Women in Business: Kate O'Brien Minson, President and Co-Founder, Integrated Listening Systems

Kate has lived and breathed the therapeutic application of sound for nearly two decades. She has managed numerous centers over the years, trained thousands of therapists on the application of listening therapy, developed guidelines and protocols for listening equipment, and in the process developed a rare level of experience in clinic management.
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Kate has lived and breathed the therapeutic application of sound for nearly two decades. She has managed numerous centers over the years, trained thousands of therapists on the application of listening therapy, developed guidelines and protocols for listening equipment, and in the process developed a rare level of experience in clinic management. Most recently she co-founded Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) for which she overseas the Administration, Training and Program Development. Kate's intimate knowledge of all facets of listening therapy and clinic management serve to make the Practitioner training course very popular among clinicians and educators.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I inherited a strong work ethic from my family. My father was Canadian, my mother a New Englander and I grew up in New England. Neither heritage is afraid of hard work! Both of my parents exemplified honesty, integrity and fairness, and this became deeply ingrained in all of my siblings. Reflecting back, I find it fascinating to see how everything lined up perfectly for this, the most important work of my professional life. In high school, I devoured everything I could about biology and anatomy. I continued this interest in college with more anatomy, physiology and science labs. However, I was also interested in business...I suppose in large part because I had a number of family members who started their own businesses - it was a way of life. And, perhaps most importantly, I care about people. I care about the people I work with as well as the people we serve through our business.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at iLs?
I spent years alternating between my two interests. In medicine, I worked in both allopathic and alternative practices. In business, I held several positions in a manufacturing firm, and later worked as a consultant helping other companies with internal reorganization. In 1990, it all came together when my husband, an extraordinarily talented psychiatrist, and I decided to go out on a limb and open a highly specialized clinic (the first of its kind in the US). I love applying myself to learn new things to broaden my experience, and I am undaunted by hard work.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at iLs?
The challenges have been many. When we started iLs in 2007 the market was strong. Manufacturers were quoting a small fortune to make small production runs so that we could test our prototypes. This was my second attempt at bringing a product of this type to market, and I knew it would be the last. The next year, of course, is when the market began to fall. It was the sheer determination and perseverance my partner, Randall Redfield, and I had that allowed us to make it through. Despite those economic adversities, iLs came out of the starting gate on a strong growth trajectory. We've now put in countless hours burning the midnight oil, always thinking about how we can make our products better and introduce them to people who will benefit.

The rewards come in my inbox every day from someone we have trained. I read what a huge difference iLs has made to their practice or in their classroom. We frequently receive notes from a grateful family member whose life is transformed by using one of our products. When I read those notes/stories, I think of the life the child now has ahead of them and how many more choices they have ahead. I also have a great business partner and staff who love what they do. Both of these elements are extremely important to me and make a huge difference in my life, because I want to improve the quality of people's lives.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
I advise anyone to first identify your own special way of making the world a better place. Ask yourself, "What do I know and feel passionate about that will help people?" People are looking for solutions. And, while knowledge is important, it is passion that will carry you through as you will work long after everyone else has gone home.

Next, surround yourself with employees you like and who like what you are creating. Treat them fairly and encourage their creativity. If you chose to partner with someone, chose a partner you trust, with whom you can communicate openly and who offers you a balanced perspective.

Never, ever argue for your limitations. And, if those moments should arise where you don't know whether to continue, ask yourself, "What else would I be doing if I were not doing this?" If you don't have an answer, persevere!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Many people who know me well would laugh at the idea that my life is in balance. However, I take care of myself; I exercise, eat healthily and sleep as 'a baby should'. I also believe it is a must to develop a rich inner life which is reflected in how I live a meaningful outer life. I manage to get away on retreat one - two times a year. So, in many ways, my life is more balanced than ever.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Like so many aspects of life today, our business models are archaic. They are based on power over: 'beating' the competition, 'dominating' the market. I think we must focus on creating a healthy culture in the workplace through collaboration, open communication and a shared willingness to make the hard decisions. Fill your workplace with people who listen well and treat one another with respect.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It started with my parents at a young age. Throughout childhood I was exposed to values I utilize to this day such as being honest and living an integrated life. This means I am the same person at home that I am at the office.

I've been fortunate to have the right person come into my life at the just the right time to take me forward into the next step. I think people recognized my genuine interest, my sincerity and took me under their wing. I sought out those who had an area of expertise that was different from my own - I knew I would learn the most that way.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire the women who are willing to mentor other women ... women of all ages. Most of my mentors were men because it was men who were doing the jobs I wanted to learn. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to have had a woman take me through the 'initiation rites' at a much earlier age.

As role models in the world today, I am grateful for the efforts of Melinda Gates and Aung San Suu Kyi. Both of these women could lead a quiet life, yet they choose to make a difference. And what a role model Malala Yousafzai is for women of all ages who must deal with tragedy!

And, I admire those who are quietly doing small acts of kindness each day, whether caring for a loved one or feeding the homeless. There are countless selfless heroines on the front lines every day.

Have you noticed the volunteers in hospitals? At hospices? At shelters? They are often people who are well beyond retirement, yet they still give. My mother was making quilts and hats for cancer patients and volunteering at the blood bank into her late 80s! Now in her 90s, she still thinks about what she can do for someone else.

What do you want iLs to accomplish in the next year?
We want to bring iLs into homes for families to use as an integral part of their therapy and to augment what is offered in schools. We are reshaping our programs and trainings so that schools can easily incorporate them into a variety of settings. We are focusing on getting our sleep product, the Dreampad, out to help alleviate the sleep deprivation epidemic in this country - whether from stress-related sleep issues, trauma, PTSD or other disruptive events.

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