The Islander: Taking the Leap from Employee to Business Owner

By Amanda Kuhnert

“We feel The Islander is more than a newspaper,” said Tonya Poutry, president—and longtime employee—of the North Hero-based company. “We are writing the first draft of history for Grand Isle County and the surrounding area.”

In 2016 Poutry bought The Islander, a free weekly newspaper serving Northwest Vermont and Northern New York, from George Fowler, who retired after 35 years at the helm. She was a natural fit for the role. After 15 years as an employee for the company, she had hands-on experience in every aspect of the publishing process and was passionate about the paper’s mission. She said that her decision to purchase the company was driven by the desire “to continue the long-standing commitment the newspaper has to the communities we serve.”

But Poutry knew that her dedication and experience would only get her so far. For the transition to be successful, she would need to make the mental switch from employee to business owner. She needed to step back and see the business with fresh eyes. So she reached out to Steve Densham, an advisor for the Vermont Small Business Development Center.

“I wanted to understand more about owning a business in Vermont and have an outside prospective on different topics I could have overlooked,” she said.

She describes Densham as “energetic, creative, and realistic.” When asked what she learned from him, Poutry shares these five business lessons:

  • Nurturing a team environment is key.
  • Stay on top of your finances—all of the time.
  • Be forward thinking—make five-year plans.
  • If you love what you do, it will always show.
  • Owning your own business is not for everyone. Facing challenges and successfully tackling them is a privilege.

At one meeting, Densham gave Poutry an assignment. “One-hundred and sixty-eight,” he said. “When we meet again, let me know what that number means to you.”

What Poutry soon realized is that there are only 168 hours in a week. If she worked 100 hours per week, then 68 were left for her personal life.

“In that one statement, Mr. Densham not only changed the way I scheduled my time, but opened my eyes to delegating responsibilities and prioritized the running of my business” she said. “The trickle effect this has had improved our business, boosted confidence within our team and opened new doors of success.”

To learn more about The Islander: www.lakechamplainislander.com.