Women is...: Beth Cross & Pam Parker, Equestrian Entrepreneurs

Beth Cross & Pam Parker, Equestrian Entrepreneurs

profession: Co-presidents and founders of Ariat International, an athletic riding boot company based in San Carlos, Calif.

annual revenue: Approx. $40 million (estimated by industry analysts).

born: Parker, San Francisco, 1960. Cross, outside Philadelphia, 1959.

education: Parker, University of California at Berkeley. Cross, University of Colorado at Boulder. They met at Stanford Graduate School of Business where they both got MBAs, in 1989 and 1988, respectively.

first steps: Post-biz school, both went to work for Bain and Company -- an international consulting firm -- managing marketing strategies for Fortune 100 companies.

the inspiration: Both avid equestrians, they wondered -- when changing into sneakers after riding -- why nobody had bothered to design comfortable riding footwear. "Unlike the Nikes and Reeboks, we saw riding as a lifestyle. And we saw the gap and jumped in," says Parker.
the plunge: In 1990, they started Ariat from Parker's home, using both their life savings. "I will never repeat that experience, though. There was no privacy, not to mention the fact that most of my neighbors don't speak to me," Parker jokes. They hired top designers to create a riding boot that can be worn comfortably when you're not on a horse. "It was a superior product. We refused to take money from investors and spent all our own money."

why riding: "It's a lifestyle, more than a sport. It's part of what I identify with," said Parker.

why it works: "We're not Donna Karan, but image counts in riding. Our boots reflect that, which is why 30% of our customers are non-riders," says Parker. The company is now the leading manufacturer of English-style riding boots in the United States. It also sells Western and English riding boots in Canada, Western Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.
what next: Grow, grow and grow. "We'd like to become the leading equestrian company for both English and Western riding worldwide. But for the time being, we want to sit back and pat ourselves on the back," says Parker.

why they get along: Mutual respect and admiration. "We used to joke that one plus one equals three. The combination of us together is so much greater than one alone -- the sum of the whole overshadows everything else. Besides, neither of us are egomaniacs. Fundamentally, we are entrepreneurs; we enjoy creating the company, the daily management and the success," said Parker.

management style: Methodical, but easygoing and accommodating -- so much so that one can run into various pets and children at Ariat's headquarters in San Carlos. "Our goal is to create a culture and a flexible working environment. Life is stressful enough. We have the motto that lives come first and jobs second. We cannot be versatile enough," Parker says.

inspiration: Parker was inspired by her mother and father, an artist and a scientist, who encouraged her to start her first venture -- a jewelry business -- at the age of 16. Another role model for both entrepreneurs was one of the company's first investors: the late Frank Chambers, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist "who believed in us. That was kind of liberating," Cross says.
on success: "It's a great feeling. What we have is very special -- doing what we love. Our stars were aligned and we gave it a go. But the real key to our success is that we have the best team of people working for us. We're darn lucky," Parker says.

household: Parker's single and lives with her two cats in Burlingame. Cross is married and has three children, a four-year-old and two-year-old twins. "They come first," Cross says. She lives in San Mateo.

on the woman thing: The riding industry didn't offer a smooth ride. "At times, people [investors] thought it was a joke because we were seen as those two girls from California. By the time they paid attention to us, we were flying," says Parker.

advice to other women: "Work hard, hard and hard," says Pam. "Be committed. But the bottom line is that you have to be fearless about decisions and go for them. Never look back. After all, it is OK to fail, but not OK to stay still."