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WDM November 2015 Ingrid L derach Steven Retail - Upscale Chocolate Shop Owner and Operator of Swiss-Master Chocolatier Deidre M. Walls Chief Executive Officer CDH Management and Consulting LLC Sr. Technical Assistance Manager JBS International Inc. features 4 11 Retail - Upscale Chocolate Shop Owner and Operator of Swiss-Master Chocolatier Toronto Ontario Canada Health and Wellness Inventor Owner of Artho Body Suit Founder and Co-Owner of SKG Enterprises 1 LLC Newport News VA Ingrid L derach Steven WDM Shawn L. Stewart 19 Karen Martello Cooney Medical Billing and EMR Management Chief Executive Officer of IJMedical Billing Co. LLC Garden City NY 33 Health Wellness and Fitness Founder Chief Executive Officer Stargazer Wellness Coaching LLC Group Fitness Instructor Personal Trainer Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Corporate Wellness Consultant San Antonio TX Education - Special Education Teacher at Paramount School of Excellence Indianapolis IN Carrie Armstrong 42 Shelly Dawn Perry Ingrid L derach Steven Retail - Upscale Chocolate Shop Owner and Operator of Swiss-Master Chocolatier Toronto Ontario Canada G rowing up in the Swiss town of Lucerne Ingrid L derach Steven never thought of becoming a chocolate store owner even though she would eventually graduate from the prestigious Richemont Centre of Excellence culinary school in Lucerne. Ingrid actually made quite a detour. As a teen she had the voice of an opera singer (plus an IQ of 180) that earned her two scholarships to the well-known Randell School (Denver CO) by way of Dr. Antonia Brico the famous conductor of the Denver Businessmen s Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Brico persuaded Ingrid s parents to let her go to Denver and study-music with her. (There was even an Oscar-nominated documentary made about Dr. Brico called Antonia A Portrait of the Woman with a big picture of Ingrid shown hanging on the wall.) She convinced Ingrid s parents that Ingrid had unbelievably great talent and that it would be a shame not to nurture this. This opportunity led to singing tours all over the United States and appearances on TV all of which began to open up a whole new world for Ingrid. But from Ingrid s perspective Being in a strange country with a stranger and not speaking the language was a real challenge. However everywhere I went I found people who inspired me intellectually as well as emotionally. I studied hard both at school and with my music. Ingrid slowly adjusted to her new life. It wasn t easy living with a famous demanding artist like Dr. Brico but Ingrid felt she had to persevere. After all where could I possibly go (She kept thinking in her mind.) Ingrid and Dr. Brico traveled a lot and stayed with many famous people. During her time at home with her parents in Toronto Ingrid decided to return to Denver in an effort to make her parents proud. But at such a young age that way of life became increasingly harder for her and in her own way Ingrid started to rebel. Instead of going to school I would go to the movies and sleep as school during the day and music in the evenings left few hours for sleep. This-movie-place-to-sleep was my perfect solution to catch up on some much needed sleep. I still kept up with my studies though and continued to get unusually high marks so there was no problem there. However Dr. Brico started to sense my uneasiness and unhappiness and was none too pleased. After all I was her prodigy whom she wanted to continue to nurture and she saw a very great musical future for me. Life continued to become very tense though so in my immaturity I planned to run away. I dressed very warmly and started on my trip to nowhere . I walked and walked and then got cold so I turned back. I then wrote my parents that I wanted to go home and made all sorts of deals with them in the hope that they would magically appear and take me away. Yet nothing happened and Ingrid felt trapped. So one day feeling so sad she ransacked Dr. Brico s medicine cabinet in the hope that some pills would help ease the emotional pain she felt . I was rushed to the hospital where I ended up in a coma for two weeks. When I came to I had to learn to walk and talk again. In a way it was as if I was reborn. It was a very slow recovery process. Unfortunately her vocal chords were damaged as well and Ingrid could no longer sing the way she used to. My favorite place was California. We were personal guests of Sir Adrian Boult and the famed pianist Leonard Fleischer who performed at the Hollywood Bowl. I was totally in awe not just by their performance but by the standing ovations they received. Sitting there under the stars as special guests and listening to the beautiful music was magical. While Ingrid felt lucky to be in this world it still wasn t what she truly wanted in life. She wanted to have a family a home and a permanent address . So the following summer Dr. Brico sent Ingrid home to her parents (who by then moved to Toronto Ontario to stay with Ingrid s aunt) for six weeks while she traveled to Lambarene South Africa to visit with Dr. Albert Schweitzer the famous doctor and humanitarian (who sent a greeting to Ingrid with the message To the little girl with the voice of an angel... ). 5 Women of Distinction My parents were summoned to get me and when I was well enough to travel we left. We settled in Toronto in what I guess started to become as normal a life as possible. However when one door closes another one opens... Clearly Ingrid is doing something right as Swiss-Master Chocolatier is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a congratulatory message from the Prime Minister of Canada. The store has also been awarded Retailer of the Year by the Toronto Chamber of Commerce and has received mass recognition from the Canadian and (even the) Swiss media and at public events. Her greatest joy is spending time with her family. Ingrid and Tom have two beautiful daughters and four amazing grandchildren. I then met Tom Steven the man who would change my life forever. What touched me about Tom was his kindness and honesty. And he was good looking to boot But I knew he was the right man for me when he picked me up one evening in his car to go to a dance. He abruptly stopped the car ran across the street and helped a handicapped and partially-blind person cross the street. He then got back into the car without saying anything and continued driving. To say I was overwhelmed is putting it mildly. I was hooked full line and sinker. I knew then he would make a wonderful husband and a great father. And with her singing career behind her Ingrid went back to her other passion (cooking). In 1985 she founded SwissMaster Chocolatier an upscale chocolate shop selling Beautiful Chocolates to Beautiful People including some of the most wealthiest and influential people in Canada. Ingrid imports some 60 high-quality Swiss truffles pralines and many other products directly from Switzerland. As an active owner she is at the store every working day and is responsible for everything it takes to operate the retail shop like working with suppliers in Switzerland (arranging for shipments customs (duties) translations and negotiations and handling the customers staff and d cor. Aside from the chocolate what is beautiful about the store and has made it so successful is the interaction between human beings. She finds herself talking to and comforting people almost every day. They are the icing on the cake of life. It s not just about the chocolate. It s also about the people. There are so many lonely people out there who need to talk. I feel it is important to treat customers the way you want to be treated. I have a fantastic and consistent product at all times but I also try to make customers feel a little bit better when they leave the store. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are human beings (not machines or robots) and we must treat each other with respect honesty and care. 6 Women of Distinction Q&A Q Do you eat chocolate A I sure do. I love chocolate but I enjoy it in moderation. Q What s new A Since we started our business 30 years ago our clientele has become much more diversified thus so have our products. For example we designed a Star of David truffle for our huge Jewish clientele and a lamb truffle this year for the Chinese New Year. We also decorate the boxes and gift bags to reflect the theme of each occasion or celebration. Q How come you re not fat considering you own a chocolate shop A That s a good question. The number one reason for this is garbage in... garbage out . In other words if you eat chocolate filled with trans fats your body will react accordingly. The world is slowly starting to realize that trans fats are unbelievably addictive when sweetened. Sadly they have been the main ingredient in chocolate candy products . Scientific reality is that this can bring on heart problems diabetes cancer obesity and the list just keeps on growing. Q Do you ever get tired of the business A After 30 years YES there are times you ll feel somewhat weary but it quickly disappears when you have a thankful customer. Q Can my dog eat chocolate A Absolutely not. Chocolate contains certain properties that can be toxic to animals such as caffeine and theobromine. If ingested these two ingredients can also lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal for your dog. Q I read that dark chocolate is good for you. Does that mean the more I eat the better I ll feel A Well yes and no. Studies have shown that REAL dark chocolate is good for you is loaded with minerals and nutrients that are good for us all contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet for improved health. However this doesn t mean you go overboard. Again moderation is the key. Q Can I leave chocolate in the car for a few hours A Obviously if the temperature is over 18 degrees and sunny then the answer would be NO. One has to use common sense. Q My friend is only a little bit allergic to nuts so is it OK to buy some truffles with nuts A As much as I would like to sell you some of our beautiful chocolates the answer is a definite NO . You don t want to take any chances when it comes to someone s health. Q Can I put the truffles in the fridge A Like a fine wine they are best served at room temperature. However to extend the shelf life you should put them in the fridge. Q Is white chocolate really chocolate A No white chocolate is not chocolate in the strict sense as it does not contain cocoa solids the primary nutritional constituent of chocolate liquor. 7 Women of Distinction Maxine Billings Author - Fiction Inspiration Self-Published Author Temple GA 8 Women of Distinction W hile Maxine Billings has been a published author for 11 years she has self-published her books for the past five years. What s kept Maxine in her career for so long is her love of writing. If I was in it for the money I would have given it up a long time ago especially now that I m my own publisher. Another thing that keeps me going is my readers. Receiving a letter or e-mail that expresses the positive ways my stories have touched people s lives brings tears of happiness and a smile to my face. Maxine currently has nine published fiction novels and is currently working on her first nonfiction novel her mother s autobiography. She has also brought her two illustrations of the fictional characters Eevie and Pearl to life. These are elderly women from my books One of a Kind and Desperate Hearts . I also have three blogs that I write for (one for myself one for Eevie and one for Pearl). In her free time Maxine enjoys participating in volunteer spiritual activities such as going in the house-to-house ministry within the community by engaging in the Bible education work which Jehovah s Witnesses are known for. I do everything that has to be done myself. Not only do I write and publish my own stories but I also do my own research proofreading editing book covers publicity book signings etc. However I do have a very dear friend J. Hale Turner who is also an author whom I brainstorm and exchange critique with. She also recently drew a sketch of a character from two of my books. I also recently hired an illustrator to color the sketch as well as to draw and color another character from the same two books. Maxine has loved reading and writing as far back as she can remember but never considered writing as a career until one of her first cousins (Jacquelin Thomas) became a published author in the late 1990s. I was so inspired by her stories that I started writing my first manuscript in 1999 and completed it in early 2000. I received a couple of rejections from publishers who said that although they felt it was a good story it didn t meet their current needs. In the meantime I started writing a completely different story which took me about a year to complete. About this time my cousin s publisher BET Books was coming out with a new imprint New Spirit for fiction inspirational writers. She suggested that I submit my story idea to them. Since this was exactly the genre I wanted to write for I immediately jumped at the opportunity and in November of 2001 I submitted my idea to them. She anxiously waited for a call from BET Books. Because Jehovah s Witnesses are often misunderstood I would like readers to know that I am a person who loves people and life. Yes I am different from most people in a lot of ways but I also share many basic human feelings that other people have. I have a family who I love and care about very much. I have my ups and downs my highs and lows and my joys and pains just like everyone else. Please don t judge me based on anyone s negative perception or opinion of who they may think I am and try to get to know me as a person (an individual) who very much wants to have good relationships with people. Maxine has been married for over 33 years to her husband Tony. Together they have two children Natasha (daughter) and Stefan (son). A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. Proverbs 22 1 This is how Maxine Billings wants to be remembered by her God her family and the world. I waited and waited and waited to hear back from them. By the time a year had gone by I had almost given up hope that they d be interested. So gradually I put the idea of writing out of my mind and my life went on as usual being a wife and mother and working my full-time job as a secretary for the State of Georgia (which at that time I d been doing for over 21 years). Then one day in late 2002 (out of the blue) there was a message for me on our answering machine when I got home from work. It was BET Books They were interested in my story and wanted to publish it. I received a twobook contract and an advance. My first book A Measure of Faith was released in April 2004. And that was the beginning of my career as a published author 9 Q&A Q What do you enjoy most about being an author A I enjoy creating characters in my mind and bringing them to life on paper and digital print. I love putting them onto the theater stage of my reader s mind s eye and having them perform for their audience. Q What do you enjoy least about being an author A Editing It s so tedious and after a while I get very tired and frustrated. Sometimes I start second-guessing myself too much which causes me to start changing things. If I m not careful I get way off track. Q How did you feel the first time you saw your book for sale in the bookstore A WOW That was a really exciting moment one I will never forget I was on my lunch break and had gone to Borders at the mall on the release date to speak with the manager about autographing the copies they had for sale in the store. As I walked through the door there was A Measure of Faith on a display table with some other new releases Not wanting to make a spectacle of myself I contained my composure. However on the inside my heart felt like it was about to jump through my chest. Q What is the force that drives your muse A To sum it up in one word LIFE. So much can happen in our lives on a daily basis not just good things but also trials of various sorts. Since I write fictional stories about real life issues life is where I get the most inspiration for my characters and their stories. Q What is the title of your most recently published novel A Desperate Hearts was released in September 2014. It is the sequel to my short story One of a Kind . It s about how two people can get so caught up in their own personal emotions or situations to the point where things seem to be too much for them to cope with. I try to show that despite how much two people love each other sometimes there can be a lot of pain with it when their hearts are condemning them for feelings they didn t know they had nor can be explained. Q Are you currently working on any new projects A Yes I m currently working with my mother on my first nonfiction novel her autobiography. We are having so much fun with it She s recording tapes for me. I ve gone through all of her old photos and will include several in her book. I grew up on Mama s stories. She is a master storyteller. She I and our entire family are very excited about this project Q What is the main thing you want people to get from your books when they read them A I love writing fiction inspirational stories because I feel that they inspire my readers and give them hope that no matter what we have to endure in life with God s help and our close circle of family and friends we can overcome the challenges. I feel that as long as there is breath in our bodies there is always hope that things will get better. Q What do you do to overcome writer s block A If the ideas aren t flowing what I don t do is try to force myself to come up with things to write. I stop and give myself a break for however long it takes (which usually isn t very long). The next thing I know my writing juices are flowing again. Q How long do you plan to write A For as long as God allows. I have so many stories floating around inside my head. I just wish I could write them all as fast as I get them. Life is so interesting that I don t think I ll ever run out of stories to tell. My goal has always been and still is to write wholesome stories for family entertainment. I m so grateful that God has allowed and continues to allow me to do this. Q Of all of the books that you ve published so far which is your favorite and why A The Breaking Point because I feel it is the book that I first felt comfortable enough writing to just be myself. When I submitted the manuscript for A Measure of Faith to BET Books although my editor liked it she told me that it was quiet. Inwardly I agreed with her because when I wrote it I was so concerned about writing something that someone would consider offensive that I was very rigid with my characters. But when I began writing The Breaking Point that was the start of my learning to develop my characters better and to make them more realistic and believable. One of my dear friends (J. Hale Turner) and I call it my breaking out book. 10 Women of Distinction Shawn L. Stewart Health and Wellness Inventor Owner of Artho Body Suit Founder and Co-Owner of SKG Enterprises 1 LLC 11 Newport News VA Women of Distinction S hawn L. Stewart is the inventor owner of Artho Body Suit and part owner of two health and wellness businesses in two states. She s driven by a passion to help others avoid the pain she went through in the medical system. (More on that in the Q & A below.) I m the driving force of my businesses and since Artho Body Suit is my invention like my child I m very proud of it. I dedicate 150% of my time and effort to making sure that everything is properly completed. You can learn all about Shawn s work and the Artho Body Suit in the Q & A section but her journey through life has been rather unique. For the first seven years of her life Shawn was raised by her grandparents before living with her mother in Alaska. Four years later she went abroad to attend the Kylemore Abbey International School for Girls in Galway Ireland that was founded and operated by Benedictine nuns. After graduating Shawn spent the two next years at DIT s Conservatory of Music in Dublin Ireland. She then gained four years of work experience before moving to Italy to connect with music again. During that time she had the opportunity to sing on a compilation album recorded at a closed event for the Catholic Association of Rome supported by Pope John Paul II at the Santa Cecilia di Auditoria in the Vatican City. Family brought Shawn back to the U.S. for the next three and a half years but she later went back to Italy to complete a music course in Jazz Blues and Rock at the Saint Louis College di Musica in Rome. After that Shawn returned home to join the U.S. Navy s band as a professional military vocalist. However in 2012 she was injured to the point where she had to choose a different career. (More on that in the Q & A below.) Since starting this journey each day has been an uphill battle but the fulfillment I get assures me that I m doing something right. The best advice I ve ever heard is that persistence beats resistance . It may feel like you re being pushed but if you truly have faith and believe in what you re fighting for keep persevering and moving forward and you ll succeed. Always believe in yourself and NEVER give up on your dreams. Love what you do and give love doing it. You are your own success because when you give your best expect the best and you will receive the best. Shawn enjoys spending her free time with friends and family as well as singing concerts reading camping traveling movies the theatre and volunteer work. I ve sung at events for the Alaska Food Drive and currently sing at functions and events for a local dentist who promotes the awareness of periodontal disease. In the next 5-10 years Shawn would like to start a charm school nationwide for children 7-17 years of age to study music the arts and classical traditions. Since my last duty was at Naval Station Norfolk my significant other and I live in Newport News VA where I m currently earning a medical assisting degree to support my businesses in health and wellness to complement my partners (a naturopathic doctor and a RN with a master s degree). Shawn s family has played a very important part in her life. I love my family and have the upmost respect for my grandparents for sacrificing so much to come to the United States and bringing my mother aunts and uncles from the Philippines to have a better and more successful life. I owe my success to my grandparents and mother. My mother is my rock my support system and the wind beneath my wings. I feel I m the luckiest daughter in the world for having my mother. I also have a loving significant other and his family who support me in everything I do. Women of Distinction Q&A Q What is the Artho Body Suit A My invention the Artho Body Suit is a Far Infrared (FIR) sauna in the form of a suit which assists in the healing process of acute and chronic pain. The suit assists in raising the metabolism to burn calories and helps with releasing toxins out of the body by promoting healthy circulation. Q Why do you feel your Artho Body Suit is relevant today A I feel that people today are looking more into alternative natural medicine to heal and are starting to turn away from pharmaceutical medicine unless it is vitally important. Q What are your other businesses A My partners and I have a body contouring and weight-loss company. We are also distributors of cryolypolysis machines (body contouring machines) and other accessories for personal home use. Q What else do your businesses entail A Along with the body contouring machine we have a healthy lifestyle plan which moves toward the naturopathic and homeopathic medicine that works well with the weight loss and healthy lifestyle desired. Q How much weight can you lose with a body contouring machine A One of my business partners (Dr. Mike) and I did two weeks of research on 10 clients and depending on the lifestyle of the client and what area was desired to treat) the measurements ranged from to 3 inches decrease in one treatment. Q What made you choose the health and wellness field A Plan A was to stay in the military as a professional vocalist for U.S. Navy s band as my career. However I got injured and the military hospital and clinics did not give me the care I needed so my injuries got worse and I was medically separated. I chose this field to help others avoid a similar experience. Q Why do you focus on injuries and weight-loss A I was an athlete outside and in the military. Athletes get injured all the time and need a proper way to heal not just thrown medication. I also chose weight-loss because it is important to learn and teach the importance of excess weight and the affects it has on the body especially the joints. I would like to add that after I was injured and not looked after properly the stress and pain of my injuries caused me to gain weight causing more pain. I m slowly but surely working on a regimen with healthy eating and a fitted exercise plan to be healthy and strong again. Q Who would you consider to be someone you look up to A Definitely my mom. She s also a business woman and a pioneer in the medical field of home healthcare in her state. My mom instilled in me to always stay productive and do my very best in everything I do. She always told me the truth and encouraged me to be true to myself. I m eternally grateful to have my mother as my inspiration and it would be an honor to be like her. Q What is your long-term goal A My personal health and wellness and helping others is a goal in itself. Injuries weight-loss and the desire to stay healthy will forever be a universal goal. I m grateful to be a part of it. 13 Women of Distinction Angela Margolit Computer Software Vehicle Rental Point-of-Sale and Back Office President Bluebird Auto Rental Systems Dover NJ 14 Women of Distinction O ne of the best parts of owning a small business is that you are aware of everything that s going on around you when it comes to customers prospects and employees not to mention the projects and products. Working in computer software as the President of Bluebird Auto Rental Systems Angela Margolit can appreciate that there s never a dull moment that time really does fly by when you love what you do and that there s nothing more satisfying that working in a rapidly changing field that enables you to grow and evolve because if you play your cards right you ll be around for the long haul. Working in computer programming for several government contractors then as a sales rep for Datapoint Corporation Angela first heard of Bluebird Systems while attending a national sales conference. After working in several vertical markets in the southwest she was hired by Bluebird to sell Bluebird s auto rental software throughout the northeast. When the opportunity presented itself for her to buy out their auto rental division Angela was in a position to raise seed capital by creating a Limited Partnership. In November 2003 her new management team moved the operations from Carlsbad California to Parsippany New Jersey while supporting more than 200 customers. The rest is history. When I asked the founder of the original Bluebird Systems Hal Tilbury if I could buy out the Auto Rental division he replied If anyone could make it work you could . He then orchestrated the creative financing to make it work for both of us with a very mindful eye on cash flow for the new company Angela said about the takeover. Bluebird Auto Rental Systems has been supporting customers globally for more than 30 years with the help of their car rental software. Overseeing sales marketing and administration aspects of the business Angela also gives direction to product development and customer support as president of the company. She has made continuous strides to make Bluebird one of the most productive and enjoyable companies to work for and it has been a blessing many times over. Still at the forefront of the industry Bluebird was one of the first software applications to be offered as SaaS in a Windows environment and they were recognized by Raymond James of Wall Street for their leadership. Remaining aggressive by seeking new markets and geographical regions in an effort to keepgrowing Angela and her team look forward to a very financially healthy future. 15 Women of Distinction Q&A Q Why do you feel that your business is important in today s world A Car Rental is the 3 Travel Industry sector following only air transportation and lodging. Our society is becoming more and more dependent on technology. When I started this company 21 years ago many car rental companies were still running their business with paper and pencil. But no more Our business strives to provide customers with the most efficient usage of technology providing easy to use software and devices at a fair price. Q Do you have a lot of competitors in this niche market How do you differentiate yourself from the competition A If you factor in all of the different markets we serve plus all of the geographical areas than yes we have at least a dozen viable competitors. To differentiate ourselves we tout that we offer choices. We are the only company that advertises that we still sell our system on-premises in addition to SaaS. Instead of partnering with just one credit card processing company we work with several. Q Other than the purchase of Bluebird what was the scariest thing you ve ever done A I bought another company Collen Technologies in 1998 We needed to bring on technicians that were well trained on Microsoft servers and operating systems. It also gave us some diversification. It went so smoothly that I purchased yet another company Orion Systems which was a competitor. That acquisition was instrumental in allowing us to offer even more services and tackle new geographical areas. Q As in many industries there has been significant consolidation due to mergers and acquisitions in the Car Rental Industry. How has this impacted you A There is nothing as constant as change and the way to win is to keep one step ahead. We tackled new markets such as dealerships and equipment rentals. The former has been extremely successful and now dealerships represent a significant portion of our customer base and they keep growing. However not all new market ventures have been successful. But we have learned how to approach them carefully so as not to burn too many resources. Q What else do you do differently A We hold bi-annual Users Conferences email quarterly newsletters and created an online call center so that any customer can enter and track their support tickets. Q What is your company culture like A We are very family-oriented. Every child of any employee has been in our office or has worked for us during the summer. We hold many annual events which have become traditions like summer picnics holiday parties and winter outings. Q How has that been epitomized A Longevity We now have 35 employees the most we have ever had (we started with nine in 1993). Not including me five have been with us over 20 years. Q What advice would you give to small business owners who want to get to the next level A You need to grow the business large enough so that you can work on the business and not just in it. I still give a hand with sales or support when needed but I don t need to be in the office every day. Learn how to delegate and put your trust in your employees. Q How have you been able to balance a home and professional life A By marrying a very supportive and understanding husband Q What has changed in the last year A Social media. We were early adopters of a new technology and this was a home run for us. I hired a recent college grad and he maintains all of our outlets by posting blogging and tweeting on a regular basis. The search engines pick up on this activity and rank us highly. 16 Women of Distinction Deidre M. Walls Grants Management for Criminal Justice and Mental Health Services Chief Executive Officer CDH Management and Consulting LLC Sr. Technical Assistance Manager JBS International Inc. Washington DC 17 Women of Distinction U sing the principles that she learned from her parents to have integrity to treat others the way she would want to be treated and to have respect for herself because others would in turn respect her Deidre M. Walls has dedicated her career in the field of grants management to making a difference. In the late 1990 s Deidre worked for the District of Columbia government in the Office of Research and Analysis as the director for the competitive services division. Working with various government agencies and community-based organizations with their grant process which included the development and preparation of grant request for applications grant application reviews and grantee site monitoring after award the government eventually dissolved the division. Soon after Deidre decided to start her own business where she continued to work with various government agencies as well as review grant applications for various other agencies. As the CEO of CDH Management and Consulting LLC in Washington DC Deidre oversees the recruitment and management of consultants who provide various grants management services (such as grant reviews briefing discussions with government officials). Mentored by several female supervisors and colleagues who have demonstrated how to go about creating your own path and to strive for success in spite of obstacles Deidre continues to do the work she does knowing that it s not about the job but about the success stories of the grantees and their clients as a result of her efforts. Q&A Q What are some of the most important things to remember if you want to work in this field A You must do your research and be willing to work with a company to learn the ins and outs before jumping out there. Make sure you have plenty of resources and contacts and put a plan in place with timelines form implementation. Look for feedback on your ideas and work towards your goal daily. Q Do you feel that you have to work in government in order to be a civil servant to your community A Absolutely not. You can be a civil servant and still achieve greatness at the same time. Q What was one of your greatest obstacles in your career A Losing my job with the government and knowing that what I did was crucial to other government agencies was hard to accept. That is why I ended up founding CDH Management and Consulting LLC. Q Were there any hurdles that you had to face that were directly related to your industry A When the economy went downhill and those same government agencies decided to handle their grant processes in-house I needed a backup plan. This led me to working with other consulting firms that were doing the same work I did but on a larger scale. Q Do you consider the work that you do stressful Why or why not A No because the organizations I work with currently have grants and just need the assistance on maintaining the grant and how to sustain the program after the grant period is over. Q Looking back would you still be working in this field if you knew then what you know today A Yes. If what you are doing is your passion and it is for me than it is important to stick with it. Do not quit. It may take a lot of time but the results are worth it. Q Have you always worked in government A No. After graduating from college I worked for Xerox Corporation as a printing systems sales representative and then I worked with the Department of Corrections as a vocational training instructor staff assistant executive assistant to the associate director for inmate programs and special assistant to the deputy director. From there I worked with another government agency where I began my career in the grants management field before starting my own business. I enjoy working with the criminal justice population because everyone deserves a second or even third chance. The grantees that work with this population provide inspiration to their clients every day Deidre said. Through my work I am also able to make an impact training staff and providing guidance so that they have the necessary tools to pass it on to their clients. Deidre also works as a senior technical assistance manager for JBS International Inc. providing management and oversight to over 120 expert consultants and managing trainings and technical assistance to federally funded criminal justice grantees. This technical assistance ranges from conducting implementation site visits at the start of their grant to trainings in various topics for staff to identify other consultants with specific expertise to work with the grantee in areas of client recruitment and retention. Deidre holds a BS in Computer Science Magna Cum Laude from St. Augustine s College. Married for the past nine years to husband Steven W. Walls Deidre and he share a 3-year old son Steven Jr. They reside in Upper Marlboro Maryland. 18 Karen Martello Cooney Medical Billing and EMR Management Chief Executive Officer of IJMedical Billing Co. LLC 19 Garden City NY Women of Distinction K aren Martello Cooney is the CEO of IJMedical Billing a company that provides billing services and health management to private doctors and to the underserved and undertreated community in sections of the five boroughs of New York City. These individuals receive the quality of care follow up care and meaningful use of medical diagnostic testing that they ordinarily wouldn t have available to them. This is basically my second career. I worked as a National Account Manager of fragrance and cosmetics with global brands in the Tax and Duty and US Domestic retail markets for approximately 15 years (cumulatively). When the retail industry became increasingly more difficult with the downturn of the market in 2008 I knew it was a time for a change. However I still wanted to interact with people daily and provide a high level of service utilizing my computer sales and creative problem solving skills. The timing was perfect for Karen because her brother-in-law s (a physician in pulmonary and sleep medicine) practice was rapidly growing and in need of assistance. Over the years we ve developed a range of products and services that provide physicians with a complete platform encompassing the entire medical practice workflow. Our current client base covers the full spectrum of medical specialties including internal medicine pulmonary allergy and sleep medicine. Karen attended Berkeley College and studied business management in the early 1980s. In the late 1990s she earned Network Administrator certificates from Microsoft and Cisco as well as a Microsoft Systems Engineer (MCSE) certificate. She s also been a member of the AAPC for the past five years and continues to pursue excellence through continuing education in all areas applicable to her profession. I felt this was a good time to change my career path to something that would combine my strengths in computers and marketing. Healthcare billing and management is a demanding and timeconsuming discipline and improving services for the physician and practice is an on-going challenge. The challenge lies with the business of medicine which is growing more complicated each day as insurance reimbursement rates decline operating costs go up and administrative challenges increase. It s becoming increasingly difficult to balance managing the business of your practice with the quality of care your patients receive. At some point many practices wonder if they should hire a billing service. As a member I adhere to high standards that assure public confidence in the integrity and service of medical coding auditing compliance and practice management. Karen has been married for 20 years and has three children. Alexandra (19) is starting her second year of college Matthew (17) is a high school senior at Bergen Catholic in Oradell NJ and Daniel (15) is starting his second year of high school. They re all success-bound happy healthy and productive individuals. (Thank God ) My goal is to be able to pass this business on to one or all of them if that s their interest and or it continues to grow and flourish. 20 Women of Distinction Q&A Q What certifications are necessary in your field A Certification is different from being licensed. Licensing is typically required by state government agencies to demonstrate a minimum level of knowledge or ability as required by law. Quite honestly as long as I ve been in medical billing either as an employee or business owner I ve never been asked if I m credentialed in billing. However certification certainly enhances your credibility and salary potential. Q Why is converting to electronic medical records (EMR) so important in the health field today A It brings meaningful use to the patient s medical history and background. It also eliminates the guess work of a patient s drug use history any drug interactions and dangerous allergies to drugs by having one common database. And physicians are brought up to date on the patient s medical history testing lab work etc. through easy portal access. Q How different is being in fragrance sales marketing vs. owning a medical billing management company A It s not all that different. You re still providing an excellent product that is a reflection on your company and reputation. Just like converting products at point of sale to quick sell through medical billing and administration is a flawless and smoothly transitioning business of maintaining a fast stream of revenue to the medical businesses from the insurance companies. It requires an up-to-date knowledge of the marketplace revenue trends expert technology and information readily available. Q How often do you need to update your credentials and continuing education A Very often. It s an ongoing feat to keep on top of CEUs and industry-wide information. It changes constantly and can affect your revenue and workflow. It s also necessary to attend Medicare webinars and seminars as well as commercial carriers. If you re not informed up to the minute it can have an impact on reimbursements across the board. Q How profitable are private practices especially with Obamacare in full effect A Most medical practices today are barely getting by financially. Declining reimbursements from government and private payors along with increasing operating expenses associated with new mandates such as Meaningful Use and ICD-10 are causing many practices to lose profitability. That s where my company can help the typical private single or multi-physician practice. We eliminate the common pitfalls associated with running a private practice and help to navigate through all the complicated demands put on them. Q How do you stay abreast of this ever-changing industry A As mentioned previously find time to attend webinars and seminars of the latest medical guidelines and keep up with coding changes and modifications and important mandates placed on physicians and their practices facilities. There isn t a week that goes by that I am not attending an online class webinar or reviewing industry updates. Q Where do you see yourself in five years A Continue to grow and build my business by helping small practitioners survive in a very difficult climate. Bring new technology to these practices as it becomes available so they can stay current and competitive. Employ those who need jobs and can work from home especially single mothers and those in need of employment. Teach them new skills and discipline. Q Why do you feel that your service is important in today s medical profession A It provides the important use of shared patient data across all platforms for all health professionals to easily access especially in the case of a health crisis. 21 Women of Distinction Liz Steblay Management Consulting Founder Chief Executive Officer PrKo Consulting LLC San Francisco CA 22 Women of Distinction C onsulting is the perfect fit for Liz Steblay s personality. She loves assessing a situation and diagnosing the root cause of a problem before working with a client team to lay out a strategy and plan to reach objectives. Focusing on her love of the short-term nature of the work along with many other benefits that go along with consulting Liz formed PrKo Consulting LLC in 2009 in San Francisco California. Providing a network of highly seasoned top tier consultants across the country with expertise in strategy implementation human resources and organizational effectiveness program management marketing finance and operations their expertise allow for quick diagnosis and implementation of strategies that solve complex business problems. Working in various industries with both large and small organizations some of their more well-recognized clients include Facebook Nike and The Gap to name a few. To be a consultant with PrKo one must possess a number of qualifications including at least 15 years of experience in their field prior consultancy experience and outstanding references. Liz represents only the best in the business. As Founder and CEO Liz handles the negotiations and contracts for new consulting projects interviews and screens consultants who want to represent PrKo works with existing clients to make the contracting and on-boarding process faster and easier helps PrKo consultants with their personal branding and marketing handles marketing and publicity to get the word out about the company s model and oversees accounting which is handled by an independent CPA. I have a thirst for learning and figuring out new companies environments and cultures Liz admits. My modus operandi has always been to be the wizard behind the curtain willingly giving my client counterparts the spotlight which is perhaps why I am blessed to get so much repeat business. By the time Liz had gone back to school to earn her MBA in the 1990s she had already thought about the possibility of specializing in consulting. Her first job after grad school was as an internal consultant with Intuit software the makers of Quicken QuickBooks and TurboTax . She then became an external consultant with Price Waterhouse (now PwC Consulting) before accepting another internal consultant role with Levi Strauss & Company in 2001. But two years later Liz found herself unemployed when their board of directors pulled the funding for the program she was a part of. champion for professional independent consultants Liz said who came from a family of entrepreneurs. I ve learned that with a clear purpose persistence passion and a lot of long days it s possible to achieve my dreams. The daughter of a father who founded and built up a national photofinishing company a very business savvy mother and the sister of four brothers three of them entrepreneurs themselves Liz earned her BS in Business Administration at the University of Southern California followed by her MBA in 1995 at the same university from their Marshall School of Business. At this point I d like to become the national Within a few weeks I was an external consultant again this time as an independent consultant doing work for one of my former PwC clients. I ve been an independent consultant ever since Liz said. PrKo is a modern innovative talent model that brings together professional independent consultants and corporations without the excessive markup of traditional firms while effectively mitigating co-employment risk. 23 Women of Distinction Q&A Q How did you come up with the idea for a professional talent agency for consultants A My personal experiences as an independent consultant initially gave me the idea but I also looked at other industries including moviemaking and home remodeling. For example if you are making a major motion picture in Hollywood you are likely to call the Creative Artists Agency to help you find the right lead actor. You decide you want to hire Daniel Craig. You work out the contract with CAA but Daniel Craig is not their employee he has his own business. I discovered that the same model would work for top-tier professional independent consultants. With regard to home remodeling I realized that the general contractor has the main contract and he often subs out the specialist work like custom cabinets or tile work. The general contractor carries the liability insurance not the subcontractors. I researched insurance companies and policies until I found ones that would work the same way for our consultants. Q What s the hardest part about running the business A Saying no to very well qualified people who want to be a part PrKo. Sometimes a person lacks the professionalism or gravitas to be perceived as a world-class consultant or sometimes I get a sixth sense about a person that there s something not quite trustworthy about them. Those are difficult conversations. Q You ve trademarked the phrase Friends don t let friends W-2 . What does this mean A Professional independent consultants are much better off financially when they are paid as a vendor on a 1099 basis then when they are paid on a W-2 basis through a staffing firm. They can take standard business expenses as tax deductions and contribute to a Simplified-Employee-Pension IRA (SEP-IRA) which is a much better savings plan than a 401(k) plan. Q What has been the most frustrating thing about launching and growing your own business A I live in the Bay Area where you always hear about some wunderkind who just got 10 million in venture capital or who just sold their business for 100 million. It s easy to feel like if you re not getting rich quick you re not doing it right. I played with the idea of getting external funding or bringing on a partner but then I realized I d have to compromise my vision for the business and possibly some of our operating values. Q What is one your pet peeves in business A I hate it when consultants do more talking than listening. This gives me the impression that they feel a need to be perceived as the expert when in fact the reverse is true. The better a consultant listens the better they are able to tailor their comments or questions to address the client s real need thus making them an expert consultant. Q What traits have helped you to succeed A Perseverance and passion There were definitely times in the last six years as I was juggling client projects raising my daughter as a single parent and growing the business that I wanted to quit but I knew I couldn t. From the earliest days of the business I had other consultants counting on PrKo to help them 24 be successful I had no choice but to keep going Q If you could change one thing in corporate America what would it be A I would love to shatter the misconception of many HR departments that the only way to mitigate co-employment risk (essentially being sued and owing back taxes to the government) is to pay someone on a W-2 basis through a third-party. The reality is that model of staffing and payment minimizes the tax exposure but it does not fully mitigate the risk of coemployment. In actuality a solid contracting process does a better job of mitigating the risk for the corporation. Q Is there any precedent for the PrKo talent model A Yes. Corporations hire independent professionals frequently without requiring a W-2 relationship attorneys. It s quite common for a corporation to hire a sole practitioner as outside counsel and they are always paid on a contract basis. Additionally they are never asked for proof of other clients or their insurance or asked how many employees they have. PrKo s professional independent consultants are like attorneys in that they are hired to solve a specific problem they have deep expertise in their field they use their own methodologies tools and templates they perform work for more than one client and they manage their own work. Most of them have advanced degrees too. Why shouldn t an MBA be able to contract with a corporation the same way a lawyer does There s no legal practical or ethical reason the PrKo model makes it possible. Q What does it take to be a PrKo Consultant A PrKo represents highly seasoned professionals with at least 15 years of experience in their field and at least one year as an independent consultant. They also must have prior consulting experience either internally with a Fortune 500 company or as an external consultant with a major firm like Accenture or PwC Consulting. Ideally they are referred to PrKo by someone who is already affiliated with PrKo. (We grow through referral to ensure the quality of the people we represent.) The rigorous vetting process typically takes a few weeks. Q Is there a difference between a freelancer contractor and or consultant A Yes although it s often misunderstood. Generally speaking the type of work complexity and duration varies across the three. A freelancer is someone who does small projects on a short-term basis and it s usually related to a creative field. A contractor is someone who performs work at a certain price or rate the work may be skilled or unskilled and is generally task oriented or fairly routine. A consultant is someone who is hired to solve a problem provide advice and or make something happen that the company is unable to do themselves. Usually if a company is hiring a consultant it is because they do not have the capability to do it themselves. Maria A. Horstmann MBA CPT PNL1 Health and Fitness Owner of Be Fab Be You LLC Empowering Women To Be Fit and Healthy Age Beautifully Be You 25 Atlanta GA Women of Distinction M aria A. Horstmann s career in health nutrition and fitness started when she sought a way to maintain her functional independence cognitive abilities and always be a content active role model without medications until her last breath. So in 2011 she began to educate herself about multiple facets of wellness and how to heal her body and mind. It quickly turned into a passion and desire to share with others so she established Be Fab Be You LLC in 2014. I strive to provide knowledge accountability support and guidance to allow clients to succeed taking charge of their own well-being feel fabulous prevent disease and restore health holistically as well. Empowering my clients witnessing their growth commitment and results give me hope and strength. Each relationship I develop is unique special and priceless. Prior to starting her own business Maria s biggest challenge was leaving Brazil a great job college family and friends and her boyfriend in 1996 to come to the U.S. for an 18-month internship. I am a coach a listener a mentor and forever a student. I go far and beyond to educate provide accountability guidance support and human connection to help my clients achieve their health goals. I develop and provide individualized health wellness and fitness recommendations targeted to help those struggling with weight belly fat fatigue brain fog burnout blood sugar and hormone imbalances digestion inflammation libido and depression. I evaluate educate support and train Her passion for life helping others and paying it forward is what keeps Maria in business. My mission is to empower women to be fit and healthy age beautifully be you In my own case I reversed pre-diabetes and healed chronic digestive and GI issues holistically. It took commitment and self-learning. It was a hard and lonely journey without a support system. It was my first time on an airplane overseas and away from family. Learning a new job as I managed to learn a new culture language and lifestyle was very challenging. I remember I cried about every day for the first month. I wanted to give up so badly. Instead I decided to stay and focus on pursuing my career goals in international business. Maria wants her legacy to be someone who loved to learn shared her knowledge and motivated others to do the same someone who worked hard played hard followed her heart without regrets and believed life was too short to allow others to interfere with her activities. She is someone with high integrity who practices what she preaches and has touched hundreds of lives. 26 Women of Distinction Q&A Q Why do you feel that your business is relevant in today s world A One of my jobs is to coach clients to make better decisions and get in touch with what s most important to them. For the first time in history we re raising a generation that will not outlive their parents. 1 out of every 2 Americans will be diagnosed with a diet-related disease. 1 in every 3 adults is obese and almost 1 in 5 youth between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese. Unhealthy eating and lack of activity kills 13 times more than guns. If current trends continue 1 in 3 Americans will develop diabetes during their life. Western medicine continues to improve but adds a patch to the problem instead of finding the root cause. It can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate the health world. Q What s your philosophy regarding health wellness and fitness A I believe that living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is key to preventing repairing rebuilding and restoring health and function. I believe in real foods healing power and that we re what we digest and absorb. Moreover the management of stress sleep physical activity and timing when we do things is as important as nutrition. Yet everyone s physiology is different and no one diet or protocol fits all. Personal responsibility goal setting and commitment are essential to long-term health and wellness. Q Why do you emphasize disease prevention A Three reasons (1) Inflammation is culprit to numerous chronic and metabolic diseases. Silently it affects hormones and neurotransmitters. Diseases like cancer and dementia take decades to develop. I doubt anyone will argue the devastating side effects of dementia a fast growing disease in America. (2) More than 75% of our healthcare spending is on people with chronic conditions and many are preventable with lifestyle. (3) Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout life enhances recovery from injuries surgeries or genetic health conditions. It s never too early or late to get started Q What s the best advice you give your clients A First I love to share one of my mentor s client mottos Don t exchange what you want the most for what you want in the moment. This applies to so many aspects of our lives. Second experience plus beliefs equal thoughts . Thoughts trigger emotions and emotions and thoughts are energy. When the head and heart are aligned new beneficial habits can replace old destructive ones. Change is difficult no doubt. Knowledge is the foundation that enables action strength and vision to transform lives. Knowledge is only power when combined with action. Q What services and products do you offer A I offer a holistic approach to health and wellness by individualizing and customizing solutions targeted to combat a series of symptoms mentioned earlier. Services include weight management transformational lifestyle changes blood sugar balancing and insulin restoration programs wellness strategic sessions and functional personal training. I perform NRT (Nutrition Response Testing) also known as Applied Kinesiology a non-invasive technique that evaluates the body s imbalances and tests for food allergies that let us get to the root cause of health problems. I also work with high quality whole-foods based supplements from Standard Process . These products have proven very effective at supporting the body s nutrition needs. I also offer programs that can help companies lower their insurance costs and improve employee retention and productivity. Wellness programs offer tools. I offer one-on-one education and accountability. Last but not least I trust Nerium International s anti-aging products for outer beauty. I service clients located in Atlanta GA and surrounding suburbs and anywhere worldwide via phone and Skype. I also speak Portuguese and Spanish. I encourage everyone to visit my website for more details sign up for my newsletter and receive a FREE GIFT and do not miss the opportunity to schedule a FREE 45-minute consultation face-to-face via telephone or via Skype. 27 Women of Distinction Mary Vinagro Nature Photography Owner of Seven Lakes Exposure Wakefield NH 28 Women of Distinction W Exposure. hile she is the CFO and Co-Owner of several construction companies Mary Vinagro is happiest as sole owner of Seven Lakes Photography is something that I m passionate about. It allows me the opportunity to be outdoors and enjoy nature. Plus it keeps me sane on the weekends. Mary carries her cameras around wherever she goes. Growing up my father took our family s photos and videos. After he passed away I took over the camera work and liked it. Years later I started taking wildlife pictures after my husband and I built a place in the White Mountains. And in January of 2014 I gathered all of my favorite pictures and created a website to sell my work. Mary really enjoys capturing moments with her camera and would like to share New England and other places where she has traveled with the world. You never know when a photo opportunity might present itself. Her passion for photography started when she was a child. I hope I can inspire others to take a walk outside and appreciate nature. 29 Women of Distinction Q&A Q Why did you become a photographer A I started out taking family photos when was I was younger. I ve lost so many family members over the years that I hoped to capture moments with my loved ones. When my husband and I built a house in the White Mountains of New Hampshire seven years ago I really started to appreciate the outdoors of New England. I have been very fortunate to have all types of subjects (from plants to animals) in the area so I decided that I wanted to capture moments in nature and share them with others. Q How can your photographs inspire other women to follow their passions A As busy as my schedule is with my day job I make time to take photos. I hope that someone who reads this article is inspired to make the effort to follow through with an idea they may have been contemplating. I think everyone has a talent. They just need to put the effort in to find out what it is and go with it. I get tired of hearing excuses as to why someone can t do something. I prefer to figure out ways to make things happen. Q You work with wildlife. What is the longest time you ve waited for a shot A I ve spent several hours at a time hanging out in the woods waiting for the right shot. The most extensive project was chasing after a bald eagle. I am fortunate to have one living around my lake and I ve been trying to get a good shot of him for the seven years we ve been living in East Wakefield. He always managed to stay just far enough away. I kept buying bigger lenses in order to get close ups but he still eluded me. But about three months ago (early morning) my husband started yelling for me to look outside the living room window and sure enough the eagle was just sitting on a stump about 10 feet from our dock. I couldn t believe it. It was like the eagle was waiting for me. So I ran out the door (in my pajamas no less) sneaking from tree to tree until I could get close enough to take the shot. They are truly magnificent birds. Q What do you want your viewers to get out of your photography A I hope to inspire others to get outside and appreciate the outdoors. Too much time is spent in front the television and the computer. I would also love to decorate homes and businesses with my work. I would love to bring a smile to someone s face when they look at one of my photos especially if they are having a bad day or their job requires them to sit at a desk all day. Q How far do you want to expand A Nature photography appeals to me the most because I think New England is a unique and fascinating place to live but I am not ruling out the possibility of trying my hand at sports. I think it would be fun to capture moments in both professional and amateur events. Q What type of equipment do you use A I started out with a Minolta 35mm way back when. Now I use Sony a55 and Sony HX300 digital cameras. It s so nice to be able to instantly see the photos instead of having to wait for the film to develop. Q How will your talents as a photographer grow to obtain your goal A At some point I would like to take some classes to expand my knowledge. I still have a lot to learn about lighting. I love taking night shots but they can be a real challenge for me. The cameras also present a challenge because there are so many settings available. Q With the digital age your artwork can appear on cups banners shirts etc. Do you think this cheapens the artistry of the photo A My first thought was yes. I guess it can cheapen the artistry of the photo but from my perspective I just want to share what I see and enjoy. So whether it s hanging on a wall or staring back at you from your coffee mug as long as you get enjoyment out of the picture that s what really matters. Q What are your favorite things to photograph A Moonscapes are one of my favorite things to photograph. The ever-changing skyline when the moon is out and clouds are rolling in can be quite beautiful. I also love taking close-up shots of birds. New England has so many varieties and I ve learned to appreciate all the species we have in the area. Q Would you like to go beyond New England to take photos A I love to travel and hope to do more in the future. I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica last year and was amazed at the wildlife. My website has quite a few photos that I took during my stay and gives me the opportunity to share what I ve seen with others who may never get the chance to explore other places. 30 Women of Distinction A Ishah C. Braxton Media and Motivational Empowerment Founder and Chief Executivce Officer of The Conquering Woman LLC 31 Women of Distinction Ishah C. Braxton is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Conquering Woman LLC. She started The Conquering Woman (TCW) in 2011 because she wanted something that represented the arts but also a company that would empower women to strive and conquer their goals in life. This company is the foundation for a multi-faceted structure that will include books plays TV shows music and events and seminars that will help women conquer her dreams (big or small). A Ishah is a woman of many hats but enlisted the help and partnership of her President Carmen Maldonado to create a two-woman show . Carmen has been a great asset to the brand. We both represent TCW and work on material like collaborating on our first book planning a TV show and maintaining a social media presence. And of course there s getting our name out there so networking is very important for us. We hope within the next two years to solely rely on the income from TCW and put our all and soul into building it into what we want it to be. Her motivation to help other women comes from having been knocked down by life and many unforeseen situations. A I am and will always be a true momma s girl. I also believe that all women can conquer if they believe in themselves and in God. I m on my own mission to conquer my dreams and walk in my destiny. She genuinely wants all people to have joy and believe in the power of God. I always tell myself to keep standing. If you keep standing you can do anything. Even in my darkest hour there was a light of hope and hope is everything especially in times of darkness. In her free time A Ishah tries to reset herself and recharge because working a full-time job and growing a business is extremely hard and time-consuming. I ve wanted to give up to the point where I cried and needed my mom all the time. I m just like everyone else in that I ve been tested but I ve turned these tests into testimonies. A Ishah is driven by the grace of God and the wonderful women in her life such as her mother (Yvette M. Brown). As a very analytical person I need time to pray and write so I can get all the emotions from the week out of my mind and release my inner stress. I m an average woman trying to conquer life but like watching TV shows like Mary Mary Scandal and Empire to unwind at night. I ve also written three children s books and a selftitled Conquering Woman book (inspiration and self-help) for which I m shopping around to find publishers. I want to be a writer who influenced and changed people s lives. A Ishah also wants to leave a legacy of strength and love and for people to know that she too has been knocked down but she got up again. No one was ever going to keep her down. 32 Women of Distinction Carrie Armstrong Health Wellness and Fitness Founder Chief Executive Officer Stargazer Wellness Coaching LLC Group Fitness Instructor Personal Trainer Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Corporate Wellness Consultant 33 Women of Distinction San Antonio TX C arrie Armstrong is the Founder and CEO of Stargazer Wellness Coaching LLC offering a variety of services to clients including private health coaching group and personal fitness training and worksite wellness consulting. She s studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition Holistic MBA Corporate Wellness Academy Aerobics and Fitness Association of America University of Virginia and the University of Idaho. I ve been training for this career since I first picked up a basketball at age 4. I grew up in rural Idaho playing sports riding horses and hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. During college I fell in love with group exercise classes and dreamed about being a health and fitness professional but it took me 10 years to finally follow this passion. After a wonderful career at the University of Virginia in a variety of roles including Career Development Admissions and Alumni Relations I launched Stargazer Wellness Coaching LLC in October 2014. I chose the stargazer lily as its namesake because it symbolizes the achievement of a dream (and it s my favorite flower). She attributes her confidence to her fantastic parents George and Lissa Phillips and also thanks her mentors at the University of Virginia including Everette Fortner Brendan Boler Whitney Kester Elizabeth Muse and the late Fred Drake. Carrie s regrets waiting so long after college to join the health and wellness industry. I wish I had the confidence to launch my business when I was younger. I ve known for many years that coaching and teaching are my true passions which isn t surprising since many of my aunts and uncles both of my grandmothers and parents are teachers or athletic coaches . Her best advice for others is to be authentic because you ll have much more success if you use your time and talents to engage in work that interests you. Truly commit to learning and refining your craft share your skills with the world and your passion will shine through. As Maya Angelo said You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well people can t take their eyes off you. Carrie s dreams are coming true as she empowers others to live their happiest healthiest lives. How can she inspire you Schedule a complimentary Transformation Conversation at carrie They each gave me the confidence to create my own venture and pursue my ultimate dream of being a business owner who inspires others to make positive changes in their own lives. Today Carrie specializes in empowering busy women and teenagers. I wake up each morning knowing I m living my purpose of serving others and empowering them to live their happiest healthiest life. I dreamed about launching my own business because I wanted to help others transform their goals into reality. How many people know what to do yet are unsuccessful in achieving and maintaining their goals I provide a supportive 34 positive and fun environment where my clients thrive. Women of Distinction Cheri Rennells Logistics Customized Food Distribution East ROP Manager Customer Service Manager DC 96 for Golden State Foods Whitewater WI C heri Rennells is a Customer Service Manager for Golden State Foods where she leads a team who handles day-to-day restaurant concerns ensuring managers have just-in-time inventory. Cheri was greatly inspired by her mother who started in customer service and worked her way up to be a department head when she was young. Watching her work nights raise two kids and still have fun was amazing. Following in her mother s footsteps Cheri s entire career has revolved around customer service starting with a job at a Taco John s restaurant and later with a catalog company call center (Figi s Gifts in Good Taste). These both gave me great insight to customer service and the quick service restaurant industry with distribution. Cheri quickly grew with the call center and took on additional tasks such as working with Spanish-speaking customers and special projects. She also picked up more customer service values with an internship at Walt Disney World s Magic Kingdom as an Operations Cast Member. She later started with Golden State Foods as a part-time customer service representative while earning her MBA and went on to progress through the company in various full-time roles in customer service and purchasing including Customer Service Supervisor ROP Manager and to her current role as Customer Service Manager. While decisions about customer service can be a challenge Cheri has also faced many challenges from uncertainty of a facility closing to employees over the course of her career believing that she didn t care about them. Situations like these really shake up a person but make you realize how you handle uncertainty so you can improve on yourself. They ve helped me realize that while we know communication is important ensuring communication is done versus understood are very different. Sometimes you have to communicate the same message 12 different ways to ensure a team is moving in the right direction. This single mother dedicates her free time to a wonderfully energetic 4-year old son but also finds time for various causes such as acting as the Chairperson for her local Golden State Foods Foundation charity whose mission is to assist kids and families in need. She also enjoys being a swim coach for the Janesville Area Special Olympics participating in fundraisers to help and raise awareness of autism and donating blood to save lives. Cheri s philosophy on life is simple Unplug for a little bit. Let our children be children. And remember work is what allows you to live life. She also hopes to leave behind a legacy of tolerance common sense helpfulness and understanding. I really enjoy helping people when they re struggling. However you can t make everyone happy. (That s the biggest lesson I ve learned.) You have to make your decisions on what s best for the business and then what s best for your people. Without people you don t have a business but without a business there are no people. Customer service is always different. It s like a maze where the walls keep moving you always have to be on your toes. 35 Women of Distinction Coral (Lynne) Johnson C Beauty Spa & Travel Entrepreneur and Owner of DHP Travel by Diversity Hair Productions Millersville MD oral (Lynne) Johnson is an entrepreneur and the owner of DHP Travel by Diversity Hair Productions. With the encouragement of her late grandmother (a beautician) to continue her education Lynne enrolled in the Annapolis Beauty Academy in 1988 shortly after her death and became a licensed cosmetologist. Just before 9 11 she also studied Business Management and pursued a second career in the travel industry. Over the past 27 years Lynne has held many positions in the beauty industry which include salon owner acting manager cosmetology instructor freelance stylist and cosmetic manager distributor. My two most rewarding positions were as a barber beautician for the US Naval Academy where I was recognized for outstanding services to the midshipmen women and as a Rater for Prometric Testing where I administered exams for the State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers to candidates taking their state exams to become licensed cosmetologists estheticians manicurists and barbers. With the least seniority I was promoted to the Lead Rater Administrator position where I managed the department for practical exams at the Baltimore Maryland site. While still freelancing and renting space in a salon Lynne currently operates DHP Travel by Diversity Hair Productions (a home-based business) where she works as a travel event coordinator. Over the years I ve enjoyed working in the travel industry meeting people and providing hair care and other relaxing salon and spa services that enhance one s natural beauty. In order for DHP Travel to function at its highest capacity it s important to research services offered in salons spas and resorts around the world and strategically plan getaways and events that my clients will enjoy. One of Lynne s greatest challenges was finding the right multi-cultural upscale salon that would fit her personality and invite an African-American stylist with a predominately African-American clientele. Eventually I became weary which led me to start planning a business that would fit my personality and one that I could leave behind for someone as passionate as I am to run. For anyone starting out in the beauty industry Lynne offers the following advice Always think outside the box and continue your education. There s always room for innovative minds to keep the beauty industry fueling. Lynne is a strong woman who has endured and overcome a lot in life. I can identify with people from all walks of life and hope that I can give someone hope through my acts of kindness or faith in God. She has always lived her life by the following motto Encourage and support our children in their careers and dreams. Teach them to be selfsufficient and able to survive without you. Lynne is a proud grandmother with one biological daughter (Donice Stimeare) a son-in-law and four step-daughters from a previous marriage. She also has siblings many nieces nephews and great-nieces and nephews who she loves like her own and a partner who has helped her get through some tough times. I m very proud of all the children whom I ve sowed into especially my daughter who s shared me most of her life. You can learn more about her by visiting www.donicestimeare. com. 36 Women of Distinction Countess Vlandamir Preventative Maintenance Center Owner Operator Ms. V Auto Care Center Dallas TX W orking as a correctional officer for the State of Texas Department of Criminal Justice Countess Vlandamir was saddened to learn how many of the inmates would get released from prison only to end up back behind bars because they couldn t get a job due to their records and prior convictions. Finding themselves in trouble with the law again because they felt they had no other options Countess was determined to stop this cycle. Countess has learned over time to never say never. She never thought she would ever work in a prison or do many of the things she did in life but now as she reflects back on the life she has led she realizes that she s served a great purpose in life. I founded Ms. V Auto Care Center in Dallas Texas in 2003 Countess said. I ve teamed up with the Dallas Urban League Texas Rehabilitation and Texas Workforce Commission and we ve begun offering classes to certify men and women ex-offenders to be oil and lube technicians. After graduation we ll either assist them with job placement or they can come and work for me at Ms. V s. Although Countess admits that she cannot save them all she tries to help as many rehabilitees as possible. There isn t a day that goes by that she doesn t want to go to work even when she s dead tired. Driving 35 minutes each way to get back and forth to the shop she often puts in over 12 hours a day working from 8am to sometimes 10pm. Overseeing daily operations Countess is the HR manager marketing director bookkeeper manager and even referee at times. There is never a dull moment. Working in the auto care industry there is a lot of competition so Countess has to work hard to earn business and repeat customers. Working in a predominantly male industry Countess must constantly prove herself too to gain respect. But everyday counts and she is determined to keep the business going not only for the sake of her career but also for the sake of the countless employees she has taken under her wing. I am not just a woman who overcame barriers but a business women a mother a wife a friend a teacher one who was called to do God s work and did it well Countess said about her victories. I hope when others think of me they smile. Writing her first book Countess is an Eastern Star the vicepresident of the Lancaster Road Merchant Association and a member of the National Association of Female Executives. A divorced mother with three daughters she also has nine grandchildren all of which live in nearby Rowlett Texas. Her eldest daughter Rena has her own line of hair products and is married to Bryan who is in law enforcement. They share three sons. Her middle daughter Nicole has four children one of which passed away in 2010. Her youngest Keisha is now engaged to be married to Bruce and they have two daughters. 37 Women of Distinction Estelle R. Coffino Proprietary 2 and 4 year college education programs in Healthcare Business Networking Digital Media and Accounting Program Director Chairperson Allied Health Program White Plains NY E stelle R. Coffino is the Program Director Chairperson for the School of Allied Health at the College of Westchester in White Plains New York where she oversees programs in Medical Assisting Health Information Management and their recently approved Bachelors program in Healthcare Administration. Her career started in 1972 after graduating from Manhattan Community College as a Respiratory Therapist. I actually wanted to become a gymnastics instructor or even a gym teacher for a high school (preferably outside of New York). However as fate would have it I was selected to participate in an experimental college program during my senior year of high school based on my exceptional grades in math and science. However once I learned that the program was designed to prepare students to work in the healthcare field I panicked because I couldn t even stand the sight of blood. But with my mother s encouragement I enrolled in the program and eventually overcame my fear after seeing my first surgery and how much I was able to contribute to the patient s recovery post-operatively. Estelle remained in the field working for various tertiary hospitals for the next 30 years. While working as a director of respiratory care in Yonkers New York she returned to school to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Community Health. Having graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mercy College Estelle continued on to Long Island University where she earned her Master of Health Care Administration. She was later recruited to join The College of Westchester to help build its Allied Health programs. And now after almost eight years the School of Allied Health is its second largest school so Estelle s role as a Program Director includes a number of different responsibilities. As an academic administrator I develop and provide oversight to the allied health curriculum for both the associates and bachelor programs. In keeping current with the changes taking place in our complex health care industry I (along with my team) review and revise curriculum hire and evaluate faculty and serve as a member of our academic advisory council. With help from the facility team I ve designed two clinical laboratories with the latest state-ofthe-art equipment for our students to train and become proficient in performing clinical skills. Per our college mission we as one make it happen for our students. Her hard work has earned her the honorable distinction of being featured in the 2014 edition of Who s Who Top 101 Industry Experts in Health Care Delivery and she also qualifies for inclusion in the Who s Who Worldwide registry of executives professionals and entrepreneurs. Estelle wants to be known as someone who made a difference in many ways in many people s lives. She also believes in three simple rules to living life Remember to always be honest be humble and learn humility. I enjoyed my educational experience so much that when one of my professors suggested I pursue a career in teaching I applied and accepted an adjunct position at Rockland Community College in Suffern New York followed by a second teaching position at Bergen Community College in Paramus New Jersey. By day I was working in a hospital and in the evening I was an educator. Teaching healthcare became my new passion. 38 Women of Distinction Jean Underwood Towing Owner of Beaverton Towing LLC Beaverton OR J ean Underwood is the owner of Beaverton Towing LLC in Beaverton Oregon. The towing industry is considered to be a brotherhood of hard working men and women who want to service their community in various ways depending on the company s area and services they provide. This industry is now the leader in the country for roadside injuries and or deaths more so than police fire or even roadside workers. Jean has always tried to do the right thing no matter what. She believes in working to be the best at what is asked of her. Throughout the years she s worked as a nurse s aide for elderly and disabled adults a cashier and customer service associate at Walmart and even worked two jobs at the same time. She did all this while raising three children who are now grown up. My daughter is a hair stylist married to a wonderful man one son is a tower and my other son hosts gaming parties for kids. I m very proud of them and the roads they ve traveled. In August 2010 Jean s son (Robert) submitted her name to Tow Times Women of Towing . She s also a member of the WTRAA (Women of the Towing and Recovery Association of America). Jean was nominated by the NAPW (National Association of Professional Women) as a Woman of the Year for 2011-2012. And in 2012 she became an honored member of the Heritage Registry of Who s Who. Beaverton Towing LLC has also been a member of the OTTA (Oregon Tow Truck Association) since 2012. After a 35-year career Jean feels blessed grateful and privileged to have come so far. And she s met some great colleagues and people who ve become dear friends. She s even in a happy and rewarding marriage. God has certainly blessed me in many ways so I never try to take anything for granted. Towing is a hard profession and is 24 7 365 days a year. Weather conditions don t matter. Towers are always out on the roadways helping those in need with dispatchers taking information to keep the trucks moving. Jean s career began after graduating from high school in Vancouver WA when she met two brothers who were in the towing business. She immediately became fascinated. I met some interesting people and every service call was different. I also realized soon that there were very few women in the industry who actually drove a tow truck It was intriguing learning and watching people s faces when I would get out of the truck mostly men who would sit back and watch bully and poke fun at the situation. However Jean s determination and commitment proved them wrong. I continued to work 150% harder and was in love with the industry along with everything that came with it. I even learned dispatching and accounts payable and receivable. And knowing the Oregon towing laws and statutes that related to all facets of the industry was a plus. Knowledge is power Jean also advises anyone joining this industry that safety should ALWAYS be the number one priority. 39 Women of Distinction Karen Ayres Business Strategist Consulting and Executive Coaching President and Chief Executive Officer of Corporate Inspirations Surrey BC Canada K aren Ayres is the President and CEO of Corporate Inspirations (founded in 2005) where she assists organizations in aligning their business and personnel strategies developing talent and leadership skills to fill the succession pipeline. She also offers individual and team coaching. And if the talent cannot be developed or found within Karen offers external recruiting for key roles. Throughout her career various experiences and interactions were instrumental to Karen s success. But the catalyst was when a former CEO saw a spark in her and a passion for helping others learn and grow. He often invited me back after I graduated to be a guest and participate on Human Resources panels for fourth year HR students. Each time we met he d gently turn to the subject of executive coaching and how with my experience knowledge and interpersonal skills ( emotional intelligence ) I d make a great business coach. After two years and his continuous effort to persuade me to get certified in Executive Coaching I did it She s worked with organizations of all sizes across several industries spanning local and national government as well as public private and nonprofit companies. Karen has also helped first nations groups become independent and more sustainable through people practices. Additionally she s written a number of self-help books for individuals who either want a career transition or find themselves in a place where they have to find a new career. They can all be found on her website www. Upon graduating from the Royal Roads Coaching program Karen was given a bumper sticker that read Out of the Box Thinker . I believe in never accepting the status quo asking questions being na ve and breaking the rules for the sake of finding a better way to get the job done. If you fail take it as a learning experience and don t repeat the same mistake. I always remember the old saying If at first you don t succeed try try again. The same holds true in business and in life. The company wanted to start a Human Resources department beginning with Training and Development. At the time I had no qualifications and wasn t comfortable with public speaking or being in the spotlight. Nonetheless he wasn t going to take no for an answer and provided the resources required to learn grow and deliver what the organization needed. Luckily I had excellent project management skills and my ability to connect with people helped me deliver on what (then) seemed like an unachievable task. I built an HR department from the ground up and coached mid-managers executives and board members assisting them to be better leaders in fulfilling the strategic plan through their people. I was officially a Human Resources Business Strategist . While earning her undergraduate degree in leadership and finance Karen found another great mentor in one of her professors who owned his own company and was a Certified Executive Coach with clients around the world. Karen has owned her own consulting and executive coaching company for the past 10 years. 40 Women of Distinction Paula L. Pautauros Title Insurance for Residential and Commercial Properties Founding Partner Chief Executive Officer of RELTCO Inc. Tampa FL P aula L. Pautauros is the Founding Partner CEO of RELTCO Inc. However there isn t a position within the company that she hasn t done can t do or wouldn t do for the better of the organization and team. Paula believes that while you need positive leadership to grow an organization it takes more for it to be successful. I genuinely care and share my knowledge with my team on a daily basis. A company can only be as successful as the owners who are willing to accept ideas and new challenges from their management team and staff members on a regular basis. When she s not working Paula enjoys interior design trips to the beach reading and spending time with her family. I take pride in knowing I have the best of the best team handling our operations daily which allows me to focus on being the face of our company to our clients and vendors when traveling around the country. Paula s career began in 1988 in the lending industry. It was then a natural progression to title insurance based on her mortgage banking knowledge. I m always on a quest for knowledge. This industry is everchanging and there s always something new to learn or a new process to implement which (in turn) makes our industry better and also enhances our companies through fluctuations in overall training and business workflow. Working in a heavily dominated male industry for so many years (at upper level management and ownership) Paula has learned to be strong and stand up for what she believes in. I ve worked with some of the worst people in the industry but also some of the best. If you can be well-rounded and keep a level head on your shoulders you ll be successful. She was greatly inspired by the words of Jerry Horner a toplevel executive she worked with many years ago at Met Life. Jerry once said to me It s not who you know but how you know. As I ve grown older and learned so much more in my career I understand his words. Everyone has a specific purpose in life and everyone has a name. Jerry always remembered everyone s name and addressed you accordingly. I implemented this in my life not only personally 41 but professionally and it does matter I m married to a wonderful man who s not only my business partner at work but in life. We have two beautiful daughters. One will be attending MSU this fall and our other is turning 16 this year and very excited to drive Paula hopes that at some point in her life both personally and professionally she has touched someone else s life. Whether it s by providing a job a smile a warm hug or just listening I want to be known as not being too tied up in myself that I forgot about others. It s so easy to do that in our industry with so many changes. I strive each day to be the giver of myself through sharing knowledge or lending that extra helping hand. Women of Distinction Shelly Dawn Perry Education - Special Education Teacher at Paramount School of Excellence 42 Indianapolis IN Women of Distinction S helly Dawn Perry is a language arts teacher at Paramount School of Excellence. During the 20 minutes that students spend with her daily she emphasizes reading fluency comprehension and writing skills. Shelly s road to teaching began in college where she served as Activities Chair and Intramural Coordinator for her sorority Zeta Tau Alpha. Both positions enabled her to plan events for the chapter and organize teams for sporting events. Shelly also draws strong inspiration from her niece on a daily basis. My niece was born 16 years ago when I first started teaching. Setting a positive example for her motivates me. I ve been very blessed to have an active role in her life. Shelly is still an active supporter of the annual campaign for the YMCA which raises money for students to participate in before and after school programs day camp programs swim lessons and sports teams. She also loves cooking reading crafts Colts football IU basketball taking walks yoga and spending time with family and friends in her free time. And this year she completed her first 5K with Making Strides for Breast Cancer for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Plus Shelly and her dad serve as co-chairs for her mother s scholarship fund which donates books to the libraries of local schools in her hometown. Shelly would like for anyone who comes into contact with her to remember her attitude. My sorority also gave me my first exposure to philanthropy. When I graduated from college in 1998 I wasn t sure what to do with my degree. One of my friends suggested that I apply at the YMCA because of my skills with event planning team building and service learning. So Shelly joined the YMCA and had the opportunity to teach and attend trainings. These trainings gave me experience with public speaking. In November 2014 she had the opportunity to introduce the Veterans Day speaker at Fountain Central High School (her alma mater). My experience at the YMCA assisted me with speaking in front of my family former teachers current employees students and members of the community. Today Shelly enjoys helping students set academic goals for themselves and creating curriculum and learning environments where they can thrive and succeed. She followed in her parents footsteps (both teachers). They ve been my greatest professional inspiration. My father Steve Perry taught junior high math and was an FFA advisor and chairperson for the annual Veterans Day program at Fountain Central High School. I had the fortunate opportunity to work him for two years. And my late mother Kathy Perry taught language arts at Covington Elementary School. 43 I lost my mother and grandfather within a week of each other during my first year of teaching. I believe that attitude is three percent of what happens to you and 97 percent is how you respond. The day after my mother s funeral I returned to school to coach my Spell Bowl team at the district competition. I ve persevered through every difficult situation I ve encountered. Women of Distinction Tiziana Ciccone Education and Publishing Founder President and Curriculum Director of Reggio Kids Children s Author and President of Pancake Puddle Books 44 Richmond Hill Ontario Canada Women of Distinction T iziana Ciccone was born on September 8 1960 in the small town of Chieti in the Italian province of Abruzzi and immigrated to Canada in 1962. As a child Tiziana loved to read while tucked beneath her blankets flashlight in hand. I Since 1997 her efforts have been directed toward studying the Reggio Emilia Approach fascinated by its unique pedagogy and deep respect for the child as a participant in the learning process. Exploring this approach Tiziana joined an American Study Tour to the preschools of Reggio Emilia Italy in 2003 and then again in 2011. She has traveled throughout North America and abroad for research. In 2013 Tiziana joined the education faculty at Centennial College teaching students about the Reggio Emilia Approach. She has acted as a program consultant for other schools developing curriculum with a strong emphasis on the learning environment and now owns two private preschools in Richmond Hill Ontario Canada. The Reggio teacher is unique because she offers herself to the process of co-construction of knowledge releasing the traditional roles of a teacher and opening doors to new possibilities. She starts with the use of the child s own theories promotes disequilibrium and helps the child to think about their thinking to facilitate new learning. - Seong Bock Hong 1998 Reggio Kids received the 2009 Business Achievement Award. Visit for more information. Additionally her love of reading and writing while growing up contributed to her accomplishments as Tiziana is also a children s book author. She currently has six published books (awarded the Parent Tested Parent Approved Lifetime Seal) with many more on the way and is also the founder of Pancake Puddle Books. Many of the characters in my books are inspired by the wonderful children I have met and by my own three children whose childhood years filled my life with laughter and love. Visit for more information. Tiziana has been married for 34 years and has three grown children Daniel Matthew and Liana. We must invest in our children (our youngest citizens) and raise them to have a care for their fellow man and for the earth. Only then can we make this world a better for place for today and our future generations I lost myself in the adventures of Nancy Drew the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes. My imagination knew no bounds as I wove my own stories on scraps of paper and kept an adventure journal. As a young woman Tiziana never considered writing as a career. Instead she pursued a career in Early Childhood Education which has brought her incredible success. Tiziana graduated from Humber College (1981) with honors in Early Childhood Education specializing in Developmental Delays. Adding to her education she earned a Montessori Teaching Diploma in 1997. Tiziana has over 30 years of experience working with children and their families and has been the Executive Director of several preschools. 45 Women of Distinction ISSUE Women of Distinction Team WDM Marissa Bacchi EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Holli M. Narvaez EDITOR HEAD WRITER LAYOUT GRAPHIC DESIGN Felix Pons Jill Mongonia EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Rachael Aspen Anne Silar SELECTION COMMITTEE SELECTION COMMITTEE Kimberly Diehl SELECTION COMMITTEE Rebecca Valuch Maxine Billings Author - Fiction Inspiration Self-Published Author maxinebillings Mary Vinagro Nature Photography Owner of Seven Lakes Exposure