Many women business owners, including myself, know Marjorie Alfus from her work with C200 and the Center for Women’s Business Research. She is a trailblazer, icon and role model. So when I had the opportunity to speak to Alfus about her latest endeavor in the field of healthcare advocacy, I couldn’t resist the chance to also ask her about her amazing career path.
In 1946, at the age of 18 Alfus received a M.Sc degree in Biochemistry. After only two years in field, she decided it was time for a change.
“I met a gal who was producing the Gloria Swanson television show and I asked her if she wanted to go into business with me,” Alfus says. “In the early days of television there were lots of opportunities.”
So the two teamed up and Alfus transitioned from scientist to television producer. She and her partner produced four-hours of fully sponsored programs on NBC. Then Alfus married and joined her husband in his clothing business.
“He ran the factory and I ran the show room, “ she explains.
One day Alfus met a man selling beautiful knit sweaters. “I asked him where he got them and he told me they were from a small town north of Venice, Italy. Two days later I was there.”
As a result of that trip, Alfus brought high quality knitwear made in Italy to stores throughout the United States. She was a pioneer in outsourcing and for 15 years made monthly trips to factories throughout Europe while juggling the responsibilities of raising two children.
Night law school at New York University, was the next career move for Alfus. Because that’s something I share in common with her, I had to ask her what it was like to be one of only a had full of females enrolled in law school in the early 60s.
“I didn’t pay attention to how many women were there. Actually, I was glad there weren’t a lot of women because women are tougher competitors than men,” she explained.
Upon graduating from law school, Alfus became in-house counsel for Kmart’s apparel division. “I’m more of a business woman than a lawyer,” Alfus explains. (Something else we have in common, and we both agree on the valuable strategic thinking skills a legal education provides.)
As a result, she persuaded Kmart’s chairman to set up a direct sourcing/manufacturing private label business, which she headed until her retirement. Well, retirement from that position is a more accurate statement.
Today, Alfus is off on another endeavor in the healthcare field. Two years ago, she founded the Alfus Patient Advocate Certificate Program (TAPA) at the University of Miami. It is the premier healthcare advocate certificate program in the U.S. — designed and taught by recognized experts in the field.
“I like the idea that I am supporting the beginning of a whole new profession by creating a program that provides people with a pragmatic set of skills, “ she says. “My certificate program is case study-based. The courses will impart practical skills to students who can then go on to advocate for patients in a variety of settings.”
Now that the educational program is up and running, Alfus is launching the ICAPA Foundation to focus on a broader vision. She hopes the foundation can help educate the public on the need for health care advocates, and she plans to focus her energies on getting insurance companies to cover advocate expenses.
Before I ended my conversation with Alfus, I had to ask her, “Why at 82 years old are you still launching new ventures?”
“My mind and my body are still working. And you just don’t sit around when everything is working,” she explained.
With that we said our goodbyes and she said she was off to play bridge — another one of this wildly successful entrepreneur’s many interests.