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Women Of Influence
22 minutes | May 13, 2022
57. Paula Haines, CEO, Freedom a la Cart
Freedom a la Cart just celebrated a big birthday. The nonprofit, which helps victims of sex trafficking build job skills and start new chapters in their lives, opened a downtown café in April 2021. This April, I sat down with CEO Paul Haines. She talked about the work of the organization, its goals, and her own unique career path. We also chatted about ways community members can get involved with Freedom’s mission — and why employers hungry for workers should pay attention.
26 minutes | Apr 15, 2022
56. Michelle Yeager-Thornton, Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer, The Champion Companies
From Columbus Business First, it's Women of Influence, an interview series showcasing some of the most inspiring women in the central Ohio business community. Today, we're talking to Michelle Yeager-Thornton, Co-Owner and Chief Operating Officer of The Champion Companies. Michelle leads operational efforts and day-to-day actions of the company's portfolio of communities, which includes 5,000 apartment homes and assets totaling more than $750 million – no small task, so we're thrilled she's made time for us. Additionally, Michelle leads Champion’s philanthropic initiatives. The business is a five-time recipient of The Corporate Citizenship Award from Columbus Business First for its efforts in the community. In our conversation, we explore the diverse range of work Michelle leads at Champion and in the community, how she founded the company with her brother, and how it all relates back to softball. Batter up!
17 minutes | Mar 11, 2022
55. Traci Martinez, Columbus Office Managing Partner, Squire Patton Boggs
Work looks a lot different today than it did three years ago. So, too, does mentoring. Traci Martinez, managing partner at Squire Patton Boggs' Columbus office, shared her thoughts on the evolving nature of mentoring relationships during our recent Mentoring Monday event. She also talked about her own unusual path to a legal career, taking on a new role amid an unprecedented global crisis, and how the law firm has supported working mothers through the challenges wrought by that crisis. Check out the full conversation, recorded live during the virtual event, to hear more from Traci.
21 minutes | Feb 11, 2022
54. Mary Auch, Regional President Central Ohio, PNC Bank
Mary Auch, PNC's regional president for Central Ohio, ascended to her now top local job at the Pittsburgh-based bank following a nearly 30-year career with the organization. That's not necessarily what Mary thought things would look like when she was in high school. Mary shares how she got into banking, as well as PNC’s billion-dollar investment to help end systemic racism at the community level.
16 minutes | Jan 28, 2022
53. Jennifer Rittler, Senior Associate, Moody Nolan
Jennifer Rittler sees architecture as designing for the future. But that doesn’t mean the present doesn’t have an impact. Check out the latest episode of our Women of Influence podcast to hear how the pandemic is changing the spaces the Moody Nolan senior associate designs. She also talked with us about the need for diversity in the industry, and how she melds creativity and math to design new spaces.
22 minutes | Jan 14, 2022
52. Erandi De Silva, Forge Biologics
This isn't Erandi De Silva's first epidemic. De Silva, co-founder of Grove City's Forge Biologics, grew up in Botswana. She watched as the public health community worked with the government to respond to the AIDS epidemic, and she was inspired. On our latest Women of Influence podcast, De Silva talked about that experience, and how she hopes the Covid-19 pandemic can similarly inspire the scientists of the future.
29 minutes | Dec 17, 2021
51. Nancy Matijasich, Manifest Solutions Corp.
Nancy Matijasich wasn't looking for an IT job. She was supposed to meet with someone about a new job in the pharmaceutical industry, but her contact was running late to the job fair where they were supposed to talk. One case of mistaken identity and a different conversation later, a brand-new career path was born. Today Matijasich leads Manifest Solutions Corp., an IT consulting firm she founded nearly 30 years ago. In the latest episode of our Women of Influence podcast, Matijasich talks about her early days in the industry, what she learned from previous businesses that went wrong, and how she does things differently with her current venture.
25 minutes | Dec 3, 2021
50. Lara DeLeone, Key Bank
Lara DeLeone didn't grow up dreaming of working in banking. It wasn't even where she thought she would end up when she graduated from college. The lifelong lover of the written word made her way from journalism to communications to government to lobbying to, as of this summer, https://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/news/2021/08/25/keybank-names-new-columbus-market-chief.html (serving as Columbus market president for KeyBank), the eighth-largest bank in the Columbus metropolitan area. She recently joined our Women of Influence podcast to talk more about her career journey and her plans for Key. Check out the full episode to hear more from DeLeone.
26 minutes | Oct 15, 2021
49. Cheryl Stauffer, Crimson Design Group
Cheryl Stauffer's business had it's best year ever in 2020. But, as with many companies, it looked a little different than the norm. Historically, Stauffer said, commercial clients represented the lion's share of Crimson Design Group's work. But as people settled in to a new normal of spending nearly every hour of every day at their homes, they realized those surroundings could be in need of an upgrade. "It was a crazy year for us. It was our best year by 30%," Stauffer said during the latest episode of our Women of Influence podcast. "Previous to last year commercial was obviously the largest part of our business and residential … was not as strong. But last year, it was half and half. People (were) spending so much more time at home. … And so that had a lot to do with the growth." Specifically, the Crimson team found itself helping clients with home offices and outdoor living space. But while Stauffer expects some elements of that to continue – outdoor furniture is still pretty popular – she thinks folks are ready to get out of their home offices and back into the working world. Check out the full episode to hear more from Stauffer on what design trends she's excited about, which one she's totally over, and how she's approaching the design of her own firm's new office. You'll also hear about her unusual childhood, and how it's influenced her professional approach.
23 minutes | Sep 24, 2021
48. Vickie Thompson-Sandy, The Buckeye Ranch
Moving, whether it be to a new house or a new office, is always overwhelming. Add in widespread business shutdowns amid a rapidly spreading pandemic, and you've got a recipe for some serious stress. That's what happened to Vickie Thompson-Sandy, who was wrapping up her first year as CEO of The Buckeye Ranch and readying to shepherd the nonprofit's move to a new headquarters when the coronavirus pandemic hit. "The Buckeye Ranch had purchased a new building in Whitehall, and we were finishing the renovations of that. … We had everything in packing boxes and the movers were moving us that week when we got the executive order to close everything down," Thompson-Sandy recalled during a recent taping of our Women of Influence podcast. Check out the full episode to hear how Thompson-Sandy and her team handled the disruption, and how they worked to continue delivering necessary services to the young people who rely on the organization. You'll also hear about her favorite and least favorite parts of her job, and find out more about what attracted the Michigan native south to Ohio.
20 minutes | Sep 10, 2021
47. Luconda Dager, Velvet Ice Cream
There were times, over the past few months, that Luconda Dager didn’t want to get out of bed. Dager is president of Velvet Ice Cream, and the Utica-based company was outsourcing ice cream production to three partners in the Midwest. The shift followed a listeria scare in April, discovered via the company’s routine testing. It’s also part of an effort to boost capacity after strong demand in 2020. It’s the right decision for the business, Dager knows, but it’s been a tough one, especially as it entailed some job cuts on the manufacturing side. Still, even on those days when the challenges of the past few months have seemed overwhelming, Dager knew she didn’t have the option of giving up. “You just have to get up and go in and be a fearless leader,” said Dager, who chatted with us recently for our Women of Influence podcast. Check out the full episode to hear more about Dager’s background, her experience rising through the family business, and what flavor of ice cream will always tempt her.
19 minutes | Jul 16, 2021
46. Lori Duncan, Nocterra Brewing
Lori Duncan wasn't exactly sure what to do with her fine arts degree from Ohio State University. So she went rafting. Professionally. Duncan spent her post-college years as a whitewater rafting guide in West Virginia, filling her time during the winter months working in the ski industry. After nearly a decade, she realized it was time to get a "real job," a decision that led her to Columbus' retail industry. But that's not where her journey ended. On the latest episode of of Women of Influence podcast, Duncan detailed the winding road that led to her current role as co-owner and operations manager at Powell's Nocterra Brewing. She talked about the impact the pandemic had on the still-young business, what it's like to start a business with your husband, and what lessons she's brought from the world of outdoor sporting to the craft beer space.
36 minutes | Jun 11, 2021
45. Robbie Banks, Columbus Partnership, On speaking up when you're the only woman of color at the table
Early on in Robbie Banks' career, she grew used to being in rooms where she was the only woman, the only young person, and often, the only person of color. Banks, the new program director for diversity, equity and inclusion for the Columbus Partnership, is now helping Columbus' private sector build more racial equity inside their organizations. "My job essentially is to shepherd the work that is being done with our members that are the CEOS of our region's employers who have a strong interest and passion in moving our community toward being anti-racist," she said on our latest episode of the Women of Influence podcast. Banks said that she decided early on to embrace the role in which she found herself. "I soon recognized how valuable (it was) being in that space was and how I needed to embrace that," Banks said. "Not to look at it as a negative. How do I make sure that I speak up, that I advocate for things that are important to me and my work? I wanted to make sure I was listening more than anything, taking it in and being ready to add any input, ask questions when appropriate, so that I could make sure my demographic or my gender or whatever it may be, had a voice at the table." She comes to Columbus Partnership from Leadership Columbus, where she served as the program director for more than two years. She also spent five years before that working for Experience Columbus. Previously, she also served as the leader of Columbus Chamber's young professionals program. Banks said when she was younger, she decided to "just be a sponge in any room that I was in," soaking up leadership lessons. Now, as the result of her experience, she has realized the value of speaking up. And she feels much more confident doing so. "There was a time where I would kind of sit back and more or less listen," she said. There's a time and place for that. But now because of my experience people look to me to speak up. I don't always need to, but that is certainly the expectation that comes with being a leader and helping to advance this important work." She said that advancing diversity, equity and inclusion will require her to build a "sustainable strategy" that is executable over several years. It's not a quick process, she said. "My hope is for myself to continue learning to be a continuous learner and educating myself and being more aware," she said. "Self awareness is key in any leadership position, any position period. ... We need to work toward being at the forefront of having this be a sustainable strategy. That is something that takes a lot of learning and listening on my end."
42 minutes | Mar 27, 2021
44. LC Johnson, Zora's House, On building community and following your dreams
When LC Johnson was thinking of launching her organization Zora's House, she was balancing two competing feelings. On the one hand, she was feeling burned out from years of being an entrepreneur, but being a relatively new resident to the city, she deeply desired to build a community for other Black women and women of color in Columbus. "I was really starting to look for community," said Johnson, in the latest episode of our Women of Influence podcast. "Where are the spaces I can go to dream and think through this transition, that also allow me to be centered and grounded in my identity as a Black woman? I wasn't finding those spaces. The idea for Zora's House was really born out of that." But did she really want to spend the energy, time and money on her dream? After wrestling with the idea, she remembered a conversation with a mentor, an activist. "I asked her, 'Why do you do this? It's so hard.'" The mentor replied: "It would be harder not to." "That was the thing that spurred me when it came to thinking about whether or not I was going to pursue the launch of Zora’s house," Johnson said. "The answer that kept coming back to me when it came down to deciding what that next step was going to be was (that) it would be harder not to do this." Johnson encouraged women in transitional moment in their lives or careers to think about that question. "Yes, it would be hard to go after what you think you’re being called to do," Johnson said. "But would it be harder for you not to do it? Are you at a place now where it’s harder for you to stay where you are than it is for you to make a big scary leap?"
16 minutes | Feb 26, 2021
43. Elizabeth Martinez, Big Brothers Big Sisters, at Mentoring Monday
Elizabeth Martinez knows there's more to career growth than just rising through the ranks. "I think sometimes, we when we talk about growth, there is a disservice in the conversation to exclusively focus on vertical growth," Martinez, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, said during a recent taping of our Women of Influence podcast. "I'm a strong supporter of women climbing ladders within their organizations. But I also think it's really important to be thoughtful around how … we … add value in the spaces that we're in." Martinez shared her thoughts on approaching growth within an organization or a position during a special taping of the podcast, part of our recent Mentoring Monday event. Having been with Big Brothers Big Sisters for nearly 18 years – she's been CEO since 2016 – Martinez is experienced both in working her way up the ranks and growing within her positions along the way. She's also experienced the value of mentorship, both through the organization's work with young people in the community and in her own professional development. Check out our full conversation, recorded live over Zoom at the Feb. 22 event, in the podcast below, to hear more of her wisdom on how to create and grow an effective mentoring relationship and more.
28 minutes | Jan 22, 2021
42. Linda Swearingen, EVP & Partner, Casto
Linda Swearingen didn't spend much time thinking about the fact that she was working with mostly men. She was early in her career, working for a real estate investment trust, and it wasn't that notable to her that out of 40 or so desks on the loan floor, only hers and one other were occupied by women. "Except one day, nobody was there," Swearingen recalled during a recent taping of our Women of Influence podcast. "Where is everybody?" she said she asked, and was quickly informed that the nearly all-male workforce had stepped out for a Friday afternoon golf game. She knew immediately what she needed to do. "My husband taught me how to play golf," Swearingen said, and soon she found herself invited to play alongside her colleagues. "I just kind of acclimated," she said of her time in the male-dominated office. "I didn't see it as an obstacle. I just saw it as something I had to figure out." Today Swearingen serves as an executive vice president and partner with Columbus real estate power player Casto. The commercial real estate industry is still one where you're unlikely to find many women, something she says can be hard to explain. But she does have advice for young women who may be interested in the field, but uncertain about some of what the negotiation and sales components require. Women, she said, need to be OK with the "tough calls" that are required in striking a deal – and unafraid to draw on their ability to build personal relationships that can make those negotiations smoother.
24 minutes | Dec 11, 2020
41. Lauren Parker, CEO, FrazierHeiby
Lauren Parker is no stranger to imposter syndrome. She questioned herself in her early days as an account executive in the high-stakes world of New York City public relations firms right out of school. Now in her early 30s and a little less than a year into her tenure as CEO of Columbus' FrazierHeiby, she's aware that she might not fit the profile of a top executive at a decades-old firm. "I have to look in the mirror every day and say, 'Am I old enough to do this? Do I have the experience to do this?'" Parker said during a recent taping of our Women of Influence podcast. But she knows the answer to that question is yes, in part because she isn't doing it alone. Parker took over the firm at the start of 2020 in a leadership transition that also saw Ann Mulvany and Whitney Somerville, then vice presidents at the firm, join her as senior partners and co-owners. Together the three women have laid out "grand plans" for the firm's future, Parker said, plans that look a little different because of their relatively young ages. And they've adapted those plans as needed amid the unexpected challenges wrought by the pandemic, working together to keep the staff safe and clients happy. Check out the full episode of the podcast for more on how the unique leadership structure and open communication help Parker feel confident in her role, plus her takes on how she's melding her New York City experience with the opportunities and culture of a firm based in Columbus, Ohio.
26 minutes | Nov 20, 2020
40. Gina Heffner, VP, Centric Consulting, On bettering business by reducing travel
When Gina Heffner started her career, she was a typical consultant: a "road warrior," traveling all over the country week in and week out. She didn't mind and made it work, aided by the fact that her husband also traveled extensively and the couple didn't have children yet. But after a while, she found her way to Centric Consulting, a firm founded with the explicit purpose of bucking that industry norm. "Centric was started by three guys who said … 'We still want to do great work for great clients, but we want to work where we live,'" Heffner said. "And so 20 years ago, they founded Centric with the express purpose of getting consultants off the road." Heffner, who now leads the firm's Columbus office, said the different approach at Centric helped her identify what work/life balance looked like for her, even as she still spent plenty of hours helping clients. "If you ask 10 people what the definition of their work/life balance is, you're going to get 10 different answers, right? … I work lots of hours. I probably work … 50 to 60, sometimes 70 hours a week," Heffner said during a recent taping of our Women of Influence podcast. "For me, work/life balance was always: I'm not getting on an airplane, and I'm here to put my kids on the school bus, I'm here to get them off the school bus. … I get to schedule my day, every day, based on what's important that particular day."
26 minutes | Nov 6, 2020
39. Karen Hough, CEO, ImprovEdge
Karen Hough has built her business around her improv background, but it came in handy in a way she never could have expected amid the challenges of 2020. "We proved to ourselves that we are truly improvisers," said Hough, founder and CEO of ImrovEdge, a Powell-based business that provides business training workshops "with an improv twist." Prior to the pandemic, Powell said, about 5% of the firm's clients had taken advantage of its services virtually. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a quick pivot. "We had to then go to our clients help them understand that we have the ability to provide the same services, the same programs we were already contracted for, but do it virtually on any platform they choose," Hough said. "So I have this amazing group of producers, you name a technology platform, they have mastered it. And so we literally went from serving 5% of our clients virtually to 100% of our clients in a space of about two to three weeks." Check out the latest episode of our Women of Influence podcast to hear more from Hough about how the company tackled that task – it required a lot of 20-hour days for the founder – as well as more on how she used her performance background to build an unusual business.
27 minutes | Oct 23, 2020
38. Janica Pierce Tucker, Taft's, Finds reason to hope amid an 'emotional' year
Janica Pierce Tucker has a solid job – she's the partner in charge at Taft Stettinius & Hollister's Columbus officer. Her income is steady, her family is healthy. On the whole, things are going pretty well for her. But that doesn't mean she can close her eyes to the racial justice conversations that exploded across the country this summer. "When I step out here on High Street, you don't know anything about me. All you see, is a African American female, that's all you see. You don't know any of these other things," Tucker said. "So therefore, I'm no different then somebody else who may be a victim of you know, police brutality or, you know, or violence." Tucker, chatting with Columbus Business First for our Women of Influence podcast, said the ongoing racial justice conversation has made for an "emotional" year, but she feels hope that it means things can change. "If I don't have hope, then I lose the momentum to keep going," Tucker said. "Because there are days that it just feels real dark." Check out the full episode to hear more about what gives Tucker hope, including conversations she's had with clients and the ways her own firms works. You'll also hear about her experience taking on the top job at the local office just a few months before the pandemic changes everything, and what type of questions clients are bringing to the attorneys as business continue to navigate the new world of work.
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