What would you do if your doctors informed you at 29 years of age that you had 90 days to live? And by the way, you had to wait 30 days to increase your blood count before undergoing a possible life-saving surgery to remove tumors? How would that change you?
For Edwina Reynolds, she decided that she had been living her life too safely. “I never did anything! I just worked, hung out with friends, and stuck to my routines. I then made a bargain with God; I told Him that if he decided to save my life, I would start really living and taking more risks. But be careful what you ask God for, because if you are serious, He will deliver, so get ready!”
On July 17th, 1999, Eddie was given a second chance at life, and she ran with it! “I decided to not put off living for a second because there is no guarantee of time. I didn’t go crazy, but I bought the shoes I loved, I ate good food, I treated myself to the day spa, and began enjoying life for the first time. Time isn’t promised to anyone!” Then at the urging a friend, Eddie decided to move to Los Angeles and redefine her life. She was reborn as a survivor in many ways. She was about to learn how to survive career burns and rise from the ashes many times.
Eddie began her career in physical security with Chubb Security in 1996. In 2000 she was working for Rainbow CCTV. While there she experienced a climate of sexism and racism. Even though she grew up in the South, it wasn’t until her move to California that she experienced direct racism for the first time. She was continuously developing herself in her industry but now in a new role as a Regional Sales Manager for Rainbow CCTV, working under a racist and sexist boss.
“He would strategically say things to me about being black and female when no one was present. Looking back, I think he may have hired me to deflect from a possible law suit over racism; to prove, I’m not racist, look I hired a black woman!”
But he was stealth, making derogatory comments toward Eddie only when no one else could hear him. “He would take me out to lunch and bring up the OJ Simpson trial, “You know OJ did it, but because there was a majority Black jury, he got off.” And other comments such as, “Women shouldn’t be sales people. They should be home having babies.” I asked Eddie how she dealt with the burden of the double –“ism”, and she replied, “My industry is primarily white, conservative and male. I had to think about my responses all of the time. It wouldn’t go away. I remember thinking, “I don’t know the OJ jurors! I would just stare at my boss and not flinch. You have to have a strong mind and pray a lot. My spirituality and my faith is what got me through; I wouldn’t be here without that!”
But all of the racist and sexist verbiage she swallowed began eating her; her stressors were creeping through her body; toxic tentacles slowly poisoning her from within.” She again felt her body begin to revolt, and knew that she had to move on. “I left that job; he set me up for failure, and used the harassment as his weapon.” Eddie moved onto another job, but then 911 occurred and she found herself unemployed like many Americans.
As a scrapper who learned how to fight for her living, Eddie found a few short lived opportunities to get by. She then heard from Rainbow again, and agreed to return as a consultant working again with her sexist/racist boss. Eventually he was fired, and Eddie was hired and given the job of the National Account Manager in 2003. Formidable women are tenacious. Rainbow CCTV was an international company. They were grooming her for the job as Director of Sales and Marketing and she traveled extensively. From her business travels she met Alex, her husband of 10 years back in 2004.
In 2005 Eddie moved on to start her own company called Raytec Americas, an America’s division of Raytec, Ltd, an international leading manufacturer of LED based infrared and white light illuminators to help surveillance equipment see at night. She raised capital through her own credit cards and cashed out her 401K. Small business loans at the time were very costly and she didn’t qualify. She invested every ounce of herself in the venture. She drove Raytec’s America’s division from zero to multimillions in sales revenue, earning respect and accolades in her field. But burning on all cylinders was corroding her health; her fibroid tumors had regrown and she again required surgery.
She informed her partners that because of her surgery she wouldn’t be able to travel for a while, and would they consider handling the travel temporarily while she focused on administrative work until she recovered? They came back with a different proposal; they offered to buy her out.
Eddie was intrigued but wanted to present their offer to her attorney first, “He said it’s strange that they want to buy your business, these guys are in Europe, so get your money upfront, not in the installments they are offering. How can you trust them?”
She presented the proposal her attorney constructed right before she was scheduled for surgery on a Friday. While she lay on her bed awaiting surgery, she received a phone call from her British partners notifying her that they were angry at her for involving her attorney for advice and that they didn’t need to buy her out; they would just steal her business because it was their product!
Eddie lay on the gurney after receiving an anesthesia injection, about to be rolled into pre-op wondering how in the world could this be happening now! She shrieked at her husband Alex, “My life savings is in this! I can’t stay in the hospital a whole week. I’ve got to get out of here on Sunday to be ready to confront these guys on Monday!”
She immediately asked her physician what the chances were for her release on Sunday, instead of the following Friday. Eddie needed to return to the office on Monday morning to fight for her company. Her physician explained that if she could pass all of her physical exams, he would release her early. Eddie went into surgery with the plan of leaving in time for Monday, and she made sure that she did everything she could to recover in two days rather than the full week as was expected.
“On Monday morning I was back in the office and I called the partners in Europe to inform them that I was out of the hospital, they were astonished! I told them that ‘Shit is not going down like you think it is!” “They said that they were coming to seize my assets because they belonged to them, and without the products, I had no business!”
At this point Eddie reminded the partners that she lived in America, and if they tried to set foot on her property she would respond as a citizen of Texas would, and it would be legal. I removed the details, but if you consider Texas laws protecting its citizen’s rights, you can infer how the conversation went. Eddie was formidable and dead serious about her response.
Eddie filed a lawsuit against her European partners, but during this process, it was uncovered that her partners had been stealing from her for some time, by having other partners in her territory and not giving Raytec Americas credit for the sales. After the two businesses came to an amicable settlement Eddie’s attorney then suggested that she start a new business from the money she won in her settlement, and he expressed interest in investing in her because he believed in her abilities.
Eddie and her business partner took a leap of faith, “In 2009 we started Iluminar Inc. I began writing my own specs in 2011 to avoid the problems I was finding with current products on the market. I remember thinking that we needed to own our own products. Own your products, so you have control of your business and have it be worth something!”
By 2014 Eddie had developed Iluminar’s own products, but all of the revenue was re-invested in the company. They didn’t have cash to participate in industry trade shows, and not attending trade shows is equivalent to going out of business. Once again, good fortune presented itself through her industry connections, and Iluminar was invited to share prominent space with another vendor. This helped relaunched Iluminar.
Eddie is philosophical on her gripping roller coaster journey as a business woman and her health, crediting her training in resilience and faith for persevering, “I wanted to die when things got so painful and my world was falling apart, but my upbringing as a child of divorce, my mom working three jobs to take care of 6 children, my older sister getting pregnant leaving me to help raise four kids at 13 years old, helped me learn how to deal with difficulties later in life.”
“Each time, which was more than once, I was told that I should be dead by the medical profession, taught me that God saved me for a reason, there was more life to live and I had a purpose.”
Her message to women who face opposition when they chase their dreams is, “It doesn’t matter where, or how, you grew up, just go and get it, go do it! When one door closes, another one opens. I have had so much opposition in a male dominated industry, I’m the little black girl, and they don’t always respect what I have to say in the beginning. My tall, handsome Dutch husband can sell shit on a stick and they’d love it! But for me, I had to fight and work double time to earn respect.”
One incident in particular illustrates Eddie’s point. She and her husband were in a meeting with a customer when he looked over at Eddie’s husband and said, “Oh Alex, I feel so sorry for you when Eddie gets all upset!’” Eddie thought to herself, “What are you saying, I’m gonna get all chicken neck and roll my eyes? WOW!” But she kept her cool. This customer’s perspective of African-American woman was steeped in racial stereotypes and reality television shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Eddie controlled her justified anger to ensure she didn’t validate his misperceptions.
But for all of the naysayers, racists, and sexists, Eddie has attracted many wonderful supporters who have believed in her abilities and respect her business acumen. Recently many business leaders have come into her life to support her success, “I am eternally grateful to the people that came into my life at this stage. It’s affirmation that I am moving in the right direction, doors are opening, and I feel confident and at peace. When God puts something in front of you, it somehow works out with ease. But if you try to make something happen, and you keep meeting opposition, it might not be the right thing for you.”
I asked Eddie what was the best advice she has received and practiced, “Let Go and Let God. You cannot control anything in your life but yourself! Holding onto anger or hurt only hurts you! And God’s timing is best!”