and podcast at Escape From Cubicle Nation, and be on the lookout for her first book in 2008!

Cody McKibben is a student, blogger, designer, instigator and weekend entrepreneur. He enjoys interviewing entrepreneurs and other experts and blogs regularly at

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  1. Susan

    We keep hearing women are not as focused on money as they should be. Statistically, have you ever surveyed how many women manage the household finances? Every woman I know does just that…manage the household finances..and we are in our forties. I have been actively involved in finances…and I guess this is the kicker….because I am fascinated with it. My husband could care less…BUT…he is a methodical saver so has never had a problem…So…the question then becomes is Suze Orman’s audience those women who are not invested in their finances? Is your audience those women not invested in their finances? Because the women I know are seriously invested in their finances…and I only found this blog because it was interesting. So?????

  2. serpah

    This interview seems more to be about Pamela Slim’s life and consulting business. I don’t see a strong focus on her financials here. It’s great to read her advice to consultants and that she’s got a new addition to her family, plus her thoughts on women and pricing services.

    I would like to see how Pamela works on her finances for her consulting business (specifically), how this differs from finances in her personal life, how she budgets when income is erratic, what does she do when her money is running thin (at work and at home). What financial challenges did she face, and what did she do to overcome them? How does she budget for her family? Finally, what advice would she give on finances for women?

  3. Ramit Sethi

    Serpah, that’s a fair point. Future interviews will focus more on financial questions (although Cody will continue to blend the entrepreneurship angle, as that’s what he’s most interested in — and so are lots of iwillteach readers).

  4. Andrea Mullins


    I think there is a division among socioeconomic classes. For instance, in my experience, working class, lower-middle-class and, to some extent, middle class women do pay attention to finances, because–in part–they have to.

    Upper-middle-class women, especially stay-at-home soccer mom types that come from shareholder households, tend to defer to their husbands–who wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. Travis

    Ramit, the link to Ms. Slim’s blog isn’t working, fyi.

  6. Cody McKibben

    Fixed, thanks Travis!

    This series of one-on-one interviews with women businesspeople will focus mostly on what they do, whether they are entrepreneurs or personal finance mavens. We want to get some experts’ viewpoints on women & business (the whole spectrum) and how they might interact with money and the workplace differently than men. At a later time, we should host a roundtable discussion that focuses more specifically on women’s finances for women in general, etc. but right now we are learning about what each of these very successful women has done to get to where they are.

    Thanks for reading everyone, hope you enjoy!

  7. MaryBeth

    I liked this interview … mostly because, as a professional, corporate communications type with two small children, I constantly fantasize about going it alone and becoming a freelancer/consultant. What’s holding me back? Fear of losing that regular income stream, so I, too, would be interested in knowing what to do when you don’t have Hewlett Packard waiting in the wings for 6 months. And I’m so proud of how I manage our finances with our two paychecks … I’m not sure if I want to mess with it!

    Another observation is that I too – at 41 – handle all my family’s finances — and I love it. I’m very proud that in the 7 years we’ve been married:
    I put my husband through school, had two children who are in excellent daycares/camps, weathered downsizings for my husband and for me, and still managed to build 180K equity in the starter house we sold late last year (doubled my square footage and moved to a better school district without substantially increasing mortgage payments); amass a 401K/rollover IRA balance of more than 140K; manage all our bills without breaking a sweat (including two small credit card bills, a small student loan payment for my husband, two car payments — bought used with fairly substantial down payments); have a 20K emergency fund with ING (I got a substantial severance when I was downsized that I didn’t have to touch because unemployment was enough to live on due to my frugal-ish habits); have started and am funding 529s for each kid (I didn’t start until this year – not ideal – but waited until I was comfortable with retirement, bigger house etc. Even with the late start, I should be able to save about 50% of each kid’s tuition/room/board at a state university. Figure I’ll be able to help them with 25% as they attend. The final 25% they’ll have to fund with work/loans/scholarships/possibly help from grandma.).

    I subscribe totally to your philosophy — I’m frugal about stuff I don’t care about — electronics, basic cable, generic brand food/toiletries/drugs when possible, no engagement ring or other showy stuff; bulk and coupon shopping, driving used cars into the ground, brownbagging 3 or 4 times a week, discount shopping, $12 haircuts quarterly, brewing own Starbuck’s coffee (from Costco) at home; doing own household chores and repairs — so I can spend money on the things I do care about – vacations/travel, books (sometimes I do gear up and use the library — and feel very virtuous! — but honestly, I just love buying books), eating out a couple of times a week; blowing $100 frequently on fun family daytrips; fresh flowers in my kitchen and on my deck; collecting pottery; wearing funky costume jewelry; getting the occasional manicure and pedicure; throwing great parties/barbecues; giving nice – but not overly extravagant gifts; spoiling my kids a little … you get it.

    MOSTLY though, I love not having to worry about money anymore. Which probably makes means I’ll never escape from cubicle hell — even though I crave the flexibility of consulting and going out on my own.

    (Incidentally, I learned to manage money so well years ago after reading Suze’s first book – the original 9 steps — so I too love her.)

  8. Preet

    This is what i love about your site – you engage your readers to contribute to the “iwillteachyoutoberich community”. Your articles are interesting and the comments sometimes are even more interesting and inspiring like the on by MaryBeth.

  9. serpah

    Yeah, I saw that there was a lot of reporting on Pamela’s entrepreneurship. Cody, I think you did a great job with the interview. The questions were good, the editing was good, and there are great points in there. I felt cheated because I expected this to be part of the “Women & Finance” series, not the “Women & Entrepreneurship” series. I should have read the large ENTREPRENEURSHIP in the title too. 😉

    MaryBeth, your comment was great! How did you work out all that stuff about what’s important to you and what’s not? Is there some little sheet that you went through with your family to tick off what each person wanted? Did you find that you had to make compromises? How did you get your family to make compromises if they had to?

    And finally…how do you learn to say “no” to all the small stuff? It’s pretty hard, but I’m working on doing that now.

  10. Pamela Slim

    Hey, thanks for the interview Cody, and space on your blog Ramit! I really appreciate interacting with your readers.

    serpah – you have great questions and it would be fun to get into them sometime. In relation to the panel of my peers that will be featured in this series, I am probably the LEAST financially savvy and represent the “learn by doing” kind of entrepreneur. What has always always excited me about entrepreneurship is the aspect of freedom, where I design my life exactly as I want it, and use my business to get there. Thankfully, I have always had a thriving practice, so haven’t had huge worries when it comes to cash flow. But I have had to develop a discipline around my spending habits, which are in contrast to my free-wheeling nature. I actually enjoy looking at numbers now, which is much different than when I was in my 20’s.

    And MaryBeth, thanks so much for sharing your story! That is so fascinating to hear what you have done specifically. I will turn 41 next month, so love seeing the paralells in our paths (I am a bit more late to the game with kids, just working on my second one now!)

    Since it is my job, I would probably challenge you to re-think your views that you could never make as much independently as in your corporate job … I have found quite the opposite. I now consider it much more safe to be an entrepreneur than an employee, who is at the mercy of one company.

    From a biz dev perspective, my first gig at HP came from my former manager — I demonstrated my skill by working with her every day as an employee, so she felt confident hiring me as a consultant. These kinds of connections are often your BEST first clients, and point to the importance of doing great work always, regardless of your employment status.

    I look forward to the other profiles!

    (and I always wanted to be a “heroine,” more specifically a superhero. Isis was my favorite show back in 1972 or so, long before most of you were born. 🙂

  11. mishele

    Could someone please correctly spell misogynistic in this thing? It’s hard to take any “women in finance” article seriously with such a telling misspelling.

  12. Ramit Sethi

    Mishele, fixed.

  13. serpah

    Pamela, thanks for replying to my post. You mention that you “learn by doing”. In order to “do”, you need to have some idea of what results you’re looking for, along with a loose set of guidelines to get there. At least, that’s in my opinion. I’d be curious to know what your guidelines and desired results were. 🙂

  14. Pursuing Excellence » Interview with Entrepreneur and Blogger Pamela Slim

    […] The Women & Business interview series I’ve been working hard on is now running at! The first one-on-one is with Pamela Slim, a very friendly Arizona woman who I befriended in 2006 and have been wanting to interview ever since! She left the corporate world in 1996, and writes a great blog called Escape from Cubicle Nation. Pam is the owner of Ganas Consulting, which helps professionals transition from living the corporate life to being the thriving entrepreneurs of their dreams, and she’s also cooking up a book for release in 2008. These women [keep your eyes open for more interviews!] each have some amazing firsthand experience and a lot of great advice; they’re an amazing source of wisdom, and it’s interesting hearing their viewpoints regardless of whether you’re male or female! Here’s just a little excerpt; for the whole interview, please visit IWillTeachYouToBeRich to read Heroines of Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship #1: Pamela Slim. […]

  15. MaryBeth

    Thanks all and Thanks, Pam, for replying directly to me — you’ll be happy to hear that I’m now a subscriber to your blog.

    To respond to others … How did I get my financial life in shape so well? Good basic decisions/habits, some luck, some discipline, a lot of reading and research and a lot of work. I’m not really one to obsess over saving a nickel here and there, but I do all of the basic, big-ticket things correctly:

    Neither my husband nor I are job hoppers. We’ve stayed at every job we’ve had for more than 5 years — on average, 7 years. This means we’ve been vested and earned 401K employer matches and in three instances, earned small, portable pensions. We’ve never raided our 401Ks for anything, and we always roll them over when we do leave a job. By staying at jobs so long and performing extremely well, we’ve also been promoted frequently and earned generous bonuses.

    My daughter is now 7 and my son just turned 1 in March. We did not even entertain the thought of having a second child until we were both employed relatively securely and we know we could afford another child.

    We automatically contribute 15% of our gross income to 401Ks. Somehow, we were smart enough to do this even when we were single.

    We do not spend on things that we don’t really value. I didn’t want and don’t have an engagement ring (complete marketing ploy by diamond companies), and we didn’t go on a honeymoon. We had a small casual wedding (no gown, no limo, no photographer, no attendants) paid for by my mom. We don’t buy jewelry or china or Pottery Barn furniture. I’m 41 and currently driving only the 4th car of my life — my husband, at 43, is on his 5th. Our last three cars we bought used coming off of a 24-month lease. (Not too much of a hardship — I have a fully-loaded minivan; and my husband, who’s more into cars, drives a sporty Saab sedan).

    Our starter house we were lucky enough to buy at the beginning of the NJ housing boom so we had 180K equity in it when we sold six years later. We didn’t put much money into renovations (maybe 8K total in 6 years) but took good care of it. We also never tapped the equity for anything and put it all down on the new house.

    We’ve never gone without health insurance.

    Except for two maternity leaves, I have always worked.

    I pay everything on time. No exceptions. Our FICA score is, our last mortgage broker told us, “The highest he’s ever seen.” We always get the best rates on everything and we bargain from a position of strength.

    We cut our own lawn, iron our own clothes and clean our own house. My husband is also fairly handy and fixes a lot of stuff himself.

    We drive conservatively, so neither of us has ever gotten into an accident or even gotten a point on our license. That means our insurance rates are about as low as possible. We’ve also always done $1000 deductibles.

    No one is sueing us, we’re not looking to make a buck by sueing anyone (or some other latest scheme) and we don’t buy lottery tickets (except, I confess, the occassional Bingo scratch off!).

    I don’t have call waiting or answering service. We didn’t buy a home computer (or any other electronics) until my husband’s new job gave us one three years ago. I pay for HBO only during Sopranos season. We’ve taken the kids to Disney three times in 7 years … but we always drive (from NJ!!!). We ask for small home appliances and stuff like that for gifts. We never pay full price for anything — shop only at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, IKEA, Daffy’s, Target, Kohl’s, outlets. We almost always use coupons for restaurants and take-out. We don’t have any expensive hobbies like golf or skiing. We don’t have a flat screen tv — and really don’t feel any need to have one. WE just love Costco.

    And, in case you’re wondering, apart from buying our kids some clothes or swimming lessons or Stride-Rite sneakers, our parents did not help us with anything.

    Basically, I think that by avoiding “status” things (stupid!) and not ever trying to keep up with Joneses, we live well — really well — in a material sense. (Honestly, unless you’re in really bad, bad shape, I don’t think there’s ever a reason to practice some of the more extreme frugality measures I read about on other blogs.)

    We also are all home for dinner every night and don’t ever work disgustingly long hours. I do work the standard 40 hours though and am finding that to be too much now that I have a second kid. So, with our finances on automatic pilot, my challenge now is to find a 30-35 hour-a-week job that will pay me the same rate — or get up my nerve to escape from cubicle nation.

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