Moving to a new city, starting a business, balancing family commitments, and confronting a personal challenge can seem like a daunting task, until you meet Dorothy Miller Twinney.
Her inspirational story started in her hometown of Boston and her journey continued when she arrived in the Detroit area in 1994, when her then-husband took a job with Ford. In 2009, Dorothy decided to start a business so she could take care of two young sons as a single mother.
As the the founder and owner of RBD Creative, a Plymouth-based marketing and design company specializing in both print and digital marketing collateral, Twinney, 46, has watched her business grow to seven employees and expand globally, all without losing sight of always wanting be there for her two sons.
Dorothy’s company develops and creates everything from logo design to websites to brochures to trade show displays while assisting clients in reaching their marketing goals by designing programs focused on encouraging clients to take action.
A Boston University graduate, Twinney has adopted Detroit as her home, although she will tell you she’s proudly Boston-born and a big Red Sox fan.
I recently caught up with Dorothy to discuss her commitment to Detroit and overcoming personal and business challenges while balancing family life.
Lee: You’re a Boston native, but you have become committed to this city and region. What fuels your passion for the Detroit area?
Twinney: I am a Boston girl and a serious Red Sox fan. My passion for Detroit stems directly from being a proud Bostonian. In Boston, we have rich history that also has the infrastructure to support it and love on it. Here in Detroit, I am amazed by our neighborhoods, architecture, zoo, aquarium, and county and state parks, and most importantly, our people and their can-do attitude. Detroit has been down, and Detroiters have had to prove their resilience to bring a great city back. Fight or flight, right? Detroiters fought.
While I am proud to be a Bostonian, I think I feel even prouder to be considered a Detroiter. This city and region adopted me, and I am thrilled to be a Detroiter.
Lee: You worked in corporate for several years before starting your own company. What drove you into entrepreneurship, and why creative design?
Twinney: I started my company as a freelancer. I left corporate America to spend more time with my sons when they were in kindergarten and subsequent elementary grades. I had been wonderfully successful in my professional life, but my most amazing role in life is as a mother. I recognized early on that I wanted to be at soccer games and in my boys’ classrooms, and I needed to find a work/life balance as a single mother. My little freelance business then grew as my clients’ needs increased.
Today, I am proud to have global clients and I am very proud to lead a company with seven employees. I am also proud to have done this during a very tough economic time in Southeast Michigan. My sons grew up in my business. They helped me make deliveries, prepare proposals, and even occasionally go to a meeting or two. I think it was really good for them to see their mother build a business while also building a family. My son Marc is now 18 and headed to University of Michigan next month. My son Bryan plays Varsity Lacrosse for Plymouth High School, and RBD Creative is thrilled to be one of the sponsors of his team.
Lee: What have been your keys for success and your marketing approach for supporting RBD Creative?
Twinney: Professionally, I don’t necessarily think of myself as a business owner first. I think of myself as a relationship builder. I love meeting new people, learning about their business, and then helping them build that business over the course of years with creative and pointed marketing solutions. I don’t ever want to be a one-hit-wonder; a decade later, I want to be in a relationship that we are all proud of. I also just plain love to make connections with friends who can benefit from other friends’ expertise. Networking is so critical in your business and personal life.
Lee: Over the years, what business challenges have you had to overcome and how has your business navigated the obstacles?
Twinney: My biggest challenge in business is getting paid in a timely manner. This is the same challenge I had as a freelancer, but now I have seven employees who also depend on me. I try to stay ahead of our aging report to receive prompt payment, but it’s not always easy. I think that is the biggest challenge small business owners have to overcome.
Lee: Personally, you’ve had a situation where you’ve had to overcome. Now, I’ve noticed you’re a huge advocate for breast cancer awareness and recently walked 60 miles. Your passion is contagious and your sons are stepping up too.
Twinney: My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on one side when I was in college and then again five years later on the other side. I nursed her through both diagnoses. I started walking in the Susan G Komen 3-Day for my mom, her sister, and dear friends who were battling the disease. Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with the same cancer. It was fight or flight, and I absolutely decided to fight, and keep walking.
This year—nine years after my first walk—I walked 60 miles with my elder son in my sixth 3-Day. I also walked in the midst of treatment two years ago. I believe that when communities see the “sea of pink” walk through their communities (tired, hot, sweaty and with aches and blisters) that we remind women (and men) to do self exams, go for mammograms and fight hard if they get that dreaded diagnosis too.
My younger son has already decided he is walking with me next year. My boys were there when I was recovering from a double mastectomy. When I couldn’t push myself up in bed, one got behind me, straddled me, and pushed while the other held out his arm to let me pull up. When I couldn’t open pill bottles, they did it for me with a glass of very iced water. Their courage and love are what stokes my passion for this cause. I don’t want women to be scared of a breast cancer diagnosis. I want them to be empowered and have treatment and knowledge at their fingertips. I keep walking because I must.
Lee: Please talk about the importance of teamwork and how your team and stepped up in your absence.
Twinney: I wasn’t absent very long. In fact, I was emailing on my recovery bed in the hospital hours after surgery to the very wonderful PR guru, Carolyn Krieger Cohen of CKC Agency. You can’t keep a good woman down! Not being able to drive was a definite issue after each surgery. I was so blessed by teammates who brought me into work for a few hours at a time as soon as I was ready (which was a little earlier than the doctors wanted me back to work). We were based in downtown Detroit from 2009-2014, but ended up moving RBD Creative to Plymouth so I would be within a mile or so of our office to make things easier during my treatment and four surgeries. We loved being part of the renaissance of Detroit! and we’d still be there if my health situation had been different that year.
I hand-selected my team not only because of their talent and professionalism, but because of their huge hearts. I lost a couple of employees during my recovery, but the ones who remained steadfast hold a very special place in my heart. It’s not easy to support a friend, loved one, or boss through such a recovery, but they did! And they did it with compassion, love, and incredible strength.
If someone is going through cancer, there is nothing more important than dear friends to lean on. I had a very dear friend who went to every appointment, every surgery and just plain cared for me when I was going a little crazy with “what ifs” and fear. Friends are so critical in times like these. I was super lucky.
Lee: Not only are you running a major creative design firm, you’re branching out into another venture. What is it and why?
Twinney: I am! My son is headed to college and his brother is two years behind him. Big bills! I started my career 24 years ago in Real Estate in Massachusetts and then in Michigan. At the time it wasn’t the right decision for me in Michigan. It was before GPS and man, did I get lost! No one tells a Michigan newbie that 8 Mile is the same as Baseline! I got frustrated and left Real Estate to go into Corporate Marketing.
Almost 23 years later, when I was faced with looming bills for Marc’s and Bryan’s educations, I knew I had to do something extra to make ends meet, as I don’t want them graduating with a lot of debt. So it was a natural decision to also start selling Real Estate again with Remerica Hometown One and my broker, John McArdle. And I love it! I love helping people with what is likely the biggest transaction of their lives. I have also realized in the last few months that my love of Real Estate and my strength in Marketing go hand in hand seamlessly. It was not a matter of picking one career over another. It was more about blending two careers to educate my boys as best as I can.
Lee: You’re running two businesses and raising two young men. When do you rest?
Twinney: LOL. Rest? What is that? No, seriously, I carve out time for my family and friends. I think downtime is so important when trying to balance career and family. It can be tricky at times to remember why I work so hard. I am working hard for my family and I am grateful for technology to keep me connected when I am at a game, spending quality time with friends and family, or just walking my dogs. This is actually something I am really working on right now with the two careers. I recognize when my stress level soars and then know I need to sit back, take a deep breath and take my dad shopping or go on a Pokémon Go walk with my sons.
We need to remember why we work hard and then relish the time with our priorities. In my case, that is family and dear friends. And for the record, I have a German Shepherd and a Coonhound in my lap loving on me. All of this is so important.
Lee: Other thoughts?
Twinney: I believe you can have it all if you strike a balance. I know business owners who don’t spend a lot of time at home with their loved ones. I am not chasing the allmighty dollar. I am raising a strong, fiercely independent family who values time together whether we are hanging out, working or supporting our friends. Sunday dinner is essential. Even when schedules get busy, we say grace and break bread together. I think family is the most important part of anyone’s life and it drives me to be a better business woman and a better corporate citizen. I am also leading an incredible creative team who loves what they do and they are very good at their crafts.
Lee: Contact information?