By Susan Hitchcock
Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership
A quintessential example of an EVERY DAY SHEro is Boulder, Colorado’s Stephanie Boyles. Purpose and passion have always permeated both her personal and professional life. Those characteristics are clearly evident in everything she’s accomplished – and that’s a lot! In 2009, Stephanie founded Unbridled Rider and created an app for mobile devices for equestrians and trainers.
Since 2011, she and her husband have been full-time entrepreneurs as co-founders of Embrazio, a high-quality line of handmade leather goods and jewelry sold online and in boutiques across the country. Stephanie also holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, is a lifelong horse lover and equestrian herself and has held key positions in both corporate and small business enterprises. For 15 years, she was a director in BellSouth Corporation’s Science and Technology organization doing research, development and implementation of leading-edge technology including advanced intelligent networks. Prior to that, Stephanie served for 3+ years on the technical staff at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories.
Early Life Influences
Horses. As the owner of at least 15 horses during her life so far, Stephanie said, “It may have started in the womb, but I got my first horse when I was 7. It was the happiest day of my life, and even though he bucked me almost every day, he brought me total joy! I learned I had to just get back up so I’d say it instilled a toughness that was significant for me.”
Mathematics. Another key area of impact in Stephanie’s life is math. As a kid, she didn’t know that her future included an undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degree in that subject, but she definitely had a passion for it. “I would leave it to the last of my homework, kind of like my dessert,” she said, “and it was just fun. Later on in college, I thought it was a unique experience to be able to solve problems that had never been solved before. My doctoral thesis advisor gave me a problem to prove or disprove, one posed by a German mathematician in 1912 – called the Bounded Orbit Conjecture. After months working on it, I almost gave up. But in the end, the solution came to me and ultimately, I found a counter example – and – went on to complete my doctorate.”
Mother. Anyone who knows Stephanie would agree that she’s a very smart and strong woman – and it might be said that she comes by that quite naturally. “My mother was the oldest of five girls raised in South Georgia by a mother, my grandmother, who was forced to quit school after the eighth grade,” she explained.
“My mother was one of only two in her high school class to go to college. She taught math in high school and went on to get her doctorate in education administration when she was 52 – and she ran the Peachtree Road Race when she was 79! She was determined to see that I was going to be able to do anything that I wanted to do to be successful.” (Note: Never underestimate a mother’s influence or determination! Later in life, Stephanie had a similar opportunity to make an impact as a role model for success for her own daughter. Guess you could say – the apples keep falling close to the tree.)
Life and Work Choices
Education. The first significant decision Stephanie mentioned was her choice to pursue higher education. “Education can set you up to lead the life you want to lead.”
Marriage. Another key decision for Stephanie was finding a partner and getting married. “When Scott and I were planning our wedding, a minister we spoke with recommended a workbook called ‘Before You Say I Do.’ We went through it and talked about things like money (finances), religion, raising children, etc. We didn’t agree on everything – and still don’t – but it was a very useful process to help us understand each other better and find compromise.”
Children. “When our daughter was born, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to be a mother and have a demanding career. I had choices to make, e.g., whether to take an assignment with BellSouth International which could have been a positive move for my career. However, my daughter was very young, and I didn’t want to miss that time with her. That was the right decision for me and for our family – and I don’t regret it one bit.”
BellSouth School Project. Without a doubt, one of Stephanie’s top achievements is being part of a major project championed by the BellSouth Foundation. The company invested $25M in goods and services to implement digital technology across the state of Georgia’s public schools. At the time, the Southeast area including Georgia and especially South Georgia was behind in getting the internet in K through 12 schools. “Big corporations typically operate in silos,” Stephanie explained, “so it was extremely rewarding to see all the involved departments, the senior leadership, as well as the hourly union employees work together, do whatever was needed, to make this happen. It makes me tear up even now thinking about what a success it was. We upgraded 4000 schools with internet access!”
Embrazio. She’s also proud of the successful business she and her husband have grown over the past 12 years – a business different from anything they’d ever done. Embrazio was built around handmade leather bags and belts. As they’ve continued to expand their product lines, a new line has emerged – a line of upscale, casual jewelry. “We just returned from a sales trip to see some of our customers in Florida. It was terrific, one of the best ever sales trips. Interestingly, 50% of our sales were for our jewelry!” (Note: Most people would agree that no matter the economy, women love jewelry!)
Speaking about their business and personal life together, Stephanie added, “As a husband and wife, and as partners in the business, we typically see things differently. But integrity and fairness are common denominators in all our decisions.” Undoubtedly, that leads to a lot of trust as well.
Passion and Purpose
Stephanie said she’s always enjoyed people, people of all kinds, from different backgrounds and countries. It’s a part of her journey, her passion to see the commonalities between people versus just the differences. “And for me, purpose is having what you do make a difference for other people – and the difference you make is different for each person.”
“BHAGS” – Big Hairy Audacious Goals
Vision 1: Two distinct areas appear to have Stephanie’s attention as she looks ahead. The first has to do with her new line of jewelry. “I have a vision of creating a variety of pieces that work together, that coalesce. I see it as a fun journey and I can see shadows of how I want it to go.”
Vision 2: There’s a back story for this one. Stephanie’s had her current horse, Izzy, for 2 ½ years and she’s now 4. In equestrian terminology, Izzy is “under saddle” following a lot of time and training. A serious incident occurred when a bee stung Izzy while Stephanie was riding on one of her daily rides. She came down hard on the pommel of her saddle. “I split my pelvis, was in surgery the next day, and had months of recovery, including 2 months on crutches. I’m just now able to start riding again.”
“Now I have a completely new goal regarding my relationship with Izzy. Horses can perceive energy 7 times as well as people. So, I want to develop my relationship with Izzy so that she’ll respond with that energy rather than to a kick or pull. I’m super excited to work on that with her!”
Stephanie also shared a valuable insight she gained from her injury and rehabilitation. “From an entirely unpredictable situation, it’s been an interesting journey, especially in the realization of what’s currently possible in today’s medical practices. My pelvis was put back together with metal plates and screws, and I have absolutely no pain with full mobility.”
Book of Your Life
Stephanie says a book about her would have a theme of curiosity and possibilities. “I’ve always been fascinated by what’s possible and what will be. At BellSouth, we worked on pre-internet and digital networks, and services like fiber to the home and many other technologies. They’ve all come to fruition – and so much more!”
Focus: Present and Future
“I think it’s a combination. It’s important to look at what can be done, and what’s not in place today. It’s very powerful to dream and talk to others and envision one’s future.”
“But,” Stephanie continued, “it’s equally important to be present – and to listen to people around you and be aware of the environment. That reminds me of a valuable lesson I learned, not with other people but with a horse that kicked me. That time, I broke some ribs, lacerated my liver, and injured my shoulder. When I reflect on what happened, I realized that I had been totally in my own head, thinking about what I wanted to accomplish and what I wanted my horse to do. I didn’t think about the fact that my horse was afraid. To prevent something bad from happening, I needed to be much more aware, beyond just myself.”
Clearly, Stephanie Boyles, Ph.D., has many compelling life and work experiences from which we can all benefit. Most of all, she’s an authentic, down-to-earth, yet multifaceted and vibrant woman – a truly Everyday SHEro. Ride and lead on, Stephanie!
Interview by Susan Hitchcock, Creator of the AGE of SHEroes