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Top women in business

By wmadministrator

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 in the commonwealth.

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

Cheryl Norton

Cheryl Norton is a native of Missouri who currently resides in Lexington.
Cheryl Norton is a native of Missouri who currently resides in Lexington.

Title/Company: President, Kentucky American Water

How long at company/position: With American Water for 26 years, president at Kentucky American Water for 3 1/2 years

Previous jobs/positions: Since beginning my career at American Water, I performed microbiology research and served as the director of the Central Laboratory in Belleville, Ill., responsible for EPA-regulated chemical testing for American Water facilities throughout the U.S. In 2007, I became the vice president of operations for Illinois American Water and president of Kentucky American Water in January 2011.

Education: Bachelor of science in biology, master of science in environmental studies, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: From work ethic, to technical knowledge, to leadership and management skills, I have learned both how to be successful and how not to behave – some of our most impactful influences come from negative behaviors of those we interact with. I have tried to model the positive traits of my family, peers and bosses throughout my career.

What inspires/drives me: It’s very important that I make a difference in whatever I do. I enjoy being very busy and fully engaged in my responsibilities. Some of my most inspirational experiences have been seeing a positive culture change or dramatically improving the performance of an organization. You only accomplish these through teamwork, and I enjoy leading a team to accomplish a challenging goal they think can’t be achieved.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: My family and I enjoy summer days boating at Cave Run Lake, a great contrast to a very active day-to-day routine. I volunteer on numerous nonprofit boards including Red Cross, United Way, Women Leading Kentucky, Commerce Lexington, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I’m reading “The Innocent” by David Baldacci. I love to wind down with a great suspense novel.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: When I began doing microbiology research, public speaking was a necessity and made me so nervous that I could hardly breathe. After numerous presentations over nine years, I was still very nervous. But I began to realize no one understood the work I was presenting better than me, and finally I just said a little prayer before a presentation in Kansas City and it was amazing how relaxed I was. I still get a bit nervous, but it is more a feeling of excitement than dread.

My advice to younger women in business: We are all leaders in some form or fashion: Strive to be a really great one. People are always watching you, so be sure to “walk the walk.” Stick to your values, be accountable for your actions and admit your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to be a woman, but always be open to feedback – we can all improve ourselves with the help of others.

Tori Murden McClure

Tori Murden McClure was born in Florida but grew up and lives in Louisville. Her husband, Mac, is the grandson of bourbon distiller “Pappy” Van Winkle. She was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Tori Murden McClure was born in Florida but grew up and lives in Louisville. Her husband, Mac, is the grandson of bourbon distiller “Pappy” Van Winkle. She was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Title/Company: President, Spalding University

How long at company/position: Entering my fifth year as president and 15th year at the institution; formerly a vice president and board of trustees member.

Previous jobs/positions: Director of educational development for the Muhammad Ali Center; policy assistant to the mayor of Louisville; chaplain, Boston City Hospital.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Smith College; master of divinity from Harvard University; juris doctorate from the University of Louisville; master of fine arts in writing from Spalding University. Certified emergency medical technician; certified in wilderness search, rescue and medicine by the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Barry Bingham Jr.; Muhammad Ali

What inspires/drives me: Growing up, my parents did their best, but we moved often and I followed an intellectually disabled brother through school. Lamar and I had some rough times. Despite the bumps, I have been given tremendous opportunities and have worked hard to take advantage of each of them. I agree with the Gospel of Luke: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” On expeditions, the strongest person carries the tent; the superior becomes the servant. I am strong, and while I am able, I believe I should carry the tent. There is so much work that needs to be done, pain in the world, things that can be improved, problems we can solve, relationships we can heal, that I feel I must be busy using the time I have.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Author and religion historian Karen Armstrong is a treasured friend and one evening teased me about rowing a boat alone across an ocean. “Yes, but you wrote a History of God,” I replied, and told her she could not pick on me for audacity. Karen just gave me an early proof of her next book, “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.” I am finishing a book by John Braithwaite, “Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation.” Both are each about attempting to understand what exacerbates misunderstandings between human beings and what can alleviate those misunderstandings.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: People tend to want a person to be one thing, and I am both a scholar and an athlete. My challenge has been to find a big enough playground to bring my whole self into the game. Spalding University is a great fit because as president I get to employ all of my voices. Spalding was designated the “world’s first compassionate university” as a direct result of my Harvard divinity school experience. As a lawyer, I know Spalding is positioned to help this community build more restorative approaches to crime and punishment, especially with children and young adults. My book “A Pearl in the Storm” was born out of hard work in the MFA Writing program at Spalding. My challenge is a very common one: How do we take who we are and use what we’ve been blessed with to be of service to others?

My advice to younger women in business: Because I rowed a boat across the Atlantic Ocean, I’m often invited to speak to groups of girls and young women. Rowing isn’t my greatest contribution to our community, but my greatest potential impact comes with these opportunities to speak to women and to encourage them to follow their dreams. As Spalding president, I collaborate with the campus community to create more opportunities for Kentuckiana women and girls to follow their dreams as we build a campus culture focused on compassion, a hands-on approach to philanthropy, and restorative justice.

Emily H. Cowles

Emily Cowles is a native of Nashville who resides in Lexington.
Emily Cowles is a native of Nashville who resides in Lexington.

Title/Company: Managing partner of Morgan & Pottinger PSC Attorneys, Lexington office

How long at company/position: In my 10th year at M&P; became a partner in 2010 and managing partner in Lexington in 2013.

Previous jobs/positions: Attorney for the Honorable Lawrence B. VanMeter, judge in the Kentucky Court of Appeals and in Fayette County Circuit Court.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky; juris doctorate from Capital University Law School.

Person who most influenced me: To limit this to two individuals, my mom, Jane N. Hannah, exerted tremendous influence on my work ethic and vision to find and achieve success in life. As a single mom of three young children, she always did what it took to meet our needs while finding the time (and energy) to obtain her doctorate at Vanderbilt University – she is my hero. Secondly, my law partner at M&P, Scott T. Rickman, is my relentless influencer and mentor who never fails to provide sound advice.

What inspires/drives me: I love a good challenge or being told that I cannot do something, which keeps me motivated to find the answer and surpass expectations. This carries into my personal life as a mother, where I strive to provide the greatest opportunities for my two sons, and into my law practice, where I strive to solve my clients’ problems in the most efficient manner. I find immense satisfaction doing both.

Hobby/interests: I find great joy in a good long run and participating in charitable races throughout Kentucky several times each year. I am a huge sports fan and particularly enjoy watching my boys play in the South Lexington Youth Baseball league as well as going to UK basketball and Cincinnati Reds games. I devote time to my family’s Thoroughbred breeding and boarding operation at Gunston Hall Farm in Fayette County, and volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Sayre School and Commerce Lexington.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I greatly value Lexington’s arts, music and local food communities. Recent movies I attended include “The Lego Movie” and “Frozen,” and the most recent live performance was “A Chorus Line.”

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Going back to work after maternity leave with my first son was my biggest challenge. Leaving your child during the day to grow and manage your career is a huge challenge for all mothers personally and professionally. M&P embraces motherhood and provided an environment in which I could continue to develop my law practice and meet clients’ needs while finding the right balance between work and family.

Advice to younger women in business: Don’t just sit at the table; talk! Be the first with a firm handshake and to make an introduction. Work hard, be thorough, really listen to those more seasoned in your field, and seize every opportunity to build relationships vital to your specific area in business. At the end of the day, it is about how much you know and how well you sell it.

Kimberlee Perry

Kimberly Conley Perry is a native of Born in Ashland who currently resides live in Frankfort.
Kimberly Conley Perry is a native of Born in Ashland who currently resides live in Frankfort.

Title/Company: Director of Occupational Safety and Health Education and Training, Kentucky Labor Cabinet

How long at company/position: 22 years with Labor Cabinet, Department of Workplace Standards Occupational Safety and Health; six years in current position.

Previous jobs/positions: Industrial hygienist compliance officer; industrial hygienist supervisor; assistant director for OSH Education and Training.

Top accomplishment: There isn’t any one thing in particular, but I trace my success to one key point: I am not afraid to fail. This is where many people go wrong, because they are so fearful of making a mistake that they avoid altogether trying something new.  I try new ideas and work hard at accepting change. Especially in today’s world of fast-paced technology and information, it’s important to be ready to adapt.

Education: Bachelor’s of biology, with minors in chemistry, education and Spanish from Kentucky State University

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: It was my parents. My father, Jim Conley, was a textbook sales representative, and my mother, Sandra Conley, was a school teacher. They gave me a lot of support, encouragement and opportunity to shape my core values and strong work ethic.

What inspires/drives me: I love seeing that my work and the work done within my division can make a positive difference in the lives of employees and businesses across the state.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love music, art, exercising, politics, sunshine, crafting, shopping and traveling. I enjoy spending time with my husband, son, family and friends. I’m a member of National Association of Women in Construction and the Kentucky Safety and Health Network Board of Directors member, and a licensed real estate agent.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Recently attended a concert by the Dave Matthews Band, my all-time favorite.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge is managing my time between work, family and raising a teenager. The trick is to tackle each task separately. Don’t worry about several things at once: Fix one problem at a time.

My advice to younger women in business: Work hard, treat others as you wish to be treated, and respect others’ differences. Take the opportunity to learn new ways and ideas. Find a balance with your home and professional life.

Connie Harvey

Connie Harvey is native of Ottumwa, Iowa, who currently resides in Lexington.
Connie Harvey is native of Ottumwa, Iowa, who currently resides in Lexington.

Title/Company: Corporate vice president, and chief operating officer, healthcare, Xerox

How long at company/position: Joined Xerox in 2001; COO since 2011

Previous jobs/positions: COO and executive vice president, commercial services, Xerox; group president and managing director, healthcare payer and insurance, Affiliated Computer Services; vice president of Caribbean operations, NPC Inc.; management consultant, Kurt Salmon Associates.

Education: Bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Iowa State University

Top accomplishment: With Xerox and my former company, Affiliated Computer Services, I have played a leadership role in growing our services business significantly over the past decade. That has helped Xerox transform into the services and technology company it is today, providing employment and professional advancement to a lot of deserving individuals and simplifying the way work gets done so customers can focus on their core business. On the personal side, I have three daughters and I couldn’t be prouder of the strong, independent young ladies they have become.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My parents have most influenced me by instilling motivation, a competitive spirit and determination to succeed without losing sight of the importance of family and friends. Professionally, Tom Blodgett of Xerox was my most recent and perhaps my best mentor. He saw potential and entrusted me with new and challenging tasks.

What inspires/drives me: I enjoy the creative process. The idea of creating and developing something motivates me, whether it is a new product, a new service or even a person, which is the most rewarding. It is satisfying to help people reach their potential, whether professionally or in their personal skills outside the office.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Family time is my most important hobby; I combine that with a love of travel and sports. My extended family is sprinkled around the world and that makes family visits interesting. We are sports fanatics, especially college sports, and enjoy spending time together at or watching games. In any remaining spare time, I love to have a construction project going, whether it be building, remodeling or redecorating.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I read to relax and like easy-reading fiction. However, I just read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, a very inspirational, true story about a World War II hero and Olympian and the unbelievable challenges he overcame.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: As with many professional women, my biggest challenge is balancing a career and family – succeeding in a full-time career that requires frequent travel is difficult while also working to be the mom my three daughters deserve. I have overcome this challenge thanks to strong support systems on both fronts, especially my husband and team at work. I have learned that “having it all” does not mean “doing it all.” You have to make choices along the way.

Deborah Simpson

Title/Company: President, Multi-Craft

Deborah Simpson is a native of Cincinnati who resides in Villa Hills in Northern Kentucky.
Deborah Simpson is a native of Cincinnati who resides in Villa Hills in Northern Kentucky.

How long at company/position: 45 years at the company, president since 1990 (24 years)

Previous jobs/positions: Other than high school jobs, this has been the only company for which I’ve worked. I’ve held positions from receptionist and typesetter to bindery worker and finally president.

Top accomplishment: Having the relationships that I have with wonderful friends and a loving family. I am blessed! I have had so many wonderful opportunities, and thank goodness I was smart enough to say “yes” when they appeared.

Education: Bachelor’s in business from Mount St. Joseph University.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I had the privilege of working side-by-side with my father for many years in our family-owned business. His work ethic and dedication to customer satisfaction was such a positive influence on me.

What inspires/drives me: I get my energy from being with people – I am a true extrovert. I also love change, and our business has given me the opportunity to continually adapt to serve our client base.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love to travel and spend time with my children and grandchildren. I’ve volunteered with Dress for Success Cincinnati and Lakeside Christian Church in Northern Kentucky. I currently chair the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; my term ends Aug. 31.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Recently enjoyed a performance of “Rock of Ages” in New York City. I love comedies and thrillers, romantic novels and hard rock.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Learning that things change: Customers go out of business, merge, move or just decide to do business with someone else. You have to continually be changing to meet their needs and adapting to the latest technology.

My advice to younger women in business: Forget you’re a woman. You’re just a person in business and you’ll need to learn, work hard, be a team player, think creatively, embrace change, build relationships and provide value to your employer and your customers. Gender doesn’t matter if you have the knowledge, skills and ability to be a valuable part of the organization. Also, build a network of people who will emotionally support you and be willing to be brutally honest with you at all times.

Holland “Hollie” Bailey Spade

Hollie Spade moved around a lot during her childhood, but considers Louisville home. She resides in Frankfort.
Hollie Spade moved around a lot during her childhood, but considers Louisville home. She resides in Frankfort.

Title/Company: Chief of staff and legislative liaison, Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

How long at company/position: I started with the Cabinet in 2002 as general counsel and accepted the chief of staff position in 2012.

Previous jobs/positions: After graduating from Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, I was a staff attorney at American General Finance in Evansville, Ind. I returned to Kentucky as the first female associate at Hazelrigg and Cox, a law firm in Frankfort, and practiced there nearly eight years. (I left in 2001 to take a position with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet before joining the Cabinet for Economic Development.)

Top accomplishment: I am proudest of my work on Gov. Steve Beshear’s 2009 legislative package, which included significant improvements to Kentucky’s economic development incentive programs. They now reward existing companies for maintaining their Kentucky facilities when making choices about cutting costs and improving efficiency. That legislation has been involved in new capital investment of almost $7.8 billion and nearly 47,000 new and retained Kentucky jobs.

Education: Bachelor’s in psychology from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., and juris doctor from Brandeis School of Law at University of Louisville.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: All of the partners at Hazelrigg and Cox shared lots of valuable insight on the practice of law. In state government, I continue to learn from Governor’s Executive Cabinet Secretary Mary Lassiter and Cabinet for Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes. Former CED Secretary Gene Strong was a big influence when I first arrived at the cabinet.

What inspires/drives me: We often meet people with a new idea for a product or an innovative approach to an old process. Watching these people take financial and personal risks for something they believe in and seeing their ideas implemented never fails to inspire me.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: In my 30s, I began running and it has become an addiction. I find exercise is an excellent way to deal with stress. My two children, Yulie, 12, and Bailey, 16, are a priority, and thanks to my husband, Alan, I spend a lot of time watching soccer all over Kentucky and the Midwest. I have served with Frankfort Family Resource and Youth Services Center; the board of directors for Sunshine Center, a United Way Agency; and the Immanuel Baptist Church Deacon Council.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: “Angel Investing” by David S. Rose

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: I started my law practice with a fear of public speaking, and now communication is part of my daily life. There is still room for improvement, and I consider each opportunity to speak publicly another step toward becoming better. Gaining confidence was half the battle.

My advice to younger women in business: Never be afraid to ask questions. That is the only way to learn.