April 29, 2010
Although March marks Women’s History Month, women leaders across Michigan were celebrated at events hosted by Inforum, Michigan Business and Professional Association and National Association of Women Business Owners-Greater Detroit Chapter during both March and April. Corp! is pleased to be a media sponsor for Inforum’s Inner Circle, MBPA’s Women and Leadership in the Workplace and NAWBO’s Top 10 Michigan Business Women events and award programs. Our editorial team asked these women about their secrets to success, their greatest passion and most important business lessons. We hope their answers will inspire you.
Michigan regional managing director and senior vice president – Wealth and Institutional Management for Comerica Bank, Eileen Ashley expresses the importance of living every day without compromising values or letting herself down. She believes her ability to evolve and adapt to new opportunities, along with her willingness to accept new responsibilities, has allowed her to continue to learn and become the leader she is today. Although he died while she was still young (14 years old), her father’s words to her have never been forgotten: You can be anything and do anything -- if you believe in yourself and work towards that goal. She has continued to share this advice with her daughters, who are her passion along with the time she spends with her family. When tough challenges come her way, Ashley faces them head on and does not allow the problem dictate to her who she is. The best advice she can offer to young, aspiring women leaders is to network early on in your career. “Don’t focus solely on your own specialty or industry. It is important to have variety of contacts across industries and job classes,” she says. Some of Ashley’s most important relationships are with other professional women, who she trusts for advice and as sounding boards.
Lori M. Ballard
Wayne County Airport Authority
Lori Ballard works in a seven-member board team for Wayne County Airport Authority at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Willow Run Airport. As a small business facilitator, she focuses on enhancing the Airport’s Authority’s Small Business Enterprise Program. She says family members and her spouse have been her backbone and reason for success. Her relationship with her husband, Cornell Ballard II, helped her get where she currently is and through his own “managerial experience and logical thoughtfulness,” she was able to learn from him. One of Ballard’s best traits is her willingness to help people and “strive to be of assistance to the best of my ability.” She loves to be around people and interacting with them in the office and outside the office. She is a compassionate person, but her inability to say no to people caused her to be overwhelmed. She realized she couldn’t be “all things to all people” and started to take care of herself by delegating to others and simply saying no. Ballard treasures the valuable lessons she learned from Alfred N. Montgomery, former Clerk of Commission for Wayne County. She was able to enhance her career by utilizing these lessons and his support of her efforts still stands out in her mind. “The most important lesson that I have learned is the importance of measuring and communicating outcomes. Any efforts that are expended in the course of one’s job or business must be measurable,” says Ballard.
President and CEO of Inforum, Terry Barclay works hard to use her creativity, persistence and knowledge to help women lead and succeed in the business world in Michigan. Barclay attributes her success to her passion for her work, facing her obstacles head on, and her ability “to assemble a great team of colleagues and volunteers who are true leaders.” Barclay’s toughest situation resembles a lot of business leaders’ problems: facing the game-changing events in her external environment because of the different effects of the recession. Other problems included government funding being cut, supporters losing their jobs or a new competitor entering the scene to take over market share. Barclay found the best way, and only way, of dealing with these things is to “unleash and mobilize the creativity, innovation, and adaptability of the team.” Barclay realizes that it’s not always easy to get people to think creatively during these times, and even though “their natural tendency is to work harder” it is best to “step back to leverage the possibilities of having a 'do-over.'” One of her business lessons is as simple as “never taking yourself out of the game.” One of her favorite statistics is from a McKinsey report, which found that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria. Men apply when they only fulfill up to 60 percent of the criteria. “So go ahead—take the risk—apply—stay in the competition. Don’t count yourself out,” says Barclay.
St. Mary’s Health Care
Micki Benz is vice president of St. Mary’s Health Care and attributes her success to a liberal arts education, mentors and bosses, and the opportunities that were presented at the organizations where she was employed. She also believes that community is an important factor in her success. “Grand Rapids is a community that fosters creative thinking and encourages involvement in volunteer organizations, which offer wonderful networking and growth opportunities,” says Benz. An important business lesson she passes on is to treat everyone with respect and consideration. She also listens to her own advice during some of her toughest situations. Like all leaders, Benz knows there comes a time when she must deliver bad news. “It is never easy or pleasant, but when you try to be calm, fair, and as honest as possible, it can be a growth experience for both parties,” she says. One of her greatest mentors is her current boss, Phil McCorkle, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Health Care. He has continued to encourage her to challenge herself. The way he respects everyone and the importance of all relationships is something that makes him a good role model, she adds.
Beene Garter, LLP
Peggy Bishop was named the first female partner and chairperson of Beene Garter’s Nonprofit Industry Team in 1990. Giving back to the community has been her passion throughout her life and the opportunity to help nonprofits allows her to fulfill this calling. Serving on multiple boards and volunteering she has “had the honor of paving a path for females seeking to achieve their career aspirations, while maintaining a healthy balance with home and personal life.” Bishop’s guiding principle is to never expect more from others than what you expect from yourself. She believes that everyone has their unique skills and gifts and can make a difference in their own way. Her passion is to help women and girls reach their greatest potential and by volunteering through organizations like Girl Scouts of Michigan Trails and the YWCA, she has made an impact. Bishop has even taken her toughest situation and found a way to give back to the community and help others. Over 15 years ago, Bishop’s best friend died due to domestic abuse. Feeling confused and wondering what she could have done to help her friend in this situation, Bishop decided to give back to the community. “Educating people about domestic violence is an ongoing mission of mine and it’s why I am so devoted to volunteering my time and support to the YWCA,” said Bishop. The business lesson that she has found most important is teamwork and positive support of those you surround yourself with, which will result in growth and prosperity.
Nemeth Burwell, P.C.
Linda Burwell is the COO and principal of Nemeth Burwell, P.C., “a boutique management labor and employment law firm specializing in employment litigation, traditional labor law and management consultation for private and public sector employers.” Earning her law degree at Wayne Sate University of Law in the mid-80s, Burwell believes the success of the firm is due to it staying “true to areas of expertise and by handling each case entrusted with equal energy, thoroughness and attention to detail.” Burwell attributes her ability to notice the details to her mentor, her grandmother. Her grandmother was a quiet lady who was hard of hearing and almost blind, but this did not keep her from taking the time to listen and observe the people around her. “She learned more about a person's character in one short meeting, than many people learn during an entire business relationship,” says Burwell. When it comes to her employees, she believes in treating them fairly, providing a stress-free environment that allows each of them to be as efficient and productive as possible. Also, Burwell wants to provide each of them the ability to grow within the firm and reach their full potential. Her moral principles have been noticed. She earned the highest ranking for her ethical standards and legal ability by earning the AV peer ranking from Martindale Hubbell.
Grand Valley State University
Once a part of the faculty at Grand Valley State University, Gayle Davis now serves as provost/vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. She attributes her success to excellent preparation, receiving great, interesting opportunities and a devotion to higher education. Her guiding principle is the belief that, “We’re all here to help others have a good life.” By helping college students achieve their goals, she has helped many individuals. Grand Valley State University has approximately 24,500 students and she has impacted each of them in some way as part of the University’s Academic and Student Affairs division. Her mentor has been Dr. Bobby Patton, also known as the man who “encouraged and cajoled me into leaving a faculty position to work for him” according to Davis. She admires his ability to share authority, credit and fulfillment with those who work with him. Davis describes Dr. Patton as a “wonderful model for me.” The business lesson that she finds most important is that “communication, collaboration and openness go a long way toward accomplishing important goals.”
“…have you any wool?” / Knit Michigan
Bridget Dean, along with Joan Sheridan, co-founded Knit Michigan. “Knit Michigan brings together knitters and fiber-enthusiasts and is staffed entirely by volunteers.” It is a nonprofit that raises funds for cancer patients and their loved ones. Their work supports five different cancer charities and brings her “great joy and satisfaction.” Prior to Knit Michigan, Dean started her own company, “…have you any wool?” in 2004. The retail yarn shop offers classes in knitting and crochet, along with tools and instruction. Her family is her greatest passion, helping her get where she is today. Her greatest mentors have been her family: her “mother for nurturing [her] creative spirit, her “father for teaching perseverance and critical thinking, and Aunt Helen “who was ahead of her time.” Perseverance served her well during her toughest time, when her husband lost his job. This time presented many challenges, but “by taking life one day at a time and recognizing what I had control over and what I did not,” she was able to get through and take care of what was most important. Her advice to other women is to “listen to your inner voice and trust yourself.” She attributes her own success to working hard, staying focused and assembling “a fantastic team” to work with her and help achieve her goals.
Unified Business Technologies
Michelle D’Souza truly believes in teamwork in the workplace. As CEO of Unified Business Technologies, or UBT, she focuses on the company as a whole. By simply using words like “we” and “our” and omitting words “I” and “me” from her vocabulary, she makes it clear to all of her employees that she values their input. She includes them in decision making processes and believes that “together we achieve great success.” Another way D’Souza has showed her passion for the company and its people is by reducing her own paycheck when the company struggled. A year ago UBT decided to become a full service government contractor; the switch of gears and an increasingly poor economy resulted in a struggle at first. Instead of laying off employees, D’Souza didn’t just reduce her paycheck, but worked without pay until the company picked up momentum. She learned a very important lesson that every business person should know: You have to know that everything you do is not going to succeed right away, but you cannot stop trying. Learning and improving are essential keys to successful businesses. D’Souza has made it her passion and profession to help people realize their full potential and reach it. UBT is a minority owned and women owned business that offers innovative and diversified approaches to professional support services in engineering, information technology, administrative, health care, facilities management and logistics.
Patricia S. Duthler
Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women
Patricia Duthler is the executive director at Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), “a nonprofit organization that promotes entrepreneurship and economic development.” She credits her success over the years to her parents, God, hard work and a yen for challenges. She has many passions in life including real estate, holistic nutrition, bicycling, classical music, foreign languages and more; however, her greatest passion is international travel. Duthler’s toughest situation occurred when one of her family’s companies had to close. “Causes for the closure were beyond our control and devastating to any business owner. I struggled to balance the need for profitability with the expectations of employees and customers,” she explains. After trying to save the company, she came to realize that they had to close their doors. She informed the employees and continued to communicate with them throughout the whole experience. “The most important lesson I have learned in business is to have integrity, which is how you act when no one is looking. Integrity takes years to earn, but can be lost in an instant. Companies are not inanimate entities—they are living, breathing organisms composed of human beings. So the best way for a business to build trust is to hire the right people,” says Duthler.
Detroit Media Partnership
Susie Elwood has been fortunate to find passion throughout her career, while she was a teacher to now as CEO of Detroit Media Partnership. The company manages the business functions of Detroit Newspapers, such as Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and other suburban publications such as the Observer & Eccentric and others. She believes that everyone who has been a part of her life is responsible for where she is today and her success, especially the employees at Detroit Media Partnership who have the same passion that she has for newspapers. Elwood expresses the importance for passion in life in general, outside of the office. “I schedule time for such things as boot camp, yoga and running, knitting and felting, and family time because that grounds me,” said Elwood. Her two greatest mentors were her parents. Growing up in a small town in Arkansas there were few options for women to aspire to outside of being a nurse or a teacher and a mother, says Ellwood. All of these professions are respectable but “that was the ceiling. Somehow my Mom and Dad taught me about confidence and determination – belief in myself – and I will be forever grateful to them,” she said. Her advice to future women leaders is to determine the core attributes that are important and “work hard to be true to who you are.”
Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
Jeanne Englehart believes tenacity and a positive attitude can go a long way and is what made her successful. As president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Englehart believes in being honest and ethical as guiding rules to follow. Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce helps businesses connect, grow and succeed and helps large and small businesses in the community. Englehart’s toughest situation was selling her business and negotiating the price. She decided to hire the best business advisor and merger professional that she could find in the region because she realized she did not have the expertise to negotiate, without bias, on her own behalf. The best lesson she can teach is to “never take no for an answer – always look for a creative solution. Always believe in yourself and stay positive. When you fall off the cliff – climb back up and move in another direction. Keep climbing until you find the path that gets you to your ultimate destination.” She also believes it is important to have faith in yourself. Her mentor and friend, Jeannette Youngman, was the one that told her to believe in herself and that she could do anything she put her mind to. Her greatest passion and favorite way to spend her free time is with her grandchildren.
Paul Goebel Group
As a daughter to a hardworking businessman, Meg Goebel realizes her good fortune to be exposed to this world at a young age and now be part of it. She attributes her success to her father’s mentoring, great work ethic and calculated risk-taking. Starting in 1932, “the Paul Goebel Group has marketed innovative insurance programs tailored to meet the specific needs of businesses and professionals in Michigan.” Buying the business from her father in 1994 led to great challenges when he suddenly passed away two years after. Although she had been owner, her father was still on a long-term contract and people began to wonder if the business could survive without his influence and knowledge. Meg Goebel worked hard, met with clients and restructured the business and internal personnel. “I am pleased to report that 14 years later, the company has grown significantly and our major clients and companies remain intact,” she said. When asked what word best describes her, she replied with “determined” and what she has accomplished, despite the difficulties, with her father’s company. An important business lesson Goebel has learned and wishes to pass forward to other women leaders is, “If the business is not growing and evolving, then you’re going backwards. Complacency is not a luxury I can afford.”
Patricia K. Griswold
“Do you want to be a wandering generality, or a meaningful success?” Patricia Griswold was asked this at one of her first jobs by a mentor and this question has positively influenced her life and how she approaches her work, with “passion and a relentless drive to achieve beyond what is expected.” Now as senior vice president at Comerica Bank, it is evident how much this has affected her career and contributed to her success. Despite all of her success, Griswold is not done learning. “I can think of nothing more gratifying and enriching than continuing to be open to learning from new experiences, people, ideas, and challenges. When we stop that desire to learn and experience, we stifle our own self-discovery,” says Griswold. In the past year and a half the banking industry has changed and presents many challenges. In order to stay on track and remain focused, she has increased her communications with employees along with offering encouragement and recognition during this time of high stress. As a senior vice president, Griswold has over 200 people working under her, who she relied on heavily to achieve company goals. “You have to make careful hiring decisions, be willing to invest in coaching and developing your employees’ talents, and be quick to address when the fit isn’t right,” she says.
Yazaki North America
A strong work ethic and a great education are the basis of Colleen Haley’s career success. As president of Yazaki North America’s U.S. OEM Business Unit, Haley believes her success has been achieved by working hard and facing every aspect as a learning opportunity. She also believes in focusing on the team aspect of the company and building an effective team. “Clearly understanding the organization’s goals, defining a plan to achieve them and then consistently staying focused on achieving the plan define success,” she says. Haley’s guiding principle is knowing who you are as a person and discovering which values are most important to you. When in a difficult situation these values will make it easier for you to come up with a solution and allow you to be consistent, she adds. The toughest time for Haley was about five years ago, when her father passed away from cancer. Not only was he an important part of her personal life, but his relationship was important to her in every aspect, including professionally. As an automotive professional himself, they often talked about the industry and “he gave me great advice.” Haley’s ability to fight through this difficult time helped her become stronger and proved that she can “face anything and work through it.”
Tax Trilogy, LLC
Taxes are not usually a business filled with excitement, but Tax Trilogy’s president and CEO sees things differently. Nancy Hazely’s transaction tax services company employs many different generations of people and “these multiple generations actually complement themselves and provide an environment of energy not usually associated with tax.” Hazely takes prides in her company because not only does she enjoy her field, and the challenges that come along with it, but also the opportunity to provide jobs to over 30 people during a struggling economy. Although she had the joy of starting this company in 2007, it was a tough year for her health. “That could have thrown me off course; but thanks to my family, I rallied through -- I was indeed blest,” says Hazely. Family has always been an important part of her life and her parents were key mentors while she was growing up. They taught her the “importance of hard work and dedication to family and community.” It was through the support of family members, friends and the community that she attributes her success. Hazely learned that not one person can do it all. There comes a time when everyone needs help because as she stated, “you are not an island.” She advises people to ask for advice and willingly accept support. “You’d be amazed at the number of individuals that are willing to assist you with your passion!” says Hazely.
Sabrina Jackson Enterprises
Sabrina Jackson Enterprises is a public speaking, training and consulting firm. CEO Sabrina Jackson thrives off of speaking to others and forming a connection. Every year, Jackson works towards being certified in a new topic of training and currently has over 20 different ones. She bases her success on how well she impacts others’ lives and attributes success to her faith. As a speaker, Jackson lights up when she is standing in front of an audience and is very dynamic when she is sharing her experiences and knowledge with others. Her greatest mentor was preacher Mother Judy Hines, who helped her see that she didn’t have to admire to be someone else. Jackson believes that everyone needs someone like Mother Hines in their life, “someone who can be painfully honest and yet be [your] biggest cheerleader.” One of her guiding principles is to allow people to be who they are and do what fits them best. She believes that other people need to be allowed to stay in “their space.” In business, she has learned that no one can manage other people but you can only manage the process. “Either they fall in line with the process or they weed themselves out,” said Jackson.
Deborah Johnson began her career as a registered nurse and has turned that passion into a successful business, Careforward. Johnson’s passion to care for people who have been hurt in auto accidents led to the birth of Careforward, an Auto Injury Case Management firm. “I train hand picked RNs with more than 15 years experience in nursing, to be in business for themselves and how to provide expert case management services to our clientele,” said Johnson. Since starting the company nine years ago, the clientele has grown to over 100 people. She attributes her success to her ability to find passionate, skilled nurses who believe in the same mission. She describes herself as adventurous and the risk and journey she took to start a business proves her right. Despite being told she had a chance of failing, Johnson worked hard and found that “clients appreciated the options [they] provided them.” One of her greatest mentors was Loral Langemeier. She taught her that any business can be great and to “think big.” According to Johnson, she taught her that “it just depends on your willingness to do what it takes to inspire others, give up the ‘I can do it by myself’ act and the ability to think outside the box.” She believes in taking chances and following your passion because it will show you that you are on the right path to achieve great things.
A successful attorney at Miller Johnson, Carol Karr has enjoyed the success the firm’s management has provided her. She was allowed to develop her own practice, being the first one to specialize in estate planning and probate. She also gives much credit to her support system, including her husband, parents and child-care couple, because the encouragement provided her with the opportunity to find the right balance in her career and family life. At the firm her mentor is Bob Brower. “[He] was enough senior to me to know the ropes but not so senior that he was not open to having a female partner. He is still the first one I go to for advice. I respect his judgment and value his friendship,” says Karr. Her advice to other women is to “play to your strengths and develop your own style.” She believes that a person’s reputation is one’s greatest asset and to not try to be like someone else. Her toughest situation occurred when one of her children became ill. She coped by surrounding herself with family, friends and professionals because it was not a time to be alone.
Cynthia Kay & Company Media Production
Cynthia Kay is president and CEO of Cynthia Kay & Company Media Production, which produces, “high-quality communications that are used on the national and international scene and uses its experience to think with and for clients.” Its client base ranges from Fortune 100 companies to small businesses. Kay believes the company has become a success because of its commitment to the community and clients. They continue to seek new services and products for the clients and not only talk about giving back to the community, but actually do it. Guiding her through decisions in life is the belief in being honest and acting with integrity. The two people who had a big impact on her life were her parents. “They taught me so much about how to live, work and be true to myself. While my father is well known as the business person, my mother was equally talented. Both were instrumental in helping me to dream ‘big dreams’ and go after them,” says Kay. The lesson that has been most beneficial to her is be prepared for the worst case scenario because then you will be able to manage the bad times as well as the good.
Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center
State director of the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, Carol Lopucki manages 12 regional offices and about 100 consultants statewide. She is successful because she is able to view the big picture, see what needs to be done and also plan it out in great detail all the way through. Lopucki’s guiding principle is the golden rule: to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Having lost her mother at the young age of 10, she went through some great difficulties growing up. However, when she looks back at her life, Lopucki views all has accomplished, and who she is today and can’t help but think that that situation shaped her and “embedded in [her] both empathy and strength.” One skill that Lopucki has learned in business is the ability to multi-task. She has learned what she knows about business from small business owners, who have taught her how important it is to keep “your eye on so many things at one time…and you have to surround yourself with people who can complement your skills.” She advises aspiring women leaders to observe other women in leadership roles, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and continue to learn and grow.
Mills Benefit Group, LLC
Jamie Mills is president of Mills Benefit Group, a small business that has grown from one employee to 12. Mills Benefit Group is an employee benefits insurance agency and designer of “a proprietary Internet based benefits platform that allows clients a single Web based system to enroll, maintain and bill for all benefit options.” Mills believes in taking care of clients, which is why good work ethic, customer service, fair pricing, full disclosure and partnering with clients is viewed as the reasons for the firm’s success. Honesty is what Mills believes is her guiding principle. She realizes that mistakes are made because no person or company is perfect and the best thing to do in that situation is to tell the client the truth. Also important to not just Mills, but the company as a whole, is a commitment to give back to the community. From a business perspective, the hardest situation she has gone through is when someone who she trusted failed.
Faye Alexander Nelson
Detroit RiverFront Conservancy
Founded in 2003, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy processes the mission of bringing public access to Detroit’s Riverfront. As president and CEO of the Conservancy, Nelson has had a huge impact on downtown Detroit through her work at this nonprofit which has allowed “more than two and a half-million people annually enjoy the RiverWalk year round for concerts, events and activities.” Working with other organizations, foundations, city, county and state governments to people in the community has allowed Nelson to work with a wide variety of people, teaching her important lessons. In her current position, Nelson has had to deal with more tough situations than at any other point in her life or career. “I have found that the most successful approach is to be honest and direct and to take responsibility if you are at fault. Identifying a well thought out solution rather than responding in anger or frustration and working to resolve the matter as quickly and as effectively as possible is the best approach that I have found to address such matters,” she said. She believes that a person’s most valuable asset is a reputation with integrity, and through her guiding principle of living life with faith and purpose, she is able to do so.
Nemeth Burwell, P.C.
Patricia Nemeth, President and CEO, of Nemeth Burwell, P.C. believes her success has come from surrounding herself with hard-working people and her own hard work, focus and persistence. Nemeth recently faced a loss of one of her finest legal mentors. Brian Ahearn sat in on her first deposition and provided her with good, constructive criticism. She went on to follow in his footsteps and received a master’s of labor law degree. “He was a very detailed and intelligent, zealous advocate. Approximately six months ago, he joined our firm in an of-counsel capacity. I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with him again after 18 years,” said Nemeth. Although his unexpected death cut this opportunity short, she expresses her respect for him and thanks him for all that he taught her throughout the years. Today, Nemeth Burwell is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes. Nemeth expresses the importance of having a strong, trustworthy relationship with your advisors. “Our accountant and corporate counsel have not changed since the firm opened. Their wisdom and advice has been invaluable and reassuring over the years,” she says.
Strategic Staffing Solutions
Since opening its doors in 1990, Strategic Staffing Solutions has experienced 20 consecutive years of annual revenue growth. Cynthia Pasky, founder, president, and CEO, believes this consistent success is due to how the company makes its decisions, basing everything around its consultants and clients. As a technology and business services company, it is important to understand each industry and market in order to best serve the customers, she says. Her guiding principal is that “success manifests itself in meaningful relationships and a relationship built on trust is one that will last.” Her role model and mentor, her father, has helped her get to where she is today with a strong work ethic and encouragement. “He was an accountant who often took me to work, where I learned basic business principles,” said Pasky. This past year has been challenging for Strategic Staffing Solutions, but she believes that by defining the market before it defined them helped them succeed and still measure their year in growth. “We can also say that we overcome our challenges before our challenges overcome us,” she said. She believes in the keeping relationships strong and continuing to nurture them is the key to success.
The medical industry continuously changes because of new technology and events -- including the passage of the new health care bill. Deborah Phillips attributes success to her ability to change and “anticipating and responding to change--exploring what’s around the corner and how it will impact our business.” Phillips, the chief administrative officer of Priority Health, a health benefits company, knows that along with change comes flexibility. “The best advice I could offer to other women aspiring to leadership is to not be rigid in their thinking about the future,” says Philips. Especially during these tough economic times, Phillips stresses the importance of evolving and bouncing back from tough situations that are put before us. “We're faced with tough situations every day. What’s important is how we deal with them. That’s why I think it’s important for leaders to deal with tough situations with resiliency,” she says. Her greatest passion is to mentor other women, especially those in difficult situations and of diverse backgrounds. “Mentoring gives me the opportunity to reach back so that more women will have access to the resources and opportunities I am privileged to enjoy,” says Phillips.
Nancy Rae focuses on creating “a business partnership where Human Resources is integral to the business strategy and company performance.” At Chrysler, and everywhere, Rae finds it important to have passion and energy in everything you do and exceed expectations. Her greatest passion in life is her family, especially her daughter, who is in college with an interest in the medical field. “I am proud of the person she has become. She is my proof that it’s possible to balance life’s priorities,” says Rae. Her toughest situation occurred when Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. It was a tough time to be a leader and hard to keep everyone motivated and focused during such a high stress period. She looks at Chrysler currently and finds it very rewarding to see the commitment and excitement of the employees. Rae’s best advice to other women is to be true to who you are. “Find the right formula for yourself professionally and personally. If you are true to yourself, you will be confident about the contribution you have to offer! Also, share your experience and knowledge with others,” she says.
Betsy Raymond is the COO of Miller Johnson, a law firm that founded in 1959 and currently has more than 90 attorneys. Hard work and curiosity is what makes Raymond successful. Staying curious about how other businesses operate helps her evolve the company for the future. Her greatest passion is her family and one of her many mentors has been Larry L. Adams. He was a man who often assigned big projects to young executives, giving them the chance to step up to the challenge. “He walked into my office on a Friday and announced we were selling one of our largest divisions and I was in charge of the divestiture beginning first thing on Monday. Never mind that I had never handled a project of that magnitude before!” says Raymond. The toughest times she has ever had at work occurs every time there are layoffs at the offices. She responded by being respectful to the individuals who were leaving and trying to keep the workers left behind thinking positively. She believes the best thing in these situations is a “well-developed” sense of humor.
Now retired, Sharron Reynolds was the vice president of Community Relations at Huntington Bank, a Midwestern bank holding company. She attributes her success to the senior management that gave her the chances she needed to grow. Persistence is her guiding principle, because “great accomplishments are achieved by those who simply show up and work towards the goal.” The person with the biggest influence is her mentor, Don Maine, chancellor of Davenport University. At the time women were not part of committees or boards, but he offered Reynolds a chance to serve at a senior level. Then it was all about hard work and taking the initiative. “He provided the avenue. Then it was up to me to travel the road, avoid obstacles, persist with strategies and invest time, dedication, commitment,” she says. She offers this advice to aspiring women leaders: “Becoming an involved community volunteer reaps great benefits both ways: the organization or project gets active support and talent from you, you get contacts, exposure, and professional growth from the experience.”
Vice president of Corporate Affairs at Masco Corporation, Sharon Rothwell credits her success on her ability to solve problems that come her way. She also attributes it to the team that she has been able to build to look at issues and problem-solve from different perspectives. Rothwell’s greatest passion in life is to make a positive impact on others’ lives, including Masco Corporation, her co-workers, family and community. Her toughest situation was after the Sept. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers. At the time Rothwell was chief of staff for Michigan Gov. John Engler, who was out of state during the events. She had to quickly come up with a plan to restore order in the state of Michigan and with the governor’s approval she followed through with it and things were much calmer when he returned home. Personally she has survived cancer twice, at ages 33 and 49. “Each time this experience taught me how to prioritize my life and focus on the things that really matter. I also had to learn humility and how to accept things that are out of my control (a lesson I keep reminding myself of each day),” says Rothwell.
Heritage Spinning and Weaving / Knit Michigan
Joan Sheridan focuses on helping others in her business, Heritage Spinning and Weaving, and Knit Michigan, the foundation she created with Bridget Dean. As owner and president of Heritage Spinning and Weaving she finds it important to not only sell the materials needed for the fiber arts, but also offers classes to help people enhance their skills. By offering to help others she is paying it forward as her mentor, John Williams, once told her to do. A photographer himself, Williams assisted Sheridan in her photography studies and helped her reach her goal of being accepted to the, then, Center for Creative Studies. “When I asked John what I could do to repay him for all his help, he said, ‘Pass it on,’ because someone had helped him and that was what he was doing,” said Sheridan. When Sheridan started to see the effects cancer had on her close friend and others, she wanted to help. As co-founder of Knit Michigan, she focuses on helping cancer patients and their families by raising funds and making them “comfort items,” such as chemo caps and blankets. In the four years of the foundation’s existence, Knit Michigan has raised over $100,000. Sheridan believes that respect for all is what is most important. “I try to always be positive and look for the good in everyone and every situation. There is always something to be learned – no matter how long the day or dark the night,” she says.
Lynne Sherwood is the chair for JSJ Corporation, a privately held company that designs, develops, markets and brands a group of durable goods and services throughout the world. Sherwood credits success to a good education, hard work, perseverance, staying true to her values, being a good listener and listening to advice from people she respects. Her greatest passion is to help others through her nonprofit and volunteer work, where she freely gives her time, talent and assets to those who need it most. Her toughest situation occurred during her first interview as a securities analyst. Meeting with a wealthy president of an electronics company, Sherwood had to display confidence and vast knowledge of this company. She got through it by being well prepared and asking him technical questions about the business. Doing so, she was able to gain his respect. Sherwood’s best advice is to “always be yourself. Don’t compromise your principles for any reason.”
Grand Rapids Community Foundation
As president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Diana Sieger credits her passion for her success; a passion for creating a better community, dedicating time to create positive social change and donating time and money to help make the community a success. She genuinely believes “developing the leadership potential of our next generations is key.” Sieger remembers a professor who saw her potential to lead and provided her with the guidance necessary to grow and gain confidence in herself. Sieger believes deeply in the importance of relationships and values each relationship and friendship she has established over the years. One relationship she treasures is one she has with a donor couple, who encouraged her to develop the foundation and to have fun in the process. One business lesson she struggled with is to reach out and ask for help when necessary. “This has been a critical lesson and one that I struggled with when I first became the president 23 years ago!” says Sieger. She views herself as being a very alive person, with a good sense of humor that is used very frequently, and never rests on her laurels.
Detroit Regional News Hub
Executive director of Detroit Regional News Hub, Marjorie Sorge believes that women leaders need some “good old girls network.” She believes this support and encouragement of one another is what is most important to aspiring women leaders and a successful future. “Detroit Regional News Hub serves as the media relations hub for the Detroit region and is the only initiative of its kind and scope in the United States,” says Sorge. She takes pride in her company and believes that it can help change the how people look at Detroit and make a difference. She credits her success to family and friends, a great support system that has always been there to help and guide her. Sorge’s greatest challenge is getting others in Detroit to be optimistic about the future and change of Detroit. She believes something as simple as speaking and thinking positively will help the region and pessimism is what “makes us our own worst enemy.” Sorge believes that it is important to take responsibility as a leader and to believe in yourself. “No matter what the circumstance you have to get up each morning and look yourself in the mirror so make your decisions so that the face you see is the one you can live with. That means never taking yourself too seriously or thinking you are above anyone,” she says.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Donna Strickland, Supplier Diversity Program Manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, attributes where she is today to hard work, dedication and commitment. By serving God and making her parents and sisters proud, she has been successful in her career but also in giving back to the community. Strickland makes sure she is “keeping [her] hands busy in the community through volunteering and mentoring young people.” Her mentor that taught her to be caring towards others and encouraged her in all that she did was her mother, Betty Strickland. While being a student at Dale Carnegie, Donna was forced to cope with the toughest situation she has faced and learned a great lesson. In one of her classes she began to excel and was receiving numerous speech awards, but her co-worker at the time began to tease and bully her. Her co-worker was threatened and because she valued the work relationship, Strickland asked the professor to transfer her to a different class. “The instructor gave me the best advice saying ‘Never apologize for your gifts and talents in order to make someone else feel bigger or better,’” she said. Strickland also believes that a person should have integrity in one’s work and be able to look in the mirror with confidence that the very best was done and be accountable for one’s own actions.
Taylor Global Consulting
As a consultant at Taylor Global Consulting she is part of a team that serves as guides for organizational and individual change. She helps leaders become effective and creates the conditions to unleash the clients’ full potential. A former community college vice president and president and also a vice president of a large private university, she has a passion for providing a pathway of education for all. Her greatest mentor was the first community college president she worked alongside (despite him saying that he was her partner to create an educational future for the students, not her mentor). “He was a visionary that taught me the value of a global education, and provided opportunities for me to help build college partnerships throughout Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, and I've continued that international thrust throughout my entire career,” says Taylor. Her toughest situation occurred when she trusted people who did not have the same values as she did and it backfired on her. She decided the right path to take is to rise above it and move forward. The most important business lesson to Taylor is “to be as knowledgeable as possible about the overall business you are in, know your financial situation, build a solid sustainable strategic future plan with achievable goals, stay with the plan, but don't be afraid to dream, and build the most solid trustworthy team that you can possibly invest in, and trust them to work together for the best future for the organization.”
Innovative Learning Group
President of Innovative Learning Group, Lisa Toenniges’ toughest situation developed into her passion. When the owners of the company she was working for told her and her co-workers that they were closing the doors in three days, it was either update her resume or start a business. With the help of five other co-workers, she started her own small business. And although the first months were difficult, the company prevailed and she works hard to “create an environment where employees, freelancers and clients want to come everyday.” Innovative Learning Group works to help employees excel through training and aims to improve business results. Toenniges credits her success to hard work and her “hands on approach to running the business and life in general.” She compares her hard, consistent work to when she was growing up and playing sports and instruments. “You have to show up and practice every day with intense focus on the task at hand,” said Toenniges. She believes in keeping your word. If she says she is going to do something then she is going to do it, from daily exercise to saving money in a 401(k). “Tiny nuggets of advice” like keeping promises is what she believes is important for women who aspire to be leaders. It’s “not always the grand bold statements” that is most valuable according to Toenniges.
Beverly Wall became owner and CEO of Languages International in 2003, when the original Italian owner sold it to her. Languages International is a foreign language translation and interpreting company, which experienced significant challenges after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. In January 2002 the company was surviving with no sales until the end of 2003, when Wall became CEO. Relentless, powerful and straight talker, Wall has a passion for helping fellow women business owners and has started another company called Wall2Wall Marketing that is aimed at helping women increase their business during this new economy. Her toughest situation was turning a company around. Her success has made her very knowledgeable. “Now my passion is to teach more women business owners what I know so they can make more progress and achieve their dreams. Michigan will benefit from their business success,” says Wall. One important insight from Wall is what the role of a business owner is exactly and what needs to occur for the business to succeed. She says that the owner’s job is to be the Chief Marketing Officer for the business and although everything else passes over her desk her main concern needs to be marketing the business. “If she is not marketing her business every day, and finding new innovative ways to break open new business, then she is not doing her job, and her business will fail (she just doesn't know it yet),” she says.
Main Office Mailers
Janice Will is president of Main Office Mailers, also known as MOM. MOM prepares and sends out large mailings, anything from 500 to a million and a half. The company works with clients’ databases and after folding, tabbing, inserting, sealing and putting on the addresses they send the mail to the United States Postal Service. Janice Will credits her commitment to the success of the business as the reason for her own success. The recession hit Main Office Mailers like other companies, but through her commitment and that of employees they were able to turn it around. She also has the unique opportunity to work side-by-side with her son, Jason. “He has a natural business ability and I learn from him each and every day,” says Will. She believes in treating everyone fairly and with kindness and caring. Her greatest passion is motherhood. Her sons have taught her many lessons and she says they are “the most incredible, oftentimes challenging, teachers in my life. They each inspire me in different ways. They believe in me.” Her advice to others is to use all the resources available to educate your mind and spirit and to realize how important it is to know about not only your industry, but business as a whole.
Detroit Medical Center
The Detroit Medical Center operates eight hospitals and is a leading regional health care system. Mary Zuckerman, COO of DMC, attributes a strong skill set and the ability to manage a broad base of responsibilities for her success. By receiving exciting opportunities, Zuckerman was able to quickly excel “without having the climb the ‘traditional’ career ladder.” She believes that through hard work and trying to always do your best will greatly benefit, not only herself, but others who wish to reach success. Her mentors and parents were very influential in her life and she a strong work ethic due to them, having taught her the value of hard work at a very early age. Now, she is trying to instill in her own children these values and make sure they receive the best opportunity to do whatever they decide to pursue in life. Zuckerman’s toughest situations come at a time when she has multiple “large, complicated” projects at once which is quite overwhelming. “In these situations, I draw up a detailed action plan and then start working the plan one day at a time,” she says. The best way to tackle any tough issue, according to Zuckerman, is having a strong and dedicated team ready to deal with any situation at hand.
Editor’s Note: This article was compiled by Corp! editorial intern Laura Sweeney and edited by Corp! staff. While women honorees from all three organizations were asked to respond to our editorial team’s questions, not all of them were able to reply in time for the article deadline.