“We are called to lead our companies and our communities — to reach new heights. We are entrepreneurs, trend-setters, philanthropists, and visionary executives. We are mothers, wives, sisters, mentors and lifelong learners. We give our time, talent, and treasure to build our communities and mentor the next generation because we know that when the right vision meets the right inspiration, we can change the world.“
These were the words spoken on the Power Statement video to open SmartCEO’s annual New Jersey Brava Awards at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge on June 23rd. The event celebrates high-impact female business leaders who combine an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for giving back.
Each year, an independent committee of local business leaders selects winners based on company growth, community impact and mentoring. SmartCEO shares their inspiring stories in SmartCEO magazine and celebrates their success at a high-energy awards gala. And this was quite the spirited gala for New Jersey Brava award-winners!
The evening was broken into three groups of award winners. A video introduced each group which shared each of the winner’s stories, personal accounts or words of wisdom. Then each winner within their respective group came up to accept their award and were asked to remain on stage. By the end of the event, all forty amazing women leaders were on stage.
It was truly inspiring to witness these remarkable women describing their path of perseverance, determination and roadblocks-overcome in getting to the place they are at and how they are giving back to their communities and the world at large.
Seeing them all on stage together (see photo below), I have to admit I was really moved, and I’m just a middle-aged man. I can only imagine the impact on a class of young girls (and even boys) witnessing the woman power en masse before their very eyes. In fact there were so many powerful women up on the stage, they barely fit, which in an ideal world, how wonderful a concept is that? — having “too” many women CEOs!! (there were exactly ZERO Fortune 500 women CEOs in 1996).
(photo courtesy of David Michael Howarth Photography/SmartCEO Magazine)
Here are brief snapshots of just 3 of the 40 amazing women who won awards:
Debbie is the President and CEO of BioNJ the life sciences trade association for New Jersey. BioNJ, which she helped establish in 1994, is a network of more than 400 Members representing research-based life sciences companies and stakeholders dedicated to propelling a vibrant ecosystem where Science is Supported, Companies are Created, Drugs are Developed and Patients are Paramount.
One of it’s important missions is advocating for public policies that advance medical innovation, providing access to talent and education and offering a cost-saving array of critical commercial resources.
She is a founding board member and officer of OpportunityNJ, a non-profit organization working toward a strong and sustainable State economy. Debbie is also active on the boards and committees of numerous government and academic institutions.
Among Debbie’s many accolades includes being recently named as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People in Biotechnology by Scientific American Worldview and one of New Jersey’s top CEOs by COMMERCE.
Eileen Huntington is the CEO of the Huntington Learning Center which she and her husband founded in 1977. “At the time, there was no real tutoring industry … there was no model to follow … what do we have to lose?”, says Eileen (in a 2015 profile for Entrepreneur magazine) and within 8 years of leaving her position as a tenured teacher in Bound Brook, NJ and launching the company, there were 18 learning centers opened and the beginning of franchising the business.
Now there are 35 Huntington Learning Centers in the New York metropolitan area with 250 franchise centers in 38 states, providing tutoring services to students between five and 17 years old for helping them to improve their grades, test scores, and self-esteem. Subjects include reading, writing, mathematics, study skills, phonics, vocabulary, state test preparation, high school entrance exam preparation, and SAT/PSAT and ACT preparation.
“Our founding vision is embodied in our mission statement, which is ‘to give every student the best education possible,’” says Eileen.
She was named by Entrepreneur magazine, as one of “3 Women to Watch in the Franchising Sector” in 2015. The profile explores her leadership style of “positivity and high expectations” that has been a major driver to the company’s “rise to the top of the tutoring and test prep industry.” 2016 marked the ninth year that Huntington Learning Center ranked as a Franchise 500 company taking into consideration such factors as: financial strength and stability, growth rate, system size, years in business and low startup costs.
Eileen shared, “We’re working with children. When a child calls up and says, ‘I got on the honor roll for the first time,’ you are just over the moon for that.’”
“We help large buying organizations streamline their procurement processes, consolidate their supply chain and better leverage the dollars they spend,” says Avis.
Her passion is advocating for women and minorities in business and increasing the meaningful participation of women and people of color in technology. She serves on several boards that support these missions including NCWIT, National Center for Women in Technology and the WPEO, Women President’s Educational Organization, as well as others.
She is one of the National spokespersons for NCWIT’s Sit With Me campaign, which is symbolized by a red chair representing the need to sit down (in order to Stand Up) to engage in meaningful dialog and mirrors the courageous act of Rosa Parks who sat down at the front of a bus sparking a movement that changed the world.
Avis’s life journey as a woman of color and leader in technology, challenging the status quo, will be coming to life in her upcoming book, Not All Bias is Unconscious.
The Brava Awards gala was a huge success, highlighting the powerful women leaders here in the state of New Jersey that are changing their communities and the world.
As part of the theme of powerful women inspiring change in the world, the Charity Partner for this event was, Dress for Success (of Morris County). Executive Director Mary Jean Barnes kicked off the event with a few words about this great cause. Their purpose is to offer long-lasting solutions that enable women to break the cycle of poverty. They provide each client with professional attire to secure employment, as well as programs to build their confidence. A donation of gently used professional attire was requested as part of the confirmation emails that went out prior to the event.
If you would like to get involved with Dress for Success or have women’s professional attire to donate, please click here.
I couldn’t end this blog without commenting on the practically flawless organization and implementation of the event by the SmartCEO staff. They were amazing. So a big set of thank you’s to them all, especially Lauren Cittadino and Jessica Desvarro. They even accommodated my request to have my CEO be moved to the final group of winners since she was still on a plane arriving back from a WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) WeInnovate event in Orlando (thank you Jessica).
To see more photos from the event, please click here.