Shauna L. Weatherspoon, president and CEO of financial services firm Weatherspoon & Associates LLC in Naperville, faced tragedy as a young woman, but that fueled her determination to succeed as an entrepreneur.
She has since owned businesses, co-written two books, served on various boards for trade organizations, inspired others as a speaker at conferences and established a nonprofit to help young women.
Shauna L. Weatherspoon•Born and raised: Milwaukee
•Business: President and CEO of Weatherspoon & Associates LLC in Naperville.
•Founder: President of nonprofit, Raising Our Daughters Foundation.
•Organizations: Served as chapter president for Women in Insurance & Financial Services in Milwaukee and served on the group's National Management Taskforce Committee.
Executive director of the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce in Illinois.
Co-author of two books, "Self Estate & Empowerment for Women" and "Pure Wealth, 26 Ways of Crazy Profitability."
Speaker and trainer at various conferences and programs, including the 2016 NAIFA/YAT Edge Conference for financial and insurance professionals, ADP Cultivate national speakers series, the WIN Country Financial Women's Regional Conference 2015, the 25th annual Black Women's Expo in Chicago in 2014, the Pinnacle Woman International Conference in 2014.
Much of that determination started as a girl after her mother died. She also helped her father and grandparents raise her younger siblings.
"My parents and our family always taught me to believe in myself," said Weatherspoon, 41. "My mission has always been both personally and professionally to empower others to do the same, to believe in themselves and go for it. Many of my relatives are and were entrepreneurs throughout generations. So entrepreneurship runs deep through my veins."
That perseverance and determination were part of the reasons Weatherspoon was one of 17 local women recently honored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger during the 19th annual Influential Women in Business Awards, hosted by the Business Ledger in partnership with the National Association of Women Business Owners-Chicago Area Chapter. The awards were presented to women executives who excel in business, civic and personal arenas.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Weatherspoon faced her first major turning point when her mother, Flora Jean Elerson, suddenly fell ill and died at 31 in 1989. Her parents had just recently divorced. Shauna was 14 at the time. Her sister, Felicia, was 12 and their brother, De Andre, was 8. They were then raised by their father and grandparents.
"Failure has never been an option for me to dwell on," Weatherspoon said. "I always had the responsibility to take care of my family. I wanted more for my life and my family's future. I refuse to make excuses. I have always been a very hardworking person who possesses a winning spirit and positive attitude."
She took jobs in sales and management with AT&T and Copesan, an international pest control management company.
"Although I did very well there, I knew by the age of 23 that I did not want to work for someone's company for the rest of my life," Weatherspoon said. "I always desired to be my own boss and build my own business and by the age of 25, I did."
In 2001, she and her husband owned and operated a real estate business called MAST Realty Group; a small mortgage division called Alliance Mortgage; and a home inspection business called MAST Home Inspections.
But tragedy hit again in 2009 when Weatherspoon lost her brother, who was 27 at the time. He was caught in gun crossfire, which he was not involved in. Later that same day, she lost her grandfather to Alzheimer's disease.
After losing her brother and grandfather, she found it difficult to continue.
"For a period of time, in many ways, I lost my will to live from losing my brother," she said. "It was very trying time in my life."
Later that year, she and her husband decided to close their businesses so she could pursue a career in life insurance. She wanted instead to help educate families and small business owners on how to protect their loved ones with life insurance solutions.
In 2014, she started Weatherspoon and Associates, which focuses on insurance and residential real estate. About a year later, she took on a partner, LaShara Davis, 39, of Bolingbrook.
"I remember the day, Nov. 15, 2015, it just changed my life," Davis said.
Davis thought she was going for an interview in customer service at Weatherspoon's firm. But it turned out to be a job in insurance sales that eventually led to a partnership in the business. "I've learned a lot from her," Davis said.
Besides her work and community organizations, Weatherspoon raised two daughters, Imari and Imiyah, and a son, Michael Jr. with her husband, Michael Weatherspoon.
The love of her family and belief in God are what provides her strength, drive and determination, she said.
Even her late mother was a great supporter and inspiration, she said.
"There was nothing that she didn't think her children were capable of accomplishing. So I have carried that belief throughout my life despite my challenges and tragedies," Weatherspoon said.
"I strongly believe that my tests in life have become my testimony to lead by example and show others you can overcome hard things and create a life worth living.
"You may not have had the best circumstances, but you can choose to write your own happy endings."