Sheila Ogle: Philanthropic entrepreneur

photograph by Travis Long

photograph by Travis Long

by Todd Cohen

As a teenager working in her father’s store, Sheila Ogle learned that business and philanthropy go hand-in-hand. While she handled a range of jobs at Thorne Sporting Goods on South Street in Raleigh, including selling hunting and fishing licenses, her father repeated the lesson that a person “could never make any money unless you worked for yourself.” And by not pressing some clients in the depressed neighborhood to pay their bills, Carl Thorne showed his daughter there were many ways to support the community he counted on to make a living.

Ogle, who turns 75 this month, has spent much of her career creating and running her own businesses, including an advertising firm, a conference center, and a small-business incubator, as well as supporting causes she cares about. She helped start the Cary Women’s Giving Network and the Cary Community Foundation, where she and her late husband created the Carroll and Sheila Ogle Family Fund, a donor advised fund that supports the arts and historic preservation in downtown Cary.

“It’s all part of giving back to the community that’s been so good to us,” she says.

In 1994, Ogle was inducted into the N.C. Advertising Hall of Fame at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the UNC-Chapel Hill, becoming the first woman to receive that honor. And in 1998, she was named North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Ogle was born at the former Mary Elizabeth Hospital on Wake Forest Road and raised on Canterbury Road in Raleigh, and then on property she still owns in Cary adjacent to what is now WakeMed Soccer Park. Today she lives in a downtown Cary house that was built in 1830 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

What role should philanthropy play in business?

It should teach people in the business world to serve on boards and give guidance and counsel and the benefit of experience. It’s all part of giving back to the community that’s been so good to us. Our employees saw the culture of our company and I hope they took away from that how important it is to give back.

Why did you help start the Cary Women’s Giving Network?

To teach women you don’t have to be wealthy to be philanthropic. You can give $600 a year and parlay that with other people’s money to leave a legacy and do something good for perpetuity. All the nonprofits we give money to have to be Cary-based. And I’ve been able to meet so many new women not in my network of friends, and to show them and our children what it means to be able to give back to the community.

And why did you help start the Cary Community Foundation?

People in Cary, when we started it, had no idea what a community foundation did, or its value, or what it meant to start a family fund or donor-advised fund. It gives you an opportunity to take some of your wealth, put it in a fund and be sure that money can do good for perpetuity.

Where did you go to school?

I graduated from Cary High School in 1957. I thought I was going to have a big medical career. I ended up getting married at a young age and going to business school and having children and being a housewife, and working and putting my husband through school. I went to King’s College in Raleigh and got a business degree. I learned how to type and take shorthand. That was pretty much my formal education.

What were your first jobs?

I was a housewife and mother. When my first husband went back to school, I got job at Gregory Poole Equipment Company as a secretary. Then I worked for an insurance agency for a little while. And then I went to work for WRAL in traffic and continuity and worked for Jesse Helms in the early ’60s on Viewpoint. I also worked for Bette Elliott, the women’s director. She had a program every day at 1 p.m. I got to help her set up.

After he worked at WRAL, Helms was elected to the U.S. Senate and become quite controversial. What was it like working for him?

Several years ago, I was named Small Business Person of the Year by the SBA for North Carolina. They had a big luncheon in Washington. Jesse couldn’t go, but he invited me to go over and meet him. When I walked in, you would have thought I was the President’s wife. He introduced me to his staff, took me into the Senate chamber, sat me at his place. What a Southern gentleman he was.

What did you learn from him?

You don’t have to agree with somebody to like them. He was so radical. I rarely agreed with anything. But it made me really think about things and delve into my thoughts.

How did you get into the advertising business?

I went to work for J.T. Howard Advertising. It eventually became Howard, Merrell & Partners. I worked there from ’64 to ’84. I started out as Jack Howard’s secretary and buying print media. I ended up being print media supervisor and running the media department.

Then you went into business on  your own?

In ’84, I started MRPP, or Media Research Planning and Placement, an ad agency. I sold it two years ago to a company in Memphis, AdStaff Media.

What are your current businesses?

The Matthews House, an events and conference facility. It was a house built in 1915, and had been empty about eight years. My husband and I bought it in 2001 and restored it. Six years later, we added a grand ballroom that seats about 200 people. We added a bakery, called Patisserie. And we have an offsite catering division called Basil in Thyme. I also have the Cary Innovation Center, a small business incubator.

Who are your heroes?

My parents taught me so much about life lessons. Jack Howard taught me integrity in business. Jesse taught me so much about politics and life in the world.

Who do you admire in Raleigh?

Jim Hunt. Because of what he did and has done for our state and is still doing for our state. Although he is a politician, from an education standpoint, I think he was a great governor. He had to stay out of politics for a while, and then came back. But he hasn’t stopped. He’s still out there doing good for the state.

What do you like about Cary and Raleigh?

It’s the best place in the whole U.S. to live. It’s the best area for retirees because of education and culture. We’re three hours from the mountains and three hours from the ocean. We have a safe community and beautiful town.

If you could fix a social problem, what would it be and how would you do it?

Homelessness. People think we don’t have homeless people in Cary but we do. And we have hunger in Cary. We need housing, and more than shelters. It’s not giving people something; it’s teaching people how to take care of themselves, not just giving them a handout.

What inspires you?

Starting something new. I’m kind of a visionary. I love to think about something, then hire a team to accomplish my vision.

What is your favorite movie?

Eat Pray Love. She did everything.She went to Italy, learned the language, ate, hooked up with a Buddhist monk, had a spiritual life. She did it all.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, real or fictional, who would it be, and why?

Lauren Bacall. She was the epitome of femininity. Humphrey Bogart said she was “steel with curves.”

What is your philosophy of life?

Do good and good will come back to you.