50 Leading Business Women - Monica Harrigill (Mississippi Business Journal)

Monica Harrigill's father dared her to dream the improbable. As a result of his guidance, she finished high school at 15 and college at 18.

"This early start, as well as an adherence to the beliefs he taught, has allowed my professional career to flourish," she said,

After earning a degree in chemistry from Millsaps College in 1988, Harrigill planned to take a break before going to medical school. Instead, she went to work as a manager for one of her dad's restaurants, and worked her way up the ranks to the current position of vice president, where she is responsible for the daily operations of more than 60 properties, including Bumpers Drive-In, Western Sizzlin, several hotels and other independent restaurants. Along the way, she was named Jackie's International Supervisor of the Year.

"Honestly, I was tired of school," she said. "And I had a natural knack for (the restaurant business). I loved my 'temporary' job and have been in the business ever since. I have never regretted choosing my current career path."

Today, Harrigill, 34, a Greenwood native, supervises 1,400 employees and 54 managers, and directly supervises six district managers and a marketing director. In 2002, the company generated more than $24 million in sales.

"Other than God and my family, Jackie's International is one of the most rewarding parts of my life," said Harrigill. "Through the business, I have been afforded the opportunity to sponsor hundreds of community events in small towns ranging from school nights at our local elementary schools, to 'Say No to Drugs" events, and blood drives. One of the greatest impacts has been through the various scholarships and school support programs we are able to sponsor."

Harrigill is involved in numerous professional organizations, including the Canton Chamber of Commerce, MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, ADRF/Western Sizzlin Corporate Advertising Board, and National Association of Female Executives. In 2002, she was a member of the Millsaps College Board of Trustees. She has chaired various projects for the Junior League of Jackson since 1998. She has also been involved in the Jackson Symphony League, India Association of Mississippi and Ronald McDonald House.

Harrigill met her greatest personal challenge when her daughter, Tori, became deathly ill.

"Everyone else had given up hope and said she wouldn't live," she said. "I overcame the challenge through a lot of prayer. I realized you must give things up to the Lord and that he is truly in control--not us. He answered my prayers and healed my daughter."

Mallory Dean of Western Sizzlin Corporation commended Harrigill for balancing work and family life so well.

"There have been many occasions that I have seen Monica working late hours in her restaurants to better the business, and there have been many times I have also seen Monica taking time during the day or night to be with and support her children and husband," she said. "She probably does the best job of balancing her life of anyone I have ever seen."

Dean said Harrigill strikes her as "very unselfish."

"I have witnessed many long trips she has taken to other states to see another business because she believed they had something that would help her to run her restaurants better," she said. "She usual[y takes her key people with her during these times. Monica also attends seminars and conventions that ate helpful to her in her business ventures. During at least four business co-op meetings per year, I personally witness Monica contribute to the group, always giving out more than she takes in."

But the proof is in the pudding, Dean said.

"I have observed the improvements in Monica's businesses for the past five years," she said. "Expenses have gone down, and sales and profits have gone up. She also continues to build new restaurants and remodel old ones. If I owned a business large or small, there is no one on this earth that I would want of trust to run my business more than Monica Harrigill."

Harrigill considers her father, Dr. S.L. Sethi, her role model "for coming to this great country and working to build a strong company."

In her spare time, Harrigill practices Pilates and Yoga and enjoys spending time with her husband, Ray, and twins Max and Tori, 5, "doing whatever they want to do."