Local businesswomen and corporate heads dish on life, career, fashion, and basketball

By Shaodan Chen

Last year, with the bad shape of the economy, 14 businesswomen of color not only stood out, but outdid their competition.

On Friday, Jan. 29, these women were honored at the Women of Color Empowered luncheon held at the China Harbor Restaurant in Seattle. Guests at the luncheon met with the 14 remarkable honorees who shared stories about the challenges and triumphs in their careers.

The diverse group of honorees included Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and an American Indian. The businesswomen either own their own businesses or belong to big corporations.

The honorees shared their secrets to success, whether it came through hard work, creative thinking, or a positive attitude. They told stories about taking initiative and finding opportunities in every possible way.

The luncheon is a tri-annual event that celebrates the diverse and influential impact of female leaders in local business. It aims to inspire people to make a difference through diversity.

Leslie Jones, director of diversity at Sound Transit, was the master of ceremonies. “You all look so good from up here,” Jones said, starting the luncheon by observing the diversity in the crowd of men and women.

“We have an opportunity to listen to some incredible women, to listen about their journey to success,” Jones said, smiling with excitement. She introduced the honorees one by one.

Women of Color Empowered honorees, front, from left: Susana Gonzalez-Murillo, Viola Riebe, Elaine Kitamura, Luly Yang, Carolyn Lee, Donna Giordano, and Carolyn Kelly. Honorees, back, from left: Rita Brogan, Mary Pugh, Nina Odell, Karen Bryant, Paula Boggs, Danielle Davis, and master of ceremonies Leslie Jones. (Photo by Rebecca Ip)

The honorees:

Karen Bryant, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Seattle Storm basketball team, was first to come up on stage to receive her award and to comment on her success, which she says “is about [people] being really thoughtful — the leaders, owners, and players — to get out of [the partnership] the most that we can.” When asked if there’s a future for women in basketball, Bryant declared, “Oh yeah!”

Carolyn Lee, vice president at State Farm, declared that controlling her own destiny and making a difference in her community are her goals. When talking about making sacrifices, she said, “The term sacrifice is not the term I’d use.” She points out that her sacrifices have made positive impacts on her career and personal life and therefore, they are not really sacrifices at all. “Along the way,” Lee said, “you find yourself stressed and uncomfortable … it’s difficult for sure, but in the end, it’s well worth it.”

“What is success for you?” Rita Brogan, CEO of her own company, PRR, Inc., asked the audience. She emphasized that success has different definitions, and it’s important to know what you are striving for. She said, quoting author Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Perhaps one of the most powerful statements of the luncheon was when Carolyn Kelly said, “The more women that run our world, the better it’ll be.” Kelly is president of the Seattle Times. She responded to the question of how newspapers could help improve the confidence of people by stating that “democracy depends on freedom of information and transparency.”

“We need locally-owned, independent newspapers to preserve democracy,” Kelly said. “We are lucky to have those kinds of newspapers here in Seattle.” Kelly pointed out that other bigger cities don’t have such newspaper publications.

Kelly also gave her interesting point of view on the difference between men and women, though she was careful to say she didn’t want to over-generalize. “Women explain problems,” she said. “They don’t say, ‘Here’s what you should do.’ They say, ‘What outcome do you want? How can we support you?’”

Mary Pugh, CEO of her company, Pugh Capital, came onstage to a standing ovation. Jones said Pugh was named as one of the 75 most powerful Black women in America in 2009.

Pugh was asked to share tips on serving on a corporate board. She advised to build reputation and relationships. “You have to be known to people you work with in order to build relationships,” said Pugh.
In regards to reputation, she gave an example about a board meeting where a person may give an idea that she thinks is great, but it gets a lackluster response from others. Then later, someone else will say something similar and the idea gets the “wow factor.”

“Why? Because [the other person] has a good reputation,” Pugh said.

Paula Boggs, executive vice president at Starbucks, talked about the importance of diversity at her company. “Starbucks depends on knowing diversity,” she said. She pointed out that coffee, itself, is diverse, coming from Indonesia, Africa, and South America. “It’s important that diversity is not about somebody else. It’s about everyone in the business. When that happens — that’s when magic happens.”

The word “values” came up several times during the event. Donna Giordano, president of QFC, said that her values include respect, inclusiveness, and diversity. She found that QFC feels the same way. “You always win by standing by your core values.”

Giordano said it’s important to have a good attitude and a good mentor. “Surround yourself with capable, confident people,” she said. “There is no magic formula to success.” The only way for success is through hard work.

As for fashion designer Luly Yang, her business is all about beauty, but not just physical beauty, she said. “I design dresses that exude a woman’s beauty — her inner beauty,” Yang said.

Compared to male designers, Yang admitted, there aren’t as many females in fashion. “True, there are amazing male designers, nationally and internationally,” Yang said. “In bridal though, which is what I do, it is [mostly] women [designers].” Why does Yang think that bridal designs attract more female designers than males? “Women have the sensitivity, passion, and listening skills [required] in this specialized business.”

The luncheon concluded with a raffle drawing, where lucky winners were presented with inspirational books on female empowerment and gift baskets.

Other honorees included Viola Riebe, Nina Odell, Susana Gonzalez-Murillo, Elaine Kitamura, Danielle Davis, and Delena Sunday (who was unable to attend, but Sunday’s colleague Kelly Mason accepted the award on Sunday’s behalf). (end)

The next Women of Color Empowered luncheon takes place on May 14. Its theme is Women in Power: Judges from District Court to Supreme Court. For more information about the organization, visit www.womenofcolorempowered.com.

Shaodan Chen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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