Sheryl Mahoney Jackson pauses during a tour of the grounds to show a visitor the resurrection fern and the Spanish moss growing on the stately ancient live oaks that front the beautiful antebellum Farnum House Inn on Columbia Road north of Orangeburg.
Jackson has a passion for sharing the home that she and Orangeburg obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Thomas Key, purchased in 2016 and later transformed into a charming bed and breakfast, event venue and historical attraction.
The home was built by General Jacob Rumph sometime around 1785, after the Revolutionary War, according to writings by Frances Asbury, the first bishop of what was to become the Methodist Church in America. Asbury was a close friend of Rumph and his wife Mary and often stayed at the home. As he traveled his ministerial circuit from Baltimore to Mississippi, Asbury came to call the Farnum House his "place of rest."
"Walking around the grounds, there's a peacefulness and a tranquility," Jackson said. "There's so much noise in our lives ... a lot of mental noise, busy schedules, hectic stuff, and all that becomes noise that's vying for our attention and can cause overwhelming stress. One of the most important drivers of success in business stems from clarity – clarity of vision, clarity of areas of focus, clarity of service offerings. There's times when we just need to unplug, and it's very easy for guests to do that here at The Farnum House Inn."
"You step back in time just a little bit; it's a little slower pace," she added.
While her guests relax and rejuvenate at the Farnum House Inn, Jackson's mind is constantly exploring new opportunities.
"I'm always thinking ... my mind wakes up before I get out of bed in the morning," she said. "Tom will tell you that I see a complete business concept in my mind that is already successful. I can see it rolled out, go live, growing and making money before it's even built."
Jackson said her passion for business development, entrepreneurship and problem-solving was first nurtured by her late father, who was a physicist.
"I think I was able to acquire a lot of those basic principles from him. For instance, how to identify a problem that needs to be solved for. Naturally, there are certain personality types who migrate toward problems that others are intimidated by," she said. "I think business, entrepreneurship is that ... . What is it in our community that we are lacking? Where are the gaps? That's what entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders are drawn to."
Jackson said she started off working in a healthcare administration degree program, then moved into a business program, completing her undergraduate work at Texas Women's University. She went on to Southern Methodist University, where she completed certificate programs in Women In Leadership and Entrepreneurship. In 2014-15, she completed an executive certificate in Nonprofit Governance through the University of Texas-Dallas.
"I have a heart for nonprofits as well," Jackson said. "I was a founding board member for three nonprofits in Kentucky when I lived there, and I also serve on a couple of national nonprofit boards. A favorite is ewlusa.org, which is Empowering Women As Leaders. I've been affiliated with them since 2007."
One of Jackson's mentors is Kym Sosolik, https://www.linkedin.com/in/kymsosolik/, senior vice president of Talent Development Consulting at Lee Hecht Harrison Southern Region, who wrote the curriculum for the Women in Leadership certificate program at SMU, she said. Another mentor of Jackson’s is Carolyn Bondy, Vice President; Americas Services for Intergraph.
Early in her professional career, Jackson worked with a state medical association and in clinical and diagnostic lab management, she said.
"I took a little break and had three children, and during that time raising my children, I was involved with founding some nonprofit organizations," Jackson said, including Hope's Place, which provides integrated services for victims of child sexual abuse through schools, social services, the judicial system, law enforcement, forensics labs and the healthcare system."
Prior to moving to South Carolina the summer of 2016, Jackson had been working with a national consulting firm, helping the company to expand its service offerings and grow its client base.
After she and Dr. Key purchased the Farnum House with the intention of simply making it their home, Jackson said people in the community began sharing stories about the property, many telling them that the Farnum House was like their "dream home" and lamenting that they'd never been inside the antebellum residence.
"We both came to the conclusion that we could open this home as a bed and breakfast, an event venue and also provide historical tours of the house and botanical tours of the perennial garden," she said. "We had no idea how quickly that would ramp up. I think there was an excitement around that ... not just a need, but an excitement and support from the broader regional community."
That excitement, word-of-mouth, and social media reviews from guests who have enjoyed their "5-star" experiences at the Farnum House Inn have parlayed into a very successful business venture for the couple.
Jackson, as Owner-Operator, is a huge reason for that success. She has a passion for sharing her insights about business development and entrepreneurship with others, especially women. She offered some advice for young women considering a career in business.
"Business is that place for those who have grit and fortitude. Business requires commitment. Business is a place where you will need to own your own destiny and share it with people," she said. "When you are owning your own destiny, you have goals in mind, you have a vision, you know what your purpose is ... it's clear. Having an idea without action doesn't go anywhere. Clarity, collaboration and execution is everything."
Women have always had to overcome challenges in the business world, including the pay gap between men and women who have the same skill sets, Jackson said.
"I think the dial's moved just a little bit, but not like it could or should" in terms of women moving into executive leadership positions," she said. "We do have those disparities in terms of women's absence at the top and in middle management."
However, Jackson noted, "We have made great strides, women and girls, in not believing that they have barriers … . Our mind-sets have changed. We really don't have any gender barriers. So far as the whole glass ceiling is concerned, it has been broken. Barriers and obstacles are inherent to business. We solve for them."
Women are valuable to a business because "they network very well, they collaborate very well. They are more inclusive in terms of building teams. They invest in their teams and they invest in each other. Successful women invest in each other," she said. "It's about raising each other up and advancing each other."
"We don't hoard intel; we do just the opposite … . We communicate because we enjoy each other. We talk freely. If we can cross-train someone else, we have just made them more valuable to the organization and to the team. They're going to be more proficient and more effective in their role." Jackson noted.
One of the most significant changes in business is how men are interacting with women, she said.
"The smart guys understand that it's an organizational and workplace imperative to advance women and to champion women and to champion women's causes," Jackson said.
The future promises to be an exciting one for women in business as well as in other professional fields, she said.
"More women are graduating from college today than men. We have more girls going into STEM programs than ever before. These are things that are going to be changing the way we think and do life and do business in the future."