Last week, on Wednesday, we climbed out of bed at 5 a.m. -- not something we are wont to do on a regular basis -- showered, and hustled out to the car to make the one and a half hour trip to Buffalo, NY to attend the Women's Leadership Conference sponsored by Canisius College. What an experience! What an uplifting, inspiring, educational experience! Over four hundred women gathered in one place (and a few men, of which one was our significant other, Tom Collins of Knowledge Aforethought), to engage in discovering the leader in each of us. Here is our on-the-scene report of that event.
One definition of a leader is someone who "seeks the best for those she serves."
Another, from Peter Drucker, is "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes."
One of our favorites is from Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States; Abigail noted that "Great necessities call forth great leaders."
So it was on this empowering day in mid-September, in Upstate, NY. Great necessities, whether political, personal, economical, or altruistic, brought these nearly 400 hundred women together to talk about leadership, about life, about business, and about being leaders in our own right. We listened, with rapt attention, to Nadja Piatka, founder and President of Nadja Foods, and author of 2 best-selling books, including Outrageously Delicious ".
Her story of going from happy homemaker to divorcee forced to hide under her dining room table to escape creditors, to successful business woman, touched a chord with many of us in the audience. Jane can vividly remember those early days of being divorced, unemployed, with 3 kids to raise in an unforgiving world that awarded the ex for paying child support, but did not give Jane any credit for delaying her career to spend 15 years at home raising those children.
Mid-morning there was a panel discussion in the center ballroom (we think it was called that...nonetheless, it was in the main room), set up with a podium where a panel of six women spoke to us on general topics relating to leadership in a society that labels strong women differently than it labels strong men. (you know what we mean)
The panel consisted of...
-- Colleen DiPirro, President and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce (the FIRST president of the WNY Chamber Alliance; an organization for Chamber Executives serving an 8 county region).
-- Donna Fernandes, PhD, President and CEO of the Buffalo Zoological Society; the FIRST women president in the Buffalo Zoo's 126 year history!
-- Barbara L. Walter, Senior Vice President and Manager of the Buffalo Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who is also the vice chairman of the board of directors of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and vice chairman of the board of trustees of Buffalo's D'Youville College.
-- Kathleen Balus, founder of Pioneer Collections (1980), a private collection agency that has now gone public under the name, Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. for the SLM Corporation (Sallie Mae.)
-- Yvonne Evans, the Employee/Community Liaison Officer representing the Internal Revenue Service, for the Northeast Area. Yvonne also sits on several boards, including the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
-- Senator Mary Lou Rath, the FIRST woman elected to the 61st Senate District of New York State. Senator Rath was inducted into the Western NY Women's Hall of Fame in 1997.
The panel discussion, which included questions from audience members, centered around the challenges of being a woman in business, with some mention of how to make the right connections, what NOT to do, and how to use technology to your advantage. Jane was very impressed.
If that wasn't uplifting, and fun enough for one day-- we did have a lot of fun! -- the Keynote speaker, who took the podium following a most excellent lunch at a table of marvelous new contacts for Lip-sticking, was Anne Sutherland Fuchs, Senior advisor to Solera Capital and Director of Latina Media Ventures. Her bio touts her as "an innovator with extensive branding experience within the media industry, responsible for some of the best known and most successful magazines -- including Vogue, Elle, 'O', the Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Town and Country." Fuchs was the FIRST female publisher of a major U.S. magazine, that being Woman's Day, one of Jane's favorites. She was also the first female publisher of Vogue.
We hope you're counting all the FIRSTs here, dear readers. We hope they inspire you to be first in something. First in line doesn't count!
Ms. Fuchs spoke about change, about branding, and about her struggle to be the best she could be, while also being a wife and mother. She treated the audience to a delightful movie about one of our favorite talk show hosts, Oprah, noting that Oprah is a brand unto herself, and someone all women can relate to precisely because Oprah is one of us, a down-to-earth female, from roots strong in family commitment, and faith, not in cash. The Oprah Fuchs talked about is strong enough to lead thousands, but soft enough to always ask, "How are you?" and mean it.
There will be more information about this life-altering conference. Jane cannot fit all of it into one blog post. Before we go on to other duties (such as updating our Web site!), Jane would like to mention one energetic, upbeat, attractive, exciting woman who was part of a workshop on multi-culturalism. Her name is Silvia Morales-Fakler, CEO of AtSilvia, a technology company that supports all small businesses in the Buffalo, NY region, but which has a special interest in the Latino culture. We talked with Silvia after the multi-cultural workshop and she is one dynamite lady...someone Jane hopes to get to know a lot better!
Leadership...is not one person following another. Leadership is helping people find the right answers. Jane thinks this leadership conference is one she will be attending year after year after year.
What's not to like about that?