Pam Mazza, managing partner of PilieroMazza PLLC in Washington, D.C., serves on WIPP’s board of directors and has been a strong supporter of the organization for years through her leadership and generous contributions of time and fiscal support. Pam is one of WIPP’s inaugural “Trailblazers,” a group of women who contributed $10,000 to support our education and advocacy work in Washington, D.C. on behalf of women business owners
It’s thanks to people like Pam that WIPP thrives. Thank you, Pam!
Q Tell us a little about your company and its mission.
A PilieroMazza is a full-service, woman- owned law firm in Washington D.C. working primarily with government contractors nationwide. Our principle practice areas include labor and employment law, general corporate counselling, litigation and all aspects of government contracting including a strong understanding of small business and socio-economic programs. We are committed to keeping our clients abreast of pending legislation, regulations or case law that might impact the operations of their businesses, and to working with clients to apprise lawmakers and regulators of the potential impact of any proposed changes. Our goal is to help our clients nurture and grow their businesses and to build long-lasting, personal relationships. We do our best not only to identify issues and obstacles but to develop practical, cost-effective approaches to overcoming them. We pride ourselves in being accessible, affordable and efficient in assisting with our clients’ needs.
Q Have you always been an entrepreneur? If not, what inspired you to take the leap?
A I grew up in this firm. I was a law clerk, an associate, then a junior partner. Shortly after I became a junior partner, the managing partner and rainmaker of the firm, Dan Piliero, passed away suddenly at the age of 48 and I had a decision to make about the future of the firm. Lawyers are supposed to have their ducks in a row, but since I had just become a junior partner, we didn’t have an agreement covering this situation. It was a stressful time but after weighing the options and working with his estate, I was able to buy the firm. That was in 1991. The short answer is I was young at the time and hadn’t thought that far ahead about what I would ultimately do. But I quickly became an entrepreneur and I’ve been sitting in this chair ever since!
Q What challenges did you encounter that you had to overcome as a business woman and what have you learned from them?
A I think that as the years go by, the challenges are fewer and fewer because of the reputation we’ve developed. But back when I took over the practice, I did have a very big concern: the controlling person at a lot of the companies we represented was a male and I didn’t know how they were going to react to me taking over. Would they stay or leave? I was fortunate because though a few moved on, many stayed.
I feel like I have probably had a better experience than many women I know. I see the challenges my woman-owned business clients face. Depending on the industry, it can be very hard for women in government contracting to break in. Many industries and agencies still function under the good-old-boy system and it’s hard for a woman entrepreneur to get her foot in the door. I see women struggling for recognition of their talents; struggling to have people look past their gender and consider their technical capabilities.
I think there also might be challenges when you look at the differences between males and females in leadership roles. A tough male boss is viewed as a solid taskmaster, but if you have that same personality as a female you’re viewed differently. We’ve got to continue to figure out how to co-exist.
I think my main advice is probably to keep pushing through, get your job done, don’t get wrapped up in the prejudices and figure out how to work around them.
Q Do you have a success story that you are particularly proud of? Tell us about it.
A I’m really proud of the law firm we’ve built and I think the firm is my biggest success. We employ 42 people, including 24 lawyers. We had eight when I took over. We have high-quality attorneys who are committed to what we do and the clients we serve. We try to make certain that every client has a good experience. We make certain they understand our different practice areas so they can find the person who can provide them with the knowledge and help they need. I learned many years ago that the clients who stay are the ones who know more than one person at our firm. So, I try to make sure every client has good relationships with and access to more than one lawyer. It’s unusual for a small firm like ours to maintain such a diverse practice and to be competitive with large and small law firms and I am very proud of what we’ve built, the principles we maintain and our reputation within the government contracting community.
Q What tips would you share with other women pursuing entrepreneurship?
A It’s important to follow your dream but also to understand your market. Before you jump in, make sure you know what your potential is, what your industry is, who your customers are, and make absolutely certain that you vet your business partners. Whether they are co-owners, teaming partners or key employees, make sure you have the same ethics, the same ideas, and that you agree on expectations. That means putting it in writing. Those kinds of business relationships can go sour quickly, and the best thing to do is think things through at the beginning so there’s a roadmap if they do.
Q What obstacles do you think are the hardest for women business owners to scale?
A Scaling a business requires financial resources, a dedicated staff and a wise business plan. Women entrepreneurs still have trouble with access to credit and capital, which can hinder attracting and retaining the key employees necessary to take a business to the next level. I do believe the situation has improved over the past decades but I still see clients who struggle with these challenges. I also suspect that many women still struggle with juggling their roles as mothers—which is critically important—with their roles as entrepreneurs, which is also a critical role. Both jobs require much effort and I do not believe that many women can accomplish both to their satisfaction, especially when trying to scale a business. I don’t care what anyone says, no one can be super woman all the time and each of us needs to strike the most comfortable balance for ourselves.
Q Tell us about your experience as a WIPP member. What resources and value has WIPP provided that has been helpful to you and your company?
A I love being on the WIPP board. I have met so many interesting women and am developing better, deeper relationships with them every day. We share tips, send referrals, and are all working together to build our advocacy effort to make it a better place for women entrepreneurs. It’s a very meaningful experience for me.
As far as resources, all the networking is fantastic. Also, WIPP’s resources like the Give Me 5 program, the annual conferences, networking opportunities and the legislative initiatives have been very valuable to many of our clients.