Former IBM Exec pays it forward by mentoring business hopefuls through local SCORE program.
Natasha Roukos did not know when she retired after nearly a quarter-century at IBM, where she was most recently an executive in charge of integrating and growing newly acquired companies that her mentoring work had only just begun. But, as soon as she came across the Westchester arm of national nonprofit SCORE, which offers free guidance to aspiring and established small-business owners, she found her second calling. (Third, actually, given that her professional life started off in electrical engineering.)
Today, Roukos—a Lebanon native and longtime Scarsdale resident—is co-chair of the Westchester all-volunteer SCORE operation, and is proof positive that community-building, altruistic work comes in countless forms. On a humid Tuesday morning in early July, Roukos talked with us about how she helps entrepreneurs and longtime business owners weather the challenges of charting a course.
When you retired from IBM, were you anxious to find an outlet to continue helping grow businesses, or did SCORE come along serendipitously?
Honestly, when I left, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew it was time to slow down, but two, three months into it, I realized I would appreciate something that would use my brains more so than going to the gym or socializing. I actually was at the gym, and the gym owner said, “You would be good at SCORE. When I opened the gym, I needed help, and SCORE helped me.” I looked it up, started volunteering within a couple of weeks and have been doing this for five years now.
Did SCORE fit with your notions of what typical volunteer work looked like?
I personally have worked on the business side, and that’s what I enjoy—the intellectual side of giving—more so than perhaps the softer side of giving. I thought it was a great fit, because mentoring one-on-one appealed to me; it also gave me the opportunity to do workshops. I do not know if this is typical, but it is the type of volunteer work that I like to do.
Does it feel good to know these businesses might be a boon to their communities just by flourishing there?
Absolutely. And there are people who need to grow their business to make a living. Just helping them is a good step, and then if they can help the community it’s another good step as well.
Cliché as this may be, do you remember an archetypal first success story?
I would say one of the first clients was an artist who has a business restoring very nice paintings. She does great artistic work, but needed help on the business side. She came for over a year every week, and we talked about how to create a contract for clients, find clients, find partnerships, organize her precious time, and little by little the business side to her grew. Her work is beautiful and she is a great success story.
How much of your guidance focuses on corporate and civic responsibility?
We always tell people to do things right in terms of hiring people, reporting numbers the correct way, not hiding revenue, and being truthful to their clients. If somebody comes in and is trying to do something that is not ethical, we certainly point it out.
This may also be cliché, but if you could wrap succinct advice for aspiring small business owners with a tidy bow, what would you say?
I would say don’t do it alone. There are resources in Westchester for you to check your idea, check your numbers, explore options, and point you to what you need to do... Knowing how to deliver a service or how to sell a product does not mean you know how to build a business around it. Use SCORE. It is good, and it is FREE.