Authentic, Motivating Women Inspire Businesses, Communities

WLC_logo4C1797Motivating. Inspiring. Authentic. These are the words that repeatedly surface when describing and learning from the state’s leading women in businesses and public service.

Women have made great strides in the workforce, but there is more to be done and Michigan women are making their mark. To celebrate these achievements, the Michigan Business and Professional Association presented the 19th annual “Women and Leadership in the Workplace” Conference and Awards Luncheon Feb. 3 at The Henry in Dearborn.

DSC_0138The program is a joint venture of the Michigan Business and Professional Association and a distinguished advisory committee of leading businesswomen and community leaders. This year’s theme was “Own your Path” and featured Rhonda Walker from WDIV Channel 4 as the Award’s mistress of ceremonies. Featured speakers at the event included Margery Krevsky from Productions Plus – The Talent Shop; Juliette Okotie-Eboh from MGM Grand Detroit; Vivian Pickard from General Motors Foundation; Teresa Lucido from Comcast Spotlight; Christina Lovio-George from lovio George; Linda Forte from Comerica Bank; and Amanda Richie from Plymouth Technologies. More than 700 women attended the event.

The event honored 10 exceptional women leaders from throughout southeastern Michigan.

This year’s honorees represent extraordinary professionals who have accomplished much in their careers. The women honored at this event are raising the bar in Michigan as we know it. Please join us in honoring them.

Distinguished Leadership Award
Annette AronsonAnnette Aronson
Garden Fresh Gourmet
Born and raised in Ferndale, Annette Aronson learned early on that strength and courage are imperatives to success in life. She met her husband Jack while playing on a women’s league basketball team. He was her coach and soon after, they got married. Through the lean years, Aronson was always by Jack’s side, working interminable hours at their legendary Clubhouse BBQ restaurant. The two barely made ends meet. In 1997 when her husband got the crazy idea to make and sell fresh salsa, Aronson’s commitment to her life partner was unwavering. Working 12 and 16-hour days, she was the spark that made the impossible possible: shipping fresh, all-natural salsa to the four corners of the continent, establishing a beloved national brand in the process. Today, Aronson is CEO of Garden Fresh Gourmet, makers of North America’s top selling fresh salsa. She and Jack remain committed to Ferndale, and their selfless support of numerous causes is legendary. Their thriving company is a pillar of the community, supporting more than 425 employees and their families. Aronson loves making a difference in the lives of those around her and beyond.

Shooting Star Award
DanielsJessJessica Daniel
FoodLab Detroit
Humility, chutzpah and compassion are just a few of the traits that Jessica Daniel says are important qualities of business leaders. Daniel is the Greater Detroit area – ‎director and chief enabler at FoodLab Detroit and says community outreach is at the heart of what she does. “Because FoodLab is a non-profit with a broad and ambitious mission, “community outreach” isn’t part of what we do, it IS what we do and why we exist. We are a growing community in service of a food system that is better for people and better for the planet than the one we have now. That’s a tall order, and a long, long, long-term mission, so engaging a diverse group of good food businesses, and allies and partners is central to continuing the good work over the long term. Taking inspiration from women leaders that have come before her, Daniel has observed that “many female community leaders I work with are often down in the weeds thinking through the details of how to get things done and spending a lot of time implementing and testing and building relationships… whereas I see many more male leaders in roles as ‘visionary’ or ‘spokesman’ or ‘big picture thought leader.’ Often this also translates to who’s able to corral more significant financial resources and other support for a project, program or organization. I think this has to do with cultural expectations for women to be more humble, as well as higher levels of scrutiny—both by women who are hard on themselves, and by external parties.” Her hope is that more strong women articulate their visions for a better organization, community, or world and have the courage, confidence, and support to request the resources they need to make these visions realities.

Shooting Star Award
EvertLindseyLindsey Evert
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Being a leader can sometimes be a challenge, but it is something that Lindsey Evert from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra takes in stride. “Women face struggles to be heard and honestly to support one another. I see too often a woman tear another woman down based on something personal and it can be so toxic. It’s crucial to seek out mentors and positive role models. It’s also imperative to build other women up,” she said. Evert says communication is also the key to presenting ideas and leading an organization to success “bringing people into the conversation is a huge part of any successful project. I really enjoy engaging local partners and businesses that can bring things to the table that I lack, or that our institution lacks. We really focus on doing that with our committees and volunteer groups as well.” Evert believes that it takes, “Patience, empathy and a thick skin,” to be a good leader. “Understanding where people come from and how their situation or life experiences can add value to a team has been incredibly valuable to me. It is also important to have patience not only with people but with situations. There have hardly ever been any new projects that are fully supported by everyone right away. Good things really do sometimes take time.” Her success and inspiration can be attributed to her parents. Evert said, “My parents have always inspired me and now I notice how much they have influenced my career. My Dad ran a very successful business for 30 years and my mom is an extremely creative person. I’m lucky to be a mixture of both of them and I think that really translates into my work. Also, the city and people of Detroit inspire me every day to build something that has an impact on the future.”

Distinguished Leadership Award
LinglongHeLinglong He
Quicken Loans
Serving as chief information officer of Quicken Loans Inc., Linglong He oversees more than 1,100 team members. With more than 20 years of experience within technology, She is responsible for the overall vision and leadership for technology initiatives across the organization. He takes her inspiration from others, “I always want to make the best effort in my role, and I love to help others when there is a need. Early in my career, I enjoyed helping my teammates to solve specific technical challenges, but as I continued to grow, I learned that strong leadership influences the team. The people around you are much more impactful, beyond just fixing the code. If you are always willing to help and you are the best you can be each day, you make yourself the obvious choice. As CIO, I focus on both my team members’ personal development and in ensuring they feel fulfilled in their careers and daily work.” Since joining the company in 1996, Linglong has faced many successes and some challenges, “In a growing company, staying connected with your team members and sustaining our culture is one of the biggest challenges a leader can face. To achieve this, we have created an atmosphere where participation and innovation are not only welcomed, but encouraged and expected,” she said. Volunteering is important to He as well as the company she works for. “Quicken Loans believes in doing well by doing good. In the past year, we spent more than 75,000 volunteer hours and gave back $10 million in helping the community. Our IT team, through its “IT Gives Back” program, spent 9,000 hours volunteering in the community. This is something we’re very proud of and something that leadership encourages,” she said. She has a strong passion for developing leaders and is actively involved with the Michigan Council of Women in Technology and the We Build Character organizations.

Distinguished Leadership Award
Morrison_BethBeth Morrison
HAVEN’s Beth Morrison inspiration for success comes from the many survivors of domestic and sexual violence who she has been honored to work with over the years. Hearing their stories and witnessing injustice fuels her passion to keep moving forward. She also credits the people she works with, “I get to spend my days with an amazing team of people, employees and volunteers, who are just as passionate and dedicated as I am to the goal of making our world equal and safe for all. Social justice around violence against women and girls is what pushed me into this movement and sadly there is still so much work to be done that I continue to feel the same push to keep going.” Serving the organization as president and CEO, she believes one of the most important traits of a leader is the quality of authenticity. “Being authentic is probably the most valued trait for me. Sure you have to be competent, motivating, have vision, be a strong communicator, have ethical values, and so on but if you don’t start from a place of being authentic, who will want to be led by you and work with you? The lack of authenticity is where so many leaders fail,” she said. Even though there are a lot of successful women working in metro Detroit and throughout the country, Morrison believes there is still more advancement for women to go, “women are still paid less than their male counterparts, and many women leaders are still faced with being the primary caregiver of their children or later in life their parents. We need to continue to work toward pay equality and creating other resources for women so they can succeed in both business and within their personal life as well.”

Distinguished Leadership Award
Kelly Rossman-McKinneyKelly Rossman-McKinney
Truscott Rossman
One thing can be said for Kelly Rossman-McKinney, no matter what anyone says to her, she moves forward toward success in everything she does. “The best motivation I ever received has been from those who said I couldn’t or wouldn’t: I wouldn’t get that contract, they’ll only hire a man; I couldn’t make that happen because … I didn’t have the right credentials, access, contacts, etc. Every one of those negative, cautionary comments—the “you need to stay in your place” may have been well-intended but they only served as a motivator. I have always been compelled to prove folks like that wrong,” she said. Serving as CEO and principal of Truscott Rossman, a full-service public relations agency representing local, statewide and nationwide clients, Rossman-McKinney says, “I have an absolute passion (some might say obsession!) for my work and I can’t wait to tackle the next big challenge. Making sure I do that in a way that makes my kids proud is an added incentive.” Honesty, integrity, candor, passion, courage are the traits that she finds essential for good leadership. “When you try to work harder and smarter than anyone else in the room, respect comes despite your gender. If anything, my experience is that being a woman is an advantage, not a disadvantage,” she said. Besides providing the best quality work and services to their clients, Rossman-McKinney also encourages her employees to go above and beyond in the community as well, “I encourage every one of our team members to get engaged in outside activities, on their own or as a team. We take on a variety of pro bono clients and unleash our team on them. It’s especially heartening to see our interns recognize that good business is doing more than just the “business” but expanding above and beyond the office.”

Shooting Star Award
VeronikaScott-headshotVeronika Scott
The Empowerment Plan
Veronika Scott, CEO and founder of The Empowerment Plan, started the non-profit organization when she was a 20-year-old design student in Detroit. She was told over and over that it would fail because the homeless people she wanted to work with would be worthless. “Every day I enjoy proving all those people wrong. Everyone I hire is powerful, driven and I am lucky to be a part of their lives,” said Scott. The Empowerment Plan is a humanitarian organization based in the city of Detroit. The plan centers on construction of a coat that transforms into a sleeping bag at night, and a bag when not in use. The coat is made by a team of mostly homeless single parents who have been paid to learn and to produce the coats for those living on the streets. The Empowerment Plan aims to help build a better life for those that have become trapped in the cycle of homelessness. They give homeless individuals jobs while in the shelter so that they can earn money, find a place to live, and gain back their independence for themselves and for their families. For all of her accomplishments, Scott has received many accolades. She is the youngest recipient of the John F Kennedy New Frontier Award from the JFK Library Foundation and Harvard University. She has received an IDEA Gold Award from the Industrial Design Society of America and has an honorary PhD from Johnson State College. Scott has been named one of CNN’s Ten Visionary Women in the World and is the winner of the 2014 DVF People’s Voice Award. The Empowerment Plan story has been told across the world and shared at events such as the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Forbes 400 Philanthropy Summit with Oprah, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Distinguished Leadership Award
Ruth-Spencer PhotoRuth Spencer
WDIV Channel 4
Ruth Spencer, anchor and consumer reporter for WDIV Channel 4 has a reputation for being an advocate for the community she serves. Spencer has been with the station for 24 years. She is best known for her role as WDIV’s “Ruth to the Rescue,” the station’s Emmy award winning consumer investigator. Along with Ruth’s Rescue Squad she helps viewers resolve their consumer complaints about a business, product or service. A California native, Spencer earned her BA with high honors in Broadcast Journalism from San Francisco State University. According to the WDIV website Spencer says that she “has a feeling for spiritual things and believes we’re here to discover our talents, then use them to serve God, by serving others with love.” Spencer is a true believer in that and in serving others. She supports several charities including Penrickton Center for Blind Children; American Heart Association; Grace Centers of Hope; Salvation Army; Stratford Music Festival; University of Michigan; Academy of the Sacred Heart; and Berklee College of Music.

Distinguished Leadership Award
KathleenStrausKathleen Straus
Michigan State Board of Education
Michigan State Board of Education Member Kathleen Straus has committed the majority of her life to the furthering of public education and community services in Michigan. According to the Michigan Department of Education website, Straus has a strong interest in curriculum, assessment, and raising achievement for all students across the state. A frequent visitor to schools and classrooms, Straus often spends time with parents, educators and others discussing educational policy and reform efforts to keep in touch with what’s going on in the field. Until her retirement in 1991, she was president of the Center for Creative Studies, a nationally recognized arts education institution in Detroit. Prior to that, she was director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, and served as staff director of the Education Committee of the Michigan Senate. An active community leader, Straus currently is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and on the Advisory Board of the American Jewish Committee. She is also a past president of the League of Women Voters of Detroit. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in October, 2000. In these capacities she has fought discrimination and worked to build bridges between races, religious and ethnic groups, and to promote social justice and education.

Distinguished Leadership Award
WorthyKimKym Worthy
Wayne County Prosecutor
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy began her legal career at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, according the Wayne County website. In 1989, she became the first African-American selected as a Special Assignment Prosecutor specializing in high profile murder cases. She left Wayne County in 1994, serving in numerous court appointments and roles. In 2004, Worthy came full circle in her career and returned to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, this time as the Wayne County Prosecutor, the first African American and the first female to hold the position. Worthy has been a persistent advocate for witnesses who risk their lives to come to court and testify. Due to her tireless advocacy the Wayne County Commission awarded funds solely to be used to protect witnesses for the first time in 2007 and this important allotment continues still today. Worthy has used her prosecutorial experience to greatly enhance the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. She created the first Elder Abuse Unit. This unit handles all cases involving elderly and vulnerable adults, and focuses on the needs of senior citizens when they are victims of crime. Worthy received her undergraduate degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan, and her law degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law. Recognizing that “service is the rent we pay for living,” Worthy is active in The United Way, The Lead Poisoning Task Force of Michigan, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and many others. She created the Alexandra Simone Fund for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Henry Ford Hospital in memory of her deceased daughter. The fund provides services to the parents of prematurely born infants. An advocate for all children, she frequently speaks out about the need for fostering and adoption of children.