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Women Worthy of Note

By wmadministrator

Our occasional feature, Top Women in Business, highlights some of the women around Kentucky and Southern Indiana 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]

TOP-WOMEN-Sara-SmithSara G. Smith

Title/company: CEO of Smith Management Group

How long at company/position: I became CEO in January of 2017.  I served as president for over 10 years previously, and was vice president since the company was founded in 1989.  I have always served as counsel for the firm as well.

Previous jobs/positions: Before SMG, I was an attorney with Wyatt Tarrant & Combs in Lexington. I started with Wyatt while in law school and continued through graduation and the birth of my second child.  Wyatt and I successfully explored the concept of a part-time attorney after my son was born. In my younger days I have worked as a surveyor, baker, house painter and television producer.

Education: Bachelor of Arts from Temple University in American studies; juris doctor degree from the University of Kentucky; mediation training.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: There are many whose character I admired, who taught me ways to think and listen. I had two uncles who were quite different from each other, whose demeanor and intellect I admired and tried to emulate. I was raised by a mother who walked through each day with intelligence, curiosity and responsibility. I have been fortunate to marry a man who is the best father and husband possible, and who has lived up to his promise that I would never be bored. Just ask his kids.

What inspires/drives me: I love watching the next several generations grow into their shoes as people, family members and workers.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work:
My interests change regularly.  I enjoy cooking, and I love the result of gardening. I have recently learned to make very good jam. I’m learning how to take very good photographs.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it:  The biggest challenge is the one in front of you today.

My advice to younger women in business: Stand up straight, look people in the eye, have a strong handshake and use your full name. And that’s just for openers.

TOP-WOMEN_Allison-BarkerAllison Barker

Title/company: Corporate communications manager, Kentucky Power

How long at company/position:
Since 2014

Previous jobs/positions: Corporate communications consultant, Appalachian Power; communications coordinator, West Virginia Department of Education; reporter/editor, The Associated Press; reporter, Charleston Daily Mail; anchor, WOAY-TV; reporter, KMPH-TV.

Top accomplishment: A few stand out. As an Associated Press reporter, I was the first reporter to figure out that a missing solider in the 2003 War with Iraq was Jessica Lynch, the first POW/MIA to be rescued during that war. She was from a small town near my hometown and I was able to talk to her family. While working for a state education agency, I persuaded some well-known actors, including Jennifer Garner and John Corbett, to do free television PSAs promoting reading. At Kentucky Power, I have strengthened our employee communications, media relations and community outreach.

Education: Post-graduate certificate, digital marketing communications, West Virginia University; Master of Arts in journalism and Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Marshall University.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mom, who sadly died right before Thanksgiving last year. I miss her every day.

What inspires/drives me: Family and friends. I love my job but spending time with family and friends is most important.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Cooking. I participate in a girlfriends Supper Club where we try different recipes and cuisines each month and take turns hosting. If the guys are good, we invite them to our Christmas event.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended:
“Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Learning that not everyone you will work with is ethical and truthful. I learned to keep good records and document everything.

My advice to younger women in business: Find a mentor you respect that you can turn to for advice and guidance throughout your career.

TOP-WOMEN_Wendy-Dant-ChesserWendy Dant Chesser

Title/company: President and CEO, One Southern Indiana

How long at company/position:
Almost five years

Previous jobs/positions: President of Cornerstone Alliance, Benton Harbor, Michigan (2005-2012); deputy executive director, Indiana Department of Commerce (2003-2005).

Top accomplishment: Named one of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers of 2015 by Consultant Connect; named the 2016 Chamber of Commerce Executive of the Year  by the Indiana Chamber Executives Association.

Education: Bachelor of Science in business, Indiana University Southeast, 1991; earned the Certified Economic and Community Development Certification in 2010.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My mother, who has always been the source of my strength.

What inspires/drives me: I am passionate about helping groups of people work together for the common good. It’s truly what makes America great.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: My daughter and her basketball; staying physically active; sports; and live music.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended:
My daughter, Joslyn, and I saw Jimmy Buffett in July. She’s 9 years old, and this was her sixth Buffet concert!

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Defeat is temporary. There is always a way to bounce back.

My advice to younger women in business: My favorite quote: “Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a dog.”

TOP-WOMEN-Jennifer-WebbJennifer Webb

Title/company: Paralegal specialist, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky; founder and coordinator of Madison County Youth in Action Inc., an underage drinking and drug prevention coalition.

How long at company/position:
4-plus years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and 10-plus years as coordinator of Madison County Youth in Action.

Previous jobs/positions: District judges’ paralegal for the 25th Judicial District; part-time faculty at National College of Business and Technology; retail sales at Morgan’s Discount Inc., my parents’ business, which they’ve owned for more than three decades.

Top accomplishment: My two children, Adriannah and Ayden. I am an extremely driven person and I wear many hats, but being a mother is the most important job I will ever have. My children inspire me to help make the world a better place.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in paralegal science, minor in political science, Eastern Kentucky University.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: My parents and grandparents set the work ethic and integrity bars high for me and I have always tried to exceed their expectations.  John Lovell was my high school basketball coach and one of my first mentors. He motivated me to be the best I could be and taught me the importance of teamwork. Judge Jeffrey M. Walson took a chance and hired me as a paralegal intern. He was and continues to be one of my biggest professional mentors. Judge Brandy Oliver Brown and Dr. Melissa Jones have been my advisors, constant sources of encouragement, and true friends. Each have urged me to go outside my comfort zone professionally.

What drives me: Simply put, I have an insatiable appetite for serving others and youth advocacy. Many years ago, I met a mother, father and son as they were being led to court. Handcuffed and shackled, all three were suffering from drug addiction.  At that moment, I understood how addiction devastated families and how the cycle was so difficult to break. I wanted to help and I knew there’d be no easy solution. I started collaborating with others to create or participate in drug prevention programs designed for youth. I have proposed local and state legislation designed to decrease underage drinking and drug use. I have written or co-written numerous grants to secure nearly $1 million to fund drug prevention and treatment programs. My commitment to prevention and treatment is renewed (and my heart is broken) each time I meet someone who is addicted to drugs or someone who has lost a loved one as a result of addiction.

Hobby/interests: I love jogging, walking my dog, seeing movies, listening to music, attending my son’s sports events, spending time with family and visiting the beach – any beach.

Volunteer work: Madison County Youth in Action Inc.; EKU Paralegal Advisory Board (2006-present); Madison County Youth Impact Team (current); Madison County Teen Court (2003-2012); Madison County Safety Coalition; Madison County Delinquency Prevention Council (former secretary); Madison County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (former chairperson); Madison County Misdemeanor Drug Court (previous grant writer and team member); Telford YMCA Board of Directors (2012-2013); and several other positions.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My lack of confidence and the fear of failure used to be my biggest challenge. Luckily, I have supportive family and mentors who have provided a constant source of encouragement. My faith has allowed me to turn everything else over to God.

My advice to younger women in business: Forgive quickly and never burn bridges because it’s critical in building and maintaining personal and professional relationships. Be politely assertive and set your goals high. Pray without ceasing, be driven and look for opportunities to lift up others. When you are having a bad day, doing something kind for someone else will cheer you up!

mcintosh-priscillaPriscilla McIntosh

Title/company: CEO at The Morton Center

How long at company/position:
Eight years as CEO, five years at company

Previous jobs/positions: MCM Accounting, accountant; Compton, Kotte and Associates, accountant

Education (other pertinent training/certification): Indiana Wesley University

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: Growing up, it was my grandfather. I have a lot of people at my table helping me now.

What inspires/drives me: Hearing the many voices that once cried now laughing together as a family.

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Taking long weekend trips with my
family to different parks and beaches.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended:
I rewatched all the “Twilight” movies with the kids. (I know!)

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Trying to be everything to everyone, only to realize that I need to take care of myself first in order for it to balance out.

My advice to younger women in business: Stay strong and believe in yourself, and take care of yourself. No one else can do that for you.

TOP-WOMEN_Connie-Jo-MillerConnie Jo Miller

Title/company: Agency principal, Group CJ

How long at company/position:
I founded the marketing firm at age 28, on Oct. 19, 1987, Black Monday. (I’m an eternal optimist.)

Previous jobs/positions: I worked for my dad, Harry, at my family’s business that my grandfather Barney Miller started in 1922. I started in bookkeeping with my Grandma Bettie, moved to the record department back when they sold 45s, and at 19 I was buying media for the store and doing newspaper and TV ads. That experience with my dad was certainly my kickstart.

Top accomplishment: Transitioning from advertising to more “mindful marketing,” public awareness campaigns that change behavior for the good. We’ve done projects that benefited Fayette County Public Schools, and joined with divisions of Lexington government to make streets safer and our water cleaner. We launched the very first Kentucky Proud campaign for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, helping farmers diversify away from tobacco. It’s been an interesting three decades.

Education: University of Kentucky B.A. in communications/journalism with a minor in economics.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: First was my grandma, Bettie Miller, because she was a businesswoman before there were women in business. And more directly, my father, Harry, taught me the principles of good marketing, how to see things from someone else’s perspective and why it is so important to be civically involved. He showed me how to have fun with life.

What inspires/drives me: It may well be a genetic forward momentum that drives me. I’m inspired by very smart people, who usually have great senses of humor, and the arts, the aesthetic, things like really good design (of any kind).

Hobby/interests/volunteer work:  I’m a regular Martha Stewart; I love to garden and cook and I’m looking forward to entertaining more often. I’ve practiced yoga for about 25 years.  I have served on boards such as the Bluegrass Trust, Spindletop, and the Headley Whitney Museum. I’m serving my second stint on the LexArts Board, working on novel fundraising ideas like Lexington Restaurant Week and Arty Party’s. I’m very proud to serve on the board of The Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

Currently reading and/or recent movie/play/concert attended: “Life of the Party,” a biography of Pamela Churchill Harriman, and for a laugh, “Today Will be Different,” by Maria Semple.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: It was tough in the 1980s to be a young woman starting a business on a wing and a prayer, especially since I was a petite blonde that looked about 16 years old! Persistence, novel ideas and hard work paid off … after the first decade. Being an entrepreneur and starting your own business with no backing is not easy.

My advice to younger women in business: Tenacity cannot be underestimated. There’s almost never one right way to do anything; we all figure it out for ourselves. Surround yourself with interesting people. And start investing now.

TOP-WOMEN_Cindy-FiorellaCindy Fiorella

Title/company: Vice president of workforce and economic development at Owensboro Community and Technical College.

How long at company/position: 25 years at the college, all of which have been in the areas of community outreach and business and industry Services.

Previous jobs/positions: Executive director, Downtown Owensboro Inc.; the Green River Educational Foundation.

Education: Bachelor of Science in education; Master of Arts in organizational communication.

Person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: I was fortunate to serve as the staff representative on the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s inaugural board. Dr. Michael B. McCall and Dr. Keith Bird, president and chancellor, respectively, were two of the most influential individuals I’ve ever known. For six years, I watched transformational leadership in action, as they utilized their considerable skill sets to motivate stakeholders from two disparate systems to create an innovative, responsive postsecondary system that is considered a benchmark institution across the nation. Their legacy for Kentucky lives on in KCTCS.

What inspires/drives me: My workforce solutions team and community partners! I never cease to be amazed by what focused people can achieve together on behalf of their shared “cause.”

Hobby/interests/volunteer work: Since I’m hopelessly drawn to vintage furniture of all eras, my extended family members often draft me to serve as a pseudo interior designer.

My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: Challenges come in all sorts of packages. Some are “good” challenges and can generally be considered an opportunity at hand. Other challenges are “problematic” or distractors. Regardless, I find that plowing through any challenging situation works best for me. If one strategy doesn’t seem work, I like to regroup (often with the counsel or aid of my teammates) and try a new tactic.

My advice to younger women in business: Speak up; then engage! Share your thoughts and ideas on how your organization can meet a challenge or new opportunity, even if others hesitate to do so. Volunteer to take on a project or lead an initiative. Seek out the “doers” who share your passions and values. Then enjoy the process of accomplishing something amazing together. 

Lorie Hailey is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]