Dena Jalbert | Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Dena Jalbert knows entrepreneurs tend to suffer from “shiny light syndrome,” turning to the next big project that catches their eye. Sometimes they say yes too quickly to a contract that might not be right for them at that point in time. It happened to her, and it changed her outlook as a business owner.

As the CEO of Align Business Advisory Services in Winter Park, which she purchased in 2017, Jalbert leads a team that advises small and midsize businesses through the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) landscape. She had to adjust to the volatility of running a business instead of earning a steady paycheck as a longtime finance professional.

“It’s very much peaks and valleys,” she said. “When you read all the business books, the gurus say it takes a certain fortitude to plow through that, and they’re right. I didn’t know what it meant until I was a business owner. To keep an emotional cool through all of those peaks and valleys can be difficult.”

Jalbert’s persistence has been paying off. Align’s revenues increased 250 percent in 2018. Her employee roster has grown, too, with 11 associates strategically located in not only Central Florida but also Denver, Tempe, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and soon Austin, Atlanta and Boston.

“I’m really starting to see the value we create in the M&A marketplace,” she said. “In the last 12 months, we’ve seen a huge shift where investors are now reaching out to us proactively because they know the value we bring to them.”

One of the biggest lessons Jalbert had to learn was how and when to turn down business. Early on, her company took on a contract it shouldn’t have. “We had a client we didn’t have the bandwidth to service the way we should,” Jalbert said. “It was tough owning up to that. We had spread ourselves too thin.”

The client spoke up and said her company wasn’t ready to handle his case yet. “I’m so thankful to him for seeing it in a positive way and serving as a touchstone for us,” Jalbert said. “Most clients wouldn’t be so forgiving. I think he saw in us a bit of what he once was, so he had some empathy there, which I also like to model.”

Jalbert has been building her company to be the kind of place where she’s always wanted to work. She tells the story about a former supervisor who scolded salaried professionals if they arrived at the office even one minute later than their start time. “I remember that made me feel so small, and it was so demotivating,” she said. “I vowed that if I ever had a business, I would never do that to someone.”

She has structured Align around the philosophy that people work to live, instead of vice versa. She tells her employees her job is to make their jobs easier. That means providing them tools and technology, registering them for educational events, or joining them on a phone call to help close a deal. The company allows people to work remotely when they choose to, and it doesn’t limit personal time off.

“If you’re sick, you’re sick,” Jalbert said. “You shouldn’t be worried about, ‘Do I have the time left to take off sick?’ Absolutely you do. Go get better. … That’s the empathy in me. I have small kids, and I know that feeling of dread when the phone rings at 2 in the afternoon, and it’s the school calling to say, ‘Your kid is sick, come get him.’”

The company also offers 12 weeks of paid family leave for both women and men after they become parents. “If you don’t support people in life,” she said, “why are they going to support you in business?”

Jalbert subscribes to the theory that anyone can have it all — but maybe not at one time. “I can’t hold investor meetings and volunteer for school lunch and sit on a board and do all those things in one day — and go to the gym and eat a fresh, healthy, organic lunch I packed for myself. I always say, ‘Here’s your list. Pick three for today.’”

She credits her husband, who is in telecom sales, with being her biggest supporter. “He’s my true partner,” Jalbert said. “He keeps me cool. When the opportunity presented itself for me to buy the business, he was the first one to say, ‘Do it. Don’t even think about it. You absolutely can do this.’”

About the author

Diane Sears

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the editor-in-chief of i4 Business. She is the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC and co-founder of the Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect current and future women business owners with growth opportunities. She also serves in leadership roles with the Women Presidents’ Organization, Women’s Business Development Council of Florida/Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and Athena PowerLink.

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