The Motivator

Kristy Eckert

Spend five minutes with Debbie Phillips, and even life-coach skeptics might get why she is such a success. She is warm and engaging and smart (Harvard doesn't just give away degrees, after all). Her energy is endless. And geez-did she just convince you that you can actually change the world?

Phillips, a Columbus native, was an executive and life coach before people knew what that meant.

As a young professional, she was a newspaper reporter. A governor's press secretary. Head of a television production company.

But she was thirsty for advice-particularly of the best-way-to-live-life variety-and she couldn't seem to find it. So she became for others what didn't exist for her.

Phillips, now 56, began by helping executives write speeches and better relate to their teams. She graduated to connecting entrepreneurs with the people or resources they needed to start or advance. And she eventually began balancing the fine line between coaching and therapy, helping determine what people needed to be more successful, more fulfilled-be it a different workout routine, a new hobby or perhaps a different career altogether.

Clients flocked.

"I was making more money working 10 to 15 hours a week than I (had been) working 50 or 60," Phillips said. "I had done everything I had wanted to do. I was so happy to help other people."

Eventually, Phillips longed to connect the women she coached, confident they would find inspiration feeding off each other's energy and success.

Thus, the Women on Fire movement was born.

Phillips hosted tea parties and retreats to give women the three things she says they need to succeed: inspiration, strategies and support. She started a free weekly email note called "The Spark." She enlisted the expertise of several women she admires, including a few from Columbus, to help write "Women on Fire: 20 Inspiring Women Share Their Life Secrets (and Save You Years of Struggle!)."

Now she is launching a tour that kicks off in Columbus Sept. 30, and plans to stop in a handful of cities from Naples, Fla. to New York. It's like a traveling Oprah show-an event where Phillips hopes women will come to feel both nurtured and sparked.

Columbus comedienne Pat Wynn Brown, who has been friends with Phillips for 30 years, said Phillips genuinely yearns for others to find success-and knows how to help them get there.

"It's a gift that she has," said Brown, who wrote a chapter in Phillips' book. "She understands where (people) are in the world and where they want to be."

Phillips certainly seems to have found the joy that she helps others find. She not only survived a divorce herself, but she is also happily remarried (and is still friends with her ex). She enjoys splitting her time between her homes in Naples and on Martha's Vineyard. And she is brimming with passion while being simultaneously content.

"I want for every woman in the world to feel the inspiration and have the strategies and support to live her potential," Phillips said. "And to have her dream."


Women on Fire includes many things: a book, tea parties, retreats and more. More than 2,000 women have participated, plus 5,000 more have purchased Phillips' books. The Women on Fire National Tour begins in Columbus. The daylong retreat is Sept. 30 at the Franklin Park Conservatory and will include a keynote speech by six-time Emmy Award winner and stand-up comic Janette Barber. Tickets cost $397 and can be purchased at For more, visit


There is one key question Phillips typically uses to begin her relationship with a client: "What is the love you have to give the world before you die?" It's a good meditative question to help determine where you should go next in life, she said. "Women can be very clear about that," she added. "There can be a lot of tears."


Finding and fueling passion can start with a few basic questions, Phillips said. Here are the ones she recommends discussing with friends.

What is your proudest accomplishment in the last year?

What are you on fire about in your life?

What is a very small step forward toward what you're on fire about?