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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]

Amy Cloud

Title/Company: Executive director, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives (the society of local chamber of commerce professions in Kentucky)

How long at company/position: Three years

Previous jobs/positions: President, Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce; executive director, Garrard County Chamber of Commerce; VP of Operations, McMinnville – Warren County Chamber (Tennessee)

Top accomplishment: Named the 2014 Kentucky Chamber Executive of the Year

Education: Bachelor of Arts in communications (journalism) with a minor in graphic arts and marketing, University of Kentucky; graduate of the Institute for Organization Management through the U.S. Chamber and Kentucky Institute for Economic Development

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: It’s hard to give credit to just one person. I’ve had two wonderful older sisters who were role models to me growing up,  and teachers along the way who challenged me to step out and be bold – Mrs. Gariepy, Ms. Moore, Mr. Ball and Mrs. Voss. Today, I’m thankful that I have great cheerleaders at home in my husband, Jay, and two kids, Kendall and Houston. There is no greater influence when you can celebrate the wins and tackle the obstacles than if you have a “home team.”

What inspires/drives me: My family. I want to always represent them well. If I’m known as my husband’s wife, my children’s mother, as a sister or a daughter, I want people who meet me to feel like they know the values of the people who support me.

Hobbies/interests: We show quarter horses across the region. I enjoy doing fun things with my family. I love to travel! My husband and I recently became certified scuba divers, so that’s been an exciting adventure. I enjoy reading and cooking, when I have time.

Currently reading/recent movie/play/concert attended: Most recently, I’ve been binge watching the Jack Ryan series on Amazon.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge was a personal struggle with not being able to bear children. Years of trying to figure out what that meant to me and my husband brought us closer in our marriage, through our faith. We knew God had a plan for us. We were blessed to find a simple fix and were able to have our own biological kids. Much later in our life than what we planned, but that’s the lesson in it all: It’s not our plan …

My advice to younger women in business: Don’t be afraid to be you. You are unique with your own set of incredible talents. Use them.

Katie Fussenegger

Title/Company: Vice president, Kentucky Derby Museum (as of Feb. 10)

Previous jobs/positions: President/CEO, ShelbyKY Tourism

Top accomplishment: My highest personal achievement to date is the opportunity to continue to develop my career while becoming a mother to two beautiful children. I’ve had to define what success and happiness look like and truly focus on that definition to ensure these two individuals turn into productive members of society. I have had to balance and extend my moral understanding, ethics and overall priorities.

Education: Bachelor of Science in communications, University of Louisville; certified tourism industry specialist, IUPUI (Indiana/Purdue University); TMP, STS Marketing College at the University of North Georgia; graduate, Leadership Kentucky

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My grandfather, who has been in the hospitality industry almost 45 years, was more than willing to provide advice and guidance. Nicole Twigg was one of my first bosses within the tourism industry and is a supporter to this day; she is a supreme professional and I am honored to have her confidence. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my very first board of directors. They took a chance on a “green” director right out of college to lead our community destination marketing organization and believed in my leadership. Finally, Chenelle McGhee (ShelbyKY Tourism’s marketing director), who continues to be one of my biggest cheerleaders and pushes me to strive and perform better each day.

What inspires/drives me: I have always been driven to perform better than expected and produce quality work. I’ve always strived to break and push through barriers. I was given the opportunity to be a young female leader early in my career, and I have never taken that for granted. I hope I’m blazing a path for future female leaders and being the best example I can for young minds.

Hobbies/interests/volunteer work: Entertaining has been a lifelong passion, which likely led to my career in the hospitality business. I enjoy traveling with family across the globe and getting to cherish moments of discovery. I serve as president of Skal International Louisville (International Association for Travel and Tour Professionals) for 2020; treasurer and executive board member, 2019-2020, of the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association; chairman of the Bourbon, Horses and History marketing region; a board member and design committee member for Shelby Main Street; state chair for the DC Congressional Summit of the Southeast Tourism Society; and member of the Kiwanis Club.

Currently reading: I love to read and am an avid sponge of both fiction and non-fiction. I am currently reading “Boundaries for Leaders” by Henry Cloud, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, and I just finished “Tribes” by Seth Godin.

My advice to younger women in business: Surround yourself with a group of mentors and supporters to help see you through all of the trials, tribulations and wonderful experiences life will throw your way. Never let someone steal your self-worth! Believe in the fact that you can do anything you put your mind to. Finally, know that you have been given a precious gift to lead the way for other females.

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Nancy Wiser

Title/Company: President, Wiser Strategies

How long at company/position:
Nine years

Previous jobs/positions: Founder and partner in Wiser, Hemlepp & Associates; vice president of The Preston Group; marketing and public relations director with Cardinal Hill Hospital; and marketing and public relations positions with Good Samaritan and Eastern State hospitals.

Top accomplishment: I’ve narrowed my top professional accomplishments to two. In 2002, I was inducted into to the Public Relations Society of America’s College of Fellows, making me one of only 350 active members with this distinction, which honors those whose accomplishments meet the highest standards. The other is succeeding as a business owner for 20 years.

Education: I am accredited in public relations and I have a master’s degree in communication from the University of Kentucky, and a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in recreation and park administration and English.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I’ve been blessed to have worked with and been supported by many outstanding businesspeople, the most important of which are my father, Jim Moss, and Thomas L. Preston, APR, Fellow, PRSA. My father taught me about nature, God and how to be comfortable with and talk with anyone. Tommy Preston modeled how a principled, thoughtful public relations professional makes a difference for their clients.

What inspires/drives me: I’m motivated by complex business communication opportunities – solving problems and developing plans and campaigns that lead to desired change.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: My favorite pastime is being out in nature and walking.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge was not having a clear career direction. By focusing on my interests and talents, I found my own path to becoming a communication professional, the vocation I was meant for.

My advice to younger women in business: Listen to your intuition. Intuition is more than a hunch; it comes from your ability to observe and assess situations. It should not be your only guide but also should not be dismissed. In addition, be a lifelong learner.

Ashley Graves Johnson

Title/Company: Vice president and Western Kentucky district manager, U.S. Bank

How long at company/position: With U.S. Bank since August 2004; district manager since September 2016

Previous jobs/positions: Branch manager (2004-2007); commercial Treasury management and payments consultant (2007-2016)

Top accomplishment: I just graduated from Leadership Kentucky, and I am the first person to complete both the core program (2019) and the Elevate program (2018).

Education: Bachelor of Science in agriculture, Murray State University

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mother, Marj Billker Graves. After retiring from United Parcel Service as an occupational health nurse in 2006, she found a new passion speaking to others about the impact that serving in the Vietnam War has had on her life. In 2018, she was inducted to the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame for her work helping other veterans heal. She is a strong woman who raised strong women, and she continues to share her wisdom with me daily.

What inspires/drives me: As a woman in business, my 13-year-old daughter, who as an 8th-grader is in her first season on our high school’s varsity basketball team. Claire is a determined athlete who practices every day. I am inspired by her ability to perform with confidence among older, stronger athletes. She can’t decide between being an NBA coach, an orthodontist, or a veterinarian when she grows up. It’s a joy to parent a young lady who has confidence she can become anything and achieve any goal she desires.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love travel and gardening. I serve on the Barkley Regional Airport Authority Board. I am also passionate about the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County and our partner agencies, and have served as board president.

Currently reading and/or recent movie attended: I am currently re-reading one of my favorite books, “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris.  I recently took my daughter to see “Little Women.”

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: In 2015, we adopted our son from Shenzhen, China, in less than 90 days. He was about to turn 14 and “age out,” spoke very little English and had spent 11 years in a social welfare institution. His adjustment was immeasurable, and the strong support of our children, family, and friends helped us through many challenging days. Isaac will graduate with honors this May from McCracken County High School and plans to attend college in the fall.

My advice to younger women in business: Build a brand of performing every role with excellence. Invest in others and nurture the relationships within your network. Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29)

Victoria Russell

Title/Company: Vice president of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Papa John’s International, Inc.

How long at company/position:
13 years at Papa Johns, 18 months leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Previous jobs/positions: Marketing analytics, compensation/human resources

Top accomplishment: First chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Papa Johns; stood up first DEI Strategy; established six employee resource groups; created first supplier diversity initiative, etc.

Education:  MBA, marketing, University of Kentucky; bachelor’s degree, marketing and management, UK

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mother. After a two-year battle with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, she passed in May 2018. She was a strong, tough woman who fought until the very end with a smile on her face. She instilled in me everything I need to continue this journey without her. After watching her journey and transition, I’d finally learned the type of life that I wanted to lead, one that would honor her legacy and continue to make her proud of me. I wanted to lead a life of significance beyond success.

What inspires/drives me: People inspire me. So many have helped me by clearing barriers and obstacles. I feel it is my responsibility to do the same for others. It is imperative that we lift as we climb.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I serve on several nonprofit boards. I am a Zumba instructor, an identical twin, and not too long ago, I used to moonlight as a bartender!

Recent movie attended: I recently saw “Downton Abbey” (the movie).  I was a huge fan of the series and loved how they tied up everyone’s storylines in the movie.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Leading diversity for Papa John’s during the most challenging time in its history. I focused on the 120,000 team members and 800 franchisees of this brand. We were worth fighting for, so I did. It has been the most challenging time of my career, but also the most rewarding.

My advice to younger women in business: The advice I’d give young women is to have confidence in yourself and in the power of your voice. Stop trying to conform to who you think people want you to be, and instead be yourself. The best version of yourself. Lastly, I’d leave them with a quote from Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” But don’t stop there. Once you’re at the table, slide over quickly and make room for others.

Taunya Phillips

Title/Company: Senior associate director, New Ventures & Alliances, Office of Technology Commercialization at the University of Kentucky

How long at company/position: 20 years at UK; one year in current position

Previous jobs/positions: Production manager, process engineer, technical sales person, marketing analyst and planner, Milliken & Co.

Top accomplishment: Being president of the University of Kentucky Alumni Association board of directors

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, UK; MBA, UK

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My parents and the “village” in which I grew up in Danville; my high school chemistry teacher; several bosses and many coworkers

What inspires/drives me: I am inspired by people who go after what they want and succeed, especially if they have had to overcome adversity. I am driven by the desire to help others achieve their dreams. It is extremely rewarding to me to help others, whether they are students, entrepreneurs, family and friends, even strangers.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love dance; I play a little golf; I like biking. I am president of the UK Alumni Association board of directors and a member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council. I am also on the advisory council of Bank of the Bluegrass, and a Midwest University Research Network (MRUN) board member. I was 2014-2015 board chair for Opportunity for Work and Learning Inc., and I am a past president of the UK College of Engineering Alumni Association Board. My volunteer work has been at my church.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I am currently re-reading “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield. I have some things I want to accomplish over the next few years and the book provides principles for accomplishing big things. The most recent movie I saw was “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The last concert I attended was the Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas Show at the Singletary Center.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is self-doubt. I have learned that no situation is going to be perfect, but you just have to jump in, work hard, study and capitalize on the talents that you have.

My advice to younger women in business: Be fearless. Believe in yourself and your talents and abilities. Don’t wait for the right time to do the things you want, because there is no right time. Enjoy the ride!

Laura Lyons

Title/Company: President, ATech Training

How long at company/position:
28 years at ATech; 10 as president

Previous jobs/positions: R.A. Jones, electrical engineering; U.S. Army, specialist – military intelligence.

Top accomplishment: Personally, being a parent; professionally, a work in progress.

Education: MBA, Northern Kentucky University; bachelor’s degree in computer science, Hawaii Pacific University; associate’s degree in electrical engineering technology, University of Cincinnati

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Family (learning/love) and mentors who arrived as I needed them

What inspires/drives me: Learning and solving problems

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Gardening, hiking and being physically active; community volunteering (including GROW NKY)

Currently reading and/or recent concert attended: I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw” and attended a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Public speaking. I continue to work on this by speaking at events and receiving great advice from a teacher.

My advice to younger women in business: Have confidence in your abilities, live your passion, and remember what everyone else thinks about you is none of your business.

Lorie Hailey is special publications editor for The Lane Report. Reach her at [email protected]