Perspectives — Women Who Excel: Creating a culture of Health can help you pull ahead

PANELISTS: Laura Bennett, Sheila Dunn, Kristen Morris and Lindsay Sims

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is proud to sponsor the Perspectives 2014 Women Who Excel Conference, and over the past several years, the pace of change has certainly increased, especially in health care. In my 30 years in the industry, I’ve never experienced so much change in such a short period of time.

Women business leaders are facing important and increasingly complex decisions about the health care coverage they offer to their associates. Not only is health care coverage one of the biggest expenses in many companies’ budgets, it can have a meaningful impact on the health, well-being and productivity of all its employees.

Creating a culture of health — in our organizations, our communities and our country — is critical to keeping up and pulling ahead as the pace continues to quicken.

At Anthem, we believe collaboration is the foundation of a culture of health. That’s why we work closely with our clients to develop and deliver personalized solutions that help their employees get healthy and stay healthy, and we work closely with health care providers to ensure broad access to quality, affordable care.

We also partner with community organizations to help improve health and well-being — including Radio Disney for the Anthem Get Active, Get Fit School Challenge, the March of Dimes for the Centering Pregnancy prenatal care program and the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Triple Play wellness program.

One of the reasons I have chosen to spend most of my career with Anthem is its commitment to improving health in our community. Alongside other women leaders in our organization — including Erin Hoeflinger, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio — I’m energized by helping leaders like you achieve success by keeping both your employees and your business healthy. ●


Denise Tomechko is regional vice president of account management for Anthem National Accounts. Reach her at (800) 928-2902. To learn more about Anthem, visit www.anthem.comor like its Facebook page



Diane Ayres has no fear in overcoming obstacles as she leads Porchlight Rental Services 

Diane Ayres has learned to take adversity and turn it into success, having risen through the ranks to prominence in the relocation industry.

She joined Corporate Lodgings as its first employee in the late 1980s as director of sales. Ayres showed her business acumen by growing Corporate Lodgings from one location to nine.

After serving as regional vice president and then director of national sales, she opted to found PorchLight Rental Services rather than be transferred out of Ohio. PorchLight would be the first national rental assistance company in the U.S.

But being the first was challenging. While renters had been used to free services from rental service companies, PorchLight was a pay-for-service model. With Ayres’s hard work and commitment to deliver excellent service, she won over customers and they were willing to pay.

Then, after giving a competitor a run for their money, PorchLight was acquired by a national real estate investment trust. Another change was made in the business model, but after three years, Ayres led it to profitability. It was later sold off and had a record-breaking 2013.


USI Insurance’s Kate Bang motivates sales to award-winning high figures 

In the male-dominated health insurance industry, Kate Bang rises to the top by not trying to be “one of the boys,” but by using her skills to identify and implement ways she and her team can redefine and exceed client expectations.

In 2013, she led the USI Cleveland office to achieve a 35 percent increase over the last two years in top-line revenue. In addition, it was the only office to achieve USI’s Five Diamond status in 2013, which highlights excellence in new business development, client retention and profitability.

As one of only three women who are office presidents in the 34-office USI national Employee Benefits practice, Bang is dedicated to excellence for her clients and employees, which helps ensure success of not only the office, but also her team members.

“Kate inspires me every day, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to learn and grow with her,” says Mike Sicard, USI chairman, president and CEO. “She is one of the most influential, yet absolutely selfless, people that I have ever met: driven, compassionate, eloquent and kind. There is an aura of motivation around her at all times — personally and professionally — which is nothing short of contagious.”


Jennifer Bell rises to top leadership at Aon Risk Solutions, empowering her female colleagues

In the historically male-dominated industry of risk management and insurance, Jennifer Bell is the only woman to be a regional managing director in Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. operations. Today, she oversees management of the Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland/Akron, Columbus and Cincinnati offices, which have more than 400 employees.

Bell has more than 25 years of experience in the risk management consulting business and in designing insurance programs around her client’s unique needs. Upon joining Aon in 1991, she focused on global heavy manufacturing risk and association programs, which would prove instrumental in building the Northeast Ohio region.

Bell also is a true leader in Aon’s ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives, wanting to open doors for qualified people. As a result of her initiatives, which have been replicated throughout the industry by competitors and insurance markets, Aon’s Northeast Ohio Executive Committee is now comprised of 40 percent women.

In addition, Bell is highly active in the community, serving on many boards, including the Sisters of Charity Foundation, the American Heart Association, In Council with Women and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. 


Mimi Dane set ambitious goals at Flying Horse Farms and then met each one

Mimi Dane made a decision not everyone would have made when she chose to leave a successful 21-year litigation career at Squire Sanders in 2012.

She left to become the CEO at Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious medical conditions. The camp, located on 200 acres in Mt. Gilead, serves hundreds of children and families each year.

Within days of taking on her new role, Dane led the charge to make Flying Horse Farms a full member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, an international family of camps founded by the late actor and Ohio native, Paul Newman.

The process to get accreditation includes implementing and documenting more than 200 points of criteria focused on program and safety standards. Dane also set out to hire strong people in key positions such as CFO, medical director, nursing director, vice president of advancement, camper recruiter and database manager.

The hires have made it possible for the camp to expand its programs and provide better service to its children and their families. The hard work paid off when Flying Horse Farms became a member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, the only camp of its kind in the Midwest. 


Buffy Filippell excels as the headhunter for TeamWork Consulting

You might say sports have been an important part of Buffy Filippell’s life. Make that the sports industry. Her career is a shining example to women with similar aspirations.

Graduating with a degree in physical education from Indiana University in 1976, she started working for Wilson Sporting Goods in the tennis products promotion department.

After a promotion that took her to work in London, the International Management Group wooed her to Cleveland in 1978 to be its first female executive/agent.

She racked up a number of successes, including discovering and representing the then No. 3 ranked tennis player Andrea Jaeger.

After six years, she joined Korn/Ferry International to do executive recruiting. Two years later, she left to launch her own executive search firm, TeamWork Consulting, focusing solely on sports.

Through her initiatives as an entrepreneur, her persistence and grit, she has built her firm into one of the nation’s leading executive recruiting firms serving professional sports.

TeamWork Consulting has filled hundreds of positions, including senior executives of professional teams.

A digital version of her firm, TeamWork Online, was founded in 1999. Today, 780 sports organizations use TeamWork Online exclusively for their recruiting needs. 


Patricia Gajda recognizes her mentors as aiding her climb at Brouse McDowell

Patricia Gajda has developed her corporate transactions and general counseling law practice at Brouse McDowell for more than 15 years. Along the way, she overcame the challenge of being one of the few women in the corporate practice area, and attended networking events where only a handful of women were present.

She also has taken on a leadership role at the firm, chairing the Associate and Paralegal Review Committee for 10 years before stepping down in 2003. She has chaired the Corporate Practice Group since 2005, spearheading practice and marketing initiatives.

Gajda credits her success to working with great mentors who helped her develop. She now works to mentor associates and help female associates with advice and work opportunities.

Brouse McDowell believes in giving back to the community, which Gajda does by serving on several charitable boards. She serves on the Corporate Leadership Committee of the “Go Red for Women” campaign of the American Heart Association. She also serves as vice president and trustee for the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation.

Gajda graduated from Case Western Reserve University Law School in 1990, and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from John Carroll University. 


Skoda Minotti’s Dani Gisondo espouses a balance between work and life 

Dani Gisondo joined Skoda Minotti in 1998 as a senior staff accountant and now leads the firm’s Employee Benefit Plan group. A mother of three girls, she has embraced the challenge of balancing professional responsibilities and family time.

Two years ago, she and colleague Christa Lenko founded the Skoda Minotti Women’s Initiative, a program designed to help women learn how to build networks, earn continuing education credits and achieve career growth.

Gisondo supervises 18 professional staff, serves as a performance adviser to six and a career coach to three.

She suggests that women think outside the box concerning flexible work arrangements and overcoming obstacles when juggling work and family.

Gisondo approached management in 2001 with a nontraditional work schedule that would benefit the firm while allowing her to be involved in her children’s activities. That led the firm to extend the idea to other employees, and placed an emphasis on work/life balance.

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Gisondo has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, specializing in accounting. She serves as treasurer of the St. Francis of Assisi Athletic Booster Club, and is a member of the John Carroll University Accounting Advisory Board and Beaumont School Finance Committee. 


Constant upward progress defines career of Park Place Technologies’ Patricia Kilroy 

Patricia Kilroy started in the accounting department at Custom Products, eventually getting promoted to an operations manager position. She then became a sales support representative with Pioneer-Standard Electronics, which would become Agilysys Inc. During her 16-year tenure, Kilroy rose through the ranks from an inside sales manager to the director of several business units.

In these roles, Kilroy led and directed managers and employees in several departments, and was part of a project team that led the closure of a major sales and customer service facility — transitioning 75 customers and $189 million to another facility.

In 2007, Arrow Electronics acquired the distribution business from Agilysys Inc. During the transition, Kilroy organized and lead a formal employee engagement team to build morale across multiple facilities and business units.

When Arrow closed one of the sales and customer service facilities, Kilroy completed the transition by moving the workload of 400 customers for her business unit, developing and deploying a home office program that would retain high-potential employees.

In 2013, Kilroy joined Park Place Technologies as the vice president of channel development. Kilroy’s leadership has drastically improved all indirect sales channels and sales operations within the company. 


Pam Kozelka has been central to the growth of Content Marketing Institute 

Pam Kozelka’s career has taken a few distinct turns. After college, she supervised the Batterers’ Intervention Unit for Cuyahoga County, then left the workforce to raise her children. When she returned, she switched from social work to media, becoming Content Marketing Institute’s vice president of operations in 2008 and its second employee.

Since then, CMI has made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in both 2012 and 2013. The company also made the Weatherhead Upstart list of Northeast Ohio companies for its sales growth, landing the No. 1 spot in 2012 and the No. 2 spot in 2013.

Kozelka’s core responsibilities revolve around CMI’s bellwether event, Content Marketing World, which brought more than 1,700 marketers from 46 countries to Cleveland in 2013.

In addition, she has been central to the success of CMI’s annual Golf for Autism charity event, raising more than $100,000 in seven years for speech therapy assistance for children with autism.

Kozelka’s success has earned her the position of COO. According to founder Joe Pulizzi, the reason CMI has been, arguably, the most successful startup in Cleveland during the past three years is her leadership and vision. 


Kelly Loebick-Frascella rises to meet her own challenges at Main Street Gourmet 

Kelly Loebick-Frascella did not set out to be a role model for other women when she began working for Main Street Gourmet in 1997. She took a job on the production line and was simply trying to work her way through college before pursuing a more long-term career.

She quickly gained the respect, admiration and trust of her co-workers, and got an idea. She wanted to establish a HR department for the company, which was still in its infant stages.

She convinced Main Street Gourmet’s co-owners that the company had taken a number of steps improving its overall sales, market share and manufacturing processes. The HR department was another step and Loebick-Frascella was confident it was an important one for the co-owners to take.

So without a blueprint, she set out to develop such things as an employee handbook, a formal and annual performance appraisal process, a structured compensation program and a comprehensive benefits package.

There was also a standardized hiring system, employee recognition programs and leadership development.

Each of these initiatives has played a part in Main Street Gourmet’s success. It also has demonstrated what one person can do to make a difference. 


SueAnn Naso pioneers creative solutions at Staffing Solutions Enterprise

As 22-year-veteran employee of Staffing Solutions Enterprises, SueAnn Naso has championed work/life balance amongst employees, implementing a flexible and effective strategy for the all-woman workplace she now leads.

In 1995, three years into her career with Staffing Solutions, Naso was finding it difficult to balance full-time work with full-time parenting. Instead of resigning to find part-time work, she presented a part-time work model to her employer. That creativity and flexibility paid off for both parties as Naso worked her way up to president.

Naso also played a key role in fostering women’s professional development in the HR industry and Northeast Ohio business community. She co-founded the Executive HR Women’s Network, a networking group that was created as a venue for leading HR women to come together.

The group now boasts more than 100 active members and host’s events with award-winning panelists and hot topics, such as employee engagement and work/life balance issues. Members meet each other, network, have fun, and discuss HR and women’s leadership challenges.

Naso currently serves as a board member of ERC Advisory Council and Engage! Cleveland. She served as the president of the Cleveland chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management from 2011 to 2013.


Rahika Reddy achieved the American dream as an entrepreneur with Ariel Ventures

Radhika Reddy came to the U.S. in 1989 with $20 and a one-year International Rotary scholarship — by 1995 she had founded her own company, Ariel Ventures LLC.

It took working 80 to 90 hours a week to launch and expand her business. During that time, she also earned a second master’s degree in accounting and taxation. Her business has since grown into a successful and respected 100 percent woman-owned professional services firm.

Her work as an entrepreneur in international business, real estate and economic development finance fueled another dream to create an international center in Cleveland, bringing together international businesses, arts and culture, foods and events.

She rehabilitated a vacant, dilapidated historic building into the Ariel International Center — overlooking Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline — a one-stop center for international business development and cultural events.

Reddy wanted to give back to Cleveland and help other entrepreneurs with ideas that lack access to capital, so she created the Ariel Economic Development Fund and since 2011 has provided equity investments or loans to small startup businesses.

She has also organized and participated in programs, seminars and inbound and outbound trade missions. 


Rita N. Singh sparks global change through S&A Consulting Group and Elite Women Around the World 

Rita N. Singh, a native of India, arrived in Cleveland in 1979 with little money, no friends and no business experience. After completing her CPA in 1989, she started S&A Consulting Group in partnership with her husband Nipendra in the basement of their home, later expanding to a commercial space servicing Fortune 500 companies around the world.

As an executive coach and leadership strategist, her focus has been to help women develop skills in entrepreneurship and leadership in the various levels of their career, which are offered as part of an ongoing curriculum, individual coaching sessions, workshops, seminars, lecture series, forums and conferences.

Singh also had a vision to empower women. In 2005, she used her personal savings to create the nonprofit Elite Women Around The World®, which is a worldwide platform to enhance the economic position of women globally. Through the nonprofit’s conferences and forums, Singh has been instrumental in bringing thought-provoking women and leaders to Cleveland.

In her free time, Singh works part time at Ursuline College, teaching in the master’s in business administration program. She was instrumental in the development of its Center of Excellence in Ethical and Entrepreneurial Leadership. 


Kristin Tull has the tools at PRADCO to help people maximize their potential 

Michelle Gaertner was struggling. She started a women’s leadership initiative at her firm, but found few female executives she could turn to for guidance and support.

Through a mutual contact, Gaertner reached out to Kristin Tull. That’s when things began to turn around.

“Kristin provided a sounding board and shared her expertise as well as her personal experience,” says Gaertner, vice president and director of sales at Oswald Cos. “Working with her, I was able to define the objectives of a burgeoning women’s initiative as well as understand my role and develop my personal leadership style.”

Tull is the president of PRADCO, which works with people to improve their hiring and maximize their management potential.

Tull’s colleague, Lawrence J. Borodkin, also is a fan.

“To Kristin, there is nothing like teaching others and seeing them master their areas of responsibility,” Borodkin says. “The exponential gain that the company has experienced through her coaching and developing PRADCO staff has been extremely rewarding to her and to the employees she has mentored.”

The best part is that Tull is even more passionate about what the future holds.

“Kristin does not consider herself to be a finished product,” Borodkin says. 


Rebecca White burned the midnight oil to advance at Western Reserve Partners 

Rebecca White was the first in her extended family to receive a college degree, and it put a lot of pressure on her to prove it was the right career path. That didn’t mean her challenges were over.

After paying her own way through graduate school, she entered the world of investment banking, where she had an arduous time in the traditionally male-dominated industry. White spent many nights in the office well past midnight.

When an opportunity came to leave the relatively safe confines of KeyBanc Capital Markets to join Western Reserve Partners LLC shortly after its founding in 2004, she took it. Working for a small startup firm allowed White to develop quickly as a professional.

She rose to the challenge and is the perfect example of an employee climbing through the ranks of an organization. White is currently a director in the firm’s industrial practice and is responsible for managing transactions from sourcing to closing. Being one of the few senior-level female investment bankers in Northeast Ohio and recognizing the opportunities associated with that role, she also launched and manages Western Reserve’s women-owned business initiatives.  




Law firm developing women in leadership roles  

Brouse McDowell is a leader in supporting and developing women within its organization. Of the firm’s 75 attorneys, 31 are female — 19 of which are partners. That ranks Brouse second among Northeast Ohio law firms in the number of female partners. 

Additionally, half of Brouse McDowell’s associates are women. 

The firm is dedicated to women’s initiatives, professional advancement and career development, and provides a family-friendly workplace. 

A new initiative is the Women in Law Program, in which leaders facilitate a women-centric event each quarter. Events include internal conferences on business development and networking, and external functions designed to cultivate relationships with peers in the business community. 

Brouse McDowell’s female employees are invested in their communities, volunteering, advocating and participating in more than 150 professional, civic and nonprofit organizations where they work and live.  


Internal programs at Oswald Cos. help women climb the corporate ladder  

Oswald Cos. recognizes the unique challenges women face as they work to advance their professional careers and has launched a number of initiatives to help. 

In 2013, the company introduced its Oswald Women’s Leadership Council to support and promote the advancement of women leaders in the organization, setting clear objectives, timelines and metrics to achieve these goals. 

Female leaders from the organization now have the opportunity to advance their skills in the areas of communication, collaboration and professional connections. 

Member benefits include company-sponsored leadership training, joint events with other Greater Cleveland professional women’s groups and monthly meeting touch points.

The company aims to make the council available across all units, supporting programs such as cross-mentorship, networking events, speaker series’ and professional development.

Already, the council has received attention and commendation from major insurance industry trade organizations. 

Oswald’s Women of Oswald Helping Out Others gives every female employee the opportunity to contribute to initiatives throughout the year, including charitable events, volunteer work and networking. 

The company is also seeking to aid working parents by offering technology to permit mobile access when working from home, flextime and flex-schedules, family-based events and outings, and an overall awareness and support of family needs. 


Monica Daniely Green works for more than money at so Curly so Kinky so Straight  

Monica Daniely Green, CEO of so Curly so Kinky so Straight, is dedicated to fostering women’s initiatives and providing career development for women.

A licensed managerial cosmetologist and instructor with more than 25 years experience in the beauty salon industry, Green has channeled her tenure as a C-level executive in the corporate, nonprofit, medical construction and communications industries into a company dedicated to more than just hair. 

Green champions what she calls the natural hair movement, which aims to increase the sense of beauty, pride and self-esteem of African-American women. In addition to hair and beauty services, Green’s salon also offers services such as workshops and events, including the annual Happy to be Nappy picnic at Forest Hills Park. 

Green also has secured more than $1.5 million in funding for nonprofit pursuits such as scholarships. 

To further her mission of giving back, Green is launching the Flawless Beauty Academy, which will offer courses in the styling and care of natural hair — the only course in the state to do so. Students can obtain Ohio State Board of Cosmetology licensing as a natural hair stylist through the course. 


SueAnn Naso and Staffing Solutions Enterprises advocates women’s professional development

As a certified women’s business enterprise, Staff Solutions Enterprises and its President SueAnn Naso foster women’s professional development and work/life balance by tailoring solutions according to employees’ needs. 

Work-flex has been part of the company’s internal strategy for more than 18 years. This initiative has weathered various economic conditions and proven highly effective at maintaining top talent. Staffing Solutions fosters creativity and innovation by offering many work/life solutions, such as telecommuting, phased retirement, part-time and adjustable hours. 

The company also offers a strong mentorship program for younger employees, encouraging staff to attend networking and partner events, training support for career development, volunteering in the community and additional professional seminars. 

The past two years, under Naso’s leadership, Staffing Solutions received the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Award, a research-based initiative to highlight how effective and flexible workplaces can yield positive business results and help employees succeed at work and home. 

According to the award’s benchmarking report, 79 percent of employees strongly agreed they have the flexibility needed at work to manage personal/family responsibilities, and 93 percent strongly agreed that supervisors or managers are supportive when the employee is having a work problem.




Emma Day puts a British fashion foot forward at Carnaby Street Style

At age 24, Emma Day followed her dream and opened her own company, Carnaby Street Style, based on a business plan she developed for an entrepreneurship course in college.

In May 2012, she approached project developers with the plan, which combined her passion for British fashion, retail experience and desire to start her own business. She justified the plan, secured funding and designed the store layout.

Carnaby Street Style opened in December 2012, named after the London street famous for fashion boutiques. In its first year, it was awarded Akron Life and Leisure Best of the City awards for Best New Business (first), Best Shoe Splurge (second), Most Customer Friendly Boutique (third) and Best Local Entrepreneur (second). The store also was named Best Women’s Boutique on the Akron Canton Hotlist.

About 250 people attended a runway fashion show at the store in September 2013. This year, Day was chosen as a judge for Kent State University’s Rock the Runway Fashion Show.

She serves as a mentor to her employees and provides opportunities for them to explore their talents and collaborate on projects.

Day is a 2010 graduate of Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. 


Nichelle McCall built BOLD Guidance to take the stress out of applying to college

Nichelle McCall is always thinking about what she can do to help people. BOLD Guidance, the company she leads as founder and CEO, is the latest symbol of that effort. BOLD provides a mobile app that makes the college application process less stressful.

The platform she developed has won a number of awards and McCall is securing significant funding that would help her continue to grow the business.

McCall had a number of experiences that paved the way to her success.

At the Cleveland Foundation’s Civic Innovation Lab, she counseled more than 300 social entrepreneurs on how to strengthen and grow their companies.

She was a liaison to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a $20 million college completion project and served as an adviser to several social enterprises. McCall founded Community Strategies Consulting LLC in 2010 to focus on developing college access programs for schools and nonprofits.

Community Strategies Consulting was selected as a finalist in the inaugural cohort for Bad Girl Ventures, an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in business. Within its first year, the company was selected to organize Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Higher Education Compact Symposium highlighting college access best practices.