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 and are worthy of praise.
The four women in this issue are among many The Lane Report editorial board has identified. We welcome your suggestions for others around Kentucky who deserve recognition for their efforts to boost Kentucky’s economy. Send your recommendations to [email protected].
Heather French Henry
Title/company: Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs
How long at company/position: Since July 1, 2014
Previous jobs/positions: Vice president of domestic programs for Corrisoft; creative designer, Frenchy Prom, Heather French Henry Collection; executive director, Heather French Foundation for Veterans Inc.
Top accomplishment: Being appointed to lead the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs
Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning; master’s degree in design, UC College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My father, Ronnie French, a Marine Vietnam veteran; teacher Margie Volker-Ferrier, my master’s thesis advisor at UC; my mentor Pete Dougherty, past national director for homeless veterans with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Others include Gen. George C. Marshall, artist John Singer Sergeant, poet Robert Frost, singer Rosemary Clooney; and my Miss America sister, Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990.
What inspires/drives me: My life’s mission is to provide better quality care for American veterans. Nothing gives me greater joy than knowing I am helping create new, innovative programs to build a brighter and more supportive future for Kentucky’s veterans.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Reading, music, watching movies, designing websites, emceeing events
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: “Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend”; “White Christmas” (on the big screen); and my daughter Taylor’s orchestra concert.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: There have been many, namely the different transitions I have had to make in life: from college student to Miss America, Miss America to politics, to motherhood, to business owner … each chapter has its unique challenges but helps form who you are in the end. How you handle those transitions helps define you.
My advice to younger women in business: Seek out mentors in business and in the world around you. Don’t forget to ask for help, which can be a challenge. I love this quote from Babe Ruth: “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”
Rachel Phelps Bayens
Title/company: Partner, Government Strategies, a full-service government relations firm in Frankfort, specializing in legislative and executive branch lobbying.
How long at company/position: 12 years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Kentucky; 2008 graduate of Leadership Kentucky.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My parents are the hardest working and most God-loving people I know. I can’t imagine giving less than 100 percent professionally because they give 100 percent at everything they do. They have great pride in their work, and I’m so thankful I grew up in a home where I could see that every day. Their hard work and sacrifice is inspiring and drives me to make them proud every day.
What inspires/drives me: A peacemaker at heart, it is ironic I work in a field often consumed with conflict. Whether working on a compromise for a piece of legislation or working through disagreements with friends or family, I look for solutions. Life is far too short to dwell on problems when we can focus on the solution.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love to travel with my husband and friends. Exercise, specifically running, has become a hobby, although I enjoy it most when it’s over! I’m an avid UK basketball and football fan.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I attended the Broadway musical “Newsies” at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: I work in a field where political dynamics can determine the success or failure of an issue and have always been frustrated when an issue’s politics trump its merits. I enjoy the challenge of putting together a strategy for clients that will allow them to be successful based on sound policy and open and honest dialogue.
My advice to younger women in business: Always work hard and always be honest. At the end of the day, if you know that you gave 100 percent and were honest with yourself, your colleagues and family, then you have built a solid foundation for success.
Title/company: President of Leadership Louisville Center
How long at company/position: Four years at LLC, three as president
Previous jobs/positions: Executive director of Brightside, a public-private partnership with Louisville Metro government that promotes a clean and green city.
Top accomplishment: While I was at Brightside, we were a two-time Center for Non-Profit Excellence Pyramid Award winner and a national award winner with Keep America Beautiful. The volunteer program grew from 5,000 to 20,000 people. Under my leadership at Leadership Louisville, we also won a national award, but I think I am more proud of what we are doing to help others achieve.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communication and master’s degree in education from the University of Louisville. Also a certified John Maxwell coach/trainer.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Family is certainly my biggest influence. Also, my Leadership Louisville predecessor Chris Johnson offered great mentorship when it mattered most.
What inspires/drives me: There is some old advice that you shouldn’t wish for life to be easier, you should wish you were better. That idea of always seeking to be a better version of myself is what drives me. It’s also what makes Leadership Louisville programs so popular. People who participate in our programs are the inspiring sort of people who come to us seeking to be better, and it’s a great perk to get to surround myself with those kinds of people.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I serve on nine other nonprofit boards. While out promoting the importance of civic engagement to others, I have found outstanding organizations that I am personally interested in. I try to model our mission: show up and be of service. I also have two young boys, so school projects and sports are a big part of my calendar too.
My advice to younger women in business: First, surround yourself with people smarter than you and be ready to learn. Second, surround yourself with people who build you up and will help build your confidence. Choose to be confident in your ability. Finally, pick one or two people and ask them to be your sponsor – not just your mentor but your sponsor. Mentors offer advice, sponsors truly invest in your success.
Title/company: President/CEO, Catalytic Development Funding Corp. of Northern Kentucky
How long at position: Six years
Previous jobs/positions: I have 30-plus years of experience as a real estate professional specializing in commercial real estate project financing. I began my real estate career as a financial analyst with Urban Investment and Development Co. in Chicago, developer of large urban mixed-use projects. In 1984, I joined Corporex Companies and held positions of financial analyst, manager of capital acquisition, director of the mortgage and equity group, senior vice president and member of Corporex’s executive management board. I also held the position of vice president of finance at Tipton Associates and was the interim director of the University of Cincinnati Real Estate Center and Field Service Professor of Real Estate.
Top accomplishment: My entire education and career have been specifically focused in commercial real estate development with special emphasis on executing what many consider “pioneer” projects developed in less-than-proven locations in urban areas and communities and difficult urban revitalization initiatives. One of my top accomplishments was executing the financing transaction for RiverCenter in Covington, a Class A office complex and hotel project that had significant economic development impact in what had been considered one of the most distressed urban areas in the United States. Another was executing the Vision 2015 initiative of creating a “catalytic fund” to accelerate urban revitalization projects in Northern Kentucky’s River Cities by capitalizing a $10 million investment fund to provide patient and flexible financing tools and creating an organization with real estate structuring expertise.
Education: Bachelor of Urban Planning with concentrations in urban design and economics from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning; Master of Business Administration with concentration in finance and real estate from Indiana University Kelly School of Business.
Person(s) who most influenced me: I am inspired by people who never give up. My father, who worked until he died at age 98, has always inspired me because of his unbelievable character and work ethic. Working for Corporex and Bill Butler was very inspiring because of Bill’s vision, his belief in our community, and his unique ability to execute the projects that many said “could never be done.” I currently have the privilege to work closely with Chuck Scheper, who is the founder and chairman of the Catalytic Fund. His personal story as a late-stage cancer survivor is inspiring enough, but when you add that to his past professional accomplishments as COO of Great American, his groundbreaking work as interim mayor of Covington and his current work as chairman of Bexion, a biotech company developing a promising cancer cure, he is downright amazing. What these individuals all have in common is sheer perseverance and the fact that they never consider the possibility of failing.
What drives me: I am driven by challenge, solving complex problems and executing work with tangible outcomes, which is why I love my work in the real estate development business.
Hobby/Interests/Volunteer Work: I am an avid golfer, an avid reader and am interested in all things having to do with cities. When my daughters were in school I was a very active volunteer in youth sports and coached high school golf and managed select soccer teams and AAU basketball teams.
Currently reading: I just finished “Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd and recently saw “Kinky Boots” in New York.
Biggest challenge and how I overcame it: When I had my daughters (now 22 and 23), I didn’t feel as though I was able to live up to the standards I set for myself as a professional in a very challenging and demanding industry. I decided to suspend my career indefinitely. I was very fortunate that at that time, Dr. Norm Miller offered me a teaching position in the University of Cincinnati Real Estate Center, which provided a perfect situation for me. I had a much more flexible schedule, yet this kept me very connected and engaged with our local real estate community and enabled me to keep learning and growing as a real estate professional. Because of this, I was to make a very easy transition back into full-time industry work with all of my business relationships in tact and my skills up to date.
My advice to younger women in business: I was brought up to believe that hard work, competency and professionalism would be respected and rewarded and that is exactly what I have experienced in all of my professional positions, even early in my career when there were not as many women in the work force. I think one’s attitudes and expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies. As far as trying to “have it all,” I think it is possible to have a successful career and raise a family but that does come at some personal costs and requires a very high energy level. The good news is that there are now many options for women to participate in the work force that don’t necessarily involve sitting in an office 50 to 60 hours a week. And there is no requirement that women have to attempt to “have it all” simultaneously. I know many women doing amazing things professionally that returned to the work force in their 50s. ■