Our occasional feature, Top Women in Business, highlights some of the women around Kentucky making an impact in business, the professions, politics and economic development. The intent is to recognize not those who already are prominently known but those in key roles whose work ethic and body of work are making important contributions to commerce in the commonwealth.
The eight women featured 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]
Title/Company: President of Heartland Communications Consultants
How long at company/position: 10 years
Previous jobs/positions: Major, U.S Army; director of marketing, Office of the Chief of Army Public Relations
Top accomplishment: I consider marking our 10-year business anniversary as a top accomplishment. Being a small-business owner wasn’t anything I ever envisioned when I left the Army 11 years ago.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Syracuse University; MBA, Western Kentucky University
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My 93-year-old great aunt, Rena Brunori, is a mentor and a lifelong influencer. Known as the “Cake Lady,” she ran a successful cake-baking business from her commercial kitchen in the basement of her house. She was my original ‘mamapreneur’ long before women were in the workforce in the numbers they are today – she was hardworking, fiscally wise, and would do anything for family and friends. I admire her beyond words.
What inspires/drives me: At Heartland Communications, we have the privilege of helping tell the story of so many amazing clients. We support hardworking entrepreneurs in a variety of fields. What they all do to make Kentucky such a great place to call home inspires me. Equally inspiring is the work our team does in support of our wonderful clients. They are expert communicators and creative, amazing storytellers. When I have a moment to step back and reflect, I am always awed by what this small but mighty team can accomplish together.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: My young daughters are gymnasts, so much of my time is spent supporting them and their gym. I have the privilege of serving on the board of the newly established Knox Regional Development Alliance that advocates for Fort Knox and defense-related businesses in our region. I also serve on the board of the Brown Pusey House, a historic home in downtown Elizabethtown that serves as a community gathering place for many events. I serve on two committees for the Heels Together Women’s Fund of the Central Kentucky Community Foundation. My daughters and I also help serve dinner every month at Warm Blessings, the local soup kitchen. Lastly, I’m interested in anything about the Pittsburgh Steelers, six-time Super Bowl champions, in case you didn’t know.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I’m currently reading “Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. I saw the Dixie Chicks when they came to Louisville, and I always enjoy seeing Ben Sollee perform.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: The biggest challenge has been managing growth. It’s a good problem to have but challenging nonetheless. It’s continuous so it’s not something we’ve overcome, but building your team and providing value to your growing client base without sacrificing quality service or your firm’s culture is a constant challenge. The firm’s managing partners are continually evaluating pain points and how to address them. We also seek the feedback and advice of more experienced business owners who have been through this phase in their business.
My advice to younger women in
business: Don’t be afraid to build a team of people who are smarter than you. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people who are more creative than me, more entrepreneurial than me, have far more expertise in digital communications and web design than me, are expert photographers, videographers and editors and so much more. That team of talented experts will be the key to success.
Title/company: CEO, Harrison Memorial Hospital
How long at company/position: I started as a registered nurse in 1974, so 43 years as a full-time employee.
Previous jobs/positions/education: I began at HMH as a registered nurse. The first 20 years of my career were spent in nursing roles that include bedside nursing, emergency department nursing, intensive-care nursing and nursing leadership. I served as director of nursing for several years. In the 1990s, I received additional certifications in risk management and clinical quality, serving as the hospital’s risk manager and quality manager. I also transitioned the utilization department to a clinical case management department, managed infection control, and health information. I returned to college to pursue a business degree. In 2000, I was named chief operating officer for HMH, and then in late 2008, I was named as the CEO and began my responsibilities in January 2009.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mother, Bettye Marshall, was also a registered nurse and served as director of nursing at HMH. I remember as a child being in the hospital to visit. When I was 16, I volunteered in the candy striper program on the weekends and later became a student nurse. During these years, I had so many wonderful mentors, beginning with my mother, and other very professional and dedicated nurses like Jeanette Hehr, R.N. As a young nurse, I found several strong mentors in physicians who helped me see aspects of healthcare different from my perspective as a nurse. H. Todd Smiser, M.D., was a great teacher as was William Frank McKemie, M.D. Once I transitioned more into hospital leadership, I was blessed to work with Darwin Root, CEO of HMH for 13 years. Most importantly, my husband, Gregg, has been my steady and strong supporter through all of these years.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: When you work for an institution that is more than 110 years old, you come to understand that you are part of a continuum. I have been part of an era that will give way to another era and so on. I have worked to make every day count for someone. Healthcare is about serving others 24 hours a day seven days a week. My goal for HMH has always been to provide highly reliable quality care. That is why my greatest challenge has been the recent $17 million building and renovation project. It has taken significant planning and daily decision making to provide absolutely no interruption in care while building all around the environment. I and my family live in the community. I see the people my decisions impact every day. Improving the bricks and mortar of HMH was a necessity, but keeping all operations running efficiently during these improvements has been a challenge. The undertaking takes the hard work and coordination of many and I am blessed to work with leaders who are just as committed to HMH.
What inspires/drives me: Healthcare at HMH is my passion. It has been since I was very young. I am grateful for the passion because I believe it is what allows you to have a fulfilling career.
My advice to younger women in business: When asked what makes for a long and fulfilling career I respond with the same answer: It takes hard work, a realization that you must be flexible and forever open to new lessons. Most of all it takes a very dogged persistence. I think you only find this level of persistence if you are truly passionate about what you are doing.
Title/company: Executive director, Kentucky CancerLink Inc.
How long at company/position: Nine years
Previous jobs/positions: Business owner
Top accomplishment: Being a grandmother
Education: Attended Midway College, organizational management; certified mastectomy fitter, certified patient
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: A very special aunt, many teachers and business associates.
What inspires/drives me: I try to live each day with passion, purpose and direction. I love what I do and do what I love every day.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I really enjoy working out!
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance; I recently went to see the movie “Beauty and the Beast.”
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Fear of failure! Taking the leap of faith and landing on both feet. It is never as bad as you imagined it to be.
My advice to younger women in business: Surround yourself with smart, like minds who relate and share your passion and dreams.
Rhonda R. Whitaker
Title/Company: District manager, government & community relations, Duke Energy Kentucky
How long at company/position: 25 years with Duke; 16 years in current role
Previous jobs/positions: At Duke Energy (formerly Cinergy), held positions in community affairs, corporate foundation, large account management, strategic planning, shareholder services and investor relations.
Top accomplishment: I am not sure which I would consider my top accomplishment, but here are a few: First woman to chair the NKY United Way Campaign in 2011, raising over $4 million, a 5 percent increase over 2010; recipient of the Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky Award in 2012; recipient of a 2016 Leader Award for “Strengthening Our Region,” presented by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati; recipient of 2016 A.D. Albright Outstanding Business Leader Award presented by the NKY Education Council and the NKY Chamber.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: A former boss at Cinergy (Duke Energy), Joe Hale, taught me the significance and the art of networking and relationship management. He was a brilliant visionary leader and great facilitator and negotiator. He believed strongly in giving back to one’s community and collaborating with others to produce results for the benefit of the community, and he had the great ability to passionately inspire others to action.
What inspires/drives me: The many talented leaders who wake up every day with a passion to make our community a better place for existing residents and future generations. I thrive on collaborating with others to produce opportunities in our community. I have a passion for solving problems and being a connector, or promoter/advocate, and frequently a mediator and negotiator. I enjoy working with the many different departments within Duke Energy that have a multitude of interactions with our communities and customers.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: One of the most exciting and rewarding volunteer positions I took on was when I co-chaired and helped found the (NKY) Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition, comprised of industry leaders and workforce partners engaged in filling the talent pipeline in advanced manufacturing. The many volunteer positions I have held at our NKY Chamber have enabled me to contribute to efforts that have benefited our overall NKY community. I am enjoying my role as chair-elect of the NKY Chamber Board. In 2011 some colleagues and I started Duke Energy’s Urban Revitalization Initiative, which I led for five years. Our initiative (funded through The Duke Energy Foundation) has invested over $1.6 million in urban revitalization projects in our Greater Cincinnati/NKY urban core.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I recently attended a Delbert McClinton concert in NKY with a friend who introduced me to this very talented blues musician, who not only created great music over the years, but also influenced many well-known artists.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Growing up with little means but not realizing it, I was surrounded with such love and support by my family and mentors within my school district. I learned what it was to work hard and put in effort to achieve success. That resulted in my becoming valedictorian of my high school class. I realize now that I was faced with many challenges as a youth, but found something deep within that still drives me today in all that I face in life. I want to always give 100 percent at whatever I do; to use my God-given talents as He would want me to for the betterment of others, not just myself.
My advice to younger women in business: Never burn bridges. How you treat others, especially if it’s negative, can always come back to haunt you. No matter how tough of a matter you encounter with someone, you should always be respectful and professional. My life-long motto is “take the high road.” Attitude is everything. Remember that integrity is critical; trust is earned.
Penny D. Cox
Title/Company: Associate vice president, administration, University of Kentucky
How long at company/position: 44 years at UK
Previous jobs/positions: All at UK: housing project implementation director; associate vice president information technology; assistant dean, college of dentistry; housing director; senior accountant; executive assistant.
Top accomplishment: Over the past five years, I have had a tremendous opportunity to serve in a leadership role with the UK campus transformation, with a focus on creating an environment to support student success. Helping to oversee building of the 14 new residence halls – 6,850 beds to support living and learning – is a hallmark of my career in higher education. The friends that students will make in these buildings will last a lifetime.
Education: University of Kentucky, Bachelor of Arts, 1981; MBA, 1983.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My grandmother, Mollie Bain; my dad, Tom Gregory; my mentor, John T. Smith, UK’s first vice president for minority affairs.
What inspires/drives me: I have four passions: family, social responsibility, leadership development, and lifelong learning.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Zumba at least four times a week. I volunteer at Christ Church Cathedral as a member of the Altar Guild and breakfast teams.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: Opera has become an important part of my life. My oldest granddaughter, Diane Clements, is a member of the UK Women’s Choir and is studying vocal performance. I attend most events at the Singletary Center.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge was being a first-generation college-going student. My father had a fourth-grade education; he wanted more for his baby girl. He was my encourager.
My advice to younger women in business: Find a mentor, be a mentor.
Title/company: Senior vice president/chief financial officer at First Security Bank
How long at company/position: One year
Previous jobs/positions: Financial reporting manager, PBI Bank in Louisville; statutory reporting manager, Humana in Louisville; senior associate, Crowe Horwath in Louisville.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in international relations from Centre College, post-graduate accounting work at Bellarmine University
What inspires/drives me: In this role, I learn something new every day, which keeps me engaged and drives me to improve. It has been an incredible opportunity for me in terms of professional and personal growth. I love working in a community bank, which allows me to participate in and lead a number of different functions, as well as interacting with our employees and the communities that we serve. We have made significant strides in our company this year, and I’m inspired every day by our entire team and the things that we are accomplishing.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love to cook, and enjoy reading, watching movies, and spending time with family and friends. Since moving back to Owensboro, I have become involved with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Impact 100 (a women’s philanthropic organization), including a new branch of Impact 100 for high school students that I am very excited about.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I just finished “Hidden Figures,” which was a fascinating book, and “Hillbilly Elegy” is next on my list. I love a good concert, and some recent favorites were Leon Bridges and the Lumineers, and I’ll never turn down a chance to see Bruce Springsteen live!
Title/company: Executive vice president, Service Delivery, SIS, LLC
How long at company/position: Three years
Previous jobs/positions: Johnson & Johnson, senior director of IT Service Management Transformation; Accenture, partner.
Education: Bachelor of Science in journalism; Master’s degree in telecommunications at the University of Colorado.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My husband, who has continued to help me focus on what is important every day: focusing on being a better Christian every day.
Hobbies/interests/volunteer work: I enjoy activities with our church and family, as well as photography, gardening, crafts and hiking. Living on a farm in the country provides lots of opportunities to work on home projects. I also enjoy activities in the community involving church and participating in business-community events such as mentoring at local career fairs, building beds for needy children, and providing food for local elementary schools.
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I recently read “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, which has some great examples of leadership and team motivation. The book reminds me that there are no bad teams, just bad leaders.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Learning to balance life, work, family and church. No one thought I would ever leave my promising career as a partner at Accenture, but the time had come to focus on family and church. I found that redefining how I looked at success helped me to achieve a more fulfilling life and relationship with others.
My advice to younger women in business: Don’t let others define success for you. Only you know what will lead to a fulfilling life and making those the most important objectives to accomplish will keep you centered throughout the twisty turns of life.
Title/company: Michaelis Events LLC
How long at company/position: 17 years
Previous jobs/positions: Management, sales and marketing for environmental companies
Top accomplishment: Never giving up. Keeping my commitments even when times are tough.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in biology from the University of Louisville; Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the College of Charleston.
Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mother taught me about family priorities, commitment, and most importantly, my faith.
What inspires/drives me: I love the challenge of creating something new. I also love sharing it with others and lifting them up, particularly women. Women don’t always have the confidence to dare to be great. I want to be an example for my three daughters. Boundaries are set and removed by us individually. We are responsible for our own destinies and the consequences that result from those decisions.
Hobby/interests/volunteer work: I love going to the lake. It is so peaceful! I love hiking, gardening, and remodeling. I also love my Jeep Wrangler (especially with the top down!). Professionally, NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners)has been my “volunteer work” the past several years. I love pushing women outside their boundaries!
Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: I read the book “The Shack” many years ago and recently saw the movie. It still hits home with me.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge is my own “head trash.” I limit my own growth by not having enough faith in others and myself. I am always working on this. However, my greatest realization came at a very difficult time with our business when I finally had to just hand it over to God. He always keeps his promises!
My advice to younger women in business: Get mentors. Aspire to grow and be great! Think big. Have faith.
Lorie Hailey is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]