Paving the Way – Women’s Program Shares Lessons Learned

Round table discussions form the basis for an intimate networking experience.
Photo by Peplin Photographic

Inforum, Michigan’s largest organization for women, wanted to provide a power packed, personal approach to professional mentoring when it introduced the Inner Circle program last year.

The event, which honors women with exemplary leadership skills, also gives them an opportunity to share their knowledge with women who are interested in reaching the next level in their careers.

The Inner Circle concept was developed by Inforum in partnership with Deloitte & Touche USA. Following a brief awards ceremony, each honoree shares personal insights and business lessons learned with a small group of women during round table discussions. The number of registrations is limited to provide an intimate networking experience.

From left, standing: Patricia Maryland, St John Health; Barbara Allushuski, Right Management; and Jennie Cook, Comerica Bank. Seated, Ronia Kruse, OpTech LLC; and Mildred Matlock, Ph.D., Detroit Receiving Hospital.
Photo by Peplin Photographic

Tina Wheeler, audit partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP, was a leader in helping Inforum launch the Inner Circle program and today remains a staunch supporter. “Personally, it’s been very rewarding to participate in the program and to see women making meaningful connections and engaging in quality conversations,” she says.

Inner Circle participants receive valuable information, validation and reaffirming career guidance during the intensive mentoring sessions from professional women who are at the height of their careers. For their part, up and coming younger professional women are given direct access to successful business leaders who have paved the way for the future of women in the workplace.

Finding the experience to be very worthwhile, Lynn Valade, vice president of business banking at Fifth Third Bank, walked away with new insights from Jennie Cook, senior vice president at Comerica Bank. “It was very helpful to have met her and to hear how she managed the politics at her company. Listening to her helped me realize I have a good network; I just need to use it more,” says Valade.

From left, seated: Rose Glenn, Henry Ford Health System; Esther R. Blum, Taubman Centers; Sue Perlin, Plante and Moran; and Kouhaila (Ki) Hammer, Ghafari Associates LLC. Standing: Colleen Haley, Yazaki North America; Amanda Van Dusen, Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone; Gloria Danna Brooks, Arbor Hospice; and Mary Ann Lievois, ISCG.
Photo by Peplin Photographic

Margaret Blohm, president of Margaux & Associates, LLC, sat with Ronia Kruse, president and CEO of OpTech LLC. Blohm believes Inner Circle provides an excellent networking opportunity to connect with people one might not otherwise meet or learn from. “Our table discussion was about utilizing strategic partnerships which is something I try to incorporate,” she says.

While taking up golf might not be typical career advice, it’s one that Account Executive Mary Jo LeFevre from AGIS is planning to take after meeting Barbara Allushuski, Great Lakes region vice president at Right Management, a global human resources management company.

“I walked away knowing that perseverance pays off,” says LeFevre. “Also, my industry can still be a ‘boys’ network and her comments regarding sports reinforced that it would be a good idea to learn how to play golf.”

Juliette Okotie-Eboh of MGM Grand Detroit and Nancy Rae of Chrysler LLC. Photo by Peplin Photographic

While Inner Circle honorees are recognized, they also gain insights from younger professionals who often provide a new take on the business world. Among those being lauded are entrepreneurs, high ranking women or partners in their organizations, small business owners, visible governmental officials, high-powered professional women, leaders of nonprofit organizations and changers and shapers of women’s causes and the community.

One such honoree is Gloria Brooks, president and CEO of Arbor Hospice, who says she felt the room was filled with electricity. “We all had the time to network and talk about our careers. When the event ended, many people stayed on because they were so engaged in their conversations,” she says. “We often overlook women’s leadership skills. I think it’s important for all of us to learn from each other as our career paths continue.”

2009 Inforum Inner Circle Honorees
Barbara Allushuski, Right Management
Marilyn Barnett, MARS Advertising Co, Inc.
Elise Benedict, University Moving & Storage
Esther R. Blum, Taubman Centers
Gloria Danna Brooks, Arbor Hospice
Faye Caballero, Black River Plastics
Denise Christy, Humana Michigan
Jennie Cook, Comerica Bank
Karen Cullen, Ilitch Holdings
Lin Cummins, ArvinMeritor
Marla Drutz, WDIV
Sue Ellen Eisenberg, Eisenberg Law Firm
Dr. Haifa Fakhouri, Arab American and Chaldean Council
Nancy Gioia, Ford Motor Company
Rose Glenn, Henry Ford Health System
Colleen Haley, Yazaki North America
Kouhaila Hammer, Ghafari Associates LLC
Joyce Hayes-Giles, Detroit Edison and Michigan Consolidated Gas
Susan Kornfield, Bodman LLP
Mary Kramer, Crain’s Detroit Business
Ronia Kruse, OpTech LLC
Maureen LaFontaine, LaFontaine
Automotive Group
Mary Ann Lievois, ISCG
Elizabeth Lowery, General Motors
Alyssa R. Martina, Metro Parent Publishing
Patricia Maryland, St. John Health
Dr. Mildred Matlock, Detroit Receiving Hospital
Juliette Okotie-Eboh, MGM Grand Detroit
Sue Perlin, Plante and Moran
Sandra Pierce, Charter One Bank NA
Nancy Rae, Chrysler LLC
Pamela Rodgers, Rodgers Chevrolet Inc.
Nettie Seabrooks, DIA
Shirley Stancato, New Detroit Inc.
Lisa Vallee-Smith, Airfoil Public Relations Inc.
Amanda Van Dusen, Miller, Canfield,
Paddock & Stone
Lynn Weaver, Yazaki North America

Inspiring and lively conversations between a group of women was an experience that honoree Juliette Okotie-Eboh, senior vice president of community affairs and administration for MGM Grand Detroit, says she won’t soon forget. “We discussed work, family and personal balance issues. There was lively dialogue about how to gracefully navigate roadblocks based on gender discrimination,” she adds. She has since communicated with the women at her table and plans on staying in touch and organizing a gathering on their own.

As an honoree, Colleen Haley, president of the General Motors business unit at Yazaki North America, found the event to have incredible value. “You will be more successful in your career if you can successfully connect with others, learning what you can from them and giving them something back in return. Inner Circle gives a structure to help make these connections,” she says.

Nancy Rae, executive vice president of human resources and communications for Chrysler LLC, saw the event as an opportunity to give back in a personal way. “I was so impressed with the dialogue and professional accomplishments of the participants,” she says. “Not only did we talk about career obstacles, but we also talked about the importance of leadership, particularly during challenging times.” Her advice to the women at her table: be flexible, open to change and strive to maintain balance in your life.

“This unique networking opportunity is critically important in giving women in Michigan the career boost they need in these challenging times,” says Inforum President and CEO Terry Barclay. The next Inforum Inner Circle events are scheduled for April 23, 2009 in Birmingham; April 29 in Grand Rapids; and in Lansing on a March date yet to be announced.