Women in Business 2014
Meet 36 women, who share their tips for success—and how they’ve managed to find that tricky balance between their personal and professional lives. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have persevered.
Linda L. Ammons
LINDA L. AMMONS
As dean of the Widener University School of Law since 2006, Linda L. Ammons has racked up many honors and awards during her tenure. She’s been honored by multiple nonprofit organizations, been in the running for a U.S. District Court seat and was appointed by Gov. Jack Markell to investigate the child molestation charges against pediatrician Earl Bradley. She also was featured in Delaware Today as one of the “14 Most Influential People in Delaware” in 2009. Ammons attributes her abilities as a leader to “being a good listener, hiring good people and coaching them to reach their potential, and never giving up.” Though she has retired from her dean post, she continues to work with the university as counsel to the president for legal education at Widener, and plans to spend her retirement becoming fluent in Spanish.
Nancy Bercaw (left), who, along with business partner Alice Crayton (also profiled), runs The Station Gallery in Greenville, has held a place in Delaware’s retail-art-and-framing world since she opened the store 35 years ago. A lot has changed in North Wilmington and the state at large, but Bercaw remains a hands-on business owner and supporter of the local arts scene. Her monthly gallery shows are a mainstay for regional artists, and she continues to work directly with customers to help them choose the right frame every time. Throughout it all, she cites treating customers with respect, integrity and honesty, as well as maintaining a good work-life balance, as keys to her success. “Leave your personal business at home so you can give your full attention to your job,” she says.
As the recently named executive director of women’s-health services at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Bridget Buckaloo is now in charge of expanding the health system’s offerings for women. It seems like a logical step for someone who started out as a labor and delivery nurse. “The clinical professional experience had never gotten stale for me,” she says of her nursing career. Now, in a more administrative role, she credits the many positive relationships she formed along the way as having helped her reach the point where she’s responsible for so much more. It helps, Buckaloo adds, to know what doctors and nurses face on the front lines of their jobs. “I speak their language,” she says. “I know what they have to do in their jobs, and I know the outside pieces. I can pull from that and make good decisions.
As the supplier diversity manager for AstraZeneca, J’nelle Clements is charged with making sure the pharmaceutical giant’s vendors represent a broad pool that includes smaller and minority-owned businesses. Clements, who earned an MBA from Drexel University in 2011, previously worked in the procurement department of the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia. “It was at the Fed where my passion for advocating on behalf of small and diverse businesses began,” she says. “I love being a part of seeing these businesses succeed when given the opportunity to do so. I really feel I’m blessed and lucky to have a career that I absolutely love and that makes a difference in people’s lives.
MICHELLE R. DAWSON
After 20 years of working in corporate America, Michelle Dawson decided to take her talent for helping people achieve goals to another level by starting her own consulting business, Catalyst Enterprises International. As founder and president, in addition to being a busy author and speaker, Dawson strives to set a good example for others through her actions and character. “Good leaders know how to recognize the gifts in others, bring out the best in people and help them to see the best in themselves,” she says. That work has earned Catalyst national recognition and led to Dawson’s second book, “The Dash Factor: Where Destiny and Purpose Join Forces to Help You Effectively and Successfully Accomplish What You Were Born to Do,” coming out in March. Dawson also strives to keep her various responsibilities in perspective. “Success includes having a well-balanced life so that we’re not public successes and private failures,” she says.
ANNA LAURA ORNELAS
Anna Ornelas became Hispanic outreach coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware (NAMI Delaware) just after graduating from Wilmington University with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences. With experience working with Hispanic families and children with disabilities, the Georgetown resident was perfectly suited for advocating for the Spanish-speaking residents of Kent and Sussex counties. “I was glad that NAMI had put their interest in providing resources for Hispanic families in this area of need and saw a great opportunity to help develop such a wonderful project,” she says.
From left to right: Rasheda Stewart and Mary E. Corcoran
Rasheda Stewart was convinced there were better and safer ways for African-American women to maintain long, healthy hair and started her own hair-care line to prove it. The result is Rapunzel The Future of Hair, offering products in stores nationwide and online. “My team and I have begun making an impact on weaning African-American women from unhealthy practices and expensive addictions to wigs, braids and weaves,” she says. As for her success, she attributes it to having a plan and sticking to it. “It’s so important that you never give up,” she says. “Your dream may not come true right away, but I promise if you keep working toward it, it will.”
MARY E. CORCORAN
Mary Corcoran made a simple offer when her friend Rasheda Stewart started her business, Rapunzel The Future of Hair. “I told her if she ever needed help, I would be right there for her,” says the Wilmington resident. When that time came, Corcoran joined the Rapunzel team without hesitation, putting on many hats in the process. In addition to managing operations and production of the company’s hair-care products, she is in charge of maintaining inventory, brand awareness and customer education. “Basically, I jump in anywhere I’m needed to make sure the job gets done,” she says. Ultimately, she’d like to see Rapunzel products in “every woman’s shower all over the world.” What will help her achieve such a lofty goal? “Believing in yourself and letting nothing and no one stand in the way of your dreams,” she says.
As half of the team that owns and operates The Station Gallery in Greenville, Alice Crayton (right) finds it easy to trace her work history over the last 35 years. She was the first employee hired by now-partner Nancy Bercaw (also profiled), who eventually offered Crayton a stake in the business. Since then, she’s become part of the shop’s legacy of high-quality framing and support for local artists. “The [art] show each month is my next goal,” she says. “Our Christmas show is always a challenge to put together because it’s a group show with many artists and craftspeople.” Crayton also put her organizational skills to use last year as president of the Hockessin-Greenville Rotary Club, and she and Bercaw have been co-chairs of the herb tent at the Wilmington Flower Market for more than 25 years.
PEGGY DEL FABBRO
As the CEO of the industrial contracting company M. Davis & Sons Inc., it’s understandable that Peggy Del Fabbro might have a few stressful moments. But the leader of the fifth-generation, family-owned business knows that all she needs to do to unwind is a good flying side kick. “Years ago, I tried Tang Soo Do [a style of martial arts] at the Korean Martial Arts Institute and found it to be a tremendous mental and physical challenge,” she says. “It’s been the best stress reducer I’ve ever found.” In addition to shooting for her third-degree black belt in the coming year, she’s on track to guide M. Davis to a record-earnings year of more than $50 million. And while those zeroes behind the dollar sign are nice, she considers keeping more than 300 employees safe and working steadily as the most important part of her responsibilities. “Job security for our team is a top priority,” she says.
KRISTIN LANGERAK DEMESSE
Stroll along the manicured grounds or tour the grand home at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and you might not think of many of the beautiful pieces of furniture and items as having potential for licensing. But in fact, more than 30 companies reproduce, adapt or interpret Winterthur artifacts as home-furnishing products, and Kristin DeMesse, as director of licensed products for Winterthur, is the person in charge of making it happen. Two such lines of products were just introduced by furniture manufacturers Hickory Chair and Currey & Co. But DeMesse, of Wilmington, didn’t just fall into the job at Winterthur. She’s been there in various capacities for 25 years. She does, however, consider her work making sure the beauty of one of Delaware’s showpieces is appropriately represented as a high point. “I have the best job in the world, and I can’t imagine one better or more rewarding,” she says.
Joani DiCampli started her home-based company, No BS Products, to market her signature product, Boobalicious Breast Deodorant. The BS stands for what DiCampli calls “boob sweat.” But it’s easy to fill in the common meaning when you realize how motivated, business-focused and unwilling to take any, well, BS the Rehoboth Beach resident is. The deodorant is designed to help alleviate breast-related sweating, rashes and odor that women sometimes experience. DiCampli takes its sales, packaging, orders, customer service and promotion very seriously. And her work has paid off. She’s shipped products all around the world, been featured in publications like Cosmopolitan, The Daily Mail and Allure Beauty, and continues to be happily surprised by her success. “I did this for extra income, and still, it’s surreal to me,” she says.
RYSHEEMA J. DIXON
Rysheema Dixon was inspired to continue helping others after immersing herself in the public-service sector with Public Allies Delaware, an AmeriCorps program of the University of Delaware Center for Community Research and Service. The Bear resident then decided to start a community development group, RD Innovative Planning, with the goal of improving education, health care, nutrition and other areas that have long-term effects on society. It’s something she feels called to do. “Waking up to your lifetime career is the best feeling in the world,” she says. “It’s never a job. I love serving people, and it has changed how I view life, and I learn more and more about myself each day.” Next up: Formulating a program to advise businesses and public-sector agencies on building community development into their business plans. “They need to know how to work with the communities they’re striving to serve,” she says.
When Samantha Diedrick took over Secretariat Wedding & Event Planning from its previous owner 12 years ago after having served as vice president, she didn’t acquire just a business, but a legacy. Started in 1948, Secretariat has been woman-owned ever since, and the Wilmington resident has done her predecessors proud by continuing to plan every detail of social events throughout the region. Her secret? A lot of drive tempered with a dose of sweetness. “Personally, I feel being a nice, caring person is an important trait to have in my business with all the delicate aspects involved with weddings and social-event planning,” she says. She’s especially looking forward to overseeing the 100th anniversary celebration of the Rotary Club of Wilmington in 2015. “We never know what interesting events are coming our way each year, and that’s part of the excitement of what I do for a living,” she says.
For Wilmington’s Karen Fletcher, the chief engineer and vice president of DuPont engineering, facilities services and real estate, working for the Delaware-based corporation hasn’t just been a job, it’s been a career. First tapped by DuPont after she interned at the company while completing her University of Delaware master’s degree in chemical engineering, she’s since held a laundry list of positions, culminating with her latest role, which she assumed in 2013. While she leads a global team of engineers challenged with tasks in energy and renewable fuels, food production and designing new industrial materials, Fletcher is also excited about working with universities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in high schools to attract a more diverse group of young people to engineering. “I want to help young people and society in general understand how engineers make a difference in the world,” she says.
Gretchen Hanson, executive chef and owner of Hobo’s Restaurant & Bar in Rehoboth Beach, refers to her employees as her “kids” and watches over them with maternal care. She treats her food with equal nurturing. Described as a “global eco-fusion bistro,” Hobo’s focuses on vegan and gluten-free foods and incorporates local ingredients into each dish (keep an eye out for Hanson’s forthcoming cookbook). Her greatest satisfactions come from providing everyone—even those with restrictive diets—delicious food while ensuring that those who prepare it, most of whom are hired from prison work-release programs, are well trained and equipped to survive beyond jailhouse walls. “I care fiercely about the lives and happiness of my team. I will do anything or go to any lengths to help them,” she says. “They know that. I am firm, fierce and fair.”
CHRISTINE D.L. HASTINGS
If you’ve spent any time at Dewey or Rehoboth Beach in the past 44 years, you’ve probably seen or ridden a Jolly Trolley. But it wasn’t until 1992 that Christine Hastings, along with her husband, David, took over operation of the venerable transit service. As vice president, Hastings has used her successes in public relations, sales and branding to help the company expand beyond beach buses to become a full-service, 21-vehicle regional transit company. “I love to work with people, so it’s natural for me to be the public-relations officer,” she says. Driving her success has been what she calls a “win-win-win” philosophy—doing what’s good for the vendor, the customer and the community. “It creates the needed professional and community support using personal positivity,” she says.
GEDEL J. HAWKINS
As a business-opportunity specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Gedell Hawkins might call Philadelphia home, but the work she does helping small companies succeed directly benefits the Delaware economy. “My greatest professional success so far was transferring to the SBA Delaware District Office, where I can work closely with the small-business community and knowing I had some input in helping some small business become successful,” she says. Doing so is by no means a solo job, however. She keeps an open ear to what her employees have to say and is always willing to find a way to accomplish her agency’s mission. It also helps, she says, that the SBA recognizes the need to balance work and family, which has helped Hawkins lay the foundation for her five granddaughters to find their own success.
Pets are lovable, but they’re even better when they’re clean and groomed—a task often easier said than done. Enter Wags to Riches Too LLC, Kerrie Jones’ growing pet-grooming business. It started eight years ago with an investment of a few thousand dollars and has grown from a mobile-only grooming service to a fully booked mobile unit, salon and self-service dog wash, serving Fenwick Island. The service menu is extensive, and Jones hopes to add a dog park and a doggie daycare eventually. But success didn’t come immediately, and Jones is quick to remind other entrepreneurs that it takes plenty of time and patience. “I believe the keys to success are dedication, hard work and the understanding that you must crawl before you can walk,” she says.
From left to right: Amber B. Woodland and Michele Procino-Wells
Michele Procino-Wells of Seaford opened her law practice in 2005 as a single mom, specializing in estate and trust administration, real-estate transactions and advocating for seniors, veterans and the disabled to protect them from the high costs of long-term care. This year, she joined with partner Amber B. Woodland to create the firm of Procino-Wells & Woodland LLC. The two maintain offices in Seaford and Lewes. But how did the mother of four boys keep her direction along the way? “I believe the key to success is having a vision, the courage to pursue it and never shying away from a challenge,” she says.
AMBER B. WOODLAND
For Amber Woodland, an internship at the Seaford law office of Michele Procino-Wells led to her becoming an associate at the firm and then a partner this year at the newly formed Procino-Wells & Woodland LLC. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, let alone receive an advanced degree,” she says. “I believe my education and the people I’ve met along the way have been instrumental in my success.” The Sussex County native is also happy to serve the community where she was raised. “We are excited to expand our firm to Lewes so that we can provide customized legal services to the entire county,” she says.
MELISSA MCDERMOTT JOSEPH
In her 20s, Melissa Joseph had what she thought was a high-speed career track—a job as a TV weather forecaster, with The Weather Channel casting interest her way. Then, she was knocked out by a severe lung injury that ended her broadcasting career but helped spawn a new one—president and owner of Delmarva Temporary Staffing Inc. The business pairs temporary and full-time clerical/administrative workers with employers who need them. Joseph estimates that the original $10,000 loan she took out to start the company in 1990 has resulted in millions of sales and thousands of employees getting work over the following 25 years. “Many have become leaders in their industries,” she says. As for her own journey in the face of a debilitating health crisis, she believes her refusal to allow that injury to defeat her forms the bedrock of her success. “You have to choose to make another path to success,” she says. “As I tell my applicants, 90 percent of getting the job is having a positive attitude.
M. JOSEPHINE KEIR
After 26 years in business, home decor retailer Josephine Keir Ltd. At Home and its eponymous owner and vice president know that in the high-end retail world, customer service is still king. “It reflects our appreciation of our client base,” she says. The Lewes shop and its online storefront offer fine home furnishings with a focus on village-made, small co-op and family-loom and workshop rugs. “As owner and buyer, I’m dedicated to the outstanding quality of the wools, dyes, washing and weaving of this beautiful, sustainable commodity,” Keir says. Customers will soon have the opportunity to visit a second shop in a renovated historic property in downtown Milford, complemented by modern tech. If customers don’t find what they’re looking for at that store, they can use an iPad to view the Lewes shop’s inventory.
Demi Kollias arrived in the United States 25 years ago with little more than a dream, having never traveled outside her hometown in northern Greece. Since then, she’s made herself at home, first managing a chain of 7-Eleven stores, then, in 2005, buying the original Claymont Steak Shop. Since then, she’s taken what was a stagnant brand and turned it into a two-store (soon to be three) chain, all the while keeping intact the quality of the shop’s legendary cheesesteaks and garnering the foodie awards to prove it. “I was able not only to improve it, but take it to another level in terms of product quality, service and name recognition,” she says. Through it all, her ability to prioritize—and always keep her family in the forefront—has helped her balance her life.
Not everyone gets to see classic beauty every day. And not only does Wilmington’s Molly Giordano, director of development and marketing for the Delaware Art Museum, get to view as much as she wants, she has the privilege of sharing the artwork with others. That was particularly important this year as the museum was forced to sell works from its collection to rebuild its endowment and repay debts incurred by a significant building project. “We are working hard to grow our donor and member base and reach new audiences in our community,” she says. “My goal is to help the museum become a stronger community resource.” She has been helped along the way by “the smartest, most talented people” she can hire, she says. As for her own well-being in the face of a stressful year, she believes that even a short time for reflection is helpful. “Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day, it’s vital for success,” she says.
If you’re going to make a significant change in your life and career, Kristie Maravalli, a former college basketball coach and now executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, figures it might as well be at the beach. That’s exactly what happened when Maravalli, after leaving coaching and taking a job as the chamber’s director of membership, was able to move into her current role as director, just seven months later. Since then, she’s been busy building on the chamber’s role as a business hub in the community and a resource for small businesses. Her previous coaching philosophy has proved helpful. “Define what great looks like for you, make a plan, execute that plan, then redefine your great,” she says.
ANNE MCDONALD- SCHARP
Anne McDonald-Scharp didn’t set out to be in the insurance business. Her husband, John, was the one who ran the GEICO office for Delaware. But when he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer in 2013, the couple made a decision: She began studying for an insurance license while he focused on getting well. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with cancer last spring, but McDonald-Scharp, who had her license by then, was prepared to take over the business. She’s blossomed in her new role, keeping the Delaware office in the Top 25 of the 160 local GEICO agencies nationwide. She focuses not just on the insurance side of the business, but also on marketing, participating in local events, customer service and supporting civic and charitable organizations. “I believe that all things can be accomplished with a positive attitude, hard work and persistence,” she says. “I carry this approach in all areas of my life.”
For Dawne Nickerson-Bañez, buying Dover’s Frankfurt Bakery and Deli in 2013 might have seemed like a leap of faith, but it was a jump she prepared for by taking chances throughout her professional career. A former Navy corpsman and Kent County paramedic, Nickerson-Bañez climbed the educational and professional ladder, eventually earning a master’s in business administration and serving as a bank business-development officer. Now, she operates the only freestanding bakery in Kent County, and rather than restarting hearts in an ambulance, she’s providing heart-stoppingly-good breads, sweets and deli meats for her neighbors. She attributes her business success to leading by example and living by a simple credo: “Do good!” she says. “If you’re doing the right thing, everyone wins.”
BRANDY TIMMONS PARKER
Of all the hats Brandy Parker wears—owner of Parker & Son HVAC LLC and the apparel company Beach Wicked LLC—the one she dons as head of Delaware Fisherwomen LLC might be her favorite. The company emerged from the “amazing” response the Frankford resident got when she designed a woman’s fishing shirt. It has since grown to become an informational and retail business for the fishing industry, as well as a way to coordinate businesses to help local charities and families in need. “I’ve been building the company for one year now, and the support amazes me every day,” she says. This fall, she connected Delaware Family Fishing and Sand Castle Realty, who donated a boat and a beach house to allow a man with stage 4 liver cancer to have a fishing weekend with his family. “I just want to make the world a better place, help those who need it and set a positive example that everyone can make a difference—especially women,” she says.
A longtime veteran of Bank of America, Maureen Sierocinski’s title of product delivery executive seems to barely scratch the surface of her job. Under that large umbrella is responsibility for the banking giant’s deposit, credit-card, home-loan and small-business products. “My greatest accomplishment so far has been working for the same company for 28 years and learning the business from the bottom up,” says the Landenberg, Pa., resident. But in addition to her significant banking duties, she shares a hefty portion of her time with the community, serving as a board member for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition for eight years, chairing its largest annual fundraiser, Northern Lights of Life, and receiving the Outstanding Trustee and Maureen Lauterbach Award in recognition of her work on behalf of the DBCC.
Michelle Difebo Freeman
MICHELLE DIFEBO FREEMAN
From Washington, D.C., to southern Delaware, the Freeman name has been attached to real estate developments since Carl M. Freeman founded Carl M. Freeman Associates in 1947. Fast forward to 2014, and his daughter-in-law Michelle Freeman now heads not only the real estate and development company he started, but also a sports management company and the charitable foundations in his name and that of his late son, Josh, to whom Michelle was married. She admits that after the death of her husband, she could have sold the company and moved on. “But I chose to keep it and do what I do—real estate, sports, golf and my philanthropy,” she says. “Those lines of business and my opportunity to be creative and collaborative make me happy.” In all her works, her success as a leader has depended most on surrounding herself with good people, she says. “Most of them are smarter than me and complement my weaknesses.”
Helen Stimson has worked for Hewlett-Packard and its recent spinoff Agilent for more than 30 years, these days as vice president and general manager for Agilent’s chemistries and supplies division. The job has taken the Wilmington resident around the U.S. and to Germany during the course of her career. She matches team members’ skills and talents to specific tasks and strives to motivate them to do their best and to develop a “competitive strategy and vision for the future.” Surrounding herself with good people through hiring and coaching has been the most rewarding part of her working life, she says, while on the home front, her husband and daughter help to keep her grounded.
JANE W. STROBEL
After 35 years at the clothing boutique Lady’s Image, Jane Strobel still loves the fashion industry and working with her sister and co-owner, Janice Venema (also profiled). “As a small-business owner, I wear many hats,” the Wilmington resident says. “If you think about it, I probably do it or have done it.” But success is also about being willing to learn something new, she notes. And that dedication and open-mindedness keep the customers coming back year after year. “My goal is to build relationships with clients and help them build a wardrobe that makes them feel beautiful and confident every day,” she says. “When you have a client say, ‘Lady’s Image has changed my life,’ it makes you realize you’re not just selling fashion, you are selling confidence.”
ANDREA BETH TINIANOW
For 11 years, Andrea Tinianow helped companies incorporate in Delaware. She made a career flip this year, becoming the state of Delaware’s director of corporate and international development. “They were able to lure me away with the prospect of developing the Delaware brand globally in a brand-new position within the department,” she says. In her current position, she uses her understanding of Delaware corporate law and knowledge of business development to encourage corporations to locate or expand to the First State, foster international trade and foreign direct investment. “Delaware has excellent innovators and entrepreneurs, and we want to further support their international growth objectives,” she says. As for balancing life at home, she says, “It’s all about keeping the balls in the air. You always want to have a little hidden bandwidth, so you’re not too pressed against the wall.”
As co-owner of the women’s fashion boutique Lady’s Image with her sister Jane Strobel (also profiled), Janice Venema likes to use the job title “chief cook and bottle washer and jack of all trades.” No wonder. When you’re dressing women in styles from blue jeans to black tie, it takes the interpersonal skills of a diplomat, the eye of an artist and sometimes the patience of a saint. All are combined to make the customer experience one that will ensure they’ll return again. “Our top priority is to exceed our customers’ expectations with our experienced, knowledgeable staff, who offer the very best service,” says the Wilmington resident. “We provide a shopping experience that’s fun and sure to bring compliments your way.
In 1993, the Delaware Fund for Women was created with the hope that 1,000 women would each contribute $1,000, creating a $1 million endowment to finance projects in Delaware that benefit women and girls. Newark’s Michele Whetzel became a $1,000 donor—called Founders—in 2007 and has held a number of leadership positions since at the Delaware Fund. Now chair of its board of trustees, she’s focusing on reaching a new crop of Founders, with the goal of adding another $1 million to the coffers. “We are only able to give grants to about 15 percent of our applicants each year, so we are building our endowment in order to do even more great work,” she says. Her mission reminds her that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. “I have met the most awesome, smart, fun, fearless women since joining the Fund for Women, and I learn from them every day,” she says.