It was our good fortune to convince more than a dozen of the area’s most powerful and promising women to slow down just long enough to let us in on some personal and professional highlights. And while their journeys are unique, they all agree that making the leap from good to great takes strong communication skills, perseverance, a clear vision and the ability to bring out the best in others.
Vice President, Radnor Township Board of Commissioners; Entrepreneur
“Running for the Senate was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says Radnor Township commissioner Lisa Paolino. “It’s the ultimate popularity contest at that level. You’re very vulnerable.”
The first woman in Radnor history elected to a full four-year term as commissioner, Paolino is also the chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee and a member of several others. She stepped into the 17th Senatorial District race back in January, after Connie Williams announced her retirement—a move that proved controversial.
The campaign’s ugly twists and turns led to litigation between Paolino and her opponent, Lance Rogers. At the crux of the battle was the legality of Paolino’s exclusion from both the ballot and the 17th District Endorsement Convention. Despite the ugly loss, Paolino walked away with nearly 40 percent of the vote.
“Losing is never easy,’ she admits. “Ultimately, it means you failed to put yourself out there effectively. [But] I’m still standing—in the same pointy high heels bloggers had a field day with.”
Paolino has now set her sights on Hollywood, where she’s pitching a film piracy surveillance system to the major film studios. Operating under the Wayne-based parent company Cr3ation, FilmSave provides protection against illegal streaming of movie content. The technology involves a network of computers that prowl the Internet looking for illegal sites. A somewhat clandestine operation, Cr3ation doesn’t promote a physical
location or an accessible website.
Working “under the radar” is crucial to FilmSave’s business model, says Paolino. “As with all technology, there’s always a hacker out there somewhere, and movie pirates are some of the savviest.”
Paolino has a special place in her heart for intellectual property protection: Her uncle, 1950s crooner Joey Valino, recorded a song that later became a hit for Frank Sinatra.
“To see an artist lose control of his own blood, sweat and tears is very unsettling,” she says. “Watching streamed movies isn’t illegal, but distributing them is.”
Molly D. Shepard
President and CEO, Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design (the-leaders-edge.com)
At 27, Molly D. Shepard seemed to have it all—a happy marriage, a baby on the way and a great job. Problem was, her boss didn’t take kindly to the notion of maternity leave. “What makes you think you can do something my wife couldn’t do?” was the response Shepard got.
Concerned that she’d be fired if she pressed the issue, Shepard returned to work two weeks after her baby was born. By the time her third child came along, the policies at work had loosened, and she could stay home for three months. “But really,” says Shepard, “I was working from home right away.”
The good news is that her job as director of admissions at Philadelphia’s Institute for Paralegal Training—and a master’s degree in psychological services and counseling she pursued while raising her family—turned out to be essential stepping stones in an impressive career that included stints at Diversified Search, The Hay Group and Manchester, Inc., the latter which Shepard co-founded in 1983.
“Looking back on those early years, I don’t know how I managed,” Shepard admits. “I will say that having a supportive spouse and a dedicated housekeeper makes a huge difference.”
Shepard’s latest career move comes as founder of The Leader’s Edge, a company dedicated to the advancement of executive and high-potential women. Another arm of the Bala Cynwyd company, dubbed Leaders By Design and run by her husband, Peter Dean, provides leadership development and executive coaching to men.
“One of the most important things we do is teach companies how to help their top-tier women grow and feel appreciated so that they don’t leave,” says Shepard. “In many companies, the exodus rate can be twice that of men. Developing strong female executives makes sense.”
Helping men understand and appreciate gender differences is also important to the company’s mission. “We’re made different—not just in biology but mindset,” says Shepard. “Blending our and men’s attributes can have a positive impact on companies’ effectiveness.”
Director of Diversity, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (wyeth.com)
Diversity is more than a job for Allison Green—it’s a lifestyle. Each year, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals’ director of diversity plans a trip to a different country for a temporary immersion in its culture. She’s enjoyed jaunts to Egypt, Greece and South Africa—and with family “all over the place,” stateside destinations are also an attractive option.
“I enjoy traveling alone on these trips because it allows me to be more open to meeting people that I might not if I was with a friend or a group,” says Green, who lives in Gulph Mills.
At Wyeth, Green’s days are dedicated to introducing and implementing diversity practices throughout several divisions. And as an African-American woman, she understands how quickly diversity issues can digress into racial and gender stereotypes. “Diversity is viewed by many people from a very personal point of view,” she says. “My job is to expose how integrating diversity can have a positive impact on business.”
In Green’s case, excellent listening skills and a master’s degree in psychology add up to a keen awareness of how people view the world around them, particularly in a global marketplace. She takes pride in her efforts to serve as the “voice of many” while advocating their inclusion in the workplace.
“In all work environments, the common denominator is moving business forward,” she says. “Everyone brings different values and beliefs to the table. What’s fascinating and exciting is when individuals from different backgrounds can come together to reach a common goal—and do that through listening and respect.”
Founder and Vice President of Development, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (alexslemonade.org)
The big smile that so often graces Liz Scott’s face masks the scars and bittersweet memories that fuel her mission to find a cure for pediatric cancers. Her mission is also that of her daughter, Alex, who succumbed to neuroblastoma in 2004.
Alex’s Lemonade Stand has come a long way since the first glass was sold in the front yard of Scott’s Wynnewood home in 2000. “It’s incredible to see how it’s grown,” she says. “We are constantly amazed at how eager people are to get involved.”
Scott acknowledges the challenges of growing the home-based organization into a proper nonprofit entity with employees and increased accountability—as much of a challenge, perhaps, as raising Alex’s three brothers.
“I worry a lot that the boys feel that their sister is still taking a lot of time away from them,” Scott admits. “But I talk to them about this. I think they’re very proud of Jay and I, of Alex and our entire family. Only time will tell.”
In 2008, Scott estimates the organization will have 5,000 lemonade stands throughout the country. By early 2009, corporate sponsorships should surpass $25 million. That’s a lot of lemonade—and a lot of hope.
The foundation has funded research projects in 35 hospitals nationwide, making it the leading independent pediatric oncology research charity in the country. Along with grants for infrastructure (dollars that help hire nurses and support personnel, and ensure consistent care for families), “early studies” and more, the foundation is undertaking a new initiative to provide travel funds for medical care and clinical trials.
“I’m very optimistic about the new technology and science that’s going on,” says Scott. “In 10 years, we’re going to see a much higher survival rate. It’s beyond where I ever thought it could be, but I still feel like we could do so much more.”
Head of Account Services, LevLane Advertising (levlane.com)
Ever since graduate school, Bryn Mawr’s Sarah Lenhard has been on the move—up. After nearly two decades in the advertising business, she’s reached, if not to the top, then close enough to touch it.
“Advertising is a nice intersection of business and creativity,” says Lenhard. “It’s constantly stimulating and challenging—and from my perspective, it’s been a field with fewer gender barriers than most.”
By age 30, Lenhard was a vice president at Tierney Communications and helming its biggest account, Bell Atlantic. Her reign at Tierney was followed by a leap to SFGT, a startup boutique agency in Manayunk with a much different agenda. At the time she made the switch to SFGT, Lenhard was also being courted by Campbell’s, a global Fortune 500 firm with “really big brands.”
Downsizing from 150 co-workers to nine was a bit of a culture shock for Lenhard, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the decision making at SFGT was inspiring. “It was exciting to contribute at all levels—account services, operations, chasing new business,” she says. “We chose to pitch clients who we thought would be good for our company more than what would look good in our portfolio.”
In 2007, Lenhard landed at the Philadelphia advertising behemoth LevLane, scoring a tailor-made position as head of account services. One of the things she enjoys most about LevLane is the diverse clientele it serves—particularly clients like the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. “It’s extremely gratifying to work with companies who are doing good and promoting social awareness,” she says.
Owner, Skin Health Solutions (shsclinic.com)
For most business owners, hitting the five-year mark is a sign of stability and, ideally, less red ink on the spreadsheet. Not so for Skin Health Solutions’ Millie Bell, who saw more red around her fifth anniversary than she cares to remember. Ink, she could live with. Unrelenting flames—now that’s another story.
“It’s easier to swallow when you think it’s an act of God. But when it’s intentional, it’s so much harder to absorb,” says Bell of the July 8 fire—since ruled arson—that destroyed her Edgemont clinic.
In a society that embraces beauty and youth, the services Bell provides are well appreciated, particularly by those with sensitive and problem skin. Along with treatments, Skin Health Solutions’ manufacturing arm offers dermatologists and plastic surgeons a full line of cosmeceutical products to fight rosacea, eczema and psoriasis, and aging, sun-damaged or pigmented skin. Many renowned dermatologists swear by Bell’s products. Unfortunately, her entire inventory was lost in the fire.
“I’ve actually had clients offer me space in their homes,” says Bell. “Starting over is daunting, but my clients and my daughters—who are my partners—are getting me back on my feet.”
It took Bell close to 25 years to start her own skin-care business. “I was in my 50s by the time I was financially stable enough to venture out on my own,” she says. “Working 14-hour days is a lot harder when you’re older. But what I accrued in years, I also gained in confidence.”
Despite a profitable past, Bell now has a more reserved view of the future. “I’ve had many inklings over the years about things I should be doing to grow the business,” she says. “This has given me the chance to sit back and take a hard look at those aspects I’ve neglected while bogged down in the day-to-day. The fire was devastating. But at my age, I can digest it. What I lost was material. It’s not nearly as much as I’ve gained over the years.”
Regional Career Education Partnership Project Consultant, Chester County Economic Development Council (cceconomicdevelopment.com)
It was big news for the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) when Laura Heikkila came on board as consultant for its Regional Career Education Partnership Project in January. Indeed, her skills and leadership have already come in handy now that the council has implemented a new grant-funded initiative to connect students at Chester County schools with local businesses.
Prior to the CCEDC, Heikkila served as executive director at The Coad Group (Chester County Council on Addictive Diseases) in Exton, where she was the youngest of her peers. “I felt like I didn’t know anything,” she recalls. “But I did have a very strong mentor who’d been in my shoes for 20 years.”
Heikkila took an early interest in healthcare, inspired by a sister with significant disabilities who endured a heavy load of doctor and therapy visits. But, fittingly enough, it was a high school workplace skills program at Brandywine Hospital that was the ultimate catalyst. “It was so helpful to be able to try on a career,” she says.
Rhonda Hill Wilson
The first woman in her family to earn an advanced degree, Rosemont’s Rhonda Hill Wilson has been a practicing attorney for 30-plus years, specializing in injury law for the past 14. Through it all, her faith in the justice system has never wavered. “There are a lot of individual voices that don’t get heard,” says Wilson, who earned her law degree from American University in Washington, D.C. “People just want someone to be fair. I urge jurors everywhere to be open to the process and to be aware of your biases. If you can’t be fair, be honest.”
Wilson latched onto the dream of being an attorney when she was a young girl, and she never saw gender as a hindrance. “I’m a daredevil,” she says. “The more you tell me I can’t do something, the more I’ll want it.”
Jill B. Goldstone
President, Hadassah Greater Philadelphia Chapter (philly.hadassah.org)
When Henrietta Szold, a Jewish scholar and activist, founded Hadassah in 1912 to help promote the unity of the Jewish people, she couldn’t have foreseen that it would become the largest female organization in America—and a major lifeline to Israel. Here in Philadelphia, Hadassah reaches across seven counties. Wynnewood’s Jill B. Goldstone stepped in as president in May.
“It’s important for me to show my kids that you don’t always work for money,” says Goldstone, whose personal connection to Hadassah stems from the tragedy she’s exper-ienced in her own life, including the death of her 19-year-old daughter, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2005. “I really feel that I understand what the Israeli losses are. I have lost my daughter, my father and my brother all in a very short span of time.”
President and CEO, Retriever Waste Management (retrieverwaste.com)
Taking out the trash isn’t necessarily a “girl thing.” But don’t tell that to Mary Catona. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because she was honored this summer by Gov. Ed Rendell as one of Pennsylvania’s 50 Best Women in Business for 2008. She’s the first woman ever to own and operate a national waste and recycling brokerage, Retriever Waste Management in Media. Her first foray into the industry came in sales. Part of the job was driving around in trucks. “I liked being dirty, and I liked problem solving,” she says.
While competitors have expanded through acquisitions, Catona has grown her 11-year-old company organically, favoring old-fashioned values and customer relations. “Unlike many companies, where the CEO is unreachable, my clients can always talk to me,” she says. “If I have to put on my boots, gloves and hard hat to take care of a waste disposal issue, I will.”
President and CEO, Staffing Plus (staffingplus.com)
Lisa Spector took a big risk when she left a six-figure job with ample security to start her own business at age 45. “This was my mid-life baby,” she says of Staffing Plus, an Ardmore company that provides temporary and permanent healthcare employees as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Virginia. “If you don’t try, you won’t move forward. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, there are no sacrifices.”
After it got back to her that a co-worker said she’d never be able to grow her company, Spector took it as a challenge. Eleven years later, Staffing Plus has seen 19 to 20 percent growth per year—not bad for a business that started in her kitchen. “Management skills are learned over time,” says Spector. “But if you have a clear vision, hire people who are motivated, and give them the freedom and guidance to do what you hired them for, there’s no reason why any company can’t succeed.”
Professor, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (limr.org)
“Back in my Cornell days, molecular biology was just coming into its own. Everyone was buzzing about gene sequencing and cloning,” says Janet Sawicki, whose keen observation skills and fascination with fruit flies and mice led to a career in medical research.
Currently, her team at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research is developing a new therapy for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer that aims to inhibit the function of a protein present in high amounts in tumor cells. The results of pre-clinical tests are promising—and close to publication. Ideally, a clinical trial will begin by 2010.
“The most exciting times are at the moment of discovery,” says Sawicki. “You see the result of an experiment and, for a brief time, you’re the only person who knows the answer.”
President, Entrust Financial (entrustfinancial.com)
Self-professed financial whiz Joslyn Ewart spent the first 21 years of her working life as an inner city music teacher. As it turns out, teaching was in her blood. Yet, despite the fact that her grandfather worked as a high school teacher for 40 years, her grandmother couldn’t afford to heat her house on his pension after he passed away. “That made a big impression on me,” says Ewart. “I immediately started investing in my supplemental retirement plan.”
With her eye on the future, Ewart became a certified financial planner and founded the Wayne-based Entrust Financial in 2000. Today, she’s a highly visible expert on money matters, with multiple TV appearances and newspaper columns to her credit. “Ultimately, surviving in any business means staying on the ball, knowing where you’re going and that you can adapt when you need to,” says Ewart. “And most importantly, knowing you can get up when you’ve been knocked down.”