In The Company Of Leaders
Northeast Ohio professionals encourage, inspire and empower their organizations’ up-and-coming women
Meet the Panelists
From manufacturing facilities and investment firms to hospitals and nonprofits that are over a century old, the women in this year’s Smart Women Breakfast & Awards panel are proving that women can lead companies in any industry, even in fields traditionally dominated by men. On July 20, this panel of female leaders will take the stage to share their career experiences with the goal of encouraging other businesswomen through their professional journeys.
This year’s panel will feature YWCA of Greater Cleveland President and CEO Helen Forbes Fields, Cleveland Clinic Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Jacqui Robertson, Giesecke+Devrient VP of Operations, Americas, Anne Markle, and Kaulig Capital Vice President Brooke Sirak. While they’ve all forged unique paths through very different fields, these women all share a common mission of building up others around themselves to develop strong teams.
Moderating the panel discussion this year is Carmen Blackwell, an Emmy-nominated anchor and reporter who joined WKYC in Cleveland last year. A member of both the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Blackwell will bring her award-winning skills to the Smart Women stage to lead an inspiring conversation packed with valuable insights.
“While I’m thrilled to moderate this year’s Smart Women panel, what I look forward to most is being surrounded by so many women who inspire me, encourage others and embrace the power they have within,” Blackwell says. “Strong, smart women uplift and empower one another. We need more opportunities like these — positive conversation combined with support — from women, for women.”
The following pages offer a glimpse into the powerful stories of this year’s panelists. We hope you’ll join us for the 2023 Smart Women Breakfast & Awards in Cleveland on July 20 to hear firsthand about the challenges these women have overcome, the feats they’ve achieved and the changes they’re making in their companies and their communities. ●
Helen Forbes Fields, President and CEO, YWCA of Greater Cleveland
Although Helen Forbes Fields just became president and CEO at YWCA of Greater Cleveland last year, she says that her entire career has pointed to this position. After 31 years of practicing law, with a focus on discrimination and wrongful discharge cases, followed by six years as general counsel at United Way of Greater Cleveland, Fields has spent decades fighting for justice. Now, those experiences are culminating at YWCA, where she leads the 155-year-old nonprofit organization toward its mission of “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice and dignity for all.”
To achieve this mission, Fields leans on her dedicated team (which is primarily women) and the diverse perspectives they bring to the table.
“We have 105 representatives, and each one adds so much to the organization,” says Fields, a 2021 Smart Women honoree. “To make room for new voices and new ideas and give everyone an opportunity to have a voice about the issues we confront, we’ve widened our circle in meetings so we can all learn from each other.”
Whether learning about a different perspective on a certain issue or mastering a new business skill, Fields promotes continuous learning throughout the organization. As part of this, she’s committed to building up the women around her and giving them opportunities to grow.
Fields has been “very intentional about making opportunities available,” she says, through efforts like “promoting young women, sending young women to leadership programs throughout the city, and involving our emerging leaders in various committees so they can meet other people who are doing wonderful things.”
Compassion and collaboration are key ingredients in the teamwork that drives YWCA toward its mission. Compared to other organizations Fields has worked with, the volume of female voices and the “collaborative nature of women” on her team organically create a more nurturing environment at YWCA. This environment contrasts sharply with the legal field where Fields spent most of her career as one of few females practicing litigation, which “can become very argumentative and contentious,” she says. “There was always constant pressure to be seen, whether it was by the judges or the opposing counsel. You had to demonstrate that you were as strong as anybody else in the room, and that can wear on you after a while.”
In the courtroom, Fields had to prove herself to judges, attorneys, and even clients who expected “a certain personality” because of lawyers depicted on TV. “Early in my career, I had a certain viewpoint of how I was supposed to present myself,” Fields says. “Later on, I realized it’s just about being prepared. Just be your authentic self and enjoy the work you do, and reward will follow.”
By fostering a nurturing, collaborative environment at YWCA, Fields hopes to guide more women toward their authentic potential, both within the organization and throughout the community. Fields looks forward to sharing her insights during the Smart Women panel discussion while learning lessons from the career paths of her fellow female professionals.
“We all need to come together and hear similar stories to know that we’re not alone in our career journey,” she says. ●
Jacqui Robertson, Chief of Diversity & Inclusion, Cleveland Clinic
With more than 77,000 caregivers across 22 hospitals and 275 outpatient facilities worldwide, Cleveland Clinic serves incredibly diverse populations of patients from every U.S. state and 185 other countries. Jacqui Robertson, the Clinic’s new chief of diversity and inclusion, is leading efforts to embrace this diversity and enhance the experience for patients and caregivers throughout the health system.
“We value a culture where caregivers integrate diversity and inclusion throughout the enterprise,” says Robertson, who joined the organization in 2022. “It’s integral in what we do as a global health care leader, so we are focused on creating and sustaining a culture that’s aligned with our values of inclusion and belonging.”
The Clinic’s vision for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) simply states that: “Cleveland Clinic is a place for a person like me.” This intentionally aligns with the organization’s strategic vision “to be the best place for care anywhere and the best place to work in healthcare,” Robertson says. The key to achieving this ambitious vision, she explains, is fostering an inclusive culture where everyone belongs.
“You can focus on diversity all day long,” she says. “But if you’re not focused on maintaining a healthy organizational culture, your diversity initiatives will be short-lived.”
To understand how well the Clinic’s culture aligns with its vision, Robertson relies on metrics to measure progress. For example, the organization conducts an annual “belonging survey” that previously asked employees one simple question: “I feel like I belong at Cleveland Clinic.”
This year, Robertson explains, “We expanded that to include three more questions: My manager makes me feel like I belong, I feel like I belong on my team, and I feel like I can impact another’s sense of belonging,” she says. “Adding those three questions allowed us to drill down to a clearer understanding of the opportunities we have and also where we’re doing well.”
The biggest challenge, Robertson says, is getting everyone to embrace this inclusive culture at every level.
“I’m trying to move forward an agenda that requires a shift in not just minds, but hearts, and that’s a tough thing to do,” she says. “When people come into an organization, they don’t check their beliefs or their mindsets at the door; they bring those with them.”
To overcome the biases inherent in any team, Robertson says leaders need to try understanding divergent beliefs instead of ignoring them.
“You need to focus on understanding others versus being understood,” she says. “That’s a hard thing to do early in your career because you’re out to prove yourself. But at this point in my career, I don’t have anything to prove. I have a lot to accomplish, and that frees me up to focus on the important work. When I stop focusing on me and I focus on trying to understand the other person, then you develop a relationship based on trust.”
Robertson looks forward to sharing these stories with other Smart Women panelists and honorees who have overcome similar biases to accomplish great things.
“It’s an honor to be in the company of great women leaders who have blazed trails that I haven’t even thought about,” she says. “I hope attendees can learn from their journeys, their challenges, and their successes.” ●
Anne Markle; Vice President of Operations, Americas; Giesecke+Devrient
A photo on Anne Markle’s desk shows several operations managers from Giesecke+Devrient on a recent trip to China. Of all 24 pictured, she’s the only woman — and it’s not her first “first” as a female executive.
Early in her career, Markle became the first female athletic director at a school in Washington, D.C., and later became Target’s first female director of loss prevention. Now, as the first female plant manager in North America at German-based G+D, Markle is leading record growth within the U.S. ePayment division, which manufactures and personalizes credit and transit cards, IDs and licenses.
Since joining G+D four and a half years ago as vice president of operations at the Twinsburg facility, Markle has managed a steady “firehose” of constant change — including new equipment, new products, new customers, corporate restructuring and acquisition. The year she joined, the facility manufactured about 60 million cards; this year, they’ll make close to 100 million.
Through all this growth and change, she says the key is transparent communication with her team.
“Beyond just telling people what’s coming, I believe in explaining the why,” she says. “I learned a long time ago that if I can’t make you understand what’s in it for you, you’ll never support it.”
Markle engages employees in communication by regularly asking their opinions and ideas. “I don’t know the answers; I just have to know the questions,” she says. “They have all the answers, so I have to make sure people are engaged and empowered to be heard.”
Because she’s so committed to communicating with her team, Markle knows every one of her 310 employees by name. Customers frequently comment about this culture during plant tours, amazed by her involvement and her team’s engagement. In fact, her approach is even catching corporate attention. G+D leaders selected Markle as one of four sponsors for a new company-wide program called Culture in You, aimed at shaping culture across the globe for all 12,000+ employees.
“They asked me to be involved because they see the benefits of inclusion and engagement in employee and client retention,” she says. “They’re engaged because they’re proud of what they’re doing, and it’s powerful for customers to see that.”
Markle is also involved in the company’s formalized leadership development program, which fewer than 50 employees around the globe participate in. She currently mentors a colleague in Germany — one of a handful of formal mentees, in addition to eight direct reports she coaches on her team.
“It’s important that people have individual development plans focusing on where they want to be and how we can help them get there,” she says.
Throughout her own career, Markle says, “I’ve been in a bunch of jobs that I was totally ill-prepared for, but somebody believed I could do it, so I did it.”
Now, she’s committed to building up others around her, giving them opportunities through many different channels, from formal mentorship to casual leadership development sessions over lunch.
“I love having the ability to move, touch and inspire people,” says Markle, who hopes that her insights will resonate with attendees during the Smart Women panel discussion. “I’m like a rolling stone — I keep learning from all these diverse experiences, and if my story can help one or two people, that’s my joy.” ●
Brooke Sirak, Vice President, Kaulig Capital
When Brooke Sirak started her career as an analyst at Cleveland-based investment banking firm Carleton McKenna & Co., with no direct experience and an unrelated degree, she felt overwhelmed. Though she had M&A experience from Baldwin Wallace University’s Center for Innovation & Growth, she still had a lot to learn. But by leaning on mentors for support as she conquered new skills, Sirak worked her way up to vice president and carved out her place in the local investment community.
In 2020, Sirak turned to the buy-side when she became vice president of Kaulig Capital LLC, where she manages real estate and private equity investments for the family office of LeafFilter founder, Matt Kaulig. Her team has invested more than $300 million over the last several years, including
notable transactions like Kaulig’s Cleveland Guardians investment last summer.
Now, instead of selling businesses like she did at Carleton McKenna, Sirak is “on the flip side, acquiring companies and making investments,” she says. “I’m now learning what happens post-transaction, what happens after the deal gets done, and how do companies grow?”
To succeed in business — especially when that requires stretching beyond her comfort zone — Sirak remembers what she learned from four years of running track at Baldwin Wallace, where she graduated summa cum laude. In business, as in running, she says, success is a mental game.
“You’re at the starting line, and maybe it’s raining and maybe you got a bad night’s sleep,” she says. “There are all these environmental factors that could easily make the race less-than-ideal. But at the end of the day, everybody in the field has environmental challenges, and you just have to overcome them. It’s all about having the mental strength, toughness and preparedness, pushing through and persevering.”
Just as she had the support of her track teammates, Sirak recognizes the importance of her mentors throughout the M&A community.
“I’ve been really fortunate that the firms I’ve worked with have been incredible when it comes to supporting young female leaders,” she says. “There have always been strong men pulling us along and creating opportunities, and plenty of women who paved the way. Now that I’m here, hopefully I can pave the way for even more women.”
To expand her circle of impact and “organic mentorship,” as she calls it, Sirak invests her time with several local organizations. These include her alma mater, Baldwin Wallace, where she serves on the board of trustees, and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, where she serves on the associate board.
Though she’s not on the board of Cleveland’s Association of Corporate Growth, Sirak participates in ACG’s Women in Transactions Group — particularly its golf clinics and outings. “
I think everybody should learn to golf,” she says, specifically within the female business community. “Even if you’re not great at it, it creates an avenue for conversation and creating memories. It’s a great business tool.”
Sirak is happy to connect with fellow female professionals off the field, as well, at networking events like Smart Women, where she’ll share her insights as a panelist and honoree.
“I hope the audience feels inspired and encouraged,” she says. “I hope they feel like we’re all rowing in the same direction and growing, not only individually as women, but as a community of women in Northeast Ohio.” ●
From our presenting sponsor …
Huntington is proud to partner with Smart Business to present the Smart Women Awards, recognizing the impressive achievements of women entrepreneurs and leaders making a difference in our community.
Women own 42 percent of all companies in the U.S., and 50 percent of all women-owned businesses are minority-owned. But women still face challenges achieving equal pay, access to capital and equitable opportunities compared to their male counterparts. Women forge their own path to success, creating 1,817 new women-owned businesses every day.
At Huntington, we’re dedicated to making people’s lives better, strengthening our communities, and helping businesses thrive.
Huntington’s position as the nation’s No. 1 SBA lender in volume for the past five years1 proves our commitment to helping businesses thrive — from startup to expansion and beyond. Huntington’s Lift Local Business program is designed to create more opportunities for minority-, women-, and veteran-owned small businesses. And Entrepreneur in Residence Powered by Huntington partners with 11 nonprofits in Greater Cleveland to help entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses right here in our community.
Huntington’s commitment to women starts at the top of the house, from our diverse board to our diverse workforce and middle and executive management, to our pay equity.
In fact, Forbes named Huntington a Best Employer for Diversity and a Best Employer for Women; Huntington earned a 100 percent score on the Disability Equality Index and the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index; and Huntington is one of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work for Diversity
I am proud to work for a company that has a long track record of caring about gender and racial equity.
Huntington is proud to join with the Smart Women Award winners to work together so that all women have equal opportunities to advance in the workplace, have equal access to capital, and achieve pay equity.
Congratulations to all of the winners for your well-deserved achievements. ●
Senior Vice President, Regional Manager, Corporate Affairs
Smart Women Awards
2023 Progressive Entrepreneur Honorees
Destiny Burns, Owner and CEO, CLE Urban Winery
In 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy and 13 years in the defense industry, Destiny Burns traveled the world, dabbled in food and wine and dreamed of someday owning her own business in hospitality. Newly divorced at age 50, she decided to recalibrate her life, leaving behind her stressful job in the corporate world in Washington, D.C., and moving back to her hometown of Cleveland. Though it was daunting to walk away from a large paycheck, Burns took a leap and decided to chase the opportunity for connection and fulfillment by becoming a business owner.
The result was a craft brewery-style urban winery concept in a 100-year-old former auto repair garage in Cleveland Heights. CLE Urban Winery is a working winery and tasting room in a historic, urban setting. Since its opening in 2016, it has allowed Burns to operate in manufacturing, retail sales, wholesale sales, food and beverage service, event planning, e-commerce and philanthropy. With no existing model for this type of business, Burns had to be creative, industrious and, above all else, progressive, to make it work. The business has brought her joy and purpose and has become a unique community asset in her neighborhood. ●
Anne Hartnett and Andria Loczi, Co-Founders, Harness Collective
Anne Hartnett and Andria Loczi are forging their own path within commercial real estate as emerging female developers. They created Harness Collective to support brick-and-mortar businesses in opportunity zones and traditional economically distressed areas in need of revitalization. Their community-driven approach provides a broader perspective of what’s needed in communities, and their coaching gives the entrepreneurs they work with the support and guidance needed to step into operating their own
The Vitrolite — an 18,000-square-foot building in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood that was purchased in 2022 — is Harness Collective’s first real estate venture. It is home to several locally owned and operated brands, including Harness Cycle, a cycling studio initially founded by Hartnett in 2013. The venture is anticipated to create more than 70 jobs, with paths to equity for the building’s early partners,
all of whom are female and/or minorities.
Hartnett and Loczi believe in forging new equitable opportunities within the city’s commercial real estate landscape to help close the greater industry’s gender wealth gap and broaden the perspective around development. Harness Cycle’s original location in Ohio City helped raise its building’s prop value five times during its lease tenure. Harness Collective was created to foster similar impact elsewhere. ●
Yeidy Laracuente, Owner, Jireh Learning Center
Yeidy Laracuente moved to Cleveland from Puerto Rico in 2015 looking for a better life. She did not speak English, and her first job was as a cleaning person for a daycare business. One year at that job taught her the ins and outs of the business, and she became an assistant teacher, then a supervisor, and then an assistant director for a preschool center. With the help of the Hispanic Business Center and the Women’s Business Centers of Ohio, she was able to buy the same business on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland where she had initially worked after moving from Puerto Rico. She renamed it Jireh, which translates to “God provides.” The bilingual preschool opened in 2018 and serves 60 children, offering before and after care with school transportation. The center received five stars from Step Up to Quality from the Ohio Department of Education, as well as the Groundbreaking Business Award from the Hispanic Business Center in 2019.
With plans to open a second location in Parma, as well as co-ownership of a Latin restaurant named Jíbaro, Laracuente is helping the Hispanic community grow and thrive and is serving as an example of the American Dream. ●
2023 Progressive Organization Honorees
Apex Dermatology has two women on its executive team of five. Theresa Hanslick, vice president of Clinical Research, was brought on to lead the Apex Clinical Research Center, a new and growing function at Apex that allows patients in Northeast Ohio to access cutting-edge dermatology advances. Ruth Barnum, vice president of Marketing, has been with Apex for several years and has helped drive substantial growth for the business and establish a foundation for continued growth and impact.
Beyond the support of women at the executive level, Apex nurtures women across the company by being mindful of hours spent at work so that employees can navigate family responsibilities. The company has a fair policy for paid time off and sick leave, and employee satisfaction is always top of mind.
This year, Apex has introduced a mentorship program in which each member of the leadership team has an emerging female leader as a mentee. Mentees and mentors are provided with extra training, strength assessments and more. Mentors can also offer individual opportunities and experiences for their mentees, such as attending conferences or working on specific skills such as public speaking, financial literacy and more. ●
Elite Women Around the World
For more than 18 years, Elite Women Around the World’s programs have empowered girls and women to participate more fully in the social and economic life of their communities by expanding access to education and training, supporting women entrepreneurs, promoting economic opportunity and job creation, and improving health and wellness outcomes. EWAW’s entrepreneurial programs revitalize the regional economy by offering education, knowledge, leadership training and mentoring support to women to succeed in their homes, jobs and businesses. Women who complete the programs have the self-confidence and courage to succeed and be self-sufficient.
EWAW has a turn-key Mentoring and Leadership Training Program that is open to people of all genders, with men encouraged to serve as mentors within a women’s mentoring program. When a person joins the organization, they are asked to mentor another individual. Founder and CEO Rita N. Singh believes that membership in dollars can only take a person so far but that mentoring a woman can change the world. Instead of a traditional board, EWAW has a Visionary Executive Leader Team responsible for giving direction, creating visibility and steering the organization. Everyone is welcome to join the organization, irrespective of color, ethnicity, race, industry and where they live and work. ●
As a small nonprofit that helps young professionals and emerging leaders connect with opportunities for development, networking, civic events and social activities, Engage! Cleveland’s staff is 100 percent female, with roughly 70 percent of event attendees female, as well. Knowing how important women are to its organization, EC has always strived to provide the best for both its staff and its event attendees.
EC has several women-based initiatives, including a popular annual one-day conference called Next Generation of Women that features experienced Cleveland women leaders guiding and counseling younger women. More than 2,000 women have attended the event since its inception six years ago. The event covers the topics young women want to know most about, including work/life balance, critical conversations, working in male-dominant workplaces and more.
EC has also designed a six-month women’s mentorship program that pairs an experienced female mentor with a small group of younger female mentees. And EC practices what it preaches, offering its employees great benefits and work/life options, including flexible work time, hybrid work, a generous paid time off policy and half days on Fridays in the summer. As a result, the company has low turnover and high employee engagement. ●
Local entrepreneur Lauren Steiner founded Grants Plus in 2007 with a vision of helping nonprofit organizations raise the grant funds they need to fulfill their missions, and women can access challenging, rewarding career opportunities that acknowledge them as whole people. For the past 16 years, Grants Plus has served as a thriving, woman-owned, Cleveland-based business, with more than $300 million in grant funding raised for organizations in Greater Cleveland and across the country.
In 2022, Steiner promoted a new executive team of women leaders to propel the continued growth of the company and its impact, including CEO Dana Textoris, COO Sarah Dave and Chief Services Officer Gail Dancy Heim. That executive team has since launched an internal leadership coaching initiative that has expanded management opportunities for other women in the business, leading to the hiring and promotions of several women.
Grants Plus believes creating time for self-care and professional development in the work day, with each full-time employee allocated 75 hours per year of “personal well-being time” and up to 48 hours per year to take part in coaching, trainings, workshops and other experiences that build their skills and strengths. The company also sponsors women to participate in external leadership experiences and opportunities. ●
2023 Progressive Woman Honorees
Jazmin Long, President and CEO, Birthing Beautiful Communities
A dedicated and passionate community leader with a proven track record of developing strategic relationships and driving community impact, Jazmin Long, president and CEO, has helped Birthing Beautiful Communities (BBC) double its client base. She works to achieve positive birth outcomes for Black families despite the racial disparities in maternal and infant health in Cuyahoga County, which has had some of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation for more than a decade. Long’s work has helped reduce the internalized stresses caused by employment, housing and education.
Long developed a passion for advocacy while studying in Africa as a college student. The Connecticut native earned her master’s degrees in social administration and nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. She is very involved in supporting the philanthropic efforts of arts and civil service organizations throughout Greater Cleveland, serving as president of the Board of Trustees at Near West Theatre and on the executive committees of First Year Cleveland and the African American Philanthropy Committee. She was also appointed by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s Transition Team to the Health Task Force. Long was recognized by the Cleveland NAACP as a Rising Leadership Award honoree. ●
Angela Sebesy, Global HR Director, Brennan Industries
Angela Sebesy was the first female appointed to a director position at Brennan Industries, as global HR director, and is currently the only female leader on the executive team. She entered the HR field because she wanted to help people and be an advocate for them, and she has boosted Brennan by implementing new programs that have helped retain and hire top talent.
She created Community Connections, a program geared toward giving back to employees and the community. Each year, employees select a cause and create ways to give to those organizations, whether through volunteering or holding donation drives. The program has supported the American Cancer Society, local food banks, Toys for Tots, veteran-based charities, Ronald McDonald House and University Hospitals, among others.
In helping to craft a positive culture, Sebesy has found ways for the company to be highlighted or recognized in the media. She also did a full review and market study that led to a well-received update of the company’s PTO policies. Sebesy has been honored with multiple employee awards at Brennan, including the 2022 L. Michael Brennan Award, considered the highest employee award within the organization. She credits her work ethic with being surrounded by strong women, including a grandmother who immigrated from Italy and worked hard to build a better life for her family. ●
Kiersten Kanaley, LSSGB, RACR, TAS; Executive Director, talent acquisition operations; Cleveland Clinic
When Kiersten Kanaley began her leadership role as executive director, Talent Acquisition Operations, in early 2021, Cleveland Clinic was not a leader in healthcare recruitment. The organization was not using any advanced technology to recruit talent and was understaffed. Kanaley arrived with the empathy, understanding and approach it took to concoct solutions and act on them. She shifted Cleveland Clinic’s thinking when it came to recruiting and hiring caregivers, instituting a new approach that resulted in a 15 percent increase in job offers accepted, in just one year’s time.
Kanaley also installed video interviewing technology, a virtual hiring assistant, asynchronous interviews, SMS pre-screening and real-time self-scheduling for recruiter interviews to connect with candidates in more meaningful ways. This resulted in a drastic reduction in cycle times from application to hire, from more than 60 days to 11 days, on average. And under Kanaley’s leadership, the Workforce Diversity Team evolved by embedding caregivers in communities to create connections with local governments, change agents, libraries, churches and other community partners.
These connections are critical for Cleveland Clinic to remove barriers for social determinants of health and work. Kanaley has led the transformation of the organization’s recruitment efforts and candidate experience. Her leadership has driven major accomplishments while maintaining strong connections and camaraderie with her hybrid team. ●
Jacqui Robertson, Chief of Diversity and Inclusion, Cleveland Clinic
With nearly 20 years of national and international experience in leading diversity and inclusions strategies in the financial services and industrial supply industries, Jacqui Robertson was appointed to oversee the Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in March. She leads global diversity and inclusion strategies and initiatives across the health system. Her role builds on the organization’s work focused on local hiring and inclusive employee research groups.
Robertson joined the Cleveland Clinic from William Blair & Company, where she had served as global head of talent, diversity and inclusion since 2016. Previously, she held senior leadership positions at ING America, including global head of diversity and inclusion for ING in Amsterdam. She is a Six Sigma executive green belt and a certified facilitator in several training programs, including mitigation approaches for unconscious bias and coaching for minorities and re-entry workers.
Robertson serves on several boards, including that of The Institute for Corporate Productivity, the leading authority on next practices in human capital. She also serves on the board of The Chicago Sinfonietta, an American orchestra acclaimed as a cultural leader and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a steering committee member of the Chicago Executive’s Club Diversity & Inclusion Council. ●
Marianne Crosley, President and CEO, Cleveland Leadership Center
Marianne Crosley has devoted her career to serving the public good, beginning as a Brooklyn, New York-based lawyer in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office who successfully tried 25 cases to verdict and oversaw the prosecution of nearly 100 more. Upon returning to her native Cleveland, she became concerned about the documented flight of young professionals and founded what is now Summer on the Cuyahoga, exposing students to the community and attracting them to settle permanently in the region.
As if founding one nonprofit was not challenge enough, Crosley arrived at the Cleveland Leadership Center and proved herself a catalyst for civic engagement. As president and CEO, she has shepherded the growth of the Cleveland Leadership Center to fully embody its mission to build a continuum of civic leaders committed to excellence. She has added new programs, such as one for early career professionals to chart their civic engagement journeys along with their professional careers; a program that engages leaders from three generations to address community needs in education, health, housing, public policy and workforce development; and one to engage retirees in civic improvement. Crosley’s energy, vision and hard work connects leaders of public, private and nonprofit organizations with each other and the community in new and exciting ways. ●
Natalie Ronayne, Chief Development Officer, Cleveland Metroparks
Natalie Ronayne has devoted her education and career to conservation, community development and environmental health. After holding influential roles as the director of Parks, Recreati0n and Properties with the city of Cleveland and executive vice president of Holden Forests and Gardens, she was recruited to provide leadership and direction in all aspects of the fundraising activities of the Cleveland Metroparks and its 18 park reservations. The position and department were new to the organization, and Ronayne was tasked with creating and directing the effort to integrate it.
In her seven years at Cleveland Metroparks, she has transformed the Park District and extended its reach and impact across the 49 distinct communities it serves. Ronayne has partnered with local philanthropic leaders for the enhancement of the Emerald Necklace Endowment Fund held at Cleveland Foundation, as well as the creation and growth of the Emerald Necklace Fund held at Community West Foundation. These partnerships and others have advanced the Metroparks’ annual programs, capital priorities and investments. She has helped secure a wide and diverse base of public and private support totaling over $55 million, helping to create new amenities, parks, trails and connections for the nearly 19 million recreational visitors that use Cleveland Metroparks each year. ●
Meenakshi Sharma, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
In her newly expanded role with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Meenakshi Sharma oversees and leads the execution of integrated programming, partnership alliances and visitor-engagement strategies that will help redefine the museum’s role for the 21st century. Her responsibilities are critical at a time when the museum is reimagining its campus, programs and accessibility initiatives through a $150 million transformation that is the largest capital project in its 102-year history.
Sharma is part of the museum’s Senior Leadership Team, overseeing the day-to-day execution of long-term strategic planning, including the hiring of women scientists who stand on the cutting edge of their interdisciplinary fields. She is keenly interested in encouraging women to lead and to believe in and follow science, touting an International Women in Science Day held annually to allow young women to interact with women leadership and scientists at the museum. Sharma has played an integral role in the development and implementation of the museum’s new strategic plan. She joined after serving as assistant dean for Career and Student Affairs at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, all while navigating a different country, language and culture from her home country of India. ●
Kelly Keefe, President, ERC
An award-winning business leader and human resource professional, Kelly Keefe is the first female president in ERC’s 103-year history. She is described as a genuine, honest and heart-centered leader who took on the big job of changing the culture of the company and growing the business at the same time — and succeeded.
Under Keefe, ERC has helped organizations locally and nationally shift the paradigm to become more people-centric. She keeps a constant watch on clients’ needs and industry trends and sets the vision and strategy for all business lines in ERC and ERC Services Inc., including training, HR consulting and support, coaching and assessments and research services. Keefe and her team have made a major impact on the Northeast Ohio economy by assisting regional employers in attracting, developing and retaining high-performing individuals through the NorthCoast 99 program, which recognizes and honors 99 great Northeast Ohio workplaces for top talent. In her tenure with the company, she is credited with expanding ERC’s Training Services into a national practice and modifying its Supervisory Training Series curriculum.
An active volunteer and philanthropist, Keefe is heavily involved in nonprofit organizations and community programs, including Meals on Wheels and College Now. She sits on the board for Make-a-Wish Foundation. ●
Lauren DeVere, President, Fire-Dex
Fire-Dex makes strong and flexible gear that helps firefighters race into action. In an industry in which just 5 percent of all career firefighters are female and women are similarly underrepresented in organizations and agencies that directly support fire departments, Fire-Dex President Lauren DeVere has excelled. Just as climbing ladders in firefighting requires care and confidence in one’s ability to perform, she has climbed the corporate ladder by being fearless and resourceful and learning from others.
DeVere has gained trust and respect from customers, distributors, suppliers and colleagues, and she has used any doubt or difficulty that often comes with being the only woman in the room as fuel for her success. After joining Fire-Dex in 2019, she quickly moved from Metro Sales manager to director of Metro Sales by onboarding 15 major accounts, changing how Fire-Dex does business. Sales grew sharply in the time that followed, earning her a promotion to president in 2021. Under her watch, Fire-Dex has become the nation’s fastest manufacturer of PPE for emergency responders and parent company to Gear Wash, the nation’s largest ISP network of gear cleaning and repair services. She ably and admirably balances life in the boardroom with life in the family room as a wife and mother. ●
Anne Markle, Vice President of Operations, Americas, Giesecke+Devrient
As Giesecke & Devrient’s first female executive in the U.S., Anne Markle arrived with a mentality of inclusion, growth, opportunity and respect. She is part of the weekly orientation with new hires and gets to know everyone and show her vulnerable side. G&D’s vice president of operations sets the expectation that, while everyone walks in the door with biases from their lives, the community at G&D — which includes 20 nationalities in a building of around 300 employees — is there to give them the chance to succeed and learn from one another.
In a career that has included a role as Target’s first female director of Loss Prevention and various director roles in the manufacturing sector, Markle has blazed trails and carried a philosophy of community and acceptance. She credits being surrounded by smart, motivated women from early in life with teaching her that there are no glass ceilings, and she continues that mentality with involvement in numerous women’s groups, including Women in Manufacturing. Markle is realistic in her approach. Rather than pretending she has all the answers, she admits what she does not know and tries to instill habits, behaviors, confidence and passion in others to allow them to take on new challenges of their own. ●
Tiffany Eatmon, Operations Support Specialist, Great Lakes Fasteners Inc.
A lover of butterflies, Tiffany Eatmon has spread her own wings in piloting a professional career that has demonstrated her ability to showcase her intellect, creativity and ability to stay organized amid chaos, while continuously maintaining her uplifting, optimistic attitude.
Great Lakes Fasteners President and CEO Kevin R. Weidinger was so impressed with Eatmon’s work in contractor relations and recruitment with LAUDAN Properties, the company’s presentation and inspections firm, that he asked her to step into a newly created role in operations with the fastener distribution group. With an easy smile and can-do attitude, Eatmon began managing production planning for the company’s largest account, helping facilitate more than 2 million kitting assemblies in 2022. Today, she helps sequence and coordinate production planning and is learning more about the expanded supply chain and the sourcing/replenishment process. Despite coming in with minimal industrial experience, she accepted and embraced the operations assignment and has shown her ability to adapt, grow and thrive. Eatmon also injects her creativity and ability to rally and connect people by managing the company’s newsletter, The Bolt, which shares news, highlights team members and includes fun and games. These colorful communications have become a favorite of associates and have helped bond employees together. ●
Lori McCleese, President, Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio
When placed in a highly impoverished area in downtown Cincinnati while working as a Provident Bank Branch Manager, Lori McCleese renewed her passion for service to her community, helping young people learn how to manage their money and pave an independent future for themselves. She also became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and served as a mentor for over 15 years. After her life took many unexpected turns, she decided to follow her passion and reinvent herself in the nonprofit space.
McCleese was hired as a bookkeeper for the Alzheimer’s Association, quickly moved up the ranks and, after six years, became the Director of Development overseeing 17 counties, breaking historical revenue records in three of those years.
As the first full-time president of the Hudson Community Foundation, she earned her CFRE credential and her Certificate in Fundraising Management.
Missing the mission work, she became president of a newly merged 15-county area of Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio. She helped lead the struggling organization to increase its revenue by 60 percent, and YOY 2022 to 2023 will see a 30 percent increase in students served. She has built a high-performing team that collectively participates in over 70 organizations in its footprint. ●
Brooke Sirak, Vice President, Kaulig Capital
An accomplished track and cross country athlete in college, Brooke Sirak maintained a terrific GPA. For that reason, she was hired as an investment banker for a boutique investment banking firm after graduation, despite no previous accounting or finance experience. It turned out to be a great investment for the firm. Sirak took it upon herself to learn the finance and accounting essentials at night school and, with sheer determination, rose through the ranks at Carleton McKenna and carved out a name for herself in the local mergers and acquisitions community, working closely with clients throughout the transaction process and deal execution.
That led to an opportunity at Kaulig where, once again, Sirak overcame her lack of direct buy-side experience by applying her tools to succeed. She is responsible for the firm’s existing portfolio of real estate and private equity investments while also working to source and evaluate new investment opportunities. Sirak has been a key piece of more than $300 million in investments over the last several years while continuing to be involved in the M&A community as well as the local philanthropic community. She also serves on the board of trustees of her alma mater, Baldwin Wallace University, and serves on the Greater Cleveland Sports Association’s Associate Board. ●
Jennifer Ake-Marriott, CEO, Redmond Waltz
A resourceful and dedicated leader, Jennifer Ake-Marriott has built a culture of trust at Redmond Waltz since taking over as CEO of the industrial repair company in 2013. By demonstrating she is worthy of trust, she breathed new life into the fledgling business.
Redmond Waltz was sinking in debt and suffered from an unstable work environment, with distrust among the workers and vendors. Ake-Marriott’s intuition and insight gained from her experience at her family’s business, Ake-Environmental, made her aware that a failing company is not the result of one person or one thing. Rather than fire anyone or make immediate changes, she took a thoughtful approach to the job, bringing fresh ideas, compassion and courage to the role. Under her guidance, Redmond Waltz increased revenue, retired $1 million of debt and built a happy, united workforce. Last year, Crain’s Cleveland Business named Redmond Waltz as one of 2022’s Best Employers in Ohio.
With a belief that life is too short to hate your job, Ake-Marriott supports her employees, promotes women-based initiatives and provides opportunities for advancement. She carries out the behavior she wants her employees to aspire to, recognizing talent, making improvement when possible, embracing collaboration and independence, honoring accomplishment and showing empathy. ●
Brandi Weekley, Partner, Taft
As a trusted adviser and facilitator, Brandi Weekley connects her legal work at Taft with community involvement to help foster growth in the Northeast Ohio area and shape tomorrow’s leaders. As a corporate partner, her practice focuses on general corporate, private equity and venture capital fund transactions, allowing her to work closely with entrepreneurs, woman-owned businesses and emerging growth companies. She has an in-depth understanding of the legal and business world and a dedication to understanding clients’ needs, bringing creative solutions that are a win/win for clients.
Weekley joined Taft’s Cleveland office in 2012 and assumed she would gain valuable training on the path to an in-house legal position. Taft’s culture changed her perspective. She began working on sophisticated transactions and accelerated to partner by 2019. It was quite an ascent and a testament to the fortitude of a first-generation college student who had paid for college by applying for more than 50 scholarships.
Weekley is the Cleveland representative for Taft’s Associate Advancement and Recruiting Committee, helping to recruit and retain talented attorneys, with a focus on carrying out the firm’s robust diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. She is chairperson of Taft Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ subcommittee for 2023, and her prior leadership roles included a firm-wide effort to establish an emergency/backup childcare program. ●
Jenn Lasky, Executive Director, The Edna House for Women
With experience as a parole officer, small business owner and re-entry director in the public and nonprofit sectors, Jenn Lasky became executive director of the Edna House for Women in 2017. She is a natural leader with an engaging presence, and her passion for the mission enabled her to enhance and expand the operation into a campus by completing a $1.25 million capital campaign in 2022. Lasky has also built an experienced team that provides trauma-informed, inclusive and culturally responsive programming to the women in her care.
Lasky has elevated the standard by which residents of the Edna House live. In addition to the enhancements to the buildings, she also brought a level of care for the safety, support and dignity of the women she serves. She brings kindness and compassion, along with her fierce leadership, to an organization that empowers women. As a result, they return to their families and communities sober, strong and law-abiding, with sustainable employment. They are better mothers, daughters, wives and employees because of the life-changing programming and skills learned at the Edna House under Lasky’s leadership. A graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Lasky has been named a Notable Woman in Nonprofits by Crain’s Cleveland Business. ●
Geri Presti, President and CEO, The Music Settlement
A mentor to many and a fierce leader, Geri Presti’s unofficial slogan is “We keep moving forward!” She has done exactly that, through expected and unexpected career challenges in which she has overcome obstacles with her passionate and positive perspective.
As a general counsel at Forest City Enterprises Inc., she earned a respected reputation in Cleveland and honed the leadership skills, public speaking and corporate governance it took to lead an 111-year-old community music school with grace, drive and passion.
Presti initially worked for the Music Settlement after college as a registered music therapist and intern supervisor. She maintained a relationship with the organization with various committee and board assignments before deciding in 2017 to go back to her roots and join the Music Settlement as its president and CEO, putting all her experiences and skills to work to realize the nonprofit school’s mission of artistic expression for everyone. Meanwhile, she has served on the boards of Cuyahoga Community College and University Circle Inc., and been recognized for her community service with a YWCA Woman of Achievement honor and the St. Thomas More Award, among many other accolades. In cultivating relationships throughout Cleveland, Presti has used her creativity and leadership to push the bounds of the norm and make an impact, all while raising two sons with her husband, John. ●
Amanda Rehker, Director of Brand Strategy and Marketing Communications, Transtar Industries
A career journey that included promotions at Century Harley-Davidson and the Lubrizol Corp. before joining Transtar as a director has earned Rehker recognition and respect within the traditionally male-dominated auto industry. She has displayed exceptional leadership skills, transforming Transtar’s marketing department and spearheading numerous successful events.
Rehker took on her current role without a full team in place. For her first year as director, she was a team of one. Yet she fearlessly took charge in constructing a robust team of top talent while guiding the company’s tradeshows and single-handedly crafting and executing successful events. She did all of this in the midst of becoming a first-time mother, balancing the demands of a high-level leadership role with the responsibilities of motherhood. She has seamlessly integrated these two crucial aspects of her life while maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
At Transtar, Rehker has built a structured marketing program that streamlines processes and enhances productivity. She played a pivotal role in strengthening internal communication within the sales team to establish a cohesive and effective work environment. Her professional demeanor, organizational acumen and innate ability to juggle multiple needs have made her an indispensable asset for Transtar, with many expressing that she is one of the best hires in the last few years in the company. ●
Emily Adams, Vice President Employee Benefits Consultant, USI Insurance
Caring deeply about the welfare of people has guided Emily Adams throughout her life and career. From her earliest work at a young age with residents of retirement facilities and cardiac rehab patients to her present role as Vice President Employee Benefits Consultant with USI Insurance, a steadfast devotion to others has always inspired Adams’ personal and professional pursuits.
Adams’ path to professional success and achievements as a high-performer within her company and industry, however, has been accompanied by a unique set of personal challenges. When her youngest daughter was diagnosed with a feeding disorder, it required relocating to Columbus for an intensive treatment program — one that took her away from her other, then kindergarten-aged daughter, and husband for weeks at a time.
More recently, Adams’ older daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, once again calling upon Adams to marshal her resources and organizational skills in order to give both her daughters the extra attention they needed as she continued to work more than 40-hour work weeks to provide her clients and team with the commitment they deserved.
Amazingly, Adams’ has still been able to find the “bandwidth” to become a role model for young, professional women in her USI office as well as within the broader company and insurance industry. She’s also helped re-settle an Afghan family of five after the evacuation of the U.S. military in Afghanistan and holds multiple board positions with nonprofits.