Brittney Karlen Ask a dozen people who know Brittany Karlen personally what comes to mind when they hear her name, and you're just about guaranteed to hear such responses as "accomplished," "successful," "focused," "professional," "ambitious" and "polished."

Given that Brittany is a highly successful businesswoman, these complimentary words probably don't surprise you. What might surprise you a little is that Brittany built her formidably successful business in less than a year while attending the University of Southern California full-time and maintaining a straight-A average. What might surprise you a lot is that Brittany's done all this and hasn't yet turned 20.

"I would have started my own business even earlier," Brittany says, "but I couldn't legally become a distributor until I turned 18."

In a world where teenagers are frequently thought of as unfocused at best and downright lost at worst, what is it about Brittany that has kept her so focused and made her so successful? In a word, the answer is family.

All in the Family

Brittany's father Russ had run a large and successful landscape contracting business; her mom Linda was a flight attendant. In the late '70s, about five years before Brittany was born, they turned in the high stress and heavy schedules of their career paths and started a real estate company together, which was better in some ways, but still extraordinarily demanding.

Soon after Brittany's birth in 1985, Russ and Linda decided to get out of the high-stakes real estate world and start a network marketing business that would allow them to spend more time with the kids.

"I like to tell people that when I was six months old, my dad traded in his business suit for a swim suit," Brittany says. "He was there every time I came home from school."

Which isn't to say that Russ didn't work hard; indeed, he worked harder than ever--but it was a different quality of work, one that could always make time for family.

"I remember he sometimes worked 25-hour days building his business," Brittany recalls, "but he worked mostly at home, and he always made time for me."

When Russ hit the road to make presentations at meetings, he often took young Brittany with him. Pretty soon, he learned his daughter had been born with the acting bug.

"I've always loved performing, being on stage," says Brittany. "My dad picked up on this; when I was as young as five years old, he started to bring me up on stage with him during presentations. He'd ask me questions about network marketing--and of course, since I'd been around network marketing my whole life, I knew the answers. Then he would say to the audience, 'Hey, my five-year old daughter can do this--so can you!' "

The combination of her dad's work effort and talent and Brittany's stage presence must have all worked together perfectly: Russ and Linda built one of the most successful distributorships in the country. And their success inspired Brittany, some 13 years after making her first presentation at a network marketing meeting, to set out to do the same.

Setting Goals, Getting Results

When Brittany turned 18, she sat down with Russ and her brother Eric (who's also in the business) to lay out the business goals she wanted to accomplish in the coming years. They drew up a plan together for her to accomplish those goals. There was just one, small, time-consuming obstacle in the way: college.

"Even though I believed I could be successful in business without college," Brittany says, "I still knew it would be really good for me to go, that it would open me up to new ideas and allow me to interact in groups with new people." But going to college meant a huge commitment, because there was no way she would go without giving it her absolute all.

Her solution? To apply the same kind of work ethic to her life that she had watched her father apply to his.

"During most of my first year at college, I would get up at 5 a.m. on class days, drive to meetings in Beverly Hills, then race back to campus for 11 a.m. classes. It was hard, but I still got straight A's--and the business really started to grow."

To be entirely accurate, "started to grow" is a bit of an understatement.

"After I had been a distributor for a few months, a doctor allowed me to sell my company's products to his patients for a day," Brittany remembers. "When the day was over, the doctor called up my father and said, 'I want to hire her to work in my office.' And my father responded, 'Hire her? Within two years, she'll be making more money than you running her own business!' "

All Work and Play

With a straight-A average and long work hours at her network marketing business, does Brittany have any time to sit back and smell the roses?

Totally.

"I have absolutely loved my freshman year," she says. "My classes have helped me grow as a person, and I've had a great time in my sorority. Plus, I still take weekends off to be with my family; family always comes first with me."

And what does the future hold for this amazing young woman?

"In another 20 years," says Brittany, "I hope to be where my parents are, celebrating 20 years in business as a team elite member.

"Oh, and there's one other thing," she says, almost as an afterthought. "At some point, I'd like to replace Katie Couric on the Today Show."

Given Brittany's proven stage presence, her work ethic, and her ability to stick to something until she achieves her goals, all we can really say is, "Watch out, Katie!"