Meet the 2021 Smart Women Award honorees

Meet the panelists

This year’s Smart Women Breakfast & Awards panel features four women in distinct professions. Yet for all their accomplishments, and as diverse as their backgrounds and paths to success are, one thread that connects them is the universal realities of being women in business. On Oct. 7, they will come together to share their experiences in the hope that their stories will help others along their professional journey.

Our panel will feature Haslam Sports Group CEO and RIVR Media Founder Dee Haslam; Cleveland Clinic Chief of Staff Beri Ridgeway, MD; A.E.S. Management Corp. Owner and President Vanessa Whiting; and KeyCorp CIO Amy G. Brady.

Bernstein

Moderating this year’s Smart Women Breakfast & Awards panel is WKYC-TV Director of Advocacy and Community Initiatives Margaret Bernstein. The Cleveland-based journalist has won an array of awards for her writing and her commitment to her community. She is also the author of a series of inspiring storybooks designed for fathers to read with their children. Talking about leading this year’s panel, Bernstein says, “I just want to be around these women who have this heart for the community. Even as they have had to figure out how they will rise to the top of their field, they aren’t hesitating to turn around and bring this community along with them.”

The pages that follow highlight these four outstanding professionals. However, it’s impossible to communicate in such a limited space just how extraordinary these women are. We hope you’ll join us this month to hear the stories of their successes and challenges, and leave as inspired as we are for having met them. ●

Dee Haslam, CEO, Haslam Sports Group; Founder and executive producer, RIVR Media

As CEO of the Haslam Sports Group, which owns the Cleveland Browns, as well as the Columbus Crew SC, Dee Haslam is accustomed to organizations that have strong personalities working through difficult, and often very public, challenges. But rather than leading to clashes, she says mutual respect for one another’s ideas has brought them together to work toward a common goal.

“We approach every problem as we’re going to solve it together,” Haslam says. “It’s not like anyone has to be the smartest one in the room. Everybody respects each other and what they bring to the table. Whether it’s Andrew Berry or Coach (Kevin) Stefanski or Paul DePodesta or anybody in the ownership group, when we come together, we really respect each other for what you bring to the table. We’re learning, growing and working really hard together, but really well together. For us, that’s been the key to us being successful, on the field and off the field.”

In 2015, Haslam and her husband, Jimmy Haslam, were honored with the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s Paul “Tank” Younger Award for promoting racial and gender diversity within the Browns organization. That diversity is critical because it brings with it diversity of thought, which helps the organization generate great conversations.

“Our leadership group is so bought into, let’s make sure that we have people that are diverse so we don’t all look the same and all think the same,” she says. “That makes the organization so much richer. There’s just a level of respect within the organization.”

Building on that philosophy, the Haslam Sports Group Diversity and Opportunity Fellowship Program was started to help females and minorities learn the business side of the sports industry. (Currently there are two individuals working with the Crew and two with the Browns). Dee says while opportunities existed to develop talent on the sports side, through quality control positions and internships, the same opportunities didn’t exist on the business side.

“We’re focusing on bringing diversity to the business side of the organization,” she says. “We thought the best way to do that was to hire fellows, have them spend a year with us and hopefully, maybe stay with the organization, or we’ve trained them well and they get an opportunity with another team.”

Haslam is taking time out of her schedule to speak at the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards event because she says she can learn a lot by being on panels such as these.

“Every time I do something like this, it forces me to grow as an individual because I have to put myself out there. That’s not always the easiest thing, but I think it really forces me to grow,” she says. “But also I learn so much from the other women on the panel that I take back to the organization. I think it goes to being open to everybody’s individual ideas and new ideas to make yourself better and your organization better.” ●

Vanessa Whiting, president and owner, A.E.S. Management Corp.

Looking across the professional career of Vanessa Whiting, a trait that stands out is her agility.

“The first big pivot was from lawyer to franchise operator,” she says. “I approached it by assembling a team that knew more about operating than I did. I firmly believe that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Whiting, who now owns and operates 16 Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen restaurants, has been recognized for offering opportunity to those who’ve made mistakes in the past, giving them a chance to pivot in their lives. The practice, she says, was started by her late husband, Tony Smith, who founded A.E.S. Management. It was just part of his mission, she says. And though it’s endured, it takes commitment to maintain. It often means training very raw talent to learn skills many employers often assume candidates already possess.

“It takes the right type of manager to be able to work with them, be empathetic but yet stern and still hold the standards that we want to see,” Whiting says. “But it does take time. It does take compassion, empathy and toughness, too — the ability to connect with a variety of different kinds of people from different walks of life and different circumstances.”

While not easy, offering an opportunity to someone who might otherwise struggle to find one is very rewarding, as is knowing she and her team can make a difference. And those she has helped have made a difference in her and her team’s lives as well.

“It keeps you humble,” she says. “People come to work every day, sometimes under circumstances that others of us have not had to live through.”

Finding opportunities for those who are overlooked is also something she’s championed since being appointed to MetroHealth’s Board of Trustees. Whiting, who is the first African-American to chair the board, established its Diversity and Inclusion Committee after it became clear to her that it was an area in need of improvement.

“It was a value that mattered to so many in the hospital, but we weren’t living the value,” she says.

So, Whiting and fellow board members drafted a charter and set the mission. Once they partnered with Akram Boutros, MD, when he became the hospital’s CEO, management worked with the board to advance the cause, putting into practice initiatives as simple as demanding that diverse candidates are interviewed for each open position. Now, she says, the dynamic has changed.

“It’s a value that’s inculcated throughout the system and the policies are throughout the system,” she says. “Someday, maybe, you won’t need a diversity and inclusion committee because it will be such an integral part of the institution.”

Whiting is taking time out of her schedule to speak at the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards event because there are women who have shaped her career and her life both professionally and personally, so she’d like to give back, hoping there’s something she and the panelists can say that helps other professional women along their way. ●

Amy G. Brady, Chief Information Officer, KeyCorp

Amy Brady, KeyCorp’s CIO, says much of a bank’s success hinges on how it leverages technology to deliver a differentiated experience. But delivering that experience requires people. And as head of Key’s Technology, Operations and Services organization, she’s leading more than 5,000 individuals, all of whom help drive a department that has a significant role in the bank’s ability to win in the marketplace.

“Financial institutions truly are technology companies at their heart that deliver financial products to our clients through amazing people,” Brady says.

Clients not only want to interact with the bank digitally, they also want to interact through their relationship and client managers. Technology, she says, makes that easier, more efficient and more effective for everyone involved by getting data both to clients and Key’s relationship managers, which enables them to be more impactful.

That requires not just keeping up with the rapid evolution of technology but developing the talent who will deliver it. To that end, Key’s Future-Ready program aims to put employees in the driver’s seat of their careers — for example, a contact center agent today could get on track, with time and the right tools, to earn a role in technology down the road.

“That’s a win-win,” Brady says. “It helps the teammate develop, but it also helps me develop the workforce of the future that we will need.”

As Brady and the bank look to develop technology talent, they’re also looking to broaden their talent diversity. Since joining KeyCorp, she’s brought on female direct reports to lead two of the bank’s largest technology teams, and more than 30 percent of the technology team is female. The bank has also launched an effort specifically targeting black engineers — software developers, robotics engineers, and hardware, network and database engineers. With the national average for black engineers at about 8 percent, and Key currently at 5.7 percent, Brady has set a goal to get to get above that average.

“I truly believe that teams are better when you have diversity — diversity of thought, diversity of representation, diversity of backgrounds,” she says. “Diversity breeds better creativity and better solutions. And so, the more representation you have, the more successful your teams are.”

Brady is taking time out of her schedule to speak at the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards event because, as she looks around, she still sees too few women with the CIO title.

“I hope that by my getting out and talking about my role, I will inspire other women to pursue careers in technology,” she says. “And I do believe women need to get out and inspire other women to pursue their dreams, whether it’s to be in technology or whatever the field might be. We all have to pay it forward and pull people along and inspire women to achieve their fullest potential.” ●

Beri Ridgeway, MD, Chief of Staff, Cleveland Clinic

One of the factors that drove Beri Ridgeway, MD, into a career in medicine and into leadership roles within the discipline was a desire to get better health information to women. That’s in part because, in order to live their fullest lives, women need have control of their health.

“If you are sick or ill or problematic, you have challenges living your life to the fullest, reaching your career objectives, any number of those things,” Ridgeway says. “That’s been an enormous issue for women in their lives. For example, before reliable contraception, women were routinely excluded from the workforce because they could not control when they were going to be bearing children or, in fact, how many.”

Women also face a significant amount of shame about their bodies. Problems women experience are often stigmatized, so they’re not discussed. And in that absence of open discussion, there’s a lack of information, which creates a vacuum that gets filled with falsities. Her passion, she says, has been to fill that gap, remove the stigma and provide reliable sources of information. She does that in her own practice, through her involvement in training other physicians and through public education and training other leaders in women’s health care.

Ridgeway knows being the Cleveland Clinic’s chief of staff comes with immense responsibility, so there’s not much time day to day to consider what being the first woman in the Clinic’s history to hold the position might signify. But, she says, soon after her appointment was announced, she got a number of messages from other women expressing how excited they were for her and that they’re supporting her. It put into perspective the pressure to do a great job, but also gave her a sense of the possibilities it unlocked.

“On the flipside, it’s also an enormous opportunity,” she says, “not just in succeeding in a role but having a seat at the table, being able to work with others, being able to show the work that I can do and then also reach back and bring women leaders who are in our organization forward, provide them with visibility that perhaps they’ve not yet had and provide them with an opportunity to showcase what they can do.”

Ridgeway is taking time out of her schedule to speak at the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards event because she continues to hear, across locations and disciplines, some of the universal challenges of working women — childcare, childbearing, nursing and more — and recognizes that those end up being a significant financial tax for women.

“It really was putting into light how, in order to succeed, women must work harder,” Ridgeway says. “They must do a better job to be considered equal. I just love the idea of getting together with a group of women with similar challenges. Realizing that none of us is alone, I think, is very powerful, even if it doesn’t immediately change the situation.” ●

 

The Smart Women Awards

Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) and the Tri-C Foundation are committed to uplifting, advancing and empowering women in Northeast Ohio through accessible, affordable and high-quality education and training. We are honored to return as Presenting Sponsor of the 2021 Smart Women Breakfast & Awards that celebrates women’s achievements in our community.

While Northeast Ohioans get back to work and our local economy gets back on track, we know that women have been hardest-hit by the pandemic.

  • Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force last fall, citing low wages and a lack of childcare resources as primary barriers.
  • Women make up 61 percent of the region’s working population who earn below the poverty level.
  • Hospitality and retail job losses have disproportionately affected women, especially women of color.

A Tri-C education opens doors to family-sustaining jobs and thriving careers, especially for women, who make up 61 percent of our student body. To help women succeed in opportunity-rich job sectors, scholarships and wraparound support services for the whole family are as essential as the quality, affordable education available at Tri-C. We are especially proud of these special free programs that help women find a clear path to new opportunities.

  • Black Diamonds provides African American women and girls with conferences, activities, mentoring and access to resources leading to educational success, emotional well-being and financial stability.
  • Women in Transition guides women to move their lives forward, developing their own personalized academic and professional development plans, while learning from each other and building mutual support.
  • Tri-C’s annual Women’s Summit helps to advance equity and inclusion with focused discussions on important issues in a free virtual format that inspires and affirms.

We proudly celebrate the achievements of leading women, inspiring male advocates and transformational women’s programs through the Smart Women Awards. These impressive honorees include our community’s most committed and accomplished women, and champions of women’s leadership. We hope that you find the program inspiring.

Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 2021 Smart Women Breakfast & Awards. Please join Cuyahoga Community College and the Tri-C Foundation in congratulating all of the winners and showing appreciation for their commitment to our community.

Alex Johnson, Ph.D., President, Cuyahoga Community College

Megan O’Bryan, President, Cuyahoga Community College Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Progressive Entrepreneur Honorees

 

Kanisha Rounsaville, Founder & owner, Balance Cheer and Gymnastics

Balance Cheer and Gymnastics is a Black- and woman-owned athletic facility located in Warrensville Heights. Rounsaville says that, as a minority, it is imperative she continues to serve and lead the community in the opportunity to engage in gymnastics, tumbling, private lessons and other activities.

She feels blessed to be in a position to offer youth the opportunity to participate in her athletic facility, something that may not otherwise be possible due to limited availability, social-economic factors and other conditions. She is proud to offer affordable and creative classes that incorporate the physical component of a sport and instill self-confidence that surpasses the walls of the facility.

As a young gymnast, Rounsaville was subject to what was perceived as racial inequality, as she was the only Black gymnast throughout much of her career, trying to successfully navigate in a predominately White sport. Representation matters, she says, and for that reason, she founded Balance Cheer and Gymnastics to provide a safe, comfortable and loving environment for athletes. During the pandemic, she was able to double enrollment at Balance Cheer & Gymnastics, serving almost 80 athletes. She plans to continue to inspire youth and to expand her business. ●

Laura Steinbrink, Managing member, Emerald Built Environments, LLC

As managing member of Emerald Built Environments LLC, Laura Steinbrink has guided the company to success in just a few short years, making entrepreneurship and the growth of the company a priority. She guides the Emerald team to work not only for the company but also on the company, with rigorous quarterly goals and weekly leadership meetings.

Emerald Built Environments offers environmental sustainability consulting while also remaining highly focused on the business case. Steinbrink excels in her executive leader sustainable strategy sessions that align the owners’ business and financial objectives with their sustainable renovation and new construction projects. She and the team help clients earn sustainable certifications, gain energy efficiencies and create sustainable organizational processes, all while considering the financial and business goals of the business.

As the company’s visionary, Steinbrink thrives in bringing the company new opportunities and offering clients sustainable solutions, promoting alternatives and realigning objectives, and she is proud to have notable clients and projects from across the world in the Emerald portfolio. Emerald’s team has touched projects both in Cleveland and across the country, working on the first LEED certified steel production facility in the nation.

Along with her team, Steinbrink has set a substantial and inspiring goal to enhance 2,030 sustainable environments by 2030. ●

Marisa Sergi, Co-founder & chief growth officer, L’uva Bella Winery

Marisa Sergi, a third-generation winemaker, is one of the forces behind L’uva Bella Winery, whose mission is to build modern wine brands for the everyday consumer. Starting in high school, she discovered a passion for winemaking while helping her family make wine. She earned a degree in viticulture and enology from Cornell University. Cornell encouraged Sergi’s entrepreneurial thinking that ultimately turned her award-winning capstone project, RedHead Wine, now known as Red’s, into a business opportunity.

She accepted her first full-time job working for the largest privately held winery in the United States and, after a year and a half, moved back to Tremont and launched her brand. She went store to store, visiting more than 500 in person, to hand-sell wine and build relationships. She helped start a distribution business at L’uva Bella in 2018, and in 2020, fully acquired L’uva BellaWinery with her fiancé and business partner, Evan Schumann. She has taken L’uva Bella’s case growth from 35,000 cases in 2020 to 85,000 in 2021, and the winery is on track to produce over 125,000 cases in 2022. And in 2024, L’uva Bella will be producing over 300,000 cases a year and one of the top 50 largest wineries in the U.S. ●

Rachel-Yvonne Talton, CEO, Synergy International Limited, Inc.

Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Synergy International Limited, Inc. CEO Rachel-Yvonne Talton has focused her life and business on the eradication of systemic racism through the company’s work in diversity, equity and inclusion for global, regional and local organizations. Four days after Floyd was murdered, she registered for Cornell University’s D&I Certification program, and the organization’s work has grown from about 30 percent of its projects in DEI to over 85 percent today. By definition, the work of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging breaks down barriers across individuals and throughout systems so that every human being feels they belong and that their uniqueness is valued.

Talton also founded the Flourish Foundation, a charitable organization that helps women entrepreneurs, emerging women professionals and girls ages 14 to 19 achieve success. Its network of business and civic leaders throughout the U.S. and the world share a mission of providing exemplary leadership development programs, business and career training, and coaching offerings that these women and girls would not otherwise have access to. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has been offering online learning to entrepreneurs, including classes on Empathetic Leadership, Authenticity, Trust & Leadership, Communicating through Crisis, Growing Your Business Through Crisis, Women Leading through Crisis and others. ●

Tina Chamoun, Owner, Terranean Herbs & Spices

Tina Chamoun is forging her path as an entrepreneur through her business, Terranean Herbs & Spices. She had a vision for a company that would make authentic, high-quality, affordable, conveniently packaged Lebanese za’atar products easily accessible to the American consumer.

She made and maintained meaningful connections with people and reached out for their guidance, advice and mentorship for the support she needed to successfully launch and grow her business. She is establishing channels for growth, distribution channels and retail channels that align with her product and values, as well as social and traditional media channels to continue to push exponential growth through exposure.

Chamoun developed a line of unique and innovative za’atar products to fill a void in the American marketplace for this traditional Middle Eastern herb blend. She founded her business when she realized that Middle Eastern staples like the wild thyme blend za’atar, were not available at major grocery stores, and that the za’atar products that were available at the Middle Eastern stores were not attractively or reasonably packaged, and full of filler ingredients. After testing different products and talking to family in Lebanon, Chamoun found a woman co-owned and co-operated za’atar business in Lebanon and imports the za’atar to Cleveland, where her products are made. ●

 

2021 Progressive Organization Honorees

 

As an associate at Weinberg Capital Group, Teresa Lindsey worked in the private equity industry. And when Weinberg needed an executive to head up one of its portfolio companies, she was named president of Channel Products — a company that thrives in the male-dominated manufacturing industry — approximately nine years ago. Channel Products invents and manufactures component systems and technologies designed to improve safety, ensure reliability and enhance efficiency. Best known in the gas appliance industry for igniters, safety controls, assemblies and accessories, it provides manufacturers worldwide with high-quality components and systems for a variety of industries.

Following eight consecutive years of revenue growth, Lindsey was named CEO. As president and CEO, she has championed the rise of women through the ranks of the manufacturing business. The company’s management team includes about as many men as women, including those in C-level and other senior management roles. In addition, she has created training, community support, wellness, education and other opportunities —many of these run by women, all of them benefitting women and men.

Finally, Lindsey is a popular public speaker on women’s issues and is currently working on a book designed to communicate a proprietary self-help program for women and men. ●

 

Lauren Steiner founded Grants Plus in 2007 with a vision of not only helping nonprofit organizations raise the grant funds they need to fulfill their missions, but also helping women access challenging, rewarding career opportunities that acknowledge them as whole people.

Fourteen years later, Grants Plus is a thriving woman-owned, Cleveland-based business led by five women executives. Its team of 20 full-time staff has raised more than $200 million in grant funding for hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the country. It has succeeded by developing a culture that promotes women’s leadership and encourages women (and men) to achieve balance and satisfaction. In the years that it has grown, and especially in the last year, the organization has taken steps and provided supports that allow women to advance and excel at Grants Plus and in their lives.

The organization allows time for self-care and professional development during the workday, so that women can take care of themselves today and prepare for their futures tomorrow. Each full-time employee at Grants Plus may use up to 75 hours per year of personal well-being time and up to 48 hours per year to take part in coaching, training, workshops and other experiences that build their skills and strengths. ●

 

From its founding in 1994, Regency Construction Services Inc. has offered women an example of what is possible and an opportunity to grow personally and professionally within the construction industry. Its success is grounded in President Tari Rivera’s astute expertise in engineering, strong community focus and progressive entrepreneurial spirit.

Encouraged by a father and grandfather who were both engineers, Rivera started her career as a project engineer with an established construction company. For 12 years, she learned the ropes from talented construction managers and had great opportunities to effect change with new buildings in communities across Ohio. She was one of only a few female engineers in the field at the time, but navigating this territory was nothing new.

In 1994, the construction company Rivera worked for unexpectedly closed its doors and, taking a leap of faith, she worked out a business plan for the company that would eventually become Regency Construction Services Inc.

She had experience working with vertical builds and carpentry, so she used those services as her base. She knew that to be successful, she would have to be able to forecast detailed cost estimates and timelines, so she decided the new company would have in-house estimating and scheduling services to ensure the best service for her clients. ●

 

2021 Progressive Woman Honorees

 

Lauren Hanna-Masuga, Vice president of sales, Blue Technologies

When successful sales professional Lauren Hanna was being recruited to join Blue Technologies 11 years ago, it took some convincing to secure her acceptance, because she knew she’d face challenges beyond the traditional when joining the office technology solutions provider.

In addition to needing to learn the business space, as well as Blue Technologies’ unique sales cycle and portfolio of services and products, she’d be joining a heavily male-dominated industry in which women in leadership positions were a minority. And she’d be doing so as the daughter of Blue Technologies owner Paul Hanna. She would need to work harder than her peers to earn the respect of colleagues, competitors and clients. But despite having a successful sales career, she took the leap.

No one who has worked with Hanna-Masuga would argue that she has not earned her role of vice president of sales through her outstanding work ethic, long hours, unmatched determination and perseverance, and truly innovative vision.

Overseeing the team across six locations as vice president of sales, she has become the go-to person at the company who can fix any problem, ensure a tough deadline or client expectation is met, and provide caring and supportive leadership to her team. ●

Elizabeth Voudouris, President & CEO, Business Volunteers Unlimited

Elizabeth “Biz” Voudouris started at Business Volunteers Unlimited as a volunteer in board development and business partnerships, where she grew the number of businesses involved with BVU services and membership. From there, she served the nonprofits involved with the organization by heading up the board matching service line and led the program from its inception, from conducting feasibility studies on program design to being recognized on the cover of the Wall Street Journal for her innovative concept.

As key marketer and communicator of the organization, Voudouris has had to gently toe the line between services to businesses and nonprofits, as BVU can’t have services to businesses without the nonprofits and can’t provide services to nonprofits without the businesses. This dichotomy makes for a dexterous, diplomatic leader. She diplomatically and fairly finds the best way forward that truly services the BVU community.

After nearly 30 years, she has seen both the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and HandsOn Northeast Ohio become integral parts of BVU’s work and is proud to have retained staff from both of the organizations. Under her leadership, BVU strives to engage 500 businesses and 1,000 nonprofits by its 30th birthday. ●

Renee Richard, Vice president, Legal Services & Risk Management, Cuyahoga Community College

Renee Richard has been blessed with a rewarding career. It has been filled with varied experiences providing opportunities to work in multiple industries, on sophisticated matters, in most geographic regions across the country, with individuals from various backgrounds, races and cultures. There were challenges, resulting in taking the path less traveled, arriving sometimes later than planned. But with strong family support, a sense of obligation to her community and an immeasurable faith in God, the vice president, Legal Services & Risk Management at Cuyohoga Community College has a successful, satisfying business career.

As an African American female, she grew up with two loving, hard-working parents who were determined their family would thrive despite the poverty surrounding them and the racism that stood to impede them. She became one of Ohio’s first Black female certified public accountants before earning an MBA and graduating from law school. Through hard work and perseverance, she reached partner at Roetzel & Andress.

Today, she uses her skills and experience to advise and counsel the administration, faculty and staff of the nation’s fourth-largest community college. Tri-C serves over 25,000 students and 3,000 employees who bring an array of labor, employment, finance, academic and risk management issues. ●

India Birdsong, General Manager & CEO, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority

India Birdsong joined The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in 2019 as CEO and general manager, coming to public transit by way of a unique educational background. She majored in English at Temple University, is proficient in Spanish and received her master’s degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Birdsong began her career in public transit in 2006 with the Chicago Transit Authority as a planner and ultimately served in operations. In 2016, she was named COO of WeGo Public Transit in Nashville, and after four years and a nationwide search by RTA, she was named its CEO, a role that may have posed her most significant challenge to date. In the span of a few months, Birdsong got married, moved to Cleveland, discovered she was expecting — and then was called upon to launch the organization’s response to a world-wide pandemic in her role as leader of one of the region’s most essential services, public transportation.

Birdsong is leading the organization toward innovate solutions to significantly increase RTA’s customer base, improve service frequency and coverage, and expand its role in contributing to the economic development of the region. ●

Jenice Contreras, Executive Director, Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development

Jenice Contreras is executive director of the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development, which operates as the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Business Center.

She was promoted to executive director of the HBC and NEOHCC in 2013 after serving seven years as an HBC board member, during which time she worked full time in the health care sector. Contreras was named to her position based on her passion for the HBC mission, her deep roots in the Cleveland Hispanic community, the vast skill set she brought from her work in the health care industry and her education.

Contreras is an excellent communicator and coach, and maintains relationships with major influencers in Cleveland and around the country. She continues to develop her staff’s talent and network to further the mission of the HBC, providing educational and developmental support for economic and business growth and advancement of the Hispanic community in Northeast Ohio. Under her leadership, the HBC has significantly expanded its programming, staff and budget, resulting in an increase in the number of businesses served, from 254 in 2013 to 419 in 2018. ●

Adrienne Ferraro Mueller, Partner, Jones Day

Adrienne Ferraro Mueller, a partner in Jones Day’s Securities Litigation & SEC Enforcement Practice, is a “Jones Day lifer,” having joined the firm after graduating from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2003.

Throughout 19 years with Jones Day, Ferraro Mueller has defended corporations and their officers and directors in paramount legal matters, including litigation threatening to stall transformative deals, billion-dollar securities fraud complaints and significant governmental investigations. She has been named among Ohio’s Super Lawyers (2018-2021) and The Best Lawyers in America (2019-2021), and recognized as the “Lawyer of the Year” for Litigation – Securities in Cleveland by Best Lawyers in 2021.

Ferraro Mueller has served on nearly every committee in the firm’s Cleveland office, as well as on the firmwide Associate Training Committee. She has enjoyed success over the years as the summer program chair, the hiring partner and co-chair of the office’s NextGen Business Development Committee. And she gives back to her community as a member of the board of directors of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and a former member of the board of directors of Blessing House and the Family Services Committee supporting the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. ●

Corrie Menary, Partner, Kirtland Capital Partners

Corrie Menary is a partner with Kirtland Capital Partners, a Cleveland, Ohio-based private equity firm that has been successfully investing in the lower middle-market for over 40 years. She joined Kirtland in 2005 as an associate after spending four years with National City Bank in the credit underwriting and debt capital markets groups.

She was committed to making the transition to private equity despite not having the traditional investment banking pedigree.

In 2005, there were very few women in private equity in the United States. Against these steep odds, Menary has persevered, competed and succeeded in rising to a senior leadership role at Kirtland. She has been the only female investment professional during her 16-plus years at Kirtland, and her distinguished status as a partner-level investment professional earned her a spot in the 2020 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A in the U.S.

Menary offers the team special viewpoints in discussions about deals, people and challenges within the organization’s portfolio companies. Her perspectives regarding people are particularly insightful, and she has gained the respect of portfolio company management teams. She supports other women who are looking to advance in their careers and has devoted countless hours to mentoring a new controller in a portfolio company. ●

Renee Weiss, General counsel, Millennia Housing Management Ltd.

Renee Weiss was recently promoted to general counsel of Millennia Housing Management Ltd., overseeing the broad range of legal issues and interactions of all departments. In this key leadership position, Weiss is responsible for all of MH’s legal affairs and functions, including setting the direction of the legal department, overseeing in-house staff and managing outside counsel.

Prior to joining Millennia, Weiss was associate general counsel of Litigation and Operations for DDR Corp., where she oversaw landlord/tenant litigation and bankruptcy matters and worked with the property management department on shopping center operational issues. Weiss frequently presented at company meetings to aid with the training of different departments.

She has an extensive background in litigation. Early in her career, she worked at the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and, before that, at the law firm of Baker & Hostetler, at both companies in the litigation department.

She is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association and a graduate of the YWCA’s Leadership Momentum Program. Weiss consistently provides strategic and thoughtful advice that centers the company’s core values. Her sound reasoning, coupled with more than 25 years of legal experience, makes her well-positioned for this role. ●

Jennifer Morrissey, Chief Information Officer, Oswald Companies

Jennifer Morrissey joined Oswald Companies in 2016 as chief information officer, the first person to hold this position in the firm’s 128-year history. Prior to Oswald, she held information technology leadership positions with one of the world’s largest risk and insurance brokerage firms, applying her global insight and experience to transform Oswald’s IT practice.

At Oswald, one of the nation’s largest privately held insurance brokerage and risk management consulting firms, she cultivates teams across departments and functions to improve and deliver measurable results, optimize business performance and foster collaboration for positive, goal-directed transformations. Morrissey is also a member of Oswald’s Executive Committee, which drives corporate-level decisions and strategic planning on behalf of the business and employee-owner population.

Morrissey’s leadership is highlighted by her innovative approach to modernizing technology at Oswald, rooted in three key pillars: Technology modernization (drive profitable growth and gain efficiencies), client digital experiences (engage clients and increase value) and data analytics (insight-driven risk management advisers).

Additionally, capitalizing on the value of cloud management, she transitioned the company’s data center to primarily Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) environments, optimizing both costs and performance. ●

Peggy Roberts, Managing partner, The Riverside Company

Peggy Roberts joined The Riverside Company (TRC) in 2004 and is currently managing partner of the Riverside Capital Appreciation Fund (RCAF), a lower-middle-market private equity fund executing control equity buyouts of companies valued up to $400 million. As a woman in finance for 20 years, Roberts has worked diligently to be an example for young women in investment banking and private equity and to cultivate a dynamic and inclusive work environment.

Roberts has responsibility for the full breadth of organizational initiatives and priorities within RCAF, including investor relations and fundraising, leading the placement of equity co-invest into the fund’s acquisitions, management of the fund’s talent selection, performance management and compensation, working on marketing and deal origination initiatives, and managing due diligence tools and third-party relationships. She also has administrative oversight of the fund’s budgets and portfolio performance.

She has worked on incorporating ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors into the firm’s investment selection and portfolio monitoring processes, which includes a focus on diversity and equity in Riverside’s portfolio. The firm strongly believes that considering ESG issues not only makes its team members better investors but makes TRC and its portfolio companies more valuable, better places to work and a bigger force for good in their respective communities. ●

Inajo Davis Chappell, Partner, Ulmer & Berne

Inajo Davis Chappell stands well apart from others in the degree to which she has woven her passion for volunteerism and community service into a sophisticated legal practice. At Ulmer & Berne LLP, one of Cleveland’s largest law firms, she has fashioned a career in which her altruism, leadership and legal experience work hand-in-hand. From assisting vital nonprofits to supporting voting rights and improving college access for students, Chappell is a shining example of how one can build a career in a way that incorporates a passion for civic engagement.

Since joining Ulmer in 1996, Chappell has risen to partner and group leader of the firm’s Nonprofit Practice Group, a role in which she has supported countless organizations in their missions to positively impact the world. Under her leadership, the practice has grown to represent more than 100 exempt organizations. She also represents for-profit businesses and has served in dozens of key roles on the boards of several nonprofits, foundations and professional groups.

As chair of Ulmer’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, Chappell is committed to supporting DEI and guiding Ulmer in its diversity efforts. She leads the group that advocates for diversity in hiring, hosts educational programming, engages in community outreach and guides the firm in its vendor diversity initiative. ●

Helen Forbes Fields, Executive vice president and general counsel, United Way of Greater Cleveland

Helen Forbes Fields arrived at United Way in 2016 as vice president of Community Impact and general counsel, supervising the allocations process of United Way and reviewing all legal matters. In 2018, she was promoted to executive vice president of Regional Initiatives and general counsel. Today, she serves as executive vice president and general counsel, adding board management to her extensive portfolio.

Forbes Fields came to United Way with over 31 years of experience practicing law with the Forbes, Fields & Associates law firm, where she was active in the public law and municipal finance practice. She was involved in the public and privately placed issuance of revenue bonds and general obligation bonds for Ohio and its political subdivisions, the board of education of the Cleveland City School District and other cities and counties, and served as law director to East Cleveland. She has been profiled in several magazines for her community and civic interests and has received several awards.

She has been admitted to practice before the Ohio Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and the United States Court of Appeals in the Sixth Circuit.