Lynda Ellis remembers the day she purchased her company, Capitol Concierge — because it was the middle of the night. “It was 3 a.m., and I knew I was going to buy it,” she said.
The path to getting there started in 1998 when she joined the Capitol Concierge management team. At that time, the board was making moves to sell the company, and between 1998 and 2005, three different buyers expressed interest. Meanwhile, in 2000, Ellis became president of the company and began to expand its services.
Today, Capitol Concierge’s services include everything from dog-walking to dry-cleaning, gift baskets to floral arrangements. A virtual concierge puts unlimited service at the customer’s fingertips via online order placements, and then your concierge facilitates the fulfillment of the order.
Ellis was expanding this business model when another company indicated they were very interested in pursuing a deal, but, as Ellis said, “I had to be part of the deal.”
She wasn’t willing to go. “It was a good old boy network, and it is not right when your voice is not heard because you’re female. I’ve done that dance enough. That became a showstopper for them,” said Ellis.
The board told Ellis if she didn’t go, the deal would be off. She told them, “You’re walking away with a lot of cash. I’m walking away working with men who don’t value a woman’s input in the business world.”
Ultimately, Ellis decided to buy the company herself, and in November 2006, she became the sole owner.
In 1998, Capitol Concierge had 87 employees, 19 of whom were in the corporate office, then located in Washington, D.C. Now the company has 370 employees and operates across the nation, and in Ireland and the U.K., with 17 people in the corporate headquarters, which has since moved to Howard County.
She still remembers her first meeting with employees as the new owner. “I told them, if you come along with me, we’ll make this a national company — and then make it global. We have done that.”
Two keys, Ellis said, have been high standards and a very selective hiring process.
“I love that we’ve created a lot of professional jobs and continue to do that — it excites me,” she said.
What’s the secret to such high levels of service? “It’s pretty non-sexy,” said Ellis. “Do what you say you’re going do — when you say you’re going to do it. It’s our standard, our values, our culture.”
That doesn’t make the company perfect, she added. “We’re human — but we own our mistakes,” she said.
Ellis believes her entrepreneurial success is, in part, due to the fact that she’s highly competitive.
“For me, standing still is really boring and uninteresting,” she explained. “One of my mentors — who was my sales manager for many years in a couple of different companies — said I was the hardest salesperson he’d ever had to manage.”
When Ellis asked why, her mentor told her it was because she wasn’t money motivated. “It was striking to me because I realized he was right — I’m not,” she said. “I want to make money — but if I do the job and be the best at it, the money’s going to follow.”
Instead, her motivation, as she described it, is “do more, be more, grow more.”
And she has continued to not only grow Capitol Concierge but also in her service to the next generation. In June 2022, she became chair of the board of trustees of her alma mater, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
“That has been so gratifying,” she said. “We just announced three weeks ago that we are looking for a new university president.”
The daughter of a single father who came from Belfast, Ireland, Ellis was taught early on to give back to the community. “That’s what you do,” she said. “I grew up knowing that was part of my DNA.”
As far as messages to the next generation of women entrepreneurs, Ellis advises them to keep picking themselves up and dusting themselves off.
“We are like ducks on the water,” she said. “Our feet are crazy underwater, but the lake is placid.”
She also delivers a piece of advice that sounds simpler than it is: believe in yourself.
“I have a daughter,” she said. “Early in my career, I remember sitting in meetings asking myself, ‘why aren’t women listened to?’ I would think about my daughter and ways to make it a quarter-of-an-inch better for her.” “I realized that I held the power to be heard by believing in my capabilities and talents,” Ellis continued, “Now I have two granddaughters. I think I made it even a little bit better for them.”