Shaila Rao Mistry’s personal mission is: Bold ideas when properly executed drive positive societal advancement. It’s this powerful statement that drives everything this successful international woman business owner, advocate for women, girls and business owners and NAWBO National board member does every day.
Born in India and raised and educated in London, England, Shaila is currently based in Southern California. She is founder and president of Jayco MMI, a company that innovates, designs and manufactures hand-held user interfaces for aerospace, medical devices, security and communication applications. Jayco has worked both nationally and internationally for more than 25 years with small and mid-sized firms to large Fortune 500s. The company’s competitive edge is not only its longevity with both customers and employees (many have been with Jayco since the beginning), but essentially the high level of respect for Jayco’s technical capabilities and excellence in innovation.
With her passion for STEM, Shaila is founder and president of Stem-Institute, a science, technology, education and management entity that works in the private sector, education, government and civil sectors. “STEM-Institute builds organizations and drives ideas from inception to complete fruition with innovative strategy and vision,” Shaila describes. “We influence policy and advocacy for change at home as well as globally.” Additionally, Shaila enjoys sharing her passion for STEM with the next generation—educating and mentoring girls entering fields of science and technology. She has been a positive societal influence in encouraging women leaders to break the glass ceiling in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field and to go beyond to serving on corporate boards.
When Shaila first started out, she had to learn, test and work the model of what it took to be a successful woman entrepreneur in a male-dominated technology field because there weren’t any women like her. “I am of the generation that pioneered,” she says. “Things have changed from the way they used to be, but as women, we still have to prove ourselves. When we know the business and can deliver, and we conduct ourselves with ethics and pride, we will earn that respect.”
More than two decades ago when Shaila first started out, she didn’t quite imagine such growth and impact. While she holds four master’s degrees and is a Fellow in public policy and had a strong career in advocacy before having children, she thought she’d have more time to do the things she was passionate about after becoming a mom—which she quickly learned was not the case: You have to create time for the things you are passionate about. She also wanted the flexibility of following her passion while still taking her kids to school, picking them up and attending their activities. “I jumped into business thinking it was an easy option,” she laughs. “Of course, in those early years, work came home with me in boxes, we did not have flash drives or remote logins, or the cloud. While the kids did their homework, I’d pore over the financials at the kitchen table and cook dinner in between.”
So what advice does Shaila wish she was given during those early years in business? She says, “I recommend talking to other business owners, particularly women. Go to events and workshops on running your business and join NAWBO now. I have been a member for 13 years and it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my business. Also, keep time for yourself to do the things you still want to do. Often, as women, we don’t do that because we are in relationships and are caring for children and parents. And lastly, pay yourself, because as women, we often don’t.”
Even without this sound advice, Shaila managed to thrive and grow her way. She founded new business entities and took them to success under the Jayco brand. For instance, there was a need for global trade in the 1990s, which was a major opportunity but unheard of at the time. Jayco led the way in developing markets in new territories for both import and export. “We were the pioneers of international trade, which created the pathways to the globalization of trade and opened new markets in our industry and others,” she says. “Today, we know this is key to economic growth and development for companies big and small.” She adds that, “We had a lot to learn about global trade back then, and even today as we open markets globally, we find we have to re-invent ourselves constantly so there is much to learn.”
Other major business milestones over the years include cutting-edge high technology products, design and innovation, opening new markets, solid infrastructure, licensing and certifications and best practices in key business areas like human resources, retention, risk management and legal compliance. She is proud to have steered Jayco through two economic downturns, and to have enduring sound fiscal management and core values like loyalty to employees and customers, which has fostered tremendous loyalty in return. She also understood business growth and prepared for it. This included building a new facility from the ground up and retaining 90 percent of her employees through the move. “This speaks to our growth and loyalty,” she says, “and really enabled our future growth.”
Additionally, Shaila has a passion for advocacy—using her voice to speak out on issues of concern as a woman and woman entrepreneur. For 20 years, she has served on multiple United Nations (UN) committees and as an official delegate to various UN Commissions. She has presented papers, seminars and workshops on a variety of topics that are at the forefront of women’s issues both domestically and globally. Her speaking engagements have taken her to five continents, where she has had audience with world leaders who shape the global reform of women’s rights.
While serving as a leader for multiple state and national-level organizations, Shaila has lobbied for issues affecting women business owners and health care reform. She worked to pass human rights and trafficking legislation and wrote the Charter on Human Rights and the Digital Domain. Most recently, she was appointed to the California Department of Government Services’ (DGS) Small Business Advisory Council. Her role, and the Council’s role, is to better enable small businesses opportunity to do business with the state.
“I’m now in a place where I can be the voice of women business owners at the big table and influence the process for businesses, so that it’s more accessible for us,” Shaila says. “The goal is to put the bidding process more within reach. My goal is to have the process made a little easier and more understandable for our membership. I am pleased to report that DGS is very welcoming of us and our input.”
So where will Shaila’s passions and personal mission lead her next? “Growing STEM is my passion, through enabling, leading and mentoring entrepreneurs and leaders from other sectors of the economy such as government, non profits and academia,” says Shaila. “We’ll continue to be a transformative organization by championing women’s leadership, gender equality, empowerment, opportunities to create financial independence and more. Driving this responsible organizational growth is the core of STEM and bringing together all my experiences and skills under STEM is what I’d like to focus and work more on. And, of course, I’d like to travel, speak more and complete my three books.”
Like all women entrepreneurs, Shaila Rao Mistry was busy. She didn’t think she had time to join an organization like NAWBO—until she experienced it for herself and decided to make it a priority.
“I attended a NAWBO-Orange County event on public speaking and thought I’d just go to one event,” Shaila shares. “I looked around and saw so many women just like me and joined immediately. They were so welcoming. I’ve been a member ever since and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Shaila immediately got more involved—joining a committee and then serving as vice president of public policy on the chapter board. She headed up the chapter’s public policy efforts, working closely with legislators and high-level decision makers and keeping NAWBO members informed on issues and actions. She also became the business policy advisor on the board of NAWBO-California, driving their annual Public Policy Days event that is now the Propel conference. Some of her highlights from serving NAWBO in a leadership capacity over the years include leading an all women’s trade mission to Belgium and the Netherlands and working nationally to influence better health care for all.
Shaila’s goal was always to do more—to serve on the NAWBO National board—but the timing had to be right. “It never is,” she laughs, “so after last year’s conference, I came back and mentioned it to someone, who encouraged me to apply. I was so pleased to be selected. NAWBO National is the best place to influence policy at the decision-making level in Washington, D.C. as well as an opportunity to work with some amazing, successful women. I’m passionate about making a difference and creating more opportunities and a better world for all.”
Over the years, some of the greatest benefits Shaila has received from her NAWBO affiliation are the peer relationships, support and encouragement. “We understand each other’s journey and always will,” she says. “I also love the overall strength, stature and feeling of oneness that comes from being part of NAWBO. My clients I work with observe my leadership at NAWBO and how well respected I am by my peers. In my global work, I am seen as the voice of a woman entrepreneur, so when I speak, I speak as NAWBO.”
Shaila adds that, “NAWBO also helps me advocate. For me, it’s all about growing your business and if you’re involved in advocacy, you are creating a better business environment to grow your business. Our role as NAWBO leadership is to enable more WBOs to understand their critical role in creating economic growth for us all.”