Kick-off speaker: Rayona Sharpnack

Founder and president, Institute for Women’s Leadership

How do you define success? Rayona Sharpnack’s defining moment came when she realized she was able to meet Hillary Clinton simply by making a request to the former first lady’s gatekeepers.

As founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, a consulting organization that assists women worldwide in identifying their personal and professional goals, Sharpnack is on a mission to remove the obstacles that limit women from reaching their true potential.

She leads training programs, including “Women Leading Change,” a three-day initiative that works to ensure there is a woman’s voice at every decision-making table around the globe and provides participants with the communications tools to get there.

“For most people, leadership is about what you need to know and what you need to do,” says Sharpnack. “But sells more than 1,000 books that will tell you what you need to know and what you need to do. We work on who you need to be.

“In my classes, I’m going for those ‘Aha’ moments, which really are the ignition and illumination of the genius of the participants themselves. The experience is much more meaningful and relevant than trying to learn someone else’s shtick or methodology for leadership.”

Sharpnack’s career began as a professional softball player for the International Women’s Softball League, where she led a strike against the owners of the San Jose franchise, questioning their business practices. She also realized her childhood dream of becoming a physical education teacher at a time when such a position was unthinkable for a woman. A national Junior Olympic record holder for the longest softball throw, she now plays shortstop for the California Express, a professional women’s senior team.

Sharpnack assists women in creative thinking, enabling them to fulfill their daily commitments. Her visionary “Ready, fire, aim, aim, aim” philosophy strives to empower women who desire a work-life integration by removing barriers.

She has made numerous appearances throughout the United States, Australia, Brazil and Canada, addressing or co-designing tailor-made conferences for up to 500 people. In addition, she has worked extensively with Fortune 500 companies, including Apple Computers, the Gillette Co., Charles Schwab Corp., Hewlett-Packard and Wells Fargo in the advancement of women’s leadership.

The women at Schwab felt the training made such a difference in the company’s competitiveness that they asked Sharpnack to conduct a co-ed version, now a standard part of the company’s human resource training.

“Quite simply, it was a life-changing experience,” says Vivian Groman, senior vice president of finance and corporate administrative technology at Schwab, who completed Sharpnack’s workshop in 1997. “You walk in with a challenge, some mountain that you don’t think you can climb. When you walk out, you’ve built a higher mountain that you know you can climb.”