Denise White | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Denise White

Background:  

In the 19 years since she founded EAG Sports Management, San Diego native Denise White has taken the company from an initial concept with a couple of clients to a big player in the industry with an impressive list of high-profile athletes on its roster. The El Segundo, Calif.-based company handles clients' PR, marketing, personal and business needs. Fox 2000 Pictures is currently producing a film about White's life, starring Jennifer Aniston.

The Mistake:

Being too trusting.

More than 10 years ago, I hired a woman who had no experience; I wanted to promote and elevate women in the business, so I decided to take her under my wing and teach her everything I knew. She started doing really well.

Later, I found out through a third party that she was planning on leaving me. And that wouldn’t have been a problem ... if she weren’t also trying to steal my clients. I was devastated, because I felt like I had given her everything she needed to succeed in a male-dominated industry, and she had betrayed my trust.

I had to let her go, and it was not a good breakup. I bawled a lot because I viewed her as a friend, and was upset that she would do something like that to someone who had worked so hard to help her out.

Almost immediately after that happened, I knew what I had done wrong: Rather than an employer, I was a friend who employed.

As an employer, there’s a big difference between being friendly and being a friend.

The Lesson:

After that experience, I was more careful about the kinds of information I was willing to share with employees, both personally and professionally.

It’s hard because, as a woman, you are taught to be nice, giving and trusting. But in business – especially in my industry – trust is something that is earned, and not given. I made the mistake of giving it away, and it wasn’t the only time I did it. I had another employee who was dealing with a personal issue, but because we were friends, I had overlooked the fact that she still had a job to do. It hurt the company.

When you become too much of a friend, the lines between your personal and professional life get blurry, and you might then start burying your head in the sand when problems arise because you are too emotionally involved. That doesn’t mean I’m a Scrooge; I love my employees and the work they do. But I’m not going to hang out with them at a bar on a Friday night, because I don’t want it to feel like I’m not their employer.

Denise White is on Twitter at @DeniseWhite_EAG and EAG Sports Management is at @EAGSports.

​Photo courtesy of EAG Sports Management.

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