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She Did It Her Way

Why are women bailing from Corporate America? We get answers from a group of elite entrepreneurs nominated by our readers

"Corporate America was great. But I wanted to do something more," says Pam Onyanyo, a former senior manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers. When she made the leap from the Big Four accounting firm to start her start her own ventures, she didn't look back.

Onyanyo, 37, who was born in Kenya, moved to the U.S. in 1989 with the intention of learning as much as possible about "what makes the West what it is and gives it such economic power." Onyanyo's 25-person Cedar Investment Group, one of two multimillion-dollar businesses she founded after leaving Corporate America, specializes in real estate development for poor and middle-income people in East African countries.

Onyanyo is just one of more than 150 reader nominations we received when we posted an online nomination form asking readers to submit descriptions of women previously on the corporate CEO track who left to start their own businesses. The call for nominees was part of our special report on women entrepreneurs.

Who They Are

We asked readers to tell us where their picks had worked and what they're doing now, and to submit a question for their nominee. After the nomination period wrapped up, our reporters and editors started sifting through the talent pool. In the accompanying slide show, "Ladies Who Launched," we profile some of the most impressive nominees.

Most of the women we spoke to left Corporate America because they wanted to do things their own way. One of the nominees, Victoria Colligan, 38, a co-founder of the female business-education company Ladies Who Launch, says that answer also emerged in a new study of some 1,500 women she plans to include in a book due out in May. She says fewer than 10% of the study's participants said they wanted to jump through the hoops to get to the top spots in big corporations. Rather, they're more interested in freedom and personal fulfillment.

That was certainly the case for nominee Stacey Antine, 39, the founder and chief executive officer of HealthBarn USA. During Antine's 16-year career in public relations, including two years as senior vice-president for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, she created educational campaigns for children and adults on behalf of big-name food and drug companies. She reached her decision to exit the PR world when it dawned on her that families should be getting the whole story on nutrition, not just the messages she was accustomed to creating, like "buy this yogurt because it has calcium in it." Her Wyckoff (N.J.) business, which she is considering franchising or expanding nationally, teaches families how to lead healthy lifestyles.

Do It Yourself

Kelly Bennett, 45, was also convinced she could do better and went to work for herself, leaving her job at the Los Angeles Times. Today her tiny secretarial-services company has morphed into the Valencia (Calif.)-based P3 Fulfillment, a multimillion-dollar, 180-employee packing and shipping business with clients that include Warner Bros., Earthlink (ELNK), Hitachi (HIT), as well as her former employer.

Then there's Kerrie Brady, 44, the founder and CEO of Traxion Therapeutics, a two-person biotech company that is developing new drugs to treat severe chronic pain. Brady's motivation for launching Traxion resonates with the rest of the talent pool: "I've always worked extremely hard wherever I was, regardless of company politics. After 25 years in the industry, I decided I could make a go of it myself, because I had worked with a number of people who ran companies—I figured I had learned enough to do it myself."

To see profiles on more reader-nominated women who left Corporate America to become entrepreneurs, take a look at our slide show.

Leiber is Small Business editor for

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