Turning A Vision Into A Business

The definition of an entrepreneur is someone who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business. But that definition doesn't do it justice.

Entrepreneurs are often people who see a need and fill it well -- people like Mrs. Fields or Martha Stewart.

In its continuing series about entrepreneurs, The Early Show finds people who, with hard work, perseverence and vision, have created successful businesses. Correspondent Melinda Murphy reports on such a story -- about a court-reporting company created by two women who met in court-reporting school. It's blossomed into a multimillion dollar enterprise.

When Debbie Weaver and Kelly Willis met in court-reporting school, they had no idea they were on the verge of forging a multi-million dollar business together, and the best friendship of their lives.

For Weaver, the job starts early, at home, before her kids wake up. Then her time as mom kicks in. And then, it's off to work; but first, a stop at the store. Picking up fruit for clients seems like a small task, but not for Weaver.

It is attention to detail that has helped make her company so successful; that and a vision.

"There was something inside of me that knew I would not just always be court reporting," Weaver says. "I wanted to take it someplace else.

From the start, she had it in her mind; the vision would just not go away. "Always pushing," she says.

In 1979, Weaver started working as a court reporter for a small company. Six years later, she bought it.

"The revenue, when I purchased it, was about $100,000." Weaver says. "The revenue last year was a little over $6 million."

How did she do it?

"It came with a lot of hard work and a lot of dedicated people. I didn't do it alone," she says, "And a wonderful partner who helped me along the way."

That partner is Kelly Willis. They met in court-reporting school and began working together six years later. In 1996, they officially became a team.

"It's the best partnership anybody could ever hope to have," Willis says. "I don't really know how to describe it. It's two friends who work together - work hard and play hard, have a good time and trust each other."

Their company started out solely to provide court-reporting services, but it has grown into much more.

Willis explains, "It's a one-stop shop for the legal community, not only in St. Louis, but across the country."

Whether it's handling documents, doing video depositions and teleconferencing, or creating electronic courtroom presentations, they do it all for attorneys.

The company has offices in six Missouri cities, including its new headquarters, located in a 3,000-square-foot historic firehouse in downtown St. Louis.

The space offers neutral territory for lawyers to hash it out in mediations and arbitrations.

Attorney Gerry Dobson says, "Their space is wonderful and the court reporters we've always had here are wonderful. They're very well trained.

"We had a mediation there not long ago, and it was the most hospitable environment that I've ever seen."

Dobson has known Weaver from the start. He is so impressed, he invested in the company's new building.

He says, "I know that her technology that she's able to bring into the courtroom to allow us to present our case to a jury has been a very important factor in not just our ability to win the case, but our ability to get very large verdicts."

They have grown their company, Midwest Litigation Services, from four court reporters to 25 employees and 65 court reporters - all the while raising four children each, and becoming fast friends.

When Weaver went through a divorce years ago, she leaned on Willis. And since 1998, Willis has been the one who has needed a shoulder. She has been battling breast cancer.

Willis notes, "I'm not doing this as much as I'd like to do right now because I'm battling a little harder than I'd like to be, but whenever I feel like it, and there's something for me to do, I try to work as much as I can."

With tears in her eyes, she says the company has given her something to battle for.

Weaver says, "I know it means a lot to her because it means a lot to me. And I know what we did to get here."

So what's next? Going national says Weaver, "Hopefully sometime soon, across the country."

The two women say the best advice they can give other women thinking about going into business is to go with your instinct and to believe in yourself. They say it'll take you far.