Smart Women: Women leaders employ diversity and inclusion to build teams

There is little doubt that today, women are making an impact on the workplace — and in society — more than ever before. More than 5 percent of the Fortune 500 have female leaders, 17 percent of corporate boards comprise women directors, and women entrepreneurs are leading the way in job growth as the number of female-owned startups are outpacing those launched by men.

Moderated by Kimberly A. Blackwell, CEO, PMM Agency

Further, many are focused on igniting growth and sparking innovation through a greater focus on diversity and inclusion.

It is with these trends in mind that it is our honor to once again present our annual Smart Women Awards.

On the pages that follow, you’ll read about women entrepreneurs who have founded or co-founded for-profit or nonprofit organizations; women who have risen through the ranks of organizations across their distinguished careers; entities that develop and foster initiatives that support women; and men who advocate for the advancement of women.

We hope after reading these inspirational stories that you’ll join us on Aug. 15 at the Smart Women Breakfast, where we’ll recognize the 2017 award winners and present a panel discussion with four dynamic women business leaders who are profiled in this month’s edition.

Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees!

 

 

 

 

 

Quick links:

PANELISTS Judy Y. Huang, 889 Global Solutions | Malesa Litteral, Battelle | Elizabeth Blount McCormick, UNIGLOBE Travel Designers | Kara Trott, Quantum Health

PROGRESSIVE ENTREPRENEUR Eleanor Alvarez, LeaderStat & The Ganzhorn Suites | Theresa M. Harris, TMH Solutions | Catherine Lang-Cline, Portfolio Creative | Stephanie Leader, Leaderpromos | Jennifer Gorsuch Walters, Gorsuch Construction Inc. & Fairfield Homes Inc.

PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATION Belle Communications | Community Shelter Board

ADVOCATE FOR ADVANCEMENT Bill Nolan, Barnes & Thornburg LLP | Juan Jose Perez, Perez & Morris LLC

PROGRESSIVE WOMAN Sandy Doyle-Ahern, EMH&T | Rebecca Asmo, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus | Darci Congrove, GBQ Partners LLC | Kathy A. Krendl, Otterbein University | Lorraine Stelzer, CBRE Inc. | Kimmi Wernli, Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter

TRAILBLAZER Tina Ambrozy, Nationwide | Dr. Milisa Rizer, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center | Sue Zazon, Huntington Bank

 


PANELISTS

Bring it out into the open

Judy Y. Huang, CEO
889 Global Solutions

Judy Y. Huang started her first business in China when she was 23 — she had just been fired from her first job. She didn’t play politics well, so that’s why she’s made sure politics stays out of the culture of her companies.

As the CEO of 889 Global Solutions, which specializes in sourcing from China, Huang encourages openness and transparency.

By bringing up issues openly and having the whole team discuss them, it minimizes difficulties, she says.

“When I started the business, I was not much about teamwork,” Huang says.

Gradually she learned to share information and responsibilities as the company grew and she matured as a business leader.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at writing the process down, sharing that, being able to cross train with different people,” she says.

889 Global Solutions has two plants in China with about 200 employees, and an office and warehouse in Columbus.

For the past three years, the U.S. employees and overseas leadership teams have followed a management process called Traction®. Huang says you bring up challenges in front of everyone, and anyone can come up with a solution.

“Let’s say the issue is we have high accounts receivable: What do we do about it? I love the fact that everybody on the team participates and figures out how to solve that problem. It’s not one person discussing it,” she says. “I’m OK with people challenging my thought process and nobody has to feel like they have to kowtow to me or kowtow to any other department head. It’s about solving the problem.”

While Huang was initially surprised at where some solutions came from, she’s come to expect that frontline employees often can provide the answer.

889 Solutions also does 360 reviews as part of its annual reviews and the employees share in a percentage of the profits, which helps promote a team atmosphere.

There are some differences, however, between the U.S. office and overseas team.

“In China, they naturally tend to be more consensus building. They don’t tend to challenge the managerial level. They don’t challenge you based on position and also age,” Huang says.

“It’s more challenging in the U.S., since you have different age groups, millennials or baby boomers,” she says. “It’s more something you have to work on here versus China.”

But it is worth working on — as a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, Huang remembers learning about a case study by a Harvard University business professor. He found that business retention is higher for a team-based culture. A company’s compensation costs also will be lower.

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Accelerate the cultural change

Malesa Litteral, Senior Vice President, Human Resources
Battelle

Although Battelle’s diversity programs have made an impact, the results weren’t fast enough for Malesa Litteral, senior vice president of human resources.

“As a research and development company, Battelle needs to keep up with the rapid pace of change in science and technology, and that requires access to the broadest set of skills available in the employee marketplace,” she says.

One thing she’s done to accelerate change and encourage diversity of thought, specifically, is to create an affinity board to help Battelle attract and retain high-quality talent.

“It’s been fascinating and so beneficial from a cultural perspective,” says Litteral, who came to Battelle as an employee benefits manager working for the CFO. She moved to HR in 2015, becoming the senior vice president the following year.

The board includes the heads of Battelle’s employee resource groups and high-performing individuals who applied for the positions.

Serving on the affinity board is an opportunity to gain experience and lead cross-functional, high-performing teams to support the business strategy, she says. Affinity board members get exposure to senior leadership and are expected to be engaged and commit time throughout the term of their participation.

The composition of the board was important.

“We’ve got people on the board who are long-term 20-year employees sitting next to those who just joined Battelle a couple of years ago. We’ve got women, men, people from the LGBTQ community and people with various religious backgrounds,” she says.

The board has accomplished a lot in its first year. It identified new employee recruiting venues, provided updates to the employee onboarding experience and recommended improvements to the diversity of the company’s marketing materials.

When it comes to team building — for the board or otherwise — the key is communicating upfront to put everyone on the same page. They have to understand not just what needs to be done, but why.

“We wanted to paint the picture of what was going to happen when the board was effective. We are going to have a different culture,” Litteral says. “It means the board has to work together in a very collaborative way to achieve challenging goals on aggressive timelines.”

When a team isn’t on the same page, it can set up a competitive atmosphere. Even a few people with the wrong attitude can infect the whole team and stymie collaboration.

That’s why it’s important for leaders to communicate a vision of what the team needs to do, she says. They should reward the team as a whole, while helping each person understand his or her role.

“If you say, ‘Oh, go team,’ but you keep talking about your star quarterback, then the person who is the tight end is going feel left out,” Litteral says.

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Stay flexible; take risks

Elizabeth Blount McCormick, President and co-owner
UNIGLOBE Travel Designers

Elizabeth Blount McCormick has transformed the culture at UNIGLOBE Travel Designers. It took her a decade, but her workforce is open to growth and change — employees look at a national contract as job security and don’t think, “We can’t take on another client.”

The president and co-owner gradually took over the travel agency her mother ran because she wanted to try working for herself. Her mom was thinking of selling, but Blount McCormick and her sister wanted to take on the challenge.

“As a black woman, I try to give opportunity to anybody. I’m not going to judge you. I work hard to make sure our environment is diverse,” Blount McCormick says of the more than 40 employees whose ages range from 21 to 77. “I really do, because it’s important, that’s what the world is. We live in a global society.”

For example, over the past two summers, UNIGLOBE has had interns through the Columbus Urban League who come from families below the poverty line.

“Those are the things that I do to show that it’s not just LeBron James. There are other ways that you can be successful. You can work in an office and understand how a corporation functions,” Blount McCormick says.

It’s been eye-opening for both the interns and the other employees to learn about each other.

That open mind starts with Blount McCormick herself, who has gotten more flexible with experience, such as allowing people to work from home. Not only does she want to hear about better ways to work with clients or improve procedures, she wants her employees to always be willing to learn.

Then, it’s a matter of practicing what you preach.

“One of our things is you have to respond to a client within an hour. I do that. So, if I’m able to do that, then anyone who works with me and for me should be able to,” she says. “I set the expectation, but I hold myself accountable as well.”

Blount McCormick tries to stress that every person is important. If someone isn’t the right fit for a certain position, it’s up to her to see if another role is better.

“You’ve got great people that work with you and it’s give and take. You give a little and you get a lot, and when you take care of people, they’ll take care of you,” she says.

The company has taken some chances on people who didn’t work out, but some have been amazing. So, it’s important to keep taking those chances.

“Take some risks; you can’t be scared of that,” Blount McCormick says. “I think we do a good job of that — now.”

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Different perspectives, same mission

Kara Trott, Founder and CEO
Quantum Health

While a diversity of perspective is important, a team still needs to coalesce around the mission, says Kara Trott, founder and CEO of Quantum Health.

“I don’t agree with diversity just for the sake of diversity,” she says.

You want team members to have the same values to have a productive environment.

“Otherwise, you’re going to end up spending a lot more time managing how people receive things,” Trott says.

Trott’s executive team, which has a high degree of trust, respect and openness, is focused on ensuring that everyone contributes to the same mission.

“When we’re in that room, we’re there for the enterprise. It’s about Quantum Health, what’s in the best interest of Quantum Health first. Then, what’s in the best interest of your function, and third is what’s in your personal best interest,” she says.

But what can differ is how people work to achieve that mission — the tactics they take.

“It’s really important to look at things through various lenses,” Trott says.

“People do have different perspectives and insights, and when you take those all together you have a much richer understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and the meaning behind it, and a much deeper commitment to the decisions that you ultimately make,” she says.

Quantum Health also has determined the best team size for its service delivery units, which it borrowed from military science. There should be no more than 30 people for team effectiveness, not including the management structure.

“At that size, everybody knows everybody. Everybody can have a special role. You can have visibility in what everybody is doing, so people don’t fall into that anonymous black hole. You can focus those folks and they’ll have each other’s back,” Trott says.

Not only do you need the right people in the right positions, it’s also about creating an environment where people understand they’re expected to bring their insights and what they see. When team members feel comfortable talking, then someone like Trott or her COO can sort through the dialogue to reach the best decisions for the organization.

Quantum Health, a health care coordination and consumer navigation company with more than 500 employees, is the perfect marriage of the things Trott has found to be important over her career. It’s intellectually challenging, like her early work in consumer research and strategy, but it isn’t as isolating or reactive as she found the practice of law.

“You’re not a brain on a stick where you’re espousing your ideas, but you’re actually engaging with a lot of other people to accomplish something bigger than what any one person could do on their own,” she says.

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PROGRESSIVE ENTREPRENEUR


Eleanor Alvarez, CEO
LeaderStat | The Ganzhorn Suites

As a young adult, CEO Eleanor Alvarez witnessed the inadequate care for those with Alzheimer’s with her grandmother’s decline and her family’s suffering. She thought, “There’s got to be a better way.”

She went on to become an ombudsman, nursing home administrator, director of operations and CEO at senior care facilities.

In 2000, Alvarez founded LeaderStat, Ohio’s largest senior care executive search and consulting firm, with national scope, 31 employees and 1,500 clients. She built a strong volunteer/service program and embraced new procedures and technologies, such as video job postings.

In March 2016, Alvarez’s commitment to making life better for people like her grandmother was finally achieved when The Ganzhorn Suites opened its doors in Powell. Over four years, she developed the programming and raised the capital herself.

Unlike traditional facilities, The Ganzhorn Suites’ evidence-based design of small home-like environments, or neighborhoods, is easier to navigate and adapt to. No detail has been spared, from light switch color to toilet locations. Staff and residents can be tracked via GPS bracelets, and the center has been designed so residents aren’t agitated by dead-end hallways with locked doors.

The Ganzhorn Suites was intended for the most severe and difficult cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alvarez was convinced certain behaviors assumed to be the disease’s later stages were actually a lack of individual attention and resignation to the inevitable. In fact, some patients who’ve transferred show improved behavior and mood.

The Ganzhorn Suites’ innovative design and programming is a model for future dementia-care centers.

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Theresa M. Harris, President and CEO
TMH Solutions

Growing up in the inner city of Detroit, Theresa M. Harris had the early makings of a warrior. She was told kids like her didn’t go to college. Inspired by the men and women who transcended from poverty to prosperity during the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, Harris pushed to not just attend college, but also succeed and become a leader in the information technology industry.

Today, the president and CEO is the successful business owner of TMH Solutions, an information technology consulting firm and reseller of enterprise products and services that manages clients all over the U.S. She has never let others define her limitations.

Harris believes her purpose is to improve her community, give opportunity to those around her and advocate for minority and female professional growth. She is a member of First Church of God and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. She serves on the board of the Ohio Minority Business Advisory Council and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, on COSI’s Community Board and as an association member of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

She fosters this culture of service at TMH Solutions. Harris says, “she’s going somewhere and she’s taking people with her.” It’s a powerful message that she backs up by mentoring college students, recommending and advocating for other women to take board seats, and as an active Women for Economic and Leadership Development member.

Harris has been battle-tested and her hard work and learning from failure give her a passion for empowering others.

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Catherine Lang-Cline, president and co-founder
Portfolio Creative

Catherine Lang-Cline’s path wasn’t easy, but every obstacle led her to become a business owner, community champion, mentor for aspiring female entrepreneurs, mom and rising leader in the Columbus region.

After she got a job as a designer, she quickly discovered she wanted to work for herself. Always thinking of the next opportunity and her career goals, Lang-Cline was known for asking “why” about the projects she was assigned.

In 2004, Lang-Cline was freelancing full time, after her difficult marriage ended, when she met Kristen Harris. The two started Portfolio Creative, working out of Harris’ living room, struggling to get a loan and bootstrapping their company. A year later, they opened their first location in Clintonville and made their first full-time hire, who still works for them today.

Serving and supporting the creative community is Portfolio Creative’s niche. Lang-Cline, who is president, and Harris have a personable, relationship-based approach, which is uncommon in the staffing industry and a key to their business success almost 13 years later. To date, Portfolio Creative has had 3,450 creative job placements in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York and more. Since 2012, the company has maintained a multimillion-dollar business volume.

Serving on many boards and business associations without a traditional business degree, Lang-Cline has had to prove why her opinion matters. She also uses her success to mentor other women business owners.

Equally dedicated to her business and the community, her passion for people has improved many lives.

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Stephanie Leader, founder and CEO
Leaderpromos

Founder and CEO Stephanie Leader has a passion for the promotional marketing industry and a fierce responsibility for her more than 80 associates.

Leader was accepted to The Ohio State University in the 1990s, but had to pay her own tuition. She took a job at Ohio Specialty Products, selling promotional products and apparel to the campus Greek community. Because of her tenacity, work ethic and drive, her employer offered her a partnership.

Instead of going to law school, the new graduate opted to become an entrepreneur. When her business partner retired, Leader took over 100 percent of the ownership.

While learning more about industry processes and technologies, she had the foresight to be one of the first promotional distributors to offer a complete e-commerce shopping experience. She took a financial risk developing this website — a two-year process and new paradigm for prospecting and selling.

To reflect her new global scope, Leader rebranded as Leaderpromos. She invested in search engine optimization, pay-per-click and e-commerce best practices, while adding new associates and juggling the re-marketing of her transitioning business.

After a long, arduous application process, Leader also became a Tier One Women’s Business Enterprise National Council member. Two years later, Leaderpromos earned several millions in sales thanks to the website and WBENC network.

Today, the company has five offices, a warehouse and a fulfillment center. Employee recruiting, training and retention are ongoing challenges and remain a primary focus. Leaderpromos continues to flourish, becoming a top distributor nationally.

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Jennifer Gorsuch Walters, owner | president
Gorsuch Construction Inc. | Fairfield Homes Inc.

Jennifer Gorsuch Walters follows her passions and does what is right — even when it isn’t popular

Lancaster, like many Ohio communities, is not immune to the heroin epidemic. A few years ago, Walters recognized this need and created the Pearl House, an affordable housing community for homeless families recovering from drug and/or alcohol addictions. She developed public-private partnerships to complete the project, despite community skepticism and downright opposition.

Sen. Rob Portman has called the Pearl House a model for others, and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently visited the community.

Today, 36 children live at the Pearl House with their families. Residents, who must meet criteria regarding their recovery to stay, are getting GEDs, finding jobs and going to college.

Walters founded Gorsuch Construction Inc., a commercial construction and development company, in 2013. She is also president of Fairfield Homes Inc., which focuses on the development, construction and management of affordable and recovery housing. Walters is the third generation at Fairfield, which has constructed over 4,700 housing units and manages more than 3,900 units. Her grandmother, Mary Gorsuch, founded the company 70 years ago with her late husband, Frank. Walters comes from a line of women who beat the odds in business and in a male-dominated industry.

According to Walters, owning a construction company means a responsibility to improve the community. She’s involved in the Ohio Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee, the Lancaster Festival, the Downtown Lancaster Special Improvement District, the Young Presidents Organization and has spoken at Ohio University’s Celebrate Women Conference.

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PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATION


Belle Communications

As one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., women in public relations often feel pushed to choose between a career and a personal life. CEO Kate Finley founded Belle Communications at age 28 after she experienced this strain firsthand.

Today, the award-winning PR and social media agency is built around the values of meaningful work and thriving relationships, which in turn has empowered women and created a family-friendly workplace.

The agency is 100 percent virtual. Everyone works remotely, using video calls, group chat and other digital tools to collaborate and manage projects.

Not only does Belle offer unlimited vacation time and flexible work schedules so employees can take breaks for family commitments, health appointments or even a yoga class, employees are also discouraged from working more than 40-45 hours per week.

When the agency had five full-time employees, Finley had to develop a maternity policy. Despite the challenges, she decided a generous maternity policy aligned with Belle’s mission and values. The agency provides eight weeks of paid maternity leave, with up to 12 weeks total leave.

The generous employee benefits and flexible work environment have helped attract experienced PR professionals from larger agencies. They also haven’t been at the expense of business growth. Profitability has been so healthy that Belle introduced profit sharing in 2016, and year-over-year revenue continues to increase.

The Belle team also supports Freedom a la Cart, a catering company that employs and empowers female survivors of human trafficking in Central Ohio.

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Community Shelter Board

Women are the face of homelessness. On average, 100 families are sheltered each night in Columbus, and 95 percent of those are headed by women. Another 160 women are sheltered on average in the city each night.

The Community Shelter Board’s network delivers safe shelter and re-housing assistance for more than 1,400 families a year and more than 1,700 single women. The organization, headed by Executive Director Michelle Heritage, is leading the community’s response to homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County. It has programs for prevention, diversion, emergency shelter, rapid re-housing/navigator, direct client assistance and permanent supportive housing.

As part of the infant mortality reduction initiative, the CSB ensures homeless pregnant women are never turned away from shelter. It also helps pregnant women who have never held regular jobs and are unable to obtain permanent housing become self-sufficient.

The CSB recently joined the Free the Tampons movement that aims to make menstrual products free and accessible. With help from Columbus City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown and feminine care company LOLA, 60,000 tampons were donated to Columbus homeless shelters this year.

A staff of 25, 72 percent of which are women, carries out the CSB’s work. Women comprise two-thirds of the leadership team. Founded in 1986, the organization has a history of employment practices and cultural norms that seek to advance women and support a family-friendly work environment. This includes professional development, celebrating accomplishments, a weekly Bring Your Dog to Work Day and an annual staff survey that most recently increased flexibility for working from home and secured student internships.

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ADVOCATE FOR ADVANCEMENT


Bill Nolan, office managing partner
Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Bill Nolan is an advocate for advancement because of his involvement in women-focused organizations, support for women’s development as the managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Ohio office and understanding the schedule flexibility every (particularly single) mother needs.

Nolan supports the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio personally and professionally. He encourages attorneys and office staff to attend events. He’s especially championed last year’s gender norms initiative. Nolan has since hosted two gender norms conversations for around 100 Central Ohio attorneys, with another in the planning stages, attended others in the community and continues his efforts to promote the concept across Barnes & Thornburg offices nationwide.

Beginning this fall, Nolan will be the next chair of the Columbus Bar Association’s Managing Partners’ Diversity Initiative.

He also sees the value of empowering women and pushing them to reach their potential. He attends Ohio Women’s Bar Association events and nudges women in the office to participate in its Leadership Institute. He supports the office’s involvement in the Women Lawyers of Franklin County, which currently has a member of his staff as its president. And he’s encouraged women lawyers to go through the CBA’s Barrister Leadership Program and Leadership Columbus.

Beyond suggesting that women take part in these community organizations, Nolan meets with these ladies regularly on their own development, offering assistance to help them achieve their objectives, both inside and outside the firm. Those advising relationships continue even after they leave the firm.

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Juan Jose Perez, founder and managing director
Perez & Morris LLC

Founder and Managing Director Juan Jose Perez started his law firm not only for the obvious benefits of running his own business, but also to establish a culture where ethnically diverse individuals and women have a welcoming environment and see a real opportunity for success.

Today, Perez & Morris LLC is the largest Hispanic-owned law firm in Ohio, which practices 100 percent pay equity between male and female attorneys.

The firm also offers flexible policies so both women and men can balance work and family. At a recent Women for Economic and Leadership Development event, Perez stated: “We also encourage men to use our flexible policies. The reality is that women have disproportionate responsibility placed on them when it comes to picking up children and tending to family. This unfairly penalizes women in the workplace. We know that our male attorneys have wives that work outside the home. In support of these women, we offer flexible policies to men in our firm so that they can do their fair share.”

Perez supports various women’s organizations — WELD, the National Association of Women Business Owners and the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms — with his time, talent and treasure, and encourages his employees to do the same. NAMWOLF is particularly important because women of color make even less than Caucasian women, and these women achieve less success at reaching the partner level.

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PROGRESSIVE WOMAN


Sandy Doyle-Ahern, president
EMH&T

Sandy Doyle-Ahern joined EMH&T in 1997, leading the company’s first environmental department. She navigated the rough waters of environmental permitting in a sea of (mostly male) developers and contractors. By 2005, the environmental group had grown to more than 20 individuals who shared her passion for client service and integrity.

In 2007, Doyle-Ahern became the first female shareholder, and a year later began providing executive leadership. During the recession, her organizational guidance and focus on diversifying service markets helped keep EMH&T moving forward when other firms stalled out.

She became president in 2012. During her five years in this role, EMH&T has enjoyed annual revenue increases. The company continues to focus on diversifying its service markets and improving employee engagement through programs like its Wellness and Charitable Organizations initiatives.

By becoming the first female president of the largest Ohio-based engineering firm, Doyle-Ahern has provided a foundation by which the reputation and credibility of women in the industry is advanced. She guides the activities of almost 350 professionals and technical personnel, including civil engineers, surveyors, construction managers, environmental scientists and land planners.

Dedicated to encouraging other women to be active in career-development organizations, Doyle-Ahern has served in several leadership roles. These include the Ohio Water Environment Association, Water Environment Federation, American Public Works Association, Society of Wetland Scientists, American Council of Engineering Companies of Ohio, Women’s Transportation Seminar and the YWCA. She also has promoted activities within EMH&T to foster career development for women, as well as young professionals.

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Rebecca Asmo, CEO
Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus

Rebecca Asmo has achieved professional success in a short time.

Moving to Columbus in 2004, Asmo demonstrated an ability to close new gifts and secure funding at the Ohio History Center. After being promoted, Asmo increased the gifts awarded to special projects, including securing funding for an archeological dig that uncovered a “woodhenge” structure at Fort Ancient.

In 2008, Asmo became the director of development at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus. Shortly after, the executive director resigned — the fifth individual in this role in seven years. Asmo helped lead an interim management team during the leadership search.

In 2010, the 29-year-old was named CEO. Although the BGCC was 65 years old, it operated only two club sites and its budget had shrank to $750,000. Asmo faced staff cuts, a diminished reputation and challenging economics.

Over the next five years, the organization grew to seven sites, serving 5,800 children annually. Today, the BGCC is helping stop summer learning loss and has created service partnerships to transform the “out-of-school time” landscape. The BGCC is on track to serve 10,000 youth per year by 2020.

In 2015, Asmo was one of 10 club CEOs selected to pilot a customized leadership development program at Harvard Business School. She was also chosen for the first cohort of Columbus Young Professionals to attend HBS’s Young American Leaders Program.

As a mother of two, Asmo has created a work-life balance for herself that carries over to club policies and culture. She puts her values into practice with out-of-school programs that her own children attend.

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Darci Congrove, managing director
GBQ Partners LLC

In a profession where just 23 percent of partners are female and only 21 percent are equity partners, Darci Congrove’s professional leadership is astounding and not just because of her title, managing director. (Only 2 percent of the top 100 firms in the nation have female managing directors.)

Congrove moved up the ranks at GBQ Partners LLC, joining the firm in 1998 and becoming a partner in 2003. She was the firm’s first female managing director and played a key role in the firm’s women’s initiative, wGBQ.

She is responsible for the overall leadership and strategic direction of the organization. In addition to her day-to-day role as leader, mentor, tax accountant and CPA, she oversees the firm’s human resources and marketing functions.

Under her leadership, GBQ has rebranded itself, opened new offices, added niche services and promoted women to the management, senior management and partner levels. There has been a perceptible culture shift, with increased accountability and recognition of achievements and dissemination of firm information.

One associate said, “Darci has been able to navigate the sea of egos, helping all find their personal highest and best use, while leading the organization through a period of significant growth.”

As hard as Congrove works on the business, she’s still involved in her community and on boards such as The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority.

Daily, she sets an example of how to lead, learn and be curious, by being a thoughtful, fair, consistent and creative leader.

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Kathy A. Krendl, president
Otterbein University

Kathy A. Krendl grew from humble roots to become Otterbein University’s first female president. This was not her first first, however. Krendl was the first female dean at Indiana University, the first female dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University and the first female executive vice president at Ohio University.

As a leader in higher education at three universities, she has championed diversity and equality.

Krendl thought she was prepared for college. Her first semester, though, she was shocked at how poorly she did in her English classes. As a first-generation college student, she didn’t realize the deficiencies in her rural school system.

Her adviser, Herbert Tjossem, took her under his wing, tutoring her. His family later supported her after her mother died. Their compassion and Tjossem’s commitment made a deep impression and affirmed Krendl’s desire for a career in education. She wanted to help others as she had been helped.

Since joining Otterbein in 2009, Krendl built the infrastructure to launch the university’s largest campaign, which supports campus renewal, access and affordability, and building a model community. Launched in 2014, the campaign has raised nearly $40 million toward its $50 million goal.

She also developed curriculum for her Women in Leadership first-year seminar, where she and other women business and community leaders share life experiences and lessons.

In addition, Krendl has championed annual summits to explore issues women face and worked with the City of Westerville to launch The Point, a facility that brings students, educators, business and development partners together in one location.

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Lorraine Stelzer, CPM, managing director, asset services
CBRE Inc.

Lorraine Stelzer is an accomplished executive who has successfully served in multiple leadership roles. Currently, she is the managing director of asset services for the CBRE Columbus market. CBRE Inc. is the world’s largest commercial real estate company.

CBRE’s Columbus Asset Services division provides property management service for 16.4 million square feet in the Central Ohio area — that’s 79 properties, 28 clients and 115 employees.

Joining CBRE in 2013, Stelzer helped the local CBRE Asset Services line win new business and then expand those relationships with outstanding customer service. For example, her team won an account for five buildings and 3.5 million square feet. Three years later, the client added four additional buildings and 1.1 million square feet. As a result, CBRE’s Columbus market share portfolio of managed property doubled and Stelzer was recognized by CBRE over all of her peers in the Northeast and Midwest.

Not only is she a licensed attorney, she also holds a real estate license and certified property manager designation.

Earlier in her career, Stelzer clerked for a federal magistrate and the City of Akron Department of Law. She was an assistant attorney general for the State of Ohio, general counsel for a state retirement system, regional director for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, director of Corporate Real Estate for Mount Carmel Health System, and worked at several real estate firms.

Stelzer has faced challenges taking on greater and new and different responsibilities. Her dedication, discipline and willingness to learn allow her to grow and succeed professionally.

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Kimmi Wernli, owner and president
Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter

Kimmi Wernli’s childhood revolved around peanut butter. Her father, Richard Sonksen, bought the Krema Nut Co., a Columbus company founded in 1898. He later acquired another natural peanut butter company, Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter, out of Pennsylvania.

While her career started in a different direction — moving around the U.S., getting married and having four children — Wernli wanted to continue the legacy. She took the reins from her father as owner and president in 2016.

Wernli stayed true to the company’s heritage and history, while identifying challenges and implementing strategies to introduce the brand to new customers, such as parents looking for natural, affordable peanut butter products.

With confusion created by operating two brand labels, Wernli conducted market research and focus groups to determine her next steps. She has implemented a plan to phase out the Krema name and have all products show the label of “Crazy Richard’s 100% Peanuts.”

She’s also given the branding a fresh look and feel, and made social media a priority. All channels feature photography, recipes and tips for making peanut butter go further than a sandwich. The Instagram channel is especially impressive with more than 33,000 followers and growing.

A new study recommends parents introduce peanut proteins to babies as early four to six months. By partnering with a local pediatric allergist and a nutritionist, Wernli wants to use the Crazy Richard’s brand as a platform for promoting a safe introduction to babies, specifically with powder products.

The company also donates 10 percent of profits to causes that support children’s health.

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TRAILBLAZER


Tina Ambrozy, senior vice president, nationwide financial sales and distribution
Nationwide

Tina Ambrozy, senior vice president of Nationwide Financial Sales and Distribution, leads the wholesaler strategy and distribution of life insurance, annuities, specialty markets and mutual funds for Nationwide.

Ambrozy’s team works with a variety of partners, including financial advisers, to help them solve some of the toughest retirement challenges for millions of consumers. Her high-performing team of 850 associates — located across the country — contribute to Nationwide’s continued above-industry growth, including 2016 sales of $23.5 billion.

Ambrozy took a calculated risk in 2000 when she began selling financial services in a male-dominated industry. The risk paid off, because this choice eventually lead to her becoming the first woman to lead this distribution team at Nationwide, a company that Ambrozy says is very supportive of her as she’s grown her career.

She’s been a proud Nationwider for 20 years and is a firm believer you should never stop learning. She extends that philosophy to her leadership as a mentor and coach. As a certified business coach through the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, Ambrozy helps other employees recognize meaningful development opportunities to advance their own skill set and career. Her people-focused approach has consistently led to world-class Gallup engagement scores.

When she’s not mentoring at work, she’s doing so at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio. She’s the immediate past chair and has served as a youth mentor for more than seven years.

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Dr. Milisa Rizer, MPH, chief medical information officer | professor of family medicine, nursing and biomedical informatics
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Dr. Milisa Rizer was appointed in May 2012 as the first chief medical information officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She has since represented Ohio State and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society as an evaluator of health information technology in China, Korea, Hawaii, Iowa, West Virginia and Ohio.

She was one of the first physicians to achieve board certification in clinical informatics in 2014. Rizer helped lead the clinical implementation of electronic medical records in Wexner’s ambulatory and acute care setting.

She has been invited to lecture at the Epic User Group for the past four years and serves on its physician advisory panel. She founded the OHCMIO group, which brings together chief medical information officers from across the state to discuss and devise plans affecting health information technology in Ohio and affecting Ohio’s citizens.

Rizer also has served on the HIMSS Physician Advisory Group, as the CMIO Round Table co-chair and on the HIMSS/AMDIS (Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems) physicians’ executive symposium planning committee for the past three years.

Rizer traveled extensively with her Air Force husband of 29 years, working in Washington, D.C., San Antonio and Cincinnati, before returning to her roots at Ohio State in 2002 as vice-chair for clinical services in the Department of Family Medicine.

She is a fellow in the American Academy of Family Physicians, board certified in family medicine as well as clinical informatics. She is also a fellow and a certified professional in HIMSS.

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Sue Zazon, president, Central Ohio
Huntington Bank

Sue Zazon believes in living intentionally. The president of Huntington Bank’s Central Ohio region has proactively shaped her own path in her career and life.

She started as a bank teller at Huntington. After management training and six years of progressively serving in retail, telemarketing and credit, Zazon joined KeyBank. She advanced over the next 14 years, ultimately becoming its Central Ohio region president. Although the younger, less experienced candidate, she got the job by relating her experience bringing together a blended family of six children with her current husband, specifically how she honed her communication, persuasion, listening, negotiation and overall management skills.

Zazon joined FirstMerit Bank as Columbus region president in 2006, and she returned to her roots with Huntington’s acquisition of FirstMerit.

Today, she leads all of Huntington’s customer-focused business in Central Ohio in addition to overseeing all philanthropic and community investment in the region.

Zazon is an active, dedicated member of the community and currently serves as president of the Young Presidents’ Organization Gold in Columbus in addition to serving on the Columbus 2020 and Columbus Chamber of Commerce boards.

Often finding herself one of a few females among many male executives, Zazon has established a distinct voice in the community and become known for bringing her unique energy and sense of empowerment to relationships.

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SPONSOR NOTES

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

President Michael V. Drake, M.D., recently said, “As one of the nation’s leading land-grant universities, Ohio State must be a national model of inclusiveness and diversity. From our student community to the hiring and promotion of faculty and staff, diversity must be recognized and celebrated as a defining core strength.” We at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are proud of our work toward realizing this goal. We are one of Central Ohio’s largest employers of women with 67 percent of our 25,000 employees being female. Further, our College of Medicine has the highest percentage of full-time female faculty in its history at 42.7 percent and 54 percent of our medical students are women.

Inclusion and diversity are keys to our mission, vital in achieving our vision and at the core of our values as a medical center. And with patients at the very center of our work, we care for women’s unique health needs throughout the life cycle. From state-of-the-art maternity services to sports injuries to heart health and behavioral health, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s dedicated clinical teams provide care that helps women in central Ohio lead healthier lives.

 

Nationwide

At Nationwide, we recognize the power of diverse perspectives in an inclusive environment; all voices are heard and valued. This diversity of thought is good for women and good for our business. We are proud of our sustained and intentional focus on advancing women at all levels within our organization. Our efforts have resulted in industry-leading representation of all women at Nationwide, complimented by award-winning efforts with our internship initiatives, development and sponsorship programs, purposeful recruiting and hiring and diverse supplier programs.

We make every effort to ensure that women have access to resources that will catapult their potential. Making sure Nationwide has a culture where all of our associates can succeed is our constant journey. Ensuring women succeed is a critical part of our future success. It’s simply who we are and what we do.

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, commercial, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; banking and mortgages; excess and surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. Nationwide employees over 34,000 associates and is ranked No. 68 on the Fortune Top 100 and No. 54 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

 

Huntington Bank

Welcome … to an institution that embraces diversity and inclusion in all its forms.

Diversity and inclusion are part of Huntington Bank’s overall business strategy. We benefit from an inclusive culture that includes capable women on the board of directors, the executive team and throughout the organization, while working hard to leverage our inclusion in ways that make us a better organization and community partner.

Chairman, President and CEO Stephen Steinour often says it best: “One of our biggest opportunities to invest comes in the form of people. Whether it’s our customers, our shareholders, our colleagues or within our communities, we have a responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others.”

By including women, millennials, veterans, LGBT and people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in the life of our organization and in our community engagement, we build a culture fueled by diversity of thought. And that informs how we treat our partners, how we contribute to our communities, and how we provide our customers with the products and services they want and need.

 

Quantum Health

Quantum Health is an award-winning consumer health care navigation company that delivers an unparalleled consumer experience based on empathy and trust, enabling employers to achieve industry-leading satisfaction rates and independently validated claim savings. Quantum Health works within the benefit plans of large self-funded employers with the sole purpose of helping each person who has to use the health care system get through their journey safely and efficiently.

The positive and caring culture has always been an important part of Quantum Health and diversity plays a big part in fueling our culture and having the ability to provide the best service to our clients and their employees.

Quantum Health is very active in the community. Our Team is proud to dedicate their time, resources and energy to multiple women-based initiatives throughout the community such as, Smart Women Breakfast, Go Red for Women Luncheon: American Heart Association and the Tiffany Circle: American Red Cross. These efforts help us to further our mission.

 

Clark Schaefer Hackett

As we grow and innovate, Clark Schaefer Hackett recognizes the critical role women play in our firm. So we actively work to provide opportunities for their professional advancement and increase the diversity of our firm’s leadership.

We sponsor a firmwide women’s initiative that focuses on mentoring, leadership, networking, business development and building on personal strengths to achieve career goals. Our objective is to increase gender diversity in our management levels, providing women with equal opportunities for impact and influence throughout the firm.

The efforts we make to develop the women in our firm will help us fulfill our mission to better the lives of our clients, people and communities.

 

GREENCREST

GREENCREST is honored to sponsor the Smart Women awards in Central Ohio. Columbus has a robust number of women business owners and key women executives. We have greatly benefitted as a company and as a community from their influence and leadership.

GREENCREST is a full-service marketing, advertising, public relations and digital agency with more than two decades of experience guiding small and mid-market size businesses to market dominance. We employ a team of very passionate and seasoned professionals who work in partnership with some of Ohio’s leading businesses to achieve marketing excellence.

GREENCREST is a woman-owned business that was inspired in 1990 by Kelly Borth. Borth was a charter member of the Columbus NAWBO Chapter in the early ‘90s. She is a past president, co-founder of the NAWBO Visionary Awards and Women Business Roundtables. She also started the NAWBO Advisory Board and is a past Visionary recipient. Borth served as a mentor for several recognized women-owned businesses in Central Ohio. She led the local American Heart Association Circle of Red to record numbers in two separate years, bringing top women in the community together to support the No. 1 killer of women — heart disease. Borth is a member of Women President’s Organization and on the board of the Women’s Small Business Accelerator.

 

Convero

Engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a long-term commitment by your organization to connect with and invest in the wants and needs of your target audience.

Convero develops content marketing programs that increase engagement and performance. Our five-step process delivers detailed plans — from strategy and planning to execution and measurement — for organizations across a wide range of industries, including banking and finance, health care, higher education, manufacturing and associations.

 

Hilton Columbus at Easton

The Hilton Columbus at Easton empowers women by being in support of women-based programs, leadership and diverse opportunities.

Women in leadership roles, such as general manager, director of sales and catering, director of human resources, chief engineer and controller, set the Hilton Columbus at Easton apart from other local companies.

We proudly partner with the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association’s Women in Lodging by donating our time and effort to its mentoring programs, as well as its speaker series. We are honored to support and mentor up-and-coming women as they progress in their lives and careers.

In continuing with our Sophistication Redefined concept hotel, we have completely renovated and modernized our lobby. Easton Social, our sleek, sophisticated bar, is not only inviting and open, but also fosters social connectivity among our guests. There you can find craft cocktails to sip and unwind while watching Ohio State on one of our four 65-inch flatscreen TVs.

Keeping up with today’s on-the-go mentality, our Herb N’ Kitchen features fast and friendly service. Cooked to order and pre-made daily, our Herb N’ Kitchen features chef’s exclusively created dishes with seasonal twists, while incorporating local ingredients.

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