Our occasional feature, Top Women in Business, highlights some of the women around Kentucky and southern Indiana 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].
Candance Castlen Brake
Title/company: President and CEO, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce
How long at company/position: 5 years
Previous jobs/positions: Deputy judge/executive; Owensboro city commissioner; executive vice president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp.
Top accomplishment: Being part of the team that embarked upon Greater Owensboro’s transformative downtown placemaking initiative.
Education: Brescia University, bachelor’s degree in history; Western Kentucky University, Master of Public Administration; post-graduate work at Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I have had so many people who have helped guide me. But my husband has been the greatest influence in my life. He makes me want to be a better version of myself every day.
What inspires/drives me: I have lost enough people in my life to remind me that we truly have only a short time on Earth. What drives me is making the most of my time here, both personally and professionally.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I find particular joy in working with those in the millennial and Gen Z generations. Their passion and love for community and innovative approach to solving problems has made me believe in the possibilities of our commonwealth’s future.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I am currently reading “Over Story.” The last book I read that is on my favorite list is “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. I start each day with Stoic philosophers and “My Utmost for His Highest.” The next concert I will attend is the Avett Brothers, my son’s favorite band.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Worrying about my career, where it would lead next and how I would balance that with my family. I finally realized that if you focus on the important things in life, everything works out.
My advice to younger women in business: My advice to younger people in general is to never forget where you came from and to not get too big for your britches. If you do,
life has a funny way of catching up with you.
Mary Beth Wright
Title/company: Business development executive, Messer Construction Co.
How long at company/position:
Previous jobs/positions: Project engineer intern, Gray Construction Co.
Top accomplishment(s): 1) Being named University of Kentucky College of Engineering Young Engineer of the Year in 2015. 2) Leadership of the 2017 merger of the Downtown Lexington Corp. (DLC) and the Lexington Downtown Development Authority (LDDA). As the chair of the LDDA, appointed by former Mayor Jim Gray, I worked with our board, the leadership of the DLC, and others to merge both entities into a single organization, the Downtown Lexington Partnership. 3) Leading sales efforts for Messer Construction Co. associated with major economic development in over $700 million of investment in capital construction at UK in the last seven years, as well as the recent $241 million construction contract for the expansion and renovation to the Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena. Leading these sales has given me a unique view of economic development and the first-hand impact it has on our community.
Education: Bachelor’s of science in civil engineering, minor in mathematics, University of Kentucky (2001); MBA, UK (2002).
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: First, my mother has always been my biggest mentor and friend as I have grown up and experienced the challenges of being a working mother. I look up to my mom, who raised my brother and me while excelling at her career in teaching. She has taught me about work/life balance through her example. I have had many professional mentors along the way who have helped me, guided me and supported me throughout my career. Dr. Donn Hancher was the chair of the Department of Civil Engineering during my time at UK. His guidance, support and encouragement played a big part in me obtaining my engineering degree and he will always hold a special place in my heart. And lastly but most importantly, my faith has played the biggest role in influencing who I am today. I have had to learn about empathy, humility, kindness and love. Those words aren’t thought of as often in professional circles but have been immensely important to my career.
What inspires/drives me: Hands down, the single thing that drives me each day is helping others. Whether that is one of my children with homework, driving them to activities or helping a potential client with their upcoming construction project, I always view every opportunity as a way to help someone. I have been blessed with many opportunities to volunteer and serve on nonprofit and community boards, and all have afforded me the chance to help others. I now look for any opportunity to help other females as they journey into their professional career. I want to encourage and support others any way I can so that everyone can become successful, by their own measurement, not the measurement of others.
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Hobby/interests/volunteer work: My favorite hobby is exercise (any kind but most mornings it is the elliptical machine in my basement). Because of my hectic schedule, taking time for myself and ensuring that I maintain a healthy mind and body is very important to me. I love spending time with my family at Durango’s on Friday nights and hanging out at the lake on the weekends. I am very active with the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center (LHSC) as well as with the Rotary Club of Lexington. I was recently able to work with LHSC to secure a $25,000 grant through The Messer Foundation to construct a new outdoor learning space at the center.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I recently read “Chop Wood, Carry Water” and would highly recommend it to anyone.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: I have seen my fair share of challenges and successes over the last 17 years. Looking back, the one thing they all have in common is a lesson. Winning or losing in life and career, there is always something to take away. And I have learned to pause, look back and take away from each situation the lesson, big or small. I went through a very challenging time in 2016, both personally and professionally. There were days that I didn’t know if I could make it in to work, let alone accomplish my tasks for the day. Through that time, I learned that God only designed us to live one day at a time. I also learned that there is a lot in this world that I don’t control but my perspective is not one of those things. I can choose to have a positive outlook every day and choose to see the good in people and circumstances. I was able to overcome more than I ever thought possible and have continued to have both personal and professional successes (and challenges). Each of us is dealing with any number of issues and challenges, most of them unknown to those with whom we interact. So, my job is to give people the benefit of the doubt, assume the best and show others the forgiveness that has been shown to me.
My advice to younger women in business: Always stay focused on the present and maintain a positive perspective. There are many things throughout your day, week, month and career that you cannot control. But having a positive mindset to start each day makes all the difference in how we handle what comes our way. As my mom always said, “Keep your mind where your feet are.”
Title/company: CEO, MEMStim LLC
How long at company/position:
Previous jobs/positions: Currently on the faculty at University of Louisville College of Engineering; previous faculty member at UofL College of Business and a researcher at the University of Michigan.
Top accomplishment: Founding an innovative tech company that has the capacity to change lives.
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer engineering, University of Maryland; master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Person who most influenced or mentored me: My mother was my greatest influencer. She had an early career in mathematics and computer science.
What inspires/drives me: Creating innovative solutions to life’s greatest challenges.
I do a lot of outreach in entrepreneurship education. I have founded an organization called Vissionaireum that supports vision-rich entrepreneurs. I also volunteer heavily at my church (Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center) and enjoy
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I’m a big “Game of Thrones” fan, if that counts. I’m currently reading “The Narrowroad: A Guide to Legacy Wealth” by Dr. Pamela Jolly.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Attaining funding for MEMStim without losing control of my company. I overcame this by being persistent and believing that if God provided the vision, he would provide the provision. So many entrepreneurs quit too early, because they’ve faced nothing but failure for years. I’ve learned that time is not an indicator of success, vision is.
My advice to younger women in business: Expect to fail, expect to be discriminated against, expect to get really down, but push forward anyway. The biggest mistake you can make is to let adversity stop your progress. It’s either an instrument of God for personal growth, or inconsequential.
Title/company: President at Life Learning Center
How long at company/position:
Previous jobs/positions: Senior police advisor, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), Washington, D.C.; director of law enforcement operations, Appriss Inc., Louisville; state representative, 63rd District, Frankfort; justice information services specialist, SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics; executive director, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security; various positions within the Kentucky State Police, including: chief information officer of technical services division, commander of the criminal identification and records bureau, commander of Post 7 in Richmond, lieutenant in the recruitment section, lieutenant in the computer technologies section, and others; deputy sheriff, Edmonson County Sheriff’s Office, Brownsville.
Top accomplishment: While I had the opportunity to retire as a major with the Kentucky State Police, my top accomplishment was my promotion to captain and being assigned post commander at Post 7 Richmond. I was only the second female afforded that opportunity and will be forever grateful.
Education: Executive leadership program, Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Homeland Defense, Monterey, Calif.; 52nd Annual National Security Seminar, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Penn.; master’s degree in criminal justice, Eastern Kentucky University; bachelor’s degree in sociology/criminology, Western Kentucky University; other specialized law enforcement training.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Linda Mayberry, Kentucky State Police deputy commissioner (retired). Linda recruited me on the Kentucky State Police and was the highest-ranking female to date. She continues her career as the acting police team lead at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, U.S. Department of State. Linda continues to inspire women in law enforcement and offer opportunities to advance careers. Also Jimmy Webb, my father. He taught me work ethic, and I would not be the individual I am today without his high level of expectation.
What inspires/drives me: I love a challenge! I enjoy tackling issues that others may not think too appealing!
I enjoy reading, watching (not playing) golf, and I still follow politics! I am also a board member at Notre Dame Academy. My daughter graduated NDA in 2014, and I will forever be a huge supporter. I am deeply invested in second chance opportunities and reentry work for individuals who were incarcerated. This is about investing in the future of the commonwealth, reducing incarceration rates, and developing a much-needed workforce.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I just read “Cornbread Mafia” by James Higdon (Centre grad). I recently saw “Miss Saigon” and attended a James Taylor concert.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Prior to the passing of my father, I would have easily said the Kentucky State Police Academy. However, challenges are relative, and the way that I address them is “head-on” with support from my husband, Ted, daughter, Jill, and prayer.
My advice to younger women in business: Never let an opportunity pass you by. If someone suggests you engage in something, take a chance. Standing on the sidelines will never result in playing time! Women must remember that one’s success was more often than not triggered by another woman who inspired or supported you. Be sure to pass that on to someone else!
Danielle Tharp Clore
Title/company: CEO, Kentucky Nonprofit Network
How long at company/position:
Previous jobs/positions: Director of major gifts, Commonwealth Fund for KET; director of annual giving, Eastern Kentucky University; director of development, Special Olympics Kentucky.
Top accomplishment: I’m most proud of launching Kentucky Nonprofit Network, first as an outreach program at UK and then working with our founding board of directors to transition to an independent state association. KNN has successfully engaged nonprofits in a number of public policy and educational initiatives vitally important to strengthening the sector. We’ve also helped the sector share that in addition to their important work, they are important to Kentucky’s economy. Nine percent of the state’s workforce is employed with a nonprofit – they are more than charity.
Education: Bachelor of arts in psychology, Transylvania University, and master of public administration, University of Kentucky.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I was raised by my grandparents and then my aunt and uncle. It’s impossible to fully articulate how their love changed the course of my life. On a professional level, I started working at age 13 and held a number of interesting positions before I began my career in the nonprofit sector. Through the years, I have had some great and not-so-great bosses. Each influenced me in some way, helping me realize what type of leader I wanted (and did not want) to be.
What inspires/drives me: The work of nonprofits inspires me. There are incredible nonprofit executives and volunteers accomplishing important and amazing things in our communities. As the CEO of their state association, I love getting to live vicariously through their successes and I’m passionate about helping them address issues impacting their ability to accomplish their missions. Personally, I am inspired by my two kids. They and their friends are engaging in many important social issues – having difficult discussions that many adults avoid. It gives me incredible hope for the future.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: When I need to decompress and relax, I love shopping. Even if I’m not buying, I love to browse. I am happiest when I’m on the lake with my family.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I’m reading “The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomas at the suggestion of my 14-year-old daughter. It is powerful. When I finish, we plan to watch the movie together. My most recent concert was Brothers Osborne. It was my fourth time seeing them – I’m a huge fan!
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: For a variety of reasons, I believed for years that more hours worked meant more success. And this worked for me – until it didn’t anymore. A series of events, including having children, helped me start to recognize how precious life and time with those we love truly is. Working smarter is an ongoing challenge. It’s important for my personal sanity and KNN’s sustainability while I’m at the helm, so I keep at it. I am also working on this myth, which I believe keeps women, in particular, running in circles. There are days I’m rocking my professional life. There are days I am rocking motherhood. Rarely are these the same day. I’m learning that’s OK.
My advice to younger women in business: If you believe “real life” will begin once you get this job, achieve this accomplishment, get this promotion or surpass this milestone, you may soon realize that real life is passing you by. There were periods of my life where I spent much time worrying about the next thing and I missed the right now. Embrace the successes, failures, joys, heartbreaks, mistakes, victories – all of it. This journey is your life, so be kind to yourself. And be kind to others.
Also, make a conscious effort every day to be grateful, especially when it’s hardest. When I find myself in a funk – frustrated, discouraged, annoyed – this is extremely helpful. And take time to reach out and share your gratitude. Simple notes, emails, texts of appreciation and encouragement have been game-changers for me. Being able to go back and read these on my darkest or most frustrating days has been a tremendous blessing. Be that blessing for someone else.
Title/company: Mayor, City of Paducah; CEO, co-founder, PreventScripts; Paducah Rental Properties; Citizens Gym; Highwater Social Bar.
How long at company/position: 2 years
Top accomplishment: Identifying my passions and creating a life doing those!
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Vanderbilt University; master’s in public health, Boston University.
Person who most influenced or mentored me: My friend, Maurie McGarvey.
What inspires/drives me: The belief that we can always do better, be kinder and live larger.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Hiking with my husband and dogs, reading, coffee with friends, a good conversation.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: “The Art of the Gathering” and “Multiplier.”
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Challenges come and go. Early on in college I decided I did not want to let fear decide my path for me. So I took off on a series of traveling adventures … Costa Rica, Sierra Leone, Haiti. Travel was my way to get outside of my comfort zone in order to face the fear of the unknown. It worked!
My advice to younger women in business: Find your graceful confidence. This only happens through multiple trials and errors. Keep showing up. Retreat. Learn. Then show up again.
Title/company: President and COO, Columbia Gas of Kentucky
How long at company/position:
22 years in total; I worked for Columbia Gas of Kentucky for 15 years before serving as commissioner of general services for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) and the director of engineering for the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC). I returned to NiSource, Columbia Gas of Kentucky’s parent company, in 2012.
Previous jobs/positions: Vice president of distribution operations, NiSource; vice president and general manager, Columbia Gas of Kentucky; operations center manager, Columbia Gas of Kentucky; director of engineering, Kentucky Public Service Commission; commissioner of general services, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government; various roles in operations support, facilities, sales, marketing and real estate; director of marketing and sales, Columbia Gas of Kentucky.
Education (other pertinent training/certification): MBA, University of Kentucky (1995); Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, UK (1987); various executive development courses, Wharton School of Business; three-year Chartered Institute of Gas Consultants program, Illinois Institute of Technology; economic development coursework, Kentucky Institute of Economic Development; Kentucky Real Estate Commission, associates license; AGA Executive Leadership program, 2014 graduate.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Joe Kelly, past president of Columbia Gas of Kentucky.
What inspires/drives me: Being a role model for women in a field that is predominantely staffed by men. I strongly believe that women should help other women be successful in the workplace. There is plenty of space for us all to grow together.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Beach, tennis, reading and traveling.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: James Patterson’s latest in the Women’s Murder Club series, “18th Abduction.”
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: I spent too much time listening to the little voice in my head that is constantly providing criticism. I have had to learn to shut it down, to be bold and confident.
My advice to younger women in business: Don’t expect to see a change if you don’t make one.
Lorie Hailey is special publications editor of The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]