Meet the 2022 Smart Women Award honorees

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Making a difference

These Northeast Ohio professionals are leading the way in creating strong organizations
and mentoring up-and-coming women

 

Meet the panelists

The true mark of a pioneer is not just the achievement of crossing a milestone first.

For all the trailblazing women participating in the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards panel this year, breaking the glass ceiling is just a way of removing hurdles to allow more women to succeed. And one thread connects them all — the universal realities of being women in business.

On June 23, these leading ladies will come together to share their triumphs and mistakes, with the goal of inspiring and guiding other businesswomen who have encountered similar struggles.

Margaret Bernstein

This year’s panel will feature Cleveland Clinic Chief Caregiver Officer K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN; The City Mission CEO Linda Uveges; Critical Ops Owner Chelsea Treboniak; and The AKA Team President and CEO Ariane Kirkpatrick. Although they’ve all carved out their own distinct paths in very different industries, these women share a mission of building diverse, inclusive teams where everyone has a voice and an opportunity to grow.

WKYC-TV Director of Advocacy and Community Initiatives Margaret Bernstein will moderate the panel discussion again this year. The Cleveland-based journalist and children’s book author has won several awards for her writing and her commitment to her community. After leading an honest, relatable discussion at last year’s Smart Women Breakfast & Awards, Bernstein can’t wait to hear from this year’s panel.

“I want our attendees to feel the sisterhood in that room and feel encouraged,” Bernstein says, “to understand the many ways that we’re all using our platforms to break down these barriers for those on the outside, and to recognize our shared sense of mission.”

The following pages provide a glimpse into these women’s inspiring stories, and to this year’s Smart Women winners. We hope you will join us for this year’s Smart Women Breakfast & Awards on June 23 to hear more about the challenges they’ve overcome and the changes they’re driving in their companies and their communities. ●

 

K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer, Cleveland Clinic

As chief caregiver officer for the Cleveland Clinic, K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, works to engage the organization’s 70,000 caregivers through the clinic’s unique team-oriented culture.

K. Kelly Hancock

“Promoting a cohesive, team-based culture is a vital part of what I do each day,” says Hancock, who began her career at Cleveland Clinic in 1993 as a nurse associate and most recently served as executive chief nursing officer before stepping into her newly created role two years ago. “Our goal is to operate as one Cleveland Clinic, where every employee lives by our organization’s mission, vision, values and behaviors, no matter the department, facility, or global location.”

To unify tens of thousands of employees across the globe, Hancock aligns caregivers around the shared values that drive the organization. Leaders at every level of the organization consistently communicate the importance of this culture and recognize employees who embody it.

“Recognizing individuals and teams for the work they do and the contributions they make is paramount in team building,” she says. “For example, we recognize caregivers who exhibit our values in their daily work, which strengthens behaviors and creates greater alignment across the health system.”

Although consistent values and standardized operating procedures are key to the Cleveland Clinic’s success, the organization also embraces diversity, with inclusion as one of its core values. Earlier this year, Hancock hired the clinic’s first-ever chief of diversity and inclusion, and recently developed new inclusive leader training that teaches executives how to foster more welcoming teams.

“We know that a more diverse and inclusive workforce promotes creativity, productivity, improved cultural awareness and a more positive employee experience,” Hancock says. “It’s important to engage divergent perspectives because part of building a strong and resilient team is building a diverse team of people who have their own viewpoints and life experiences. When it comes to diversity, our culture demands it, our patients expect it and our future as a world-class organization depends on it.”

For that reason, Hancock’s goal as a leader is to create a supportive, nurturing environment where everyone’s voice is heard — especially since she has faced challenges asserting her own voice and advocating for herself as a female executive. Committed to lifting up and learning from others, Hancock is always looking for ways to pull in other perspectives.

That’s why mentoring is a crucial part of Hancock’s career, and she continues to serve as an executive mentor in Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Nurse Fellowship program and The Academy GE Fellows program, as well as the first enterprise-wide mentoring program that the Caregiver Office just launched. Hancock is also involved with internal networking groups like the Women’s Professional Staff Association and Celebrate Sisterhood at Cleveland Clinic, and other women’s groups in the community, including In Counsel with Women and Cleveland WISE.

“One of the things I enjoy most is inspiring and supporting others — especially my fellow women in business,” Hancock says. “My hope is that attendees walk away from the Smart Women panel discussion with a renewed sense of pride and purpose and a refreshed view of the possibilities that being a woman in business offers.” ●

 

Ariane Kirkpatrick, President and CEO, The AKA Team

Whether running a restaurant, a copy shop, a cleaning service, a construction company, or a cannabis operation, all of Ariane Kirkpatrick’s businesses have one thing in common — teamwork.

“The whole team concept is very important to me,” says Kirkpatrick, a serial entrepreneur who appropriately named her construction company the AKA Team — which stands for her son Ali, her son, Kris, and herself. “That cohesiveness and collaboration of working together is a natural part of me.”

Ariane Kirkpatrick

Although her sons and several other family members are key members of her team, Kirkpatrick jokes that she adopts other employees into the family, too, referring to these extended kin as “bonus sons and daughters.” Regardless of each employee’s last name, she strives to build a family atmosphere by encouraging collaboration and asking for input.

“I want everybody to feel empowered to make suggestions,” says Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of The AKA Team. “This needs to be a place where people feel comfortable and safe to explore the ideas they have.”

To create that inclusive environment, Kirkpatrick is very intentional about promoting diversity within her team. Currently, minorities like herself make up 90 percent of the entire company. While she’s proud of this melting pot, as she calls it, she also recognizes that diversity is more than just a quota.

For example, some construction projects require that a certain percentage of work be contracted to a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) or Female Business Enterprise (FBE) like The AKA Team. But Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to win jobs just because she’s a Black woman with certain acronyms behind her business. And when a contractor recently awarded her firm 1 percent of a project just to hit the minimum diversity requirement, she turned it down.

“We’re not just a Black company,” she says. “We’re a strong, capable construction company that happens to be Black and female.”

Kirkpatrick is constantly proving herself, not just in the male-dominated construction field but also in the emerging cannabis industry. Just days after winning her provisional licenses from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy in 2017, the lawsuits hit, challenging her qualifications in a space typically dominated by bigger companies with deeper pockets.
Finally, after several years in court, Kirkpatrick received her licenses earlier this year to open four Harvest of Ohio dispensaries and a greenhouse called Harvest Grows. With this milestone, she became the first Black female majority owner of a vertically integrated cannabis operation, a company with licenses for growing, dispensing and processing. Then, two weeks after her first store opened, someone painted the N-word on her building.

“You get so tired of the noise,” she says. “I have to have my guard up every day, but it fuels my fire. It makes me so angry that I push to be better. I have to work so much harder to prove that I have the capabilities to do this.”

After all, Kirkpatrick isn’t trying to build the best Black female owned company; she’s trying to build a legacy — not just for her sons, but for all the extended members of her business family.

“Let that fire blaze; let it shine,” she advises other minority leaders. “And make sure you’re pulling and lifting people up with you along the way. Who wants to be a single rose and not a bouquet?” ●

 

Chelsea Treboniak, Owner, Critical Ops

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving in the U.S. Army for six years, Chelsea Treboniak wanted more opportunities to serve. So, she launched Critical Ops in 2011 to help companies in highly regulated industries digitize their legacy systems, modernize their businesses and protect their critical infrastructure.

“Across the board, we look at eliminating waste and helping create efficiencies,” she says.

Chelsea Treboniak

By focusing on three key pillars of people, processes and technology, her firm offers a range of services that include strategic planning, value stream mapping, automation and app development. As an early adopter of business modernization, Critical Ops has operated remotely since the start — an intentional decision Treboniak made after her military career moved her across five states in fewer than 10 years. Now that remote work is more common, she says other companies are finally realizing the advantages — as well as the challenges — that accompany a virtual workplace.

“The way to really make it all work and create a cohesive team environment is to identify the way people learn and lead,” she says. “We always start with a baseline assessment to understand who a person is. We look at different behavior styles in learning and leadership, making sure that all angles are considered.”

Employee engagement is also a critical component of business continuity and scalability. By encouraging collaboration and interaction, Treboniak builds a strong team that’s prepared for growth and to meet other challenges.

“Coming from the military mindset — and this may sound a bit morbid — but you’ve always got to have your second-in-command prepared to take command,” Treboniak says. “If you’re not actively grooming your next person or putting a code in place to automate what you’re doing, you’re preparing to fail.”

Along the way, Treboniak embraces the individual talents within her team as she fosters an environment where employees can explore both personal and professional development. Giving employees ownership, even over small decisions, strengthens the company as a whole.

“When people have buy-in into anything, and it can be the smallest of changes, they tend to want to have it succeed,” she says. “So, if you give them that opportunity to collaborate, and they create the milestones to meet that objective, they automatically have buy-in into the grander mission and vision, and it becomes a win-win. Folks are happier, morale increases, while at the same time, as a company, you’re meeting those objectives.”

Treboniak equates it to a sport like diving, for which she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, both at her high school and at West Point. Although diving is an individual sport, every point she scored carried over to the collective team. That type of teamwork mentality, she says, is critical to her firm’s success.

Driven by this team spirit, Treboniak loves nurturing and learning from others, which is why she looks forward to events like the Smart Women Breakfast and Awards, “where women are coming to learn and lead together,” she says. “If we let down our guard and are open to opportunity, open to improvement and willing to learn, those are the times when we make the greatest gains.” ●

 

Linda Uveges, CEO, The City Mission

When Linda Uveges started volunteering at The City Mission nearly 20 years ago, she never dreamed that she’d one day become its CEO. Back then, she was a stay-at-home mom with five kids when she heard that the local nonprofit organization was opening a shelter called Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center and decided to get involved.

After volunteering for a few years, Uveges joined the staff in 2005, serving in roles ranging from front-desk security to cook. Then, when the manager of Laura’s Home retired, the CEO asked Uveges to take her place while earning her nonprofit administration degree from Cleveland State University through The City Mission’s tuition reimbursement program. When she earned her master’s, Uveges moved into the role of COO, which she held for six years until the previous CEO retired last year.

Linda Uveges

“I didn’t seek to climb any ladder,” Uveges says. “I just wanted to serve where God would want me to serve.”

Working in a variety of roles over the years prepared Uveges to lead the organization, which also operates Crossroads Men’s Crisis Center and other programs that empower people to overcome homelessness.

“Having served in almost every role gives me a unique perspective of each role at The Mission,” she says. “I understand the challenges that go with these roles, so when I make decisions, I’m always thinking about the impact it’s going to have on each role.”

When transitioning into the CEO position, Uveges sat down with each staff member individually and asked, “What is important to you, and how can I best serve you?” Since then, she has continued the dialogue by hosting “Lunch with Linda” at each campus, giving employees an open forum to ask her anything.

From these conversations, Uveges realized that diversity was a top concern among her staff. In response, The City Mission began a six-month diversity, equity and inclusion training program for every employee through the Cleveland Leadership Center. She says this is just the start of many difficult conversations and changes to build a more diverse organization.

“It’s not just about the color of our skin, but it’s also gender and age and perspective of different life experiences,” she says. “That creates the divergent perspective that we all need.”

Although there are two other women on the leadership team, Uveges is the first female CEO in The City Mission’s 112-year history — a pattern she’s eager to break.

“Collectively, I think women in executive positions face daily reminders that they are not the norm in that position,” Uveges says. “We have to fight against that archaic viewpoint.”

To do that, Uveges emphasizes the importance of supporting other women, whether through weekly women’s study groups with members of her staff, through the resident advisory council she just started for women living at Laura’s Home, or through events like the Smart Women Breakfast & Awards.

“It’s really important that women build each other up instead of competing against one another,” she says. “I want to lift women up and give them a voice, to be able to encourage and include everybody.” ●

 

From our presenting sponsor:

Huntington celebrates the success of small businesses, especially those operated by women

The female businessowners, entrepreneurs, and leaders celebrated by the Smart Women Awards, presented by Smart Business, are part of an exciting and encouraging trend. Huntington is proud to be on the front lines of helping these businesses thrive.

At Huntington, we are dedicated to making people’s lives better, strengthening our communities, and helping businesses reach their potential. We are one of the nation’s top SBA lenders in volume for the past four years, further delivering on our commitment to helping businesses remain strong throughout their entire lifecycle. We continue to lean in on these efforts.

In 2020, Huntington launched its Lift Local Business program. An extension of our SBA offering, this program is designed especially for women-, minority-, and veteran-owned small businesses. And earlier this year, we announced Entrepreneur in Residence Powered by Huntington, connecting with 11 nonprofits in Greater Cleveland to help entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses right here in our backyard.

Huntington is eager to join with these incredible Smart Women Award winners to empower other budding female entrepreneurs and provide them access to the tools needed for success. It is truly an honor for Huntington to be a part of uplifting women-owned businesses through empowering events such as this.

Congratulations to all winners for your well-deserved achievements. ●

 

2022 Progressive Entrepreneur Honorees

Gabrielle Christman, President and CEO, Hunter International Recruiting

In 2006, at the age of 25, Gabrielle Christman started Hunter International Recruiting in her basement. Prior to starting her own company, Christman worked with the Cleveland Clinic and Eli Lilly and saw a need in the market for a staffing firm that specializes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Gabrielle Christman

Under the leadership of Christman as president and CEO, Hunter has seen tremendous growth in a variety of industries. In 2020, the company expanded its office to accommodate the growth of its recruiting, operations and sales team. And in 2021, Hunter’s internal team grew by 71 percent and its client list increased by 131 percent. The Avon-based company has two locations and in 2021 broke ground for a new corporate headquarters, which will enable Hunter to create additional jobs both internally and externally.

Christman is also active outside of Hunter and in 2017 co-founded SPARK, a nonprofit designed to inspire young women to pursue careers in STEM. She was named to Crain’s Cleveland’s 40 under 40 list in 2016 and has spoken to groups about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and shared her formula for increasing DE&I in talent pipelines. ●

 

Nicole Paolozzi, Founder and CEO, On Demand Care Corp., dba OndeCare

OndeCare was born from a need Founder and CEO Nicole Paolozzi felt acutely. More than 20 years ago, as a single mom with a toddler, she dreamed of a service that would drop off a tenured nurse or retired teacher to take care of her daughter while she balanced the demands of her job. Fifteen years later, as her father-in-law’s caretaker, she realized on-demand, in-home care was not just a need for single moms. Traditional solutions generally have little flexibility and charge double what the caregiver earns.

Nicole Paolozzi

OndeCare is the easiest, most flexible solution, fulfilling high-quality, in-home family care for loved ones of all ages and needs, replacing the costly middleman. Through smart technology and proactive support, OndeCare connects families juggling demanding jobs and care of loved ones with thoroughly vetted professional caregivers who are supported and incentivized to provide reliable, high-quality, in-home family care.

Its matching algorithm, based on experience, credentials, rates, availability and reliability, generates short lists of real-time matches for any need and schedule, and its bidding system instantly drives efficient negotiations of rates and schedules. Finally, automation provides back-up options and concierge-level personal support, driving the highest booking conversions and satisfaction. ●

 

Anna Dey, Franchisee, Business Owner, and Non-Profit Creator/Director, Clean Eatz, Smoothie King, The Yard on 3rd and The 24 in 24

Anna Dey, a franchisee of Clean Eatz, Smoothie King, The Yard on 3rd and The 24 in 24, began her journey in entrepreneurship in 2012, opening her first Anytime Fitness franchise with her father. He invested, and she operated the facility for eight years, earning multiple national awards in the 4,500-plus unit concept.

Anna Dey

Once financially capable of taking on a project independent of an investor, Dey in 2018 opened Clean Eatz, a prepackaged meal prep and healthy restaurant franchise, complementing the Anytime Fitness brand. Clean Eatz earned the Rookie of the Year designation and operates as one of the top three revenue-generating stores in the 75-plus unit chain.

In 2020, Dey and her husband signed a franchise agreement to open two drive-thru Smoothie Kings. The first opened in January 2021, the second in August 2021. Most recently, Dey opened a second Clean Eatz location in Westlake, and next concept is The Yard on 3rd in Willoughby, an outdoor food truck park.

In 2015, Dey also created The 24 in 24, with runners running one mile, on the hour, every hour, for 24 consecutive hours to raise funds for children battling life-threatening illnesses. ●

 

2022 Progressive Organization Honorees

American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

The American National Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton on May 21, 1881, and by 1882, the U.S. ratified the Geneva Conventions, laws that, to this day, protect war-wounded soldiers and civilians in conflict zones.

This later resulted in a U.S. congressional charter, officially recognizing Red Cross services. Barton served as Red Cross president for 23 years, retiring in 1904. Today, her legacy lives on, reflected in the spirit of Red Cross volunteers and employees, bringing help and hope across the nation and around the world.

Gail McGovern has served for 12 years as CEO of the National Red Cross and has been instrumental in ensuring that leadership roles are balanced by qualified men and women and has helped start resource groups such as the Women’s Resource Group, which hosts virtual meetings, book clubs and coffee conversations. The work of the American Red Cross can be measured by the thousands of families it supports during times of disaster, the thousands of units of blood it collects to save lives and the thousands of training services such as first aid/CPR and emergency communications it provides for members of the Armed Forces.

The Northern Ohio chapter is led by CEO Mike Parks. ●

 

Girl Scouts of North East Ohio

Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, led by CEO Jane Christyson, builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. Its premiere project is the STEM Center of Excellence, whose building is scheduled to open in Peninsula in fall 2023. The future of the economy of America and Northeast Ohio lies in STEM-related businesses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), yet opportunities for STEM education are limited. Women make up more than 47 percent of the workforce but hold less than 28 percent of STEM jobs, some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs in the community. Girl Scouts is working to close that gap and fill the talent pipeline with women by engaging youth in Northeast Ohio.

Recently, GSUSA launched new programming that includes new STEM and Outdoor badges, and badges in Cybersecurity, Automotive Engineering, and Space Science. This Girl Scout programming builds girls’ skills and encourages their interest in STEM from an early age.

In addition, the council is collaborating with educators throughout Northeast Ohio to allow its new facility to impact a larger group of boys and girls, not just members of Girl Scouts. ●

 

Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio

Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio, led by President and CEO Anne Richards, supports women across the 10 counties it serves. Goodwill is a proven social enterprise that works closely with other nonprofit agencies and community businesses to prepare people for stable career options and, in turn, a more productive and sustainable way of life. Revenue from its retail stores helps Goodwill provide people with the life-changing, skill-building programs and services needed to remove common barriers to good jobs. In 2021, Goodwill impacted the lives of thousands of residents.

Last year, more than 14,000 people were served through Goodwill’s 28 mission programs, which provide vital services including job training for people with disabilities or other barriers to employment, family strengthening programs, hot meal sites, emergency services and much more. Although Goodwill services are open to all, 52 percent of participants are women. Three key programs that particularly impact women are COMPASS Rape Crisis, emergency vouchers for Goodwill stores and its Parenting Program.

Through March of this year, 95 percent of participants reported satisfaction with their program, and 81 percent reported goal achievement. ●

 

The City Mission

Linda Uveges, CEO at The City Mission, is a Cleveland native who exhibits unwavering support and affection for the city, wishing for all who live here to flourish. She arrived at The City Mission as a volunteer 17 years ago and became a staff member in 2005. Since then, she has served in various roles, including security, food service, program management, COO and, since April 2021, CEO.

Uveges is the first woman to hold this position in The City Mission’s 112-year history and is highly sought after as a voice of authority on issues relating to homelessness in Cleveland. She has positively impacted residents, staff, board members and community leaders alike and understands the joys, struggles, barriers and triumphs of both residents and staff.

She met and spent time with every board and staff member in her first 100 days as CEO and has created a strong and uplifting workplace culture, caring for staff and empowering them as they work to continue offering comprehensive services to residents.

In addition to basic needs, women residing at Laura’s Home are provided resources including individualized case management and courses, referrals to community partners for wraparound services and one-on-one financial and workforce coaching. ●

 

2022 Progressive Woman Honorees

Carmen Verhosek, Partner, AlerStallings

Carmen Verhosek is a partner at the AlerStallings law firm in its Westlake office, where she has a concentration in estate planning, with a particular passion for elder care. In 2020, she found an opportunity at AlerStallings, which spoke to her passion about educating clients of the importance of estate planning and elder care. Within four years of practicing law and two years at this firm, she rose from an associate to senior associate and was named partner in early 2022.

Carmen Verhosek

Verhosek is first-generation college in her family. Of Puerto Rican descent, she didn’t know English until age 6, when she began transitioning from Spanish to mastering English. After graduating college, worked as a paralegal for nearly 20 years before committing to becoming a lawyer.

Verhosek is passionately engaged in her community, serving as president of the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development and as a board member for the Pro Bono Committee of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and Kendal at Oberlin. She also serves on panels and attends events for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the Norman S. Minor Bar Association, the C-M Law Black Law Students Association and the Hispanic Law Student Association. ●

 

Elaine Tso, CEO, Asian Services in Action Inc. (ASIA)

Elaine Tso serves as CEO of Asian Services in Action Inc. (ASIA), where she leads the largest health and social services agency in Ohio, focused on addressing the needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, immigrants and refugees, helping them to prosper and flourish.

Elaine Tso

This community is vulnerable because of their limited English proficiency, a community that ASIA serves, supports and advocates for. Tso supervises a leadership team responsible for direct health and social services, policy advocacy, capacity building, community engagement and special projects. She also ensures compliance of the requirements for ASIA’s International Community Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center.

As an engineer, she saw a gap between technical knowledge or a willingness to understand a different topic area and those who litigate cases involving technical issues, so she went to law school. After becoming an attorney, she volunteered at ASIA, which invited her to teach Know Your Rights classes and take on pro bono cases until it hired her. Despite the challenges she has faced, Tso is proud to be an Asian, female attorney who advocates for those who might not have the words to speak for themselves. ●

 

K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer, Cleveland Clinic

K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, has spent her nearly 30-year professional health care career blazing a trail. Her competencies, capabilities and steadfast leadership have led her to where she is today, serving in a first-of-its-kind

K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN

executive leadership position at Cleveland Clinic. As chief caregiver officer, she is responsible for the oversight of Cleveland Clinic’s 70,000-plus U.S. and international employees. She leads the clinic’s HR, workforce strategies, nursing, HR services and talent management teams. Her focus is on unifying and aligning all aspects of caregiver engagement and workforce needs and experience to create a best-in-class workplace and enable superior patient care delivery across the globe.

Hancock has led a diverse and fulfilling career, starting out as a nurse associate, a student nurse role that provided the foundation for her journey up the career ladder. Several key things have helped her get to where she is today, including hands-on experience, support from those who believed in her and a commitment to hard work. Above all, however, she says the greatest impact on her career journey has been her willingness to challenge herself, face obstacles head-on and take advantage of opportunities — both expected and unexpected. ●

 

Sonia Winner, President and CEO, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Sonia Winner, president and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, partners with a 50-person board of directors and 120 staff members to advance the mission of the museum. For 100 years, it has been inspiring a passion for science and nature and ranks among the top 10 natural history museums in the United States in terms of endowment, size of collection and attendance.

Sonia Winner

Through its transformation project and $150 million Transforming the World of Discovery campaign, Winner is spearheading a complete reimagining of the museum’s complex in a way that highlights the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. This dynamic reinvention will pioneer a new model for natural history museums globally.

Previously, Winner was acting director of the museum after joining the team as chief development officer, and she serves as vice chair on the board of Visitors Committee for Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.

Winner was the first person in her family to attend college and attain an advanced degree, and when her goals seemed unattainable, she persevered because of her father’s advice — “Work hard and believe that, no matter what your circumstances, you can achieve great things.” ●

 

Christine Eichmuller, CPA, Director, Corrigan Krause CPAs and Consultants

Christine Eichmuller, CPA, joined Corrigan Krause CPAs and Consultants in 1999 as an intern and remembers meeting employees who had been in the accounting industry for years. She thought she’d never make it that long, but 23 years later, not only is she still in the industry, she’s a director in the Tax department and leads the internship program at Corrigan Krause.

Christine Eichmuller

Eichmuller has overcome obstacles in her years as an accountant and mentor and has persevered through multiple life-altering milestones to achieve her goals and help others achieve theirs. As an intern, she worked with mentors who helped her realize accounting goes beyond filing tax returns to helping clients by building relationships with them and guiding them through strategic tax strategies to achieve their goals.

It was exceptionally challenging to start a family, work full time and study for the CPA exam, and the leaders at Corrigan Krause recognized her dedication and potential, supporting her path to earning her CPA license by covering tuition for a CPA review course. Since then, she’s learned that her focus, determination and humor not only help her through challenging situations but that she can leverage those skills in mentoring new accountants. ●

 

Fran Belkin, Author/Producer, Rock This Town! / Francine and Jules Belkin Philanthropic Fund

“Get a sitter, not a divorce!” That advice from Fran Belkin’s pediatrician changed her life. In 1972, her husband’s business was producing rock concerts, and Belkin helped backstage at the World Series of Rock at Cleveland Stadium. From then forward, she worked at Belkin Productions, doing whatever needed to be done, including payroll, HR, moving the company to computers, yearly holiday cards, office design, organizing parties and providing gifts for bands.

Fran Belkin

In 2018, she wrote “Rock This Town!” about the history of the company and of Cleveland when it was the epicenter of rock music. In 2001, Belkin Productions was sold to what is now Live Nation, and Belkin — an author, film maker and philanthropist — joined the board at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she has been active ever since. She also took a class to better understand the student experience and be a more effective board member. In 2016, she was honored with the Burchfield Award for Service.

Next she got a studio in Little Italy and, with a friend, had a design for a guitar accepted into Guitarmania, a public art project initiated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. ●

 

Liz Todia, Principal, Mutual Capital Partners

Liz Todia joined Mutual Capital Partners directly after graduating from Dayton University in 2016. While at Dayton, she cold called to ask about an internship prior to her senior year. Her improvisational skills and leadership of the Dayton Flyer Investment Fund clearly differentiated her from the numerous intern candidates the firm had interviewed over the past 15 years. After a productive summer, the company offered Todia full-time employment starting the following summer.

Liz Todia

She has since grown steadily internally and externally. After her second year, she was promoted to associate and, two years later, to principal. In that time, she has served on leadership boards for JumpStart, the Crotty Center at Dayton, the Medtech Launch Fund and VentureNext, an organization she co-founded that counts over 100 venture funds representing over $10 billion in assets interested in Midwest entrepreneurs and start-ups and is Mutual Capital Partner’s board representative for Redi.Health.

Todia manages Mutual Capital Partners’ fund watch list, which includes nearly 100 companies that fit the company’s criteria but are likely too early for its capital. Through monthly and quarterly updates, she has developed a close mentorship with many of the founders and has helped companies achieve financing through introductions via VentureNext. ●

 

Dalithia Smith, Senior vice president, chief human resources officer, Oatey Co.

Dalithia Smith has always had a drive to learn more, do more, grow and advance. Her never-ending quest for new knowledge and challenges has been her impetus for advancement, which she credits to one of her career goals — earning the position of chief human resources officer at Oatey Co., an organization that’s a leader in its industry. The path to the C-suite consisted of smooth terrain, twists and turns, and hills and valleys that instilled in Smith a true appreciation for every experience.

Dalithia Smith

As a young professional, she accepted a role at a banking institution as a trainee. Her excitement was dampened when her manager did not support her pursuing her MBA, which was approved at the time of offer. The manager told her she would not allow her to attend school, assuming she would cancel her enrollment. Instead, she resigned.

Since then, Smith has pushed through her fear of asking for roles she wasn’t always qualified for and landed a role in human resources, beginning her successful career in HR. Despite facing challenges, she has remained positive, feeding her mind and fostering relationships with those who encouraged her. ●

 

Jessica Jung, President, Oswald Cos.

A seasoned professional and highly respected leader in the insurance industry, Jessica Jung lives her core mission of leading and inspiring others toward achieving success. As president of Oswald Companies, she is responsible for the oversight of all business units and has been in the insurance industry for 23 years. Jung’s experience in various areas of the industry make her uniquely qualified to lead innovative strategic initiatives that add a differentiated value to the clients and employee-owners she passionately serves.

Jessica Jung

Jung’s leadership at Oswald is highlighted by the execution of innovative risk programs, processes and key hires that have revolutionized the Oswald client experience. Having restructured and scaled operations, including the establishment of vertical practice growth strategies, she continues to lead key initiatives within the firm’s strategic plan.

Women in the insurance industry have historically faced challenges in achieving qualified leadership positions, closing wage gaps and gaining a voice at the leadership table. From early in her career, Jung faced these challenges head on, quickly advancing into leadership roles and, through her actions and example, serving as both an advocate and mentor to women in her workplaces and throughout her business networks. ●

 

Allison McMeechan, Shareholder, Reminger Co. LPA

As a shareholder at Reminger Co. LPA, Allison McMeechan serves as the founding chair of Reminger’s Elder Law and Special Needs Planning Practice Group and as a leader in its Estate and Trust Administration Practice Group. She is a leader in the firm, the legal field and the community.

Allison McMeechan

Her commitment to elder law and justice for individuals with disabilities does not stop when she leaves the office. Rather, it is amplified by her board and committee involvement. She serves as a member of Julie Billiart Schools’ Advancement Committee, the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter Walk to End Alzheimer’s Sponsorship Committee, Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Advisory Committee and the board of directors of Milestones Autism Resources. In 2021, she was appointed to the board of Jacob’s Ladder Fitness, a nonprofit organization that focuses on serving the special needs population through regular exercise, fitness and healthy lifestyle education. She often speaks to groups impacted by these issues, and her style and grace bring comfort to her audience members, who are often faced with uncertainty and stress in their lives. ●

 

Nwaka Onwusa, Chief curator and vice president of Curatorial Affairs, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Nwaka Onwusa is chief curator and vice president of Curatorial Affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Prior to joining the Rock Hall, she was a curator at The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live.

Nwaka Onwusa

Onwusa has developed and executed numerous original and memorial exhibits, including “It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage Hope and Empowerment,” “Legends of Rock,” “Woodstock at 50,” “All Eyes on Me: The Writings of Tupac Shakur,” “Jenni Rivera: La Gran Señora,” “Ringo: Peace and Love,” “Bruce W. Talamon: Soul, R&B” and “Funk Photographs 1972-1982: A Love Letter to the Music,” to name a few. Her exhibits have been experienced by museum audiences across the U.S., in the U.K. and in the digital space.

She began her career as an educator and has maintained a commitment to the museum as an inspiring, informative, interactive environment. Her exhibits have explored a great diversity of musical genres and talent and have examined their roles in social, cultural and historical change. “It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope, and Empowerment,” was developed in response to heightened social unrest and the recent conversation over equality. ●

 

Robin Doerschuk, Vice president and general manager, Snip Internet LLC

Robin Doerschuk, vice president and general manager of Snip Internet LLC, works every day to better her organization and community. Doerschuk has grown Snips’ portfolio from four to 25 employees and increased annual revenue by more than 236 percent since joining three years ago.

Robin Doerschuk

In the last year, Snip Internet has expanded from one market to four across the Midwest, from Cleveland to Detroit, Milwaukee/Madison and Columbus. Doerschuk was also instrumental in securing series B funding in Q1 of 2020. And alongside her leadership team, she and Snip completed the company’s first acquisition in 2020, which resulted in revenue growth and expansion of its organic business by 450 percent to over 5,200 active customers.

Snip Internet has grown under Doerschuk’s leadership in all facets of the business, with newly added positions including a CFO, as well as internal promotions of top performers. In addition to revenue growth and attracting investment, she has supported and helped grow company culture, organizing multiple team bonding activities such as company outings, team lunches, team outings and a fantasy football league. She has improved Snip Internet LLC’s portfolio, revenue, company culture, and employee and customer relations. ●

 

Amonica Davis, COO, Harvest of OH & ServiceMaster by Davis

As the legal cannabis industry grows, the rate at which women are entering the industry is declining. However, there are strong women in cannabis who are stellar examples of leadership. Amonica Davis is COO of Harvest of OH & ServiceMaster by Davis. She consistently tells her team that, as business owners and professionals, they should always be

Amonica Davis

thinking about creating solutions. That has always been her mantra since starting her career three decades ago. As a result, she was promoted and assigned leadership roles early on and throughout her career, whether it was in the nonprofit sector, higher education administration, or most recently, in the manufacturing industry.

One of the earlier challenges she faced stemmed from being the youngest manager or leader in a department or organization. The other challenge came from those who undervalued her voice, wisdom and overall impact due to race and gender. Today, she coaches and leads Black and/or females to be excellent at work, to be present at home and to impact their community.

Harvest of OH has 92 percent Blacks in its executive leadership positions, while 62 percent of those in the C-suite are women, as are 68 in its manager leadership teams. ●

 

Emily Delbrocco, HR director, Talent Management, Transtar Industries

Emily Delbrocco is the definition of a progressive woman. In the last 10 years, she has grown from manager of talent management to senior manager of talent management to HR director, Talent Management, at Transtar Industries. Her connection to people and her progressive outlook on what people want in an employer have helped her succeed.

Emily Delbrocco

Delbrocco’s success has spanned four companies in manufacturing and/or distribution as a female in a predominantly male environment. Long before COVID changed the way in which companies operate, her progressive nature centered on employee engagement and empowerment, which influenced her leadership style. She measures her team’s performance in goals and milestones, not in how they log their hours. She lays out an end goal and allows people to draft their own roadmap to reach it.

And when a colleague or member of her team crosses a big milestone or has a bad week, she sends them a gift card or organizes a lunch to foster collaboration and team unity. Delbrocco knows what people want out of an employer and understands the importance of being progressive, pivoting when needed and staying ahead of what is required for attraction and retention. ●

 

Jill Dietrich Mellon, Executive director and CEO, VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System

Jill Dietrich Mellon was born in a rural town in Indiana and grew up with a strong desire to pursue public service. Her father was interested in amateur radio, and at age 5, she became the youngest female to receive an amateur radio license.

Jill Dietrich Mellon

In her pursuit of public service, she has been with VA for more than 14 years and has held progressively higher positions, both permanent and acting, at eight health care systems across the country. As executive director and CEO of VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, one of the largest, most complex healthcare systems in VHA, she provides high-quality, patient-centered care to over 112,000 veterans at 17 locations, spanning 21 counties in Northeast Ohio.

She is a dedicated, proactive change agent who emphasizes establishing productive relationships to drive culture transformation, accountability and positive results, and has a passion for championing innovative ideas that produce measurable results in veteran experience. She established the Dayton VA Veterans Food Pantry in collaboration with the Dayton Food Bank to provide nutritious food and household items to veterans. In two years, they have distributed over 293,000 pounds of food to over 6,300 veterans and families. ●

 

Dione Alexander, President, Village Capital Corp.

When considering colleges to attend for business studies, Dione Alexander carefully selected the university that she believed would best prepare her for a career in corporate banking and investments, a field where women, and in particular, women of color, are largely underrepresented.

Dione Alexander

After graduation, she was accepted into the loan officer training program of one of the top 50 U.S. banks, where her performance earned her the only program assignment to the Corporate Banking department that serviced Fortune 500 companies. There, she was confronted with the realities of navigating gender, race and age dynamics in an industry dominated by older men. Some prospective clients refused to meet with her because they didn’t feel women were well-connected or influential.

With few females in leadership and no male executives willing to mentor her, Alexander found opportunities to network, build partner and client relationships and gain industry knowledge and skills. Her contributions led to successive promotions and allowed her to hire and mentor a more diverse talent pool.

Her early career hurdles led her on a mission to today, as president of Village Capital Corp., to advance equitable lending and economic opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses and organizations that invest in community asset-building. ●

 

Karen DiSanto Johnston, President, W.F. Hann & Sons

Karen DiSanto Johnston serves as president of W.F. Hann & Sons, a residential and commercial heating, cooling and plumbing company serving Northeast Ohio. She joined the company 12 years ago as a controller before being promoted to COO, then president, the first woman president in the company’s 115-year history.

Karen DiSanto Johnston

As an industry, the heating, cooling and plumbing trades are heavily male dominated. DiSanto Johnston is one of a few female executive leaders across her peers, suppliers and vendors, as well as her commercial customers. Her leadership decisions and direction have amplified her company across revenue growth, employee growth to support new clients, employee retention, employee education and training, and employee benefits and incentives.

During her tenure, revenue has increased by 48 percent, and in 2021, W.F. Hann achieved the highest revenue in its history. Her leadership was also instrumental in the company receiving, for the eighth year in a row, the Carrier President’s Award, which recognizes a select few top national distributors of the Carrier product line. In addition, the company has been recognized by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a Top Workplace for eight years, and in 2018, W.F. Hann was a Smart Business Longevity Award recipient. ●

 

2022 Social Impact Award presented by Huntington

Tania Menesse, President and CEO, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

Tania Menesse, president and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, creates positive change and social impact in Greater Cleveland. Menesse does not shy away from challenges but rather faces them directly, employing creative solutions to solve community problems.

Tania Menesse

Menesse positions Cleveland Neighborhood Progress as a leader in the fostering of equitable revitalization of Cleveland’s neighborhoods by strengthening the community development ecosystem. CNP builds capacity among the city’s community development corporations, leads conversations on neighborhood revitalization and placemaking, and creates programs that advance economic opportunities for Cleveland residents. Founded in 1988, CNP serves a unique function as the only local intermediary in the region and has been nationally highlighted as a leader for engaging in best practices in various facets of nonprofit programming.

The organization believes in the central role of cities, neighborhoods and people in place; that race matters; in equity for all people; high-capacity community development corporations; climate resiliency and sustainability and broad-based collaboration; resident empowerment and partnerships; transparent and informed decision-making; access to quality affordable housing, education, and retail, artistic, and cultural amenities; catalytic public and private investments; and advocacy for equitable policies.

As a partner in Huntington’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, Menesse leads Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and its affiliate, Village Capital Corp., to create opportunities for minority and women entrepreneurs. Its Contractors on the Rise program helps startup and scale-up contractors become more involved in construction projects around Cleveland. She is also partnering with Huntington, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and the city of Cleveland to bring the Huntington Entrepreneur in Residence program to Cleveland’s southeast neighborhoods to help entrepreneurs create small businesses in the neighborhood corridors.

Her next project is addressing the decline of Shaker Square and working on a neighborhood-focused strategy to revitalize it.

Prior to joining Cleveland Neighborhood Progress in 2020, Menesse served as Cleveland’s director of Community Development, working on vacant land strategies, revitalizing commercial areas and addressing the city’s lead crisis. She previously served as the director of Economic Development for Shaker Heights.

Throughout her career, Menesse has kept women, minorities and city residents at the heart of her purpose for creating social change. ●

2022 Smart Women Award

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