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“Can’t” is Not in This CEO’s Vocabulary

By Jane Nicholson

BOONE — Don’t tell Bonnie McElveen-Hunter “no” or that something can’t be done. If you do, you better step aside.

McElveen-Hunter is president and CEO of Pace Communications, ranked by Working Women magazine as one of the top 200 women-owned businesses in America.

The Greensboro-based company publishes in-flight magazines for Delta, United and US Airways, as well as Elegant Bride Magazine and magazines for Holiday Inn Express and Carlson hotels.

The company also produces on-board video and audio entertainment including the music and movies for airlines and Air Force One.

McElveen-Hunter spoke to business students in Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business during a recent lecture series that brings top N.C. executives to campus.

She said more business deals are being made in high heels and shared a variety of facts about women in business. “Women now make up 50 percent of the labor force,” she said. “Between 1970 and 1999, the number of working women increased from 30 million to 60 million. Women-owned businesses employ more employees than all the Fortune 500 companies combined. Women contribute $2.3 trillion to the economy, and by the year 2006 women are expected to own more than 50 percent of U.S. businesses.”

McElveen-Hunter said her success came from the support she received from her parents, and words of wisdom from her mother, Madeline McElveen. “We all have a foundation that we build our lives on,” she told the students. Among her mother’s

“pearls”: mediocrity is the greatest sin; work is the greatest privilege; time is precious, use it wisely; failure is only a comma, never a period; and can’t is a word that does not exist.

McElveen-Hunter tells a story to illustrate her point. When she was 7 years old, she and her two siblings were instructed by their mother to write the words “can not” on a piece of paper and then bury the paper in the back yard of their Bossier City, La., home. “Now when somebody tells me that something can’t be done, I know that can’t is buried in Louisiana. Of course it can be done,” she said.

McElveen-Hunter also carries with her a remark made during her college graduation made by Betty Friedan. “She said the only limitation on your success is self-inflicted. I walked out of there knowing that I could do anything that I could dream if I was willing to work hard enough to achieve it.”

McElveen-Hunter has worked hard ever since. While in her 20s, McElveen-Hunter become editor of Pace Magazine for Piedmont Airlines. Under her leadership Pace Communications, a spin off of the magazine, has grown from $123,000 in annual sales to more than $90 million today with 200 employees, 150 of which are women.

Pace Communications is the largest custom publishing company in America and the 20th largest publishing company based on revenue. Their publications reach 11 million readers a month. “Pace became No. 1 by exceeding expectations,” McElveen-Hunter said.

“All of us have to exceed expectations, and the way that we do it will determine whether mediocrity is a sin or whether we are really able to achieve excellence,” she said.

Philanthropy is an equally important part of McElveen-Hunter’s life and at Pace Communications. The company contributes 15 percent of its profit to charities in the community. It also provides a $5,000 tuition reimbursement to employees and their children, wherever they want to go to school. “If you are interested in improving yourself, we want to be your partner,” she said. The company also has built more than 25 Habitat for Humanity houses. McElveen-Hunter and Pace are also involved in the United Way.