A foundation for success

Marjorie Thomas (JD 76) traded her legal career for the medical news business

By Roberta O. Roberts

After 10 years of legal practice Marjorie Thomas (JD 76) discovered a nose for news.

Marjorie Thomas

Marjorie Thomas

Following her investment in a client’s startup medical news company, Thomas and client Bette BonFleur decided Thomas should take a professional leap from the law to become a 50/50 partner in Ivanhoe Broadcast News — now the largest medical news-gathering organization in the country, delivering breakthrough medical news to millions of Americans nationwide via television and its website: www.ivanhoe.com.

“I just planned to help her buy a camera for her TV news business and, lo and behold, I started doing all the things she didn’t like to do,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she loved calling station clients, negotiating contracts, conducting financial analysis and managing staff. When founder BonFleur decided to leave the Orlando-based business to move to Virginia in 1995, Thomas happily stepped up to the plate as Ivanhoe Broadcast News’ CEO and publisher.

BonFleur felt she left her business in good hands.

“It never occurred to me that she would not do the right thing,” BonFleur said. “She’s also my best friend and I trust her implicitly.”

As the company’s CEO, Thomas created an innovative corporate environment based on a philosophy she and BonFleur shared of building a business that employees would never want to leave. These innovations include a company concierge to run errands for employees, a massage therapist who makes monthly office visits, work-from-home Fridays, a dog-friendly office and a trip every other year for employees to work in a foreign country for a week.

In addition to making herself and her employees happy, Thomas said she feels rewarded when people receive the medical help they need as a result of Ivanhoe’s news distribution. Thomas shared a story of a diabetic woman in Denver, who, after seeing a story on Ivanhoe about a new medical procedure developed by a California doctor, canceled her surgery for the next day to amputate one of her legs. Instead, she flew to California to consult the doctor featured in the Ivanhoe program, who saved her leg from amputation.

“I want each day to be better than the past day for as many people as possible, and certainly medical and technological advances are the fastest ways to do that,” Thomas said.

Before getting into the news-gathering business, Thomas was an attorney, and has worked as a banker and a computer programmer. She said she went into law because it was her best chance for success at the time.

“It was 1973 and I didn’t think the future for a woman in business was open,” she said. “I wasn’t looking to establish my own business, I was looking for jobs with other companies and I had a very difficult time getting businesses to offer me a job in a management training position. And so I said, ‘I’ve got to go back to school and get a job that has an unlimited future,’ and that is definitely what law has if people take advantage of it.”

Thomas said she became the first woman to work as an attorney at Vandenberg, Gay & Burke, now Foley Lardner, LLP, in Orlando in 1976. Although she is no longer practicing law, she believes that law gave her the foundation she needed to be successful at starting and growing Ivanhoe Broadcast News.

“If you are looking to work less hours or have less pressure than law, don’t go into the business world because it has the same or more than the legal world,” Thomas said. “But if you are looking to do something that is dynamic and exciting that you love, then if it isn’t law, move on into the business world because law is a great training ground for running a business.”

Her advice for legal professionals looking to take the leap to start their own businesses?

“Be ready to cut your income by 75 percent and work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. And good luck,” she said, “because if you succeed, it is the most exciting thing you could do.”