Business Leaders Reveal the Women Who Inspired Them

Behind every successful woman are other women who have paved the way. In honor of Women's History Month, these business women reveal their supporters.
March 12, 2018

March is Women's History Month, a time to look at how far women in business have come and to honor those forerunners responsible for that progress. 

The women I spoke to for this article agree that their successes might not have been possible if it weren't for the "women beneath their wings" supporting and encouraging them.

"Having women role models to look up to is a source of inspiration that's essential to a woman's career trajectory," says Katelyn Coghlan, general manager at In It, who was inspired by her boss. "Female support proves that, although the road may be difficult, any woman can have it all."

I spoke to a number of business leaders who credit a variety of women for their successes. Not surprisingly, moms head the list of women who have supported and encouraged women so that they can make their dreams a reality. Other family members, such as aunts and grandmas, have also helped make dreams come true.

Moms Offer Enduring Support

"My mother, a fulltime homemaker, told me at age 10 to get out of the kitchen. In her words, 'You can always learn to cook—go out and do something to change the world.' She encouraged me to follow my dreams and think outside the box. In the 1950s, women's career choices pretty much included teacher, nurse, secretary and homemaker. I became a professional ballet dancer. I have also owned my own consulting business for more than 20 years and last year, at age 67, I raised the curtain on WorldWideWomen, a global hub of resources and connections for women."

—Maureen Broderick, founder and CEO, WorldWideWomen

"Being raised by a strong, caring and hard-working mother inspired me to be an entrepreneur with the confidence that I also can be an incredible mom. As a child, I watched my mother work extremely hard as co-founder of my parents' company while raising three kids. She educated my sister and me about how important it was to never let our gender hold us back. Seeing your mother run a successful company and household firsthand shows you how powerful it really is to be a woman (and how amazing we truly are)."

—Kate Alcaraz, co-founder, Beauty Advisor

"My mother has been the greatest influence in my professional journey. She and my father had their own business and always reminded my sister and me growing up that 'average isn't that interesting.' The expectation was that we'd do our best at everything, because my parents were also trying to do their best for the family. They were honest in their feedback, but also supportive when things went well, helping to reinforce our self-confidence early on."

—Pamela Springer, CEO, ORIS Intelligence

"My mom, Julie, who also happens to be my business partner, inspires me during Women's History Month. She has a perpetual positive outlook that allows her to see solutions, rather than problems. She always said that a parent should give children roots and wings. Roots are a solid foundation from which to grow and wings develop the self-confidence to fly. I really feel like she has achieved this, as a business partner, mentor and as a mom."

—Sophie Phillipson, co-founder, HelloGrads

"Inspiration isn't only drawn from examples one is impelled to emulate, it can also be reactionary. My dear mother, a housewife who never worked outside of the home, was one of my greatest professional inspirations. I grew up witnessing how she needed my father's approval for even seemingly inconsequential purchases and decisions. To me, her lack of independence was unacceptable. As a result, I resolved at a very early age that one day I would be a career woman and my own boss."

—Jolie Balido-Hart, CEO, Roar Media

Aunts Make a Great Cheering Squad, Too

"My mother, Sandy Orrico, and my late great-aunt, Bea Osterman, both continue to inspire me during Women's History Month. They are a huge part of who I am and what I've accomplished. My mom suddenly became a widow at 38. While battling MS, she raised me, a 9-year-old, all by herself. Before I was born, my Aunt Bea lost her husband to a tragic accident. Both of them, being strong and intelligent women, were forced to quickly learn how to make it on their own. At 38, I also became a widow. Had it not been for witnessing their strength and positivity through adversity, I'm not sure that I could have done all that I have in my life."

—Laura Orrico, actress and president, Laura Orrico Public Relations

"My mother Felicitha Prempeh, aunt Mary Prempeh and grandmother Hannah Arthur, inspired me to open my own business and invent and promote the ChangePal brand. Growing up in Ghana, I saw them run a small retail store specializing in cookware, which is a competitive market there. Through innovation, coupled with excellent customer service, I saw the family business bloom. I knew that building the ChangePal brand from the ground up would take some work and innovation, but I only had to remember the perseverance and courage of these incredible women in order to forge on to success."

—Dr. Mavis Prempeh Mbi, owner and inventor, ChangePal

Grandmas and Their Wisdom Also Rate Highly

"I continue to be inspired by my grandmothers, who though different, showed me anything is possible. My paternal grandmother was the first woman to graduate law school in Chile and practiced side-by-side with her husband in the 1920s. My maternal grandmother escaped from the concentration camps with her three sisters and husband. After an arduous trip to America, they were turned away at Ellis Island, forcing them to head south where they settled in Chile. They arrived with the clothing they wore and a newborn. My grandmother said she never cried once, despite living in one room with six people and checking garbage cans to feed the family. Though she'd lost a life of luxury in Romania, she smiled through it all, because they were alive and able to rebuild their lives. It's incredible to think of their stories during Women's History Month."

—Sandy Rubinstein, CEO, DXagency

"My grandmother was the first registered nurse to work at the hospital where I grew up. She was at the beginning of the era where nurses began taking advanced nursing. RNs were rare and most women didn't work outside the home. My grandmother died before my birth, but left a legacy that included me getting my RN and founding my company to bridge the gap for health care facilities between surveys and success."

—Donna Rossa, CEO, Rossa, Rossa & Associates

Colleagues and Business Partners Offer Valuable Support

"As a female in the male-dominated field of surgery, I've found that it's important to have strong female role models. Dr. Victoria Vastine and Dr. Betsy Hall-Findlay are two of several female plastic surgeons and business women I look up to. I have been encouraged by their ability to excel as surgeon leaders with fulfilling family lives. They have taught me that as a woman business owner, it is critically important to find a healthy work/life balance. This balance sometimes takes time to sort out, so patience and persistence are key!"

—Dr. Shruti Tannan, owner, Tannan Plastic Surgery

"I've been inspired by several women, including my business partner Bettie Spruill, as well as Rubye Erickson, who is like a second mother to me. I met Rubye in my twenties when I was new to the business world. She taught me how to dress, carry myself and present in front of audiences. Seeing her grace, poise, discipline and commitment to excellence inspired me to grow my business and reach more audiences."

Sue Hawkes, author and CEO, YESS! 

Mentors Make a Difference

"Lynette Cayson has been the most inspirational mentor, leader and role model for me. Before she retired in 2016, we worked together for three years. She was always direct, honest, logical and made the best non-ego driven decisions for the business. She surrounded herself with people she felt she could learn from and regularly sought and respected the counsel of employees and other professionals. She always accepted responsibility and stood behind her employees. I respect and admire Lynette as a boss, a leader, a woman and a person. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with her and to call her my friend."

—Karie La Mountain, president, Cayson

"Sara Blakely is a huge inspiration to me. I was the winner of her Spanx Leg Up Award and was able to connect with her through that program. She is so honest about her career journey and has built an incredible brand. I love her 'inventor's spirit' and the absolute pluck she had when starting her business from scratch. Leslie Blodgett, the former CEO of Bare Escentuals, also inspires me, especially with her example of using real people to share her passion for the product and create true brand evangelists. My personal mentor Diane Paddison has mentored me and gone to bat for me with the belief that my success will also pave the way for women who come after me."

—Liz Forkin Bohannon, CEO and co-founder, Sseko Designs

Read more articles on leadership.

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