Jill Bossi: The Would-Be Senator Risking It All

JBossi Photo4What does a woman who has been at the height of her professional game do after 30 years on the job in both the private and public sector? Why, run for the U.S. Senate of course. And if that doesn’t work out? What next for that 55-year-old with no job or income coming in? Should she get a job? Consult? How about working endless hours for no money and with a great risk of failure? Yes, you guessed it. She launches a start-up.

“I’ve bet my entire retirement, we cashed out everything. I really want to give this a go and think the gamble is worth it. If I am successful, at the end of the day I can shout ‘woohoo, I created a legacy that will go forward.’ If I am not successful, at least I’ll be a happy pauper who knows she tried,” Bossi laughs.

As it does for so many people, Bossi’s career started more out of necessity. As a single mom with no college degree, she was lucky to land a good job in procurement at MGM Studios after moving to LA from Arizona.

“It was a good job, good pay and benefits, and regular working hours so I could take care of my son. Little did I know it would become a profession. I found a real affinity to the work, and it became an interesting career that just blossomed.”

From MGM, Bossi move to Colombia Studios (now Sony) and lucked out with a great mentor who helped her focus on why supply management would be a good field in the long run. Over the next 20 years, Bossi moved around and up at various firms and nabbed herself a Bachelor of Science degree in business on the side.

In her late 40s, after a 5-year stint as SVP Supply Chain Management at Bank of America in North Carolina, Bossi became part of a high-level team working on the company’s Merrill Lynch transition. Like the economy at the time, it wasn’t pretty.

“I got a front row seat into what the future would hold and didn’t want to be a part of that. I knew a downsizing was coming and it was truly a dog-eat-dog world. Partly I also wanted to plan my own exit strategy and after 25 years in the field, wanted to do something different and more meaningful.”

The answer came when she was recruited to the American National Red Cross as the first Chief Procurement Officer. She loved both the job and the organization and would have probably stayed there if not for another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which came her way.

“At the time, like many Americans, I was feeling very disenfranchised by our political process. Sixty per cent of us are somewhere in the middle, and yet the twenty per cent on either side of both parties have hijacked the dialog. I feel very strongly that we are headed in the wrong direction with the divisive partisan politics in our nation’s capital. We have lost our way in   terms of the bipartisanship that is necessary for any country to move forward.”

So she felt it was something she simply had to do when the American Party of South Carolina, a centrist group created by a Democrat and a Republican, approached her to run for office. For nine months, Bossi ran a full-scale campaign.

“Obviously I didn’t win or you’d be speaking with Senator Bossi” she jokes. “My odds of winning may have been better than the Lotto but not by much, so IJBossi2011 was realistic about my options and thinking what I would do if I lost the election. An idea starting bouncing around in my head.”

After a lot of soul searching, Bossi knew she didn’t want to return to Corporate America or work for a large organization again. “There are a lot the things going on in business today that thwart our ability to succeed. People are loathe to support other people’s ideas because they are not their own. Big organizations like sure bets, things that aren’t risky … that’s why entrepreneurship is growing so much in the US. People can’t find their groove in big business, and I guess I am no different from most  – except I’m not a millennial,” Bossi laughs.

Bossi’s plan was to launch a group purchasing organization (GPO) devoted to NGOs in the humanitarian, arts, environmental, animal rights and public/society benefit fields. It’s called Thrive GPO because its goal is to help members achieve more through collaboration.

“This is a $320 billion market segment, but it’s very dispersed. Non-profits are focused … on their mission. They are passionate about that mission and everything else is an afterthought. So Thrive aims to leverage their collective purchasing power to help them spend less and do more”

Thrive LogoShe bought on a business partner and the two are hoping to officially launch Thrive in February. The venture is entirely self-funded and Bossi’s husband, the former stay-at-home parent who raised their four kids, has gotten a job to keep funds coming in. They are thinking about selling their home to continue funding the business but are also seeking investors interested in socially-responsible business. “They have the money to invest and already gift to these non-profits, so we hope they see the logic in that the money they are gifting will go further. In essence, it’s a 2-for-1 deal.”

Bossi wakes up in the morning and often wonders what in the hell she was thinking but as the day gets going and the hours fly by working on the business, the worries disappear and excitement builds.

“Yes, it’s risky and probably crazy, but the last ten months of my life have been the most interesting, invigorating, and dare I say – other than time spent with my family – the happiest in decades.”

Jill Bossi’s advice to those seeking to go out on their own:
  • Take Sheryl Sandberg’s advice – “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I did. Don’t be afraid to take that chance – the worst that can happen is that you fail.
  • Find a good partner – someone who compliments your skills and abilities and be willing to combine your dreams with theirs to make it happen. Be flexible.
  • Find your passion and follow it – life is too short to be stuck doing something you’re good at, but you grow to hate getting up and going to work every day.

Watch an advert for Bossi’s Senate campaign

Leave a Reply