An Interview with Gladys Burke from ADJ Enterprises
It’s not every day that you meet a successful, grounded entrepreneur who is always ready to help the community and other entrepreneurs grow. So, I am really happy and excited to be meeting Gladys Burke, owner of ADJ Enterprises and getting to talk to her about her entrepreneurial journey.
Tell me about ADJ Enterprises and your entrepreneurial work here?
That is interesting what got me started. It goes two-fold. One is when I had my first child and fell in absolute love with him and being a mom. I was new to the area and didn’t know anyone here. So I wanted to do something that would allow me to take care of him myself. The flexibility of managing your time by having your own business appealed to me. Family is my utmost priority. Also, at that point I was trying to break into broadcasting and journalism. I faced some difficulty here from a race relations standpoint for opportunities. I decided I am never going to let one person determine my destiny. And that is why I started my company, ADJ Enterprises, 34 years ago. We specialize in providing high quality promotional products/branding to businesses, government, schools, churches and individuals.
What has changed in terms of how you represent yourself then and now?
I was not necessarily the outgoing person you see now. I was more on the shy side. Once I opened a business, I realized that having an outgoing personality was a skill and talent that you needed to stay in business. Now when I see other shy business people, I see them as waiting for someone to come and talk to them so I will. I have no fear of going out and talking to people. I could be talking to the President and feel completely comfortable.
In terms of the industry itself, wow has that changed. Technology is like bam! And I try to keep up with it but it comes so quick and fast. To be in business you must keep up. When I first started ADJ Enterprises, it was an advertising agency and within that agency, we published a directory of black owned businesses, called BlackGuide, for about 3 years.
Promotional products were just one of the services that I wanted to offer to my customers. I didn’t know the industry back then and self-taught myself. I have had so much help from so many people. That is why I am so willing to help others because so many people helped me along the way. I love working with customers of varying industries, learning about their business and then helping them choose the right promotional item for their project.
You have been an entrepreneur for more than 34 years. What are the perks and challenges of being one?
The flexibility is definitely a perk. It was one of the first reasons I started. I have four children and all the years they were in school, I missed very few of their activities. Oftentimes, I would go to a school activity and then come back later and have to meet my deadlines. Family and faith is most important to me. The raising of my children was key for me.
The main challenge that every single small business has is- cash flow, sales. Even though we love what we do, sales are what drives the business. I don’t allow the fact that I am a Black woman to be a challenge. Those are simply facts. If it’s a problem, it’s the other person’s problem. I don’t own it as something that I dwell on or allow me to think negatively about my goals or potential.
34 years is a long time, have you ever felt like saying this is too much for me to handle and moving on to something else?
No, but back in 2008, when the economy took a dive, I said, “Lord I have had success on many levels, but I could lose this business and be okay”. It was painful for everyone. People with pockets deeper than ADJ were going out of business. The Lord did have his plan for me. I love what I’m doing because I get to meet so many different types of people. Many of my customers become my friends too. I am involved with community and believe in community service.
From a career perspective, what do you think has been your biggest achievement or what gives you satisfaction and joy?
I won small business of the year from the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce a few years back. But the biggest achievement was to be able to last through the economy when it crashed in 2008. It took some praying and a lot of faith. People would call me saying, “Gladys, why are you so upbeat?” Because you have to be! You just have to hold on and if we make it through, the economy will come back.
Who is/are your role-model (s)?
My mom, Mattie Clay Pinckney; smart as whip, but never was able to get the education that she would have wanted. She was a great negotiator. She loved yard sales and would always negotiate there. In many ways, she taught me how to be a good mother and a good business person.
My husband, Clarence “Rocky” Burke wasn’t in business with me and it was not in his area of interest, but he was an awesome support to me and helped me in any way he could. He always challenged me to think differently.
And, Madam C J Walker, the famous, millionaire black business woman, philanthropist, and political and social activist. I always figured that if she could do it, I could at least do some of it.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
You have to have focus, determination, endurance and faith. I could not have honestly made it out of the economic crash without faith. That was the number one thing that got me through. Now, when things are not as I would like them to be, I don’t worry, because I know the Lord has me.
I know you are actively involved in helping the community. Can you expand on what non-profit organization you are involved in?
The main one I am involved in now is our local civil rights organization, the Loudoun NAACP, specifically working with membership.
I took some time away from community service during the illness and passing of my husband in 2013. In 2014, Leesburg councilwoman, Katie Hammler, appointed me to serve on the diversity task force. It was the first community service that I became involved in after his passing. Out of that task force, the town setup a Diversity Commission. I could lead that effort to get the diversity commission. It was a grassroots type of thing to get everyone together and to get the town to hear us.
In 2015, I concluded my work as a board member of the Small Business Development Center whose main goal is to help local businesses. I love to network people who can possibly work together.
I have noticed several people (entrepreneurs, working moms, soccer moms) find it overwhelming to manage home and work. Do you have any tips on how to manage time to be involved with the community as well?
I live and breathe community service because I am interested in different things. I could go to the library and stay all day. If you want something to happen you have to go and make it happen. If you are not going to do something, then don’t complain. The time away from your family is good for you and I am sure your kids will come to see that the mom is standing up for something.
What does be “Be Bold For Change” mean to you?
What it means to me personally is probably different than it would be for other women. For me, losing my husband has changed everything. Reestablishing who I am, is where I am right now and working through it. I picked up a new phrase from another woman – it was about business, but I have applied this to my life as well. “I am not just going to have a good day, I am going to have a crazy good day.” I have been so blessed- health, strength, business. How could I not have a crazy good day? You just never know what the next day will bring and if there will be a next day. So, I always say, have a crazy good day! It reminds you that wherever you are in life it could be worse. So go have a crazy good day!!
We thank Gladys for valuable time and encourage our readers to stop by her fabulous show room and check out the wide array of promotional products there!
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