Meet the 2020 Smart Women Award honorees

Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is pleased to return as Presenting Sponsor of the 2020 Smart Women Breakfast & Awards. As this event becomes virtual this year and we learn how to network differently, its platform to address important issues women face in the workplace and in life is more important than ever.
Despite the distances between us, we proudly celebrate the achievements of leading businesswomen, inspiring male advocates and effective women’s programs through the Smart Women Awards. The impressive list of honorees represents some of our community’s most committed and accomplished women, as well as those supporting women’s leadership. Congratulations to all 2020 winners!
Since 1963, thousands of women have received a Cuyahoga Community College education to secure family-sustaining jobs and thrive in their careers. We are here to help people learn a new skill, re-enter the workforce, or attain a college degree. How we deliver education has changed during these decades, but Tri-C continues to evolve, so that anyone on their career and life journey can find their path to “where futures begin.”
We are proud of Tri-C’s efforts to ensure women are fully included and supported. That support may be as simple as a grant to help with an emergency expense, or purchasing an affordable laptop. It may be an introduction to careers in high-demand industries where women are underrepresented, such as manufacturing, technology, truck driving, or public safety.
That support also comes from inspiring leadership programs:

  • Career achievements and advancements for women of color who participate in the resources, seminars and support offered through the Black Diamonds initiative.
  • The connections to mentors and resources through Black American Council Minority Women’s Leadership Initiative.
  • Plans created and action taken for a brighter future, thanks to the education, training and support from Women in Transition.
  • A forum for networking and professional development created by Network of Women (NOW).
  • Workshops and training available in Cleveland neighborhoods, hosted by three new Access Centers.

The Cuyahoga Community College Foundation is a key partner to Tri-C in its efforts to uplift, advance and empower women. The Foundation makes it possible for students to access a Tri-C education and support services to ensure their success.
Please enjoy the 2020 Smart Women Breakfast & Awards, and join Cuyahoga Community College and the Tri-C Foundation in congratulating all of the winners and showing appreciation for their commitment to our community.

Megan O’Bryan President Cuyahoga Community College Foundation
Alex Johnson, Ph.D. President Cuyahoga Community College


2020 Progressive Entrepreneur Honorees

Cristine Torek
Owner and president, CMT Consulting

Cristine Torek founded CMT Consulting in 2009 to offer marketing and advertising solutions to a wide range of clients in the B2B and B2C sectors. Torek and her team have immeasurable industry knowledge and years of experience in both traditional and digital advertising.
Under her stewardship as founder and president, CMT has generated revenue growth of 210 percent over the past four years. She has cultivated a female-owned business that promotes women in the industry and provides flexible work arrangements that support women in her organization.
Torek has a proven track record of driving integrated media campaigns in a variety of industries and has helped many clients see and unlock the power of digital advertising to achieve their objectives. Her 10-plus years of experience in the television industry gives her a distinct perspective on how to leverage media partners for clients.
She has built an impressive network of professionals and industry experts who help CMT uniquely position services with partners and clients, extend campaign reach and maximize client budgets. The consulting firm’s work is engrained in research, so that its team can truly understand its customers and how to best engage with them.
Torek also gives back to her community by serving on the board of Providence House and Womankind. ●

Diane Jarrett
Director of Special Projects, Jarrett

In 1998, Diane Jarrett and her husband, Mike, had a vision for a transportation and shipping company.
While Mike continued to work at Caliber Logistics, Diane opened and ran their first shipping retail store, PackShip. Moving from a nursing career, she made a drastic shift out of her comfort zone to start a successful retail business from scratch. She, with her two girls by her side, ran the day-to-day operations and collaborated with Mike on overall strategy. Eventually, Mike left Caliber and they began Jarrett Logistics
Together, they have grown the business into a fleet repair and maintenance center; a warehousing business vertical; opened CrossFit Orrville; opened Zephyrs Fitness; and started two restaurants, Old Carolina Barbecue and Baja West Coast Kitchen.
Diane has worn many different hats in the organization. After opening PackShip, she became a CrossFit trainer and now heads up operations for both restaurants.
Diane is the driver behind Jarrett’s company culture. She has been an integral part of creating an environment where employees feel cared about and are given opportunities for growth. She was a major contributor to “The Jarrett Difference,” a campaign based on the belief that the company’s people are the core of its business and success. ●

Teressa Doaty
Canine executive officer, Max & Alayna’s Paws Play Ltd.

Teressa Doaty is a business student turned Air Force veteran turned entrepreneur in her hometown of Cleveland.
Her dog, Alayna, was the inspiration for Max & Alayna’s Paws Play Ltd., followed by her drive to start her own business in an underserved community, downtown Cleveland. While there are other pet care facilities in the area, there is only one in the heart of downtown Cleveland, a community that she wanted to be a part of, support and grow within.
Taking general services such as daycare, boarding and grooming for dogs and putting a 5-star spin on them has earned Max & Alayna’s Paws Play Ltd. a perfect Google rating. Paws Play provides a small, intimate environment where dogs find their fit and flourish in the enrichment programs offered. It has a niche that is not widespread and was created solely by Doaty to cater to the dogs, and humans, of the community.
Doaty attributes her drive and success to her willingness to remain flexible and persevere. Her military background gives her a foundation of discovery and the ability to conquer challenges. Working in a male-dominated maintenance field in corporate America gives her the savvy and understanding of business practices. The smiles on the dogs’ faces and the trust and joy of their families keep her going. ●

Kristie Beck
CEO, Proformex

Kristie Beck’s 20-plus years of experience as a professional spans a variety of positions at both large and small companies in many industries. From supply chain logistics to life insurance, she has proven herself and her work to be exemplary.
Her colleagues and peers know her best for her one-of-a-kind work ethic, her unparalleled relationship-building skills and her unique ability to make really hard work look easy.
After graduating college, Beck took the position of supply chain manager at a large commercial airline. She was not only the youngest member of the team, but nearly all of her co-workers doubled her in age and experience, and it was a male-dominated environment. To bridge the gap, Beck came to work early and spent that first hour with the aircraft engineers in the hangar, gaining their trust and respect.
She continued taking on more senior roles within the organizations she worked for and made it a priority to learn from others. Then, she connected different parts of the organization to offer a more cohesive strategy for the company. By learning how individual departments work, it’s much easier to bring everyone together and unite them around a common goal — and that’s a huge component of what got her to where she is today as the CEO of
Proformex. ●

Ariane Kirkpatrick
CEO and president, The AKA Team

Ariane Kirkpatrick is owner and president of The AKA Team, a multifaceted company that includes AKA Construction Management Team, AKA Team Commercial Cleaning, AKA Team Waterproofing and AKA Team Safety and Environment.
She attributes her success to the company tagline, Always Known As … the Team you can depend on by concentrating on details. Entrepreneurship was ingrained in Kirkpatrick at an early age when, in 1969, as a 5-year-old, she boycotted a McDonald’s with her family because African-Americans were banned from owning franchises.
She attempted several businesses, from a copy and printing business, to a restaurant and residential rehab business. In between times as a business owner, Kirkpatrick was chief of housing for the City of Warrensville Heights Building Department.
Her dream was always to go into business with her family, which was realized in 2007 when her sister and brother-in-law became franchise owners of ServiceMaster by Davis. In 2009, she started The AKA Team, which has worked on projects including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Medical Mart Convention Center, Flats East Bank, CMHA Administration Building and many more.
Kirkpatrick is very involved in the spirit of community and an active member of St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima, Presidents’ Council Foundation, Construction Employers Foundation and the 11th Congressional District Caucus. ●

Mary Verdi-Fletcher
President and founding artistic director, The Dancing Wheels Co. & School

Mary Verdi-Fletcher was born with spina bifida, a devastating prognosis at the time. But despite the physical and attitudinal barriers of being in a wheelchair, she wanted to dance.
Inspired by her mother, a professional dancer, and her musician father, she wasn’t going to let her disability deter her. In 1980, she and her nondisabled partner entered the “Dance Fever” competition without disclosing she would perform in her wheelchair and got a standing ovation.
Her determination led Verdi-Fletcher to found The Dancing Wheels Co. & School in Cleveland in 1980 to employ professionally trained dancers with and without disabilities. In the first year, she and her troupe presented more than 72 performances. Ten years later, they joined forces with the Cleveland Ballet to create Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels, a unique co-venture for a major ballet company that continued for nearly a decade.
Forty years later, the company employs 10 professional dancers with and without disabilities and is traveling the globe performing, advocating disability awareness and entertaining children and adults with and without disabilities.
Since its founding in 1980, Verdi-Fletcher and The Dancing Wheels Co. have reached audiences of over 5 million people with school assembly programs, workshops, residencies and main stage concert performances worldwide. ●

Kym Sellers
President, The Kym Sellers Foundation

Millions tuned in to hear Kym Seller’s charismatic, up close and personal style. More than a radio personality, listeners of the Quiet Storm on 93.1 FM WZAK, Cleveland’s R&B leader, had in her a friend and confidant.
Sellers is a fierce competitor who takes no short cuts. Her broadcasting career spanned more than two decades.
She made her radio debut in college and worked for a TV station in Seattle. Then, in 1992, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while working in Michigan. However, this didn’t stop her from blazing new trails. In 1994, she was recruited to Ohio join the top-rated morning drive-time show, helping the show and station reach No. 1.
By 1996, Sellers lost the use of her limbs but, fueled by passion and fierce determination, continued her career; for more than two decades, she maintained the No. 1 spot against her competitors.
In 2000, she founded The Kym Sellers Foundation (KSF), the mission of which is to provide outreach, awareness and education to individuals with multiple sclerosis and their families, and to have a meaningful effect and significant positive impact on their quality of life. KSF’s mantra is, “Living Strong, Fighting Long, Til’ MS is Gone!” For more than 20 years, she has encouraged and supported thousands of individuals affected by MS. ●

April Thompson
Executive chef and owner, Wild Thymez Personal Chef Service

April Thompson, executive chef and owner of Wild Thymez Personal Chef Service, has always danced to the beat of her own drum. Although born and raised in Cleveland, she knew her ambition would take her further than she could ever imagine as she lives her dream of being a chef, traveling and helping others.
While balancing being a personal chef for high-profile professionals, top players in the NFL, NBA, MLB and entertainment personalities, she also authored three cookbooks and has linked up with others in the culinary industry to start a mobile cooking service, The Culinary Mafia.
Thompson is a recurring guest chef personality on a variety of cooking and sports programs. She is also a keynote speaker, filling seminars at NASA, colleges and health and wellness events around the world. In addition, she was the first African-American chef featured in the Quicken Loans/Aramark Launch Test Kitchen for the 2017 NBA Playoffs and Finals.
She is an Inaugural Council Committee member for Cleveland Eats Culinary Festival and holds a seat on the Advisory Committee for the Cuyahoga Community College Hospitality Management Program, where she is also a chef partner.
Thompson also founded Shoulder To Shoulder, which provides healthy weekly meals for the less fortunate, sponsors families and shelters during the holidays and provides nutrition-based education for inner-city children. ●

2020 Progressive Organization Honorees

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Sonia Winner is president and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where she partners with a 50-person board of directors and 160 staff members to advance the mission of the museum. The museum has been inspiring a passion for science and nature in visitors for nearly 100 years.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is undergoing a revolutionary transformation to achieve its vision and create a lasting legacy, while making Cleveland a center for scientific learning by creating leading-edge research facilities. The museum will feature immersive gallery installations and unprecedented educational initiatives, and is reimagining its impact for local, national and global audiences.
At the same time, Winner seeks to build upon the museum’s efforts to support women, educate children and adults, and encourage girls to explore careers in science.
Winner works every day with staff, trustees and volunteers to continue to make the museum an international and community treasure, while giving the community the tools to make informed choices about our shared future through immersion in science. The museum’s core mission, led and enforced by Winner, is to inspire a lifetime of discovery through science and education, a mission that she says has never been more important. ●

Hunter International

Gabrielle Christman, founder and CEO of Hunter International — a national STEM-focused recruiting firm — is a distinguished advocate for women in the workplace. Inside and outside of the office, she has made it her priority to lift other women up.
Hunter International has been certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council for over a decade. Christman represents The Ohio River Valley region on the National Council for Women Business Enterprise as a National Forum and NCBF Host Committee member, advocating for women-owned businesses to national corporations and government entities.
She was recognized in 2017 as the Ohio River Valley’s Women in Business Advocate of The Year and received the B2B Award in 2018 and 2019 for Hunter’s internal supplier diversity efforts, making spending with women and minority-owned businesses a priority. She was recently named a 2020 WBE Star by WBENC, the nation’s premier recognition for excellence among women-owned businesses.
Christman is passionate about cultivating diversity and inclusion in her own organization. In 2019, Hunter joined Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders, board members and academics committed to addressing the corporate leadership gap and reaching gender parity in executive leadership teams by 2030.
Looking ahead, she plans to continue her work empowering women in the workplace and girls in STEM. ●

2020 Progressive Woman Honorees

Shelly Cayette
Vice president, Global Corporate Partnerships, Cleveland Cavaliers

Shelly Cayette serves with the Cleveland Cavaliers organization as vice president, Global Corporate Partnerships. She previously worked at the company as vice president, Partnership Marketing & Strategy. In that role, she was responsible for leading the team that manages sponsorship relations with local and national companies involving marketing, advertising, media, promotional activation, digital, community interests and hospitality.
Prior to this position, she served as a director with the New Orleans Hornets, where she oversaw all of the organization’s community outreach initiatives, including corporate partnership programs, team marketing initiatives and sponsorship sales. She has extensive experience with brand image and marketing.
Outside of her job, she works to give back to the community. She has previously served on the boards of the Salvation Army, Café Hope, Knowledge First Foundation and Greater New Orleans Inc. She currently serves on the advisory board for Achievement Centers for Children with Disabilities and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. She is a member of Women in Sports and Events and Black Sports Professionals, and is avid about initiatives that focus on the economic growth of the Greater Cleveland area.
A native of Louisiana, Cayette graduated from Tulane University A.B. Freeman School of Business.●

Ann Frangos
Trustee, Cuyahoga Community College

Ann Frangos currently serves on the Cuyahoga Community College Board of Trustees.
She retired from AT&T in 2013 as an assistant vice president responsible for accounts receivable management for commercial accounts worldwide. She oversaw seven call centers across the United States and international centers in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and India. She also served as director of human resources with AT&T, where she directed Equal Employment Opportunity and affirmative action programs.
Frangos spent more than 36 years in the telecommunications industry in a variety of roles before her retirement, including positions in credit and collections, finance, accounting, operations, budgeting, long-range planning and operations research. Prior to entering the corporate world, she taught high school math.
Frangos holds a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Baldwin-Wallace College (now Baldwin Wallace University) and a master of science degree in mathematics from Cleveland State University.
Her involvement in the community includes positions as chair of the YWCA Greater Cleveland Board of Directors and treasurer of the philanthropic Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society of Rocky River. She is a past board member of In Counsel with Women, a Northeast Ohio network of female executives. ●

Linda Lanier
Assistant professor/Counseling & Psychological Services, Cuyahoga Community College

Linda Lanier serves as assistant professor/Counseling & Psychological Services at Cuyahoga Community College. Her seemingly effortless ability to connect with others is what led this former bank teller to become a licensed social worker and counselor.
Lanier enrolled at the University of Akron after graduating from East Cleveland’s Shaw High School, and after floundering, switched her major from nursing to social work.
In her position as assistant professor at Tri-C, she is especially passionate about supporting African-American women and girls in their rise to success. To that end, Lanier spearheaded the Black Diamonds Initiative, which guides women of color toward well-paying careers that match their personal interests and strengths. Through Black Diamonds, she aims to spread awareness of career options beyond stereotypically feminine roles. Now in its third year, the initiative includes an annual two-day conference, a mini-conference and a variety of events focused on career development, educational opportunities, health and wellness, and financial empowerment.
Lanier is currently working with a small group of colleagues to start 2Gen, an educational support program for mothers and daughters at the college, which allows girls to take College Credit Plus courses on campus while their mothers get their GED or complete a certificate program. ●

Denise A. Carkhuff
Partner, Private Equity Practice, Jones Day

Being a successful female lawyer in a male-dominated profession has not come without challenges for Denise A. Carkhuff, partner, Private Equity Practice, Jones Day. She leads the firm’s Private Equity Practice worldwide.
But instead of thinking about the obstacles, she focused on her personal business plan and the attributes that were her most powerful tools for success — creativity, collaboration, patient persuasion, organization and creative thinking — and used them to become undeniable to most. She also recognized her weaknesses and aligned herself with people who had strengths in those areas.
She has worked as an M&A lawyer at Jones Day for 25 years and was admitted to partnership more than 15 years ago after finding mentors and supporters within the firm who helped and valued her. Now she finds fulfillment in helping others.
She helped organize, and later led, “Women in Transactions,” a networking group for women who are active contributors to the deal transaction process. She also co-founded RRAIN, Jones Day’s Cleveland women’s group, which organizes programming internally for female attorneys and externally for female clients.
In addition, leveraging her negotiation and business skills, she founded Adrenaline Monkey, an indoor adventure center with experiences for people of all ages, genders and fitness levels. ●

Fleur Veldhoven
Vice president of marketing, Nestlé Professional

Fleur Veldhoven is vice president of Food Marketing at Nestlé Professional, where she leads a team of marketers, business development managers, PD chefs and culinary services chefs responsible for brands including SWEET EARTH®, MINOR’S®, STOUFFER’S®, CHEF-MATE® and TOLL HOUSE®.
She has been at Nestlé for 14 years in various marketing and business leadership roles, including serving four years in Switzerland leading the Savory foodservice category globally, and has shown demonstrated results in business strategy and planning, B2B and consumer product innovation, and branding, sales and market research.
She grew up in Holland, Switzerland and Belgium, and came to the U.S. for college. After graduation, she earned a position in sales and discovered an interest in business development and marketing. In her current position, she combines her passion for food with her work, giving her the opportunity to support the creativity of chefs and cooks, and have an impact worldwide on the experiences that consumers have with food.
She graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor of arts degree in marketing and economics and from Stanford with an MBA. She previously held positions at American Greetings, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cendant Corp. ●

Cecilia Render
Executive Director, Nordson Corporation Foundation

Cecilia Render serves as executive director of the Nordson Corporation Foundation, based in Westlake, where she manages the Foundation and Corporate Giving programs.
She began her career at the foundation in 1999 as the program officer and worked her way up to the top. Under her leadership, the foundation has focused its giving in the area of education, with the thinking that a more focused approach allows it to have a bigger impact on the communities it serves than it otherwise could.
During her tenure at Nordson Corporation Foundation, grantmaking levels have grown from $2 million per year to $8 million, and 10 of Nordson’s international facilities have adopted giving programs.
Render is actively involved in the Philanthropy Ohio Education Advisory Committee and Corporate Funders group ReacHigher, the Lorain County P-16 council and the STEM education workgroup with the Association of Corporate Contribution Professionals. She has worked as an adviser for Cleveland Scholarship Programs and the Educational Opportunity Program at Cuyahoga Community College. She has also been a part-time instructor at Cleveland State University in the School of Education.
In 2015, she received the Eric Nord Award for Excellence in Leadership, awarded annually by Leadership Lorain County. ●

Beth Tresch
Inside sales manager, Philpott Solutions Group

Beth Tresch started her career at Philpott Solutions Group in 1989 as a receptionist. Her youthful, bright and always positive attitude remains her greatest virtue, which has driven her impressive climb from an entry level employee to one of the most influential managers at Philpott. As inside sales manager, Tresch has a uniquely successful energy in motivating employees to exceed even their own expectations in personal growth and emotional wellbeing.
Since its founding by J. W. Philpott in 1889, its culture has encouraged the career development of every employee, with the goal of always promoting from within. As a result, over time, Tresch’s service in virtually all areas of the company was obvious, and she continues to assist in the selection and training of employees, regardless of the job an employee is taking on. And when there are departures, illnesses or unexpected absences, she ensures continuity, maintaining Philpott’s goal of earning every order from every customer.
Tresch manages Philpott’s sales team from its Brunswick headquarters and closely focuses on critical issues, both personnel and process related, bringing them to successful outcomes.
She is a graduate of Leadership Medina County class of 2012, where she was one of the leaders of the class project, and is highly dedicated to community service. ●

Theresa Carter
President, Synthomer Foundation

Theresa Carter is president of Synthomer Foundation (formerly known as OMNOVA Solutions Foundation), a $27 million endowment supporting local communities. It serves as the primary tool for supporting local communities and encouraging employees to do so.
The foundation’s highest giving priority is education, as staff strives to motivate future leaders and workers to gain the desire, knowledge and career skills required for corporations to succeed and maintain a competitive edge.
Carter’s passion for bringing communities together and creating tomorrow’s leaders is reflected in her role in the foundation, which in 2017 provided nearly $1.5 million in support to educational initiatives, civic investments, health and human services, and the arts. The foundation supports academic levels from kindergarten through 12th grade, colleges and universities, and certain scholastic programs.
Carter leads the organization’s efforts to support specific projects undertaken by nonprofit organizations that enhance community health and welfare, civic projects such as urban renewal, drug and crime prevention and community awareness programs, and those that enrich the arts and promote cultural diversity.
Her purpose-driven mission is to inspire volunteerism and empower others to give back to the community. She is active in her church and serves on a number of nonprofit community boards, advisory councils and committees. ●

Cheryl Strom
Principal, Origination – North America, The Riverside Co.

Cheryl Strom has advanced throughout a 20-year period in finance, from joining The Riverside Co. as an associate, to working her way through the ranks to earn her current role as principal.
In her professional world, she faces head on the challenges that come with finding attractive investment opportunities for a top-performing private equity fund. She applies her optimism to give every new investment opportunity a complete review to ensure no stone is left unturned. This involves developing relationships with advisers and referral sources, and reviewing hundreds of opportunities individually each year, with an eye toward narrowing them down to Riverside’s high standards for company quality and growth opportunity.
Since she advanced to the role of regional director, Origination, and began leading relationships throughout the Midwest to bring in new investment opportunities, Strom has brought in 22 investments that Riverside has closed and originated more than 3,000 investment opportunities for consideration. She was named a principal of the firm in 2019.
In addition to her market-facing responsibilities in Origination, she serves as chief of staff for the North American Origination team, which, among other responsibilities, includes helping mentor and support the development of the team’s coordinators, analysts, associates and interns. ●

Micki Byrnes
President and general manager, WKYC Studios

As president and general manager of WKYC Studios, Micki Byrnes says it’s important to be a real service to the community, and be present, helpful and inspiring so that people feel good, safe and hopeful about living and working in Northeast Ohio.
Byrnes is a businesswoman with heart, a leader who thinks about customers over profits, employees over budgets and the bigger picture over an Excel spreadsheet. With a winning combination of heart and smart, she is one of the most successful general managers in her field as she leads a multimedia operation that’s respected nationwide for the quality of its news and the depth of its social responsibility.
A go-getter attitude has made Byrnes one of only a handful of female general managers and presidents in television and one of the most connected women in Northeast Ohio. And with the pandemic sweeping the nation, she is supporting home-school education, literacy and little free libraries for Cleveland’s low-income communities; local nonprofits impacted by the pandemic, including the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Ohio; and a citywide protective mask campaign for workers on the front lines helping the homeless, sick and disadvantaged.
During this crisis, Byrnes has also partnered with KeyBank and launched a regional LOVELOCAL campaign to help small businesses in Northeast Ohio. ●