Looking at the powerful and vivacious brunette, it’s hard to believe that Irene Xander was once a housewife living in a small rural village in Germany with her husband and four daughters. “I baked my own bread, grew my own vegetables and washed the clothes by hand,” says the 38-year-old Xander. Now, the internationally known opera singer and business trainer is one of the driving forces behind the Women’s Entrepreneur School in New York City. Clearly, she has come a long way. Xander describes her journey: “Since I met Sonja Becker in January of 1996, I have learned to perform, transformed my whole family system, and, most importantly, increased my income from zero to over $5,000 per month!” Sonja Becker introduced the Women’s Entrepreneur School to New York this past September. Before that, Becker trained for many years with a company called Sage Innovations, founded by Martin Sage. She learned business skills, and how to coach people to follow their passion. Irene Xander’s transformation started with a workshop for women led by Becker. “I began to see how much power I had in my life that I wasn’t using. I wanted to learn more about it. I signed up for business coaching with Sonja.” Soon, she got her first surprise. “I organized a networking brunch, and I actually earned money!” But those first earnings turned out to be the least of it. “All along Sonja saw my potential, and kept pushing me. Now my family and I work together, in a cooperative effort. My husband owns a theater and I manage his musical group. My kids all have their own projects and are having fun and learning business. We are like a team of equals. I never thought this was possible.” Becker and Xander were inspired by the results, and wanted to show other women how to change their own lives. “We saw that other women needed this kind of training and support. We wanted to provide a system for other women to get it with consistency,” Xander says. The Women’s Entrepreneur School opened in Munich in June 2001, and in Cologne a few months later. “We had our first class session in my living room. There were seven women there; four of them signed up for the class,” she recalls. At that time, Sonja Becker was raising five children. Her daughter Anneli, now 19, recalls the first group of women her mom coached in the school. “It’s amazing how those women changed. Most of them have new careers, are creating powerful teams around them, and are learning courage, responsibility and service.” She also feels fortunate that her mother is such an advocate for pursuing your dreams. “When mom feels good, everyone in the house feels good. My mom has a big heart. Being around her, I grew in a different way than other kids.”
New York’s version of the Entrepreneur School, under the auspices of Sage Innovations, is led by Karin Manske. “I love being my own boss and having my own business,” says Beverly D., one of the participants, who is an entrepreneur who works as a hairdresser, gives hair parties, has her own product line and trains other stylists as well. “I’ve worked for other people for many years, and after having my own business, I know I will never go back.” It’s because of the school, she says, that she has decided to open a rock n’ roll salon in Times Square to the school. “It was through telling my story to other women about what I’ve done and what I want to do, that I saw what was possible.” And Beverly says she is ready for the next challenge in her life, a daughter. “I would love to raise a little girl. I see how my sisters are with my nieces and it’s like they’re being limited by the system. They are trained that they can’t get what they want. They have to choose one thing or another. When you are raised with the example of entrepreneurship, you see that anything is possible, you can have it all. You create your life based on your talents and on what you want.” She describes the inadvertent effects of the school. “It’s brought me closer to other women. I have a tendency to isolate. With the school, I see these women at least once a week and we get to know one another very well. I get my intimacy needs met this way.” She also sees the idea is spreading, “I’m always shocked by other women’s reactions when I tell them about what I do. They see how I’m free with money, that I travel, they think it’s glamorous. They want my life.” Maria Vollner, one of the earliest participants of the school, says one of her first assignments was to get pregnant. “The other women saw this was what I wanted and it was hurting me to not go for it. Now, I’m pregnant, married, and have my own business. I never imagined I could live this way. I never even thought I could sing country music!” Formerly part of a dance troupe in Dusseldorf, she says she was stuck in a routine, wasn’t happy and wasn’t making much money. “I kept thinking, I have to choose a business or a baby. At the school I saw I could have it all. ‘Get a boyfriend,’ they said. I did. Now I have my own singing group, ‘The First Ladies’, and I also tour with my now-husband, as a country duo.” But that’s not the only change for her. “I make upwards of $4000 per month. This is way more than what I earned before. It’s because I am learning sales, project management and how to be professional in business relationships. It makes a huge difference.” Irene Xander, speaking from experience, concurs, “If there is one message I could give to women everywhere, it would be have the courage to stand up for your life, make money, play, cooperate and contribute to what is going on in the world. We can create a better future for our children this way.” For more information on Sage Innovations/the Women’s Entrepreneur School, Karin Manske can be contacted at (212) 302-8818 or online at: www.sageinnovations.net.