Women is...: Doris Christopher Cooking Up a Business

Doris Christopher Cooking Up a Business

who she is: Founder, The Pampered Chef

annual sales: $394 million

the biz: This Addison, Ill.-based utensil company has carved a healthy chunk of business for itself since 1980, when Christopher held her first in-home party to display her wares. The company now employs more than 615 workers locally and 42,000 sales representatives nationwide.

career path: Christopher took a typical "woman's degree" (a B.S. in home economics from the University of Illinois) and turned it into a moneymaker. When her two daughters came along, she yearned for a career with flexibility. "I saw my friends didn't feel the same way I did about being in the kitchen, and I knew it was the stuff in the drawers that made the difference; [proper kitchen tools] could save people time."

growing the business: Struggling to make a name for the company outside the Chicago area, Christopher's fledgling company got some publicity in national women's magazines just as direct selling (offering products without a middle-man retailer, such as at home parties) became an even bigger phenomenon in the 1980s.

biggest mistake: "You think you can do it all yourself as an entrepreneur. We were a little slow to bring in top-level managers because we were trying to keep the business very simple and cost-effective. We brought in our first vice president about seven years ago and now have a wonderful team of managers."

all in the family: After some soul searching about whether they'd be able to work well together, Doris hired her daughter Julie, 26, in the company's public relations department after Julie completed a journalism degree and spent a few years in publicity at other firms.

secret to her success: "The key was that we had the structure to capitalize on uneven growth spurts. When we finally got some publicity, we were ready for it."