Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

In the business world, dining etiquette isn't about the fork; it's about the person on the other side of the fork.

Rowena Crosbie has spent a career telling people which fork to use - and bread plate and water glass - so they will have the confidence to focus on the person or purpose of the business dinner.

As the founder of Tero International Inc., Crosbie and her team of 11 fret the details of corporate etiquette and protocol and pass on their knowledge in training sessions across the United States and the globe.

Tero ventures beyond the hand-to-mouth simplicity of corporate affairs to areas that include leadership training, the nuances of working with people from other cultures in parts of the globe that include Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Europe, Singapore and Malaysia, and negotiations, to name a few.

The company, based in Clive with an office in Omaha, provides reduced-cost or no-cost services to charitable and community organizations, including United Way, Beacon of Life, Best Buddies, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, Living History Farms and the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute's Youth Leadership Initiative.

In addition, Tero has a special program that helps disadvantaged women rebuild their lives and provides free scholarships to young people to attend a Tero workshop.

Crosbie launched Tero in 1993 from a spare bedroom in her home in Earlham.

She had $200 in the bank - the minimum deposit for a business checking account - and a commitment to helping others improve their image by acquiring social and presentation skills that would polish off the technical skills necessary for success in the business world.

A native of Canada, Crosbie came to Iowa in 1990 while working for Garst Seed Co. as a training specialist. While in Canada, she operated another business, in addition to her full-time job, teaching models the proper way to walk down the runway. She became a U.S. citizen in 2006.

"After three years of doing corporate training, I knew that was the right fit for me," Crosbie said. "I really loved a learning function that was so practical."

Operating her own business is "in my blood," she said.

The training and education provided by Tero refreshes knowledge that melts away with time.

"The half life of knowledge is four years," Crosbie said. "The learning function is as important as ever."

And that is true whether the economy is strong or weak.

Crosbie said she saw the economy weaken in early 2008, when companies cut back on their training budgets.

"We felt so blessed this summer to be so busy," she said. "After companies do their restructuring, they realize the training function is still critical."

When Crosbie started Tero, the program that generated 100 percent of the company's profits was IMPACT: How to Speak Your Way to Success. The program remains the flagship, but now it generates about a quarter of Tero's revenue as the company has ventured into other specialties.

Crosbie suspects that being a woman in business has presented its own challenges. In particular, she recalled that in 2005, after moving into new headquarters, she decided the company could use an operating line of credit to make sure that she could meet payroll.

In her years in business, Crosbie had not used loans to finance Tero, and the company had no debt.

Still, lenders would not provide financing that was secured solely by the business, asking instead for a personal guaranty and her private financial statements.

Crosbie wouldn't provide them.

"They would have been making a loan based on my husband's income; all of my income is tied up in Tero," she said. "I didn't think I should have to give my husband's income to qualify for a loan."

Tero continues to thrive, free of debt.

Crosbie said her role in the company - her titles are founder, president and owner - has changed from that of a teacher spending time in the classroom to a manager.

"These days I'm focused on running the business. That's a fun challenge for me," she said.