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Women in Business | Women Worthy of Note

Women who are making a difference in the commercial life of Kentucky

By Lorie Hailey

Our occasional feature, Top Women in Business, highlights some of the women around Kentucky who are making an impact in business, the professions, politics and economic development. The intent is to recognize not the household names, but those in key roles whose work ethic and body of work are making important contributions to commerce – and life – in the area.

The seven women featured in this issue are among the many such women The Lane Report editorial board has identified. We welcome your suggestions for others who also are deserving of recognition for their efforts to boost the economy. Send your recommendations to [email protected].

Sylvia Buxton

Title/company: President and CEO, Perfetti van Melle, North America.

How long at company/position: Almost three years with the company; in current role since mid-August.

Previous jobs/positions: Vice president of marketing North America for PVM; various marketing roles at Hershey (U.S. and Canada) and Reckitt & Coleman (Canada).

Top accomplishment: As senior director of marketing for Hershey’s seasonal products, I accelerated this $1.9 billion seasonal portfolio by forging a new vision and strategy, delivering four consecutive years of above-plan sales, profit and market share (+2.2 points share).

Education: Bachelor of business administration with marketing focus and economics minor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Rick Rocchi, vice president of marketing at Hershey, was a key mentor and sponsor for me when I led the U.S. seasonal business there. He was instrumental in helping me grow as a business leader, and move into bigger global and regional marketing roles.

What inspires/drives me: My love of marketing began in high school when I ran several small companies as part of Junior Achievement. As my career has progressed, I have become a passionate coach and mentor, with a particular emphasis on nurturing emerging women leaders. I see the role of a senior leader pretty simply: Set the vision, lead the people and enable success.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: To keep me balanced and reduce stress, I keep fit by swimming on a Masters team. I usually attend two or three competitions each year, some local and some national or international, so that I have goals to work toward. To give back to my community, I volunteer with the Network of Executive Women (NEWonline.org). This is a fantastic organization for women in business.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended:
Book – “Go Put Your Strengths to Work”; concert – Indigo Girls.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Moving from Canada to the U.S. was a big shift for my family. When my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania, our son was 2 and our daughter was 8 months old. With a two-career family, my husband and I had to work together to balance family, work and life. All of our family and friends were in Canada, so we had no support network. Two things we did to make it work: We got a babysitter every Saturday morning through the warmer months so my husband and I could go biking together; and we made Saturday “family dinner night” where the four of us went out together.

My advice to younger women in business: One of the biggest mistakes women make is thinking their results will speak for themselves. You need to network inside and outside your organization so you can learn from others, but don’t be afraid to share the great things you are doing. Then those people can be your advocates when senior leaders are looking for the next person to tap for a new opportunity or new promotion.

Beth Davisson

Title/company: Executive Director, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation – The Workforce Center.

How long at company/position:
Two years.

Previous jobs/positions: Director of career services, Sullivan University; executive search consultant, The Oliver Group; marketing segment leader, Greater Louisville Inc.

Top accomplishment: Recently, I am most proud of opening The Workforce Center for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The first of its kind in the nation, the center is designed to ensure the talent needs of the business community are met. Over the past two years, it has grown from just myself to a staff of eight, and greatly increased our capacity to serve Kentucky’s economy and support a healthy and thriving workforce. On a personal note, my husband and I recently decided to foster to adopt. While we’re not foster parents yet, I believe this will be the most rewarding accomplishment of our lives.

Education: Bachelor of arts, University of Kentucky; master’s in business administration, Sullivan University; trained behavior analyst, The Predictive Index; Leadership Louisville – Bingham Fellow, Class of 2017; Talent Pipeline Management graduate and course facilitator, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Person who most influenced or mentored me: My parents, Wayne and Deborah Harper.

Hobbies/interests/volunteer work: I love to kayak. I volunteer as a Big Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Louisville and serve as a workforce chair for the Kentucky Society for Human Resource Management.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I just finished reading “The Child Finder,” a gripping page turner, and getting ready to crack open Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.” I saw the Piano Guys at the Louisville Palace and Justin Timberlake at Rupp; both were AH-mazing!

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: I could not find a job out of college. I had earned a marketing degree from UK but no experience. I was waitressing late every night to pay the bills and interning for free Monday through Friday at a top PR firm in Louisville. I had holes in the soles of my waitress shoes and was struggling to make the ends meet, but I never gave up. After about eight months, I landed an incredible role with the Louisville Chamber of Commerce (GLI.) That was nearly 15 years ago, and while I have faced many significant challenges since, those moments taught me just how much grit I have, to set fear aside and always bet on myself.

My advice to younger women in business: It is so important to build work relationships and not burn bridges. The only way truly great work gets done is through strong partnerships. To this day, I work with, or around, nearly all of my previous employers, and am constantly reminded how critical it is to end relationships on a positive note. Women can have a reputation of not getting along with other women in business, and we do not have time for this. Women hold only 24 percent of leadership roles, and less than 3 percent of executive positions are held by women of color. We have to support each other and lift one another up; there is room for us all at the table. So find your tribe, support those around you, form positive relationships, and watch (and be) the magic in the work you create.

Janice Sword Way

Title/company: President, Leadership Kentucky.

How long at company/position:
Four years.

Previous jobs/positions: I began my television career at WKYT-TV and Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington. Later, I worked as an anchor/reporter at WYMT-TV in Hazard and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tenn. Prior to Leadership Kentucky, I enjoyed a 25-year career in public relations and fundraising management at The St. Luke Hospitals and St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky.

Top accomplishment: My greatest accomplishment is being a good mom to my three boys. They have brought me the greatest joys of my life. Being part of the original team launching WYMT is a highlight as the station has been transformational for Eastern Kentucky. Advocating and fundraising for the hospitals was extremely significant. Now, I have an extraordinary opportunity to witness a new group of leaders each year who recognize Kentucky’s amazing attributes and desire to improve our state.

Education: B.A. in broadcast/journalism from Eastern Kentucky University and M.A. in telecommunications from the University of Michigan. I hold a CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive).

What inspires/drives me: My work. I’m excited Leadership Kentucky will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. I’m inspired by our 1,700-plus alumni doing community work, holding political offices, leading companies and making a difference.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: 
Traveling, scrapbooking and movies are some of my favorites. I volunteer with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, KET, American Heart Association, and the Association of Leadership Programs. 

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: With Leadership Kentucky, I travel a lot, and this affords time to listen to audio books. One of my favorites is “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Through good and bad, I learned to keep pushing forward, make ethical decisions, seek counsel from trusted colleagues and have faith that things will work out.

My advice to younger women in business: Develop a network of supportive professional friends and mentors. They will motivate you through the tough times and celebrate your successes. Never be afraid to try something new. You will be working a long time, so make sure you are challenged, create an important difference for others, and have fun!

Angie McDonald Evans

Title/company: Vice president, corporate responsibility and community affairs, LG&E and KU Energy LLC.

How long at company/position:
Four years.

Previous jobs/positions: Vice president, corporate leadership – Community Foundation of Louisville; vice president, private banker – National City, now PNC Bank; director of planned giving, University of Louisville.

Top accomplishment: The success of my children, former employees and mentees.

Education: B.A. in English, classical studies minor, Centre College; juris doctor, University of Kentucky College of Law. Graduate of Leadership Louisville, Ignite Louisville and Bingham Fellows programs.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My father, Larry M. McDonald (retired Humana executive and current president of the Lincoln Foundation) and my grandmother, Angie V. McDonald; Martha Ash, the eighth-grade English teacher who helped build my confidence and introduced me to Centre College; the late Mary H. Griffith and Mayor David L. Armstrong, who gave me my career start in Jefferson County government; Laura Douglas, Phoebe Wood, Alice Houston, Merrily Orsini, Carolle Jones-Clay and Lois Mateus, who are amazing, successful and kind women.

What inspires/drives me: My commitment to make the world a better place for the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Currently serving on the Centre College Board of Trustees and the board of directors for Actors Theatre, American Printing House for the Blind, Bates Community Development Corp., Community Foundation of Louisville, James Graham Brown Foundation and Women Influencing Louisville. I love to travel, visit the ocean and read.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Currently reading “Becoming” by former First Lady Michelle Obama; I recently saw “Ralph Wrecks the Internet” and “The Grinch” with my 3-year-old grandson and my husband.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Managing my demanding life. I work at it every day and have learned to say “no” to some things and “yes” to the people and projects that get priority.

My advice to younger women in business: Be trustworthy, reliable, kind and genuine as you build professional relationships. You will encounter the same people in different ways along your career path. Build and protect your brand.

Meredith Rozanski

Title/company: Chief operating officer, Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce.

How long at company/position:
Six years.

Previous jobs/positions: Chief financial officer of Avalex Technologies; chief operating officer of Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce; senior accountant, Saltmarsh, Cleveland and Gund.

Top accomplishments: Creating SCK LAUNCH initiative in Bowling Green/Warren County, a partnership between the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, the Bowling Green Independent School District, Warren County Public Schools and local businesses.

Education: Master of accountancy, University of West Florida; licensed CPA.

Person who most influenced or mentored me: My father, a career Air Force man and the epitome of an ethical person who always looked out for the underdog.

What inspires/drives me: I’ve always been a very driven person, even as a child. I love new experiences, meeting new people and seeing new things. I was raised that all things worth doing are worth doing well, so I try to give the best of me in all I do.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Spending time with my daughter (a senior in high school) and attending sporting events. I love football and am learning to be a basketball fan since moving to Kentucky.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: “The Power of a Positive Team” by Jon Gordon and “9 Rules of Engagement” by Harris Faulkner.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Losing my father in 2008 to cancer. While I don’t have him here to provide advice and counsel, I reflect on what his advice would be to me as I face adversity and do my best to overcome the situation at hand in a manner that he would be proud of. He lives on in me and my siblings as well as in our children.

My advice to younger women in business: “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” In all seriousness, break the stereotypes! If you have a passion and a talent for something, pursue it and be great at it.

Ellen McGeeney

Title/company: President/COO,
Ale-8 One Bottling Co.

How long at company/position:
Five years.

Previous jobs/positions: CEO, Optasite (a communications and technology company in Connecticut); management consultant in health-care and communications tech, Vertex Partners; consultant in consumer products group with Booz-Allen in New York City; consulted for start-up Rooibee Red Tea in Louisville. Currently serving on the board of the Kentucky Beverage Association and Brinly-Hardy in Louisville.

Top accomplishment: My kids are far and away what I am most proud of, but at Ale-8, I am proudest of two things. First, what we have done for our employees: We have grown to approximately 120, creating 35 new full-time jobs. We have grown compensation levels, and especially increased our minimum wages; we won the KEMI Destiny Safety Award for eight consecutive years; we increased our 401(k) match and grown participation in retirement savings; and we invested in employee training and development. Second, we are making the company more resilient by expanding our geography and diversifying our product portfolio. We launched the first flavor of Ale-8-One in 92 years, Cherry Ale8, and we have more exciting flavors in development.

Education: B.A. with honors, Brown University; MBA from Yale University.

Person who most influenced me: My grandmother on my mother’s side and my aunt on my father’s side were both hugely influential. Being around my grandmother was like being under a magical spell; in her presence you felt smarter, wittier and more beautiful. She taught me true leaders serve those they lead and are gifted at bringing forth the greatness in others. My aunt, Jane, had the strength of 100 bulls, and is a voice I lean on when things get tough to remind me how very fortunate I am. Today, Leah Park, my HR manager, is my mentor. She is half my age and twice as wise and makes me a far better leader than I otherwise would be.

What inspires/drives me: I am inspired and motivated every day by our incredibly dedicated employees. The challenge that drives me every day is to provide jobs that are stable, safe, and that offer a living wage, strong health-care benefits and robust retirement benefits in a culture that is warm, kind, respectful, hard-working and resilient. The family that leads Ale-8-One is committed to the employees in a way that is all too rare these days, and I am blessed to be able to lead with concern for our employees as a top priority in our decision-making, right up there with impact on our financial strength.

Hobbies/interests/volunteer work: Outside of work, my focus at this time is my family. I have three children who are launching and I love to cook for them, take walks with them, help them with homework, share a service project, or stay up late discussing the challenges of the day. My first duty every day is to serve my family. The way I look at it, I chose to bring these people into this world, and it is my sacred duty to help see them to happy and meaningful lives. After that, I love local food, singing, playing ping-pong, writing, teaching and traveling with friends.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I just finished “Lincoln in the Bardo,” a beautifully wrought and moving imagination of Lincoln’s sorrow with the death of his son. I recently read “Reengineering Retail” for our book club at work to help us imagine what the future of retail will look like and how we can succeed in that environment.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Finding balance. I meditate.

My advice to younger women in business: Guard your time. My girlfriends and I always joke that “balance is for ballerinas,” meaning I do not believe it is possible to “have it all,” at least not at one time. If you’re putting in the time to be good at anything, other areas will get short shrift. I believe you can craft the life you desire with a lot of thought, hard work, some tough decisions and plenty of good fortune. Once you’ve made your decisions, go easy on yourself. Recognize that you’re in a season, and enjoy and make the most of the season you are in.

Billie Dollins

Title/company: Market president (Frankfort, Georgetown, Versailles), Community Trust Bank.

How long at company/position:
Eight years.

Previous jobs/positions: Senior vice president, retail banking, National City Bank; vice president and regional manager, Fifth Third Bank.

Education: Western Kentucky University; Stonier Graduate School of Banking; Wharton Business School Leadership Certification; Mid-West Trust School.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I’ve had many mentors over my career, so identifying just one is difficult. The mentors who have most influenced me have demonstrated their confidence in me, challenged me with more responsibility, rewarded my hard work, and in some ways, taught me how to be a better person. They also “had my back,” which allowed me to feel comfortable making decisions. 

What inspires/drives me: Knowing that someone has faith and confidence in me. My co-workers inspire me on a daily basis. Positive and passionate people inspire me to work harder.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work:
Golf is my hobby. Volunteer activities: 2018 chair of American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Experience. Board member of: Lexington Humane Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Operation Read, National Conference for Community Justice, Women Leading Kentucky, Kentucky Women’s Leadership Network, The Living Arts & Science Center, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Cancer Society, REACH Inc., and the Lexington Dream Factory. I’m a graduate of Leadership Kentucky, Leadership Lexington and the Kentucky Women’s Leadership Network.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Most recently, I attended a Heart concert, which happened to be the 22nd time I’ve seen them!

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: A challenge can be made as a positive or a negative; it depends on me to determine how I approach each one. For challenges in which I’ve not been satisfied with the outcome, I’ve tried to learn from those; i.e. what could I’ve done differently?

My advice to younger women in business: Be authentic, be honest, be kind, be respectful and be humble. Keep your word. Surround yourself with quality, positive people. Stay away from negativity.

Lorie Hailey is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].