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Cover Story

Forward Thinking

Kim Robinson

Kim Robinson, who has worked with planning and development agencies in Detroit and Nevada, has been chosen to fill the large shoes left by Tim Brennan, who recently retired as director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission after more than four decades in that position. Robinson is focused on a number of short- and long-term priorities — everything from the upcoming census to east-west rail service.

Kim Robinson says she wasn’t exactly looking to move on from her job as executive director of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency in Reno, Nevada.

But then…

The advertisement posted on the jobs board on the American Planners Assoc. website caught her attention. And held it.

It was an ad seeking candidates to succeed Tim Brennan as executive director of the Pioneer Valley Regional Planning Commission, a post he held for more than four decades.

“ I saw this as a one-of-a kind opportunity. This seemed like a real opportunity to lead an organization that is so well thought of and has so many opportunities to help and support the 43 jurisdictions that are part of the area we serve. I could tell this was a special opportunity.”

Robinson, who moved into Brennan’s office just a few weeks ago, doesn’t recall the specific wording within that posting, but does recall what struck her eye and what prompted her to eventually move roughly 2,800 miles east.

“I saw this as a one-of-a kind opportunity, and I recognized that pretty early on in reading the job description itself,” she told BusinessWest. “This seemed like a real opportunity to lead an organization that is so well thought of and has so many opportunities to help and support the 43 jurisdictions that are part of the area we serve. I could tell this was a special opportunity.”

That area is Hampden and Hampshire counties, and those 43 jurisdictions are cities and towns as diverse as Springfield and Ware; Northampton and Longmeadow. For those communities, the PVPC, as it’s called, provides, as Robinson noted, a number of planning-related services.

Indeed, from its creation in 1962, the PVPC has been involved with everything from building bike trails to cleanup of the Connecticut River to creating the so-called Plan for Progress, a regularly updated document that has identified planning priorities for the region.

The specific list of services doesn’t go from A to Z, but rather from A to W, starting with air-quality analysis and ending with water-supply protection. In between lies everything from climate action and clean energy to housing planning and development to parking studies.

Meanwhile, the PVPC also provides what’s known as local technical assistance, or LTA, to member communities. It can take many forms, including information from the agency’s Data Center, traffic counts on local roads, and assistance with local grant applications.

the Connecticut River is no longer the “best-landscaped sewer in the country.”

Kim Robinson says one of many priorities for the PVPC, and the region, is expanding rail service to Springfield and other area communities.

It was the opportunity to be part of all that and write the next chapter in the agency’s history that prompted Robinson to go beyond reading the want ad and actively seek the position.

Since arriving, she has been busy on a number of fronts — from putting some of her own maps up on the walls of her office (like most planners, she has an affinity for maps) to meeting with many of the PVPC commissioners from those 43 cities and towns that are members; from getting a lay of the land, if you will, to setting some priorities for the short and long term.

In that first category is the upcoming national census and work to help ensure that as many area residents as possible are counted. An accurate count is important, she told BusinessWest, because the dollar figures attached to grants and assistance programs are driven by the numbers generated by the census.

“A lot of funding is derived from the census, so we obviously want as accurate a count as possible,” she said, adding that the PVPC has formed what’s known as a Complete Count Committee, or CCC, which utilizes local knowledge, influence, and resources to educate communities and promote the census through outreach efforts (more on that later).

Meanwhile, in that latter category are issues ranging from housing — specifically, the need to create more housing options, especially at the lower end of the price scale — to transportation and especially efforts to create more rail service and, in particular, an east-west line. And also something Robinson called ‘resiliency.’

This is an attribute the region and its individual cities and towns need to attain, she said, adding that there are many factors that can impact long-term resiliency, from jobs to climate change and efforts to control it.

“Resiliency is about an organization, or a community, being able to absorb changes that are kind of outside its control, whether it’s the economy or the climate or other factors — it’s the ability to be able to withstand and move forward,” she noted, adding that the goal moving forward is to make the 43 cities and towns in the region more resilient.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Robinson about her move across the country and what lies ahead for the region and the PVPC when it comes to planning and readying this area for what is to come in the decades ahead.

Background Discussion

Robinson brings a diverse background in planning and economic development to her new position with the PVPC, as well as experience working in different parts of the country.

Indeed, before relocating to Reno, she worked in Detroit, where she was born, starting in 1997 as a planner/administrator for the Jefferson-Chalmers District Council.

A year later, she became manager of the city’s Planning and Development Department, a post she stayed in for a full decade, an intriguing and challenging time for a city that fell into a serious spiral but in recent years has been on the rebound.

Early on in her Detroit tenure, the concept of empowerment zones was gaining traction, and Detroit was awarded $100 million for initiatives and departments.

“That provided an opportunity to do a lot of good, interesting work,” she recalled, “and there started to be a lot of growth and growth potential, and by the mid-2000s, we could really start to see the positive changes that were coming.”

Seeking a new and different challenge but in a somewhat familiar setting (she spent much of her childhood living in Southern Nevada), Robinson relocated to Reno and became Planning manager of the Washoe County Department of Community Development in 2007. Later, she would become executive director of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency, where she addressed a number of the same challenges she will encounter in Western Mass., including housing and the need to create more options at different price points.

Meanwhile, industrial land and, more specifically, challenges presented by its development, was another of the issues she and her agency addressed.

“The largest industrial park in the country is in the county next door,” she noted, referring to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, a 107,000-acre facility that is home to more than 100 facilities, including the Tesla Gigafactory 1, a massive lithium-ion-battery and electric-vehicle assembly plant. “So the conversation around competition between the two counties was a large one. Meanwhile, one of the things we saw was a large number of jobs going to that county, but not a lot of homes being built. So the Washoe County area, all 6,000 square miles of it, which includes Reno and the city of Sparks, was responsible for providing housing, schools, education, all those pieces; it was a tremendous strain on the existing infrastructure, and they weren’t getting the tax dollars from that employment.”

Strategies for addressing these issues were part of the five-year regional plan for Washoe County that Robinson helped draft earlier this year. The ink was drying as she read about the job opportunity in the Pioneer Valley.

Robinson said she enjoyed her work in Western Nevada and, as she noted, wasn’t really looking for a new challenge, but that ad on the American Planners Assoc. job board changed that. Specifically, she recalled what the PVPC wrote with regard to what it was seeking in its first new executive director since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

“They were looking for leadership, experience, and the opportunity to get some different perspective,” she recalled, adding that she was confident she could deliver all of the above, especially that ‘different perspective.’

Indeed, Robinson said she knew little, if anything about Hampden and Hampshire counties when she applied, but was intrigued by the agency, the depth of its portfolio of services, and the chance to lead such an organization.

While getting to know the region and some of the specific communities — she’s visited a few and plans to put a considerable number of miles on her car in the weeks and months to come — and also meeting with staff and having a few conversations with her predecessor, she is getting a handle on the issues confronting them. And in many respects, they’re the same as those she encountered in Nevada and Detroit.

Moving Targets

These include renewable energy (especially solar), housing, transportation, overall sustainability, and, yes, that all-important 2020 census.

Transportation, and especially efforts to expand and improve rail service, was Brennan’s pet project and one of his enduring legacies, said Robinson, adding that she understands the importance of passenger rail service to this area and its long-term prospects and intends to continue Brennan’s advocacy for additional service.

“We’ve just recently had a huge success with the start of the Flyer,” she said, referring to expanded north-south rail service on a line that extends from New Haven to Greenfield. “That’s a palpable piece of Tim’s legacy.”

As for the potential for east-west service that would link Boston and Springfield, Robinson said she’s among many eagerly awaiting the results of the state’s ongoing study of that concept.

But rail is just part of the larger transportation picture, she went on, adding that the PVPC is in the process of updating the Regional Transportation Plan, which will include discussion of streets, bike lanes, transit, “all the ways we move in our community,” she noted.

As for the census, it is an important priority for individual cities and towns and the PVPC, said Robinson, adding that the counts do far more than help determine how many congressional districts a state has and how they are drawn.

And the Complete Count Committee plays an important role in getting the numbers right.

“A lot of funding is derived from the census, so we obviously want as accurate a count as possible.”

“These committees present an opportunity to bring together all the various folks that are impacted by, or can help to impact, the census itself,” she explained. “We bring together a wide group of people — service providers, representatives of the cities and towns, the Census Bureau — and the conversation is about how we can get the most accurate and complete count possible.”

The upcoming census is an example of the many ways the PVPC assists local communities, and it also provides that local technical assistance, said Robinson, adding that this comes in a number of forms. As one example, she cited ongoing work with Longmeadow, which has requested assistance with its open-space and recreation plan, as well as frequent requests to help communities amend zoning bylaws.

The agency is also enjoying success with — and looking to perhaps expand — what it calls ‘shared services,’ such as accounting services provided by an individual hired by the PVPC that can be made available to smaller communities, thus saving them the expense of hiring someone themselves.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to save money because they’re buying along with others,” she explained, adding that other shared services include IT help and other areas; for example, at present, Longmeadow and East Longmeadow are having discussions about sharing a health director.

Moving forward, the PVPC will continually look for new and different ways to assist member communities, said Robinson, adding that the already-deep list and the potential to add to it was one of the many aspects of this job that caught her attention.

Toward Tomorrow

As she talked with BusinessWest in one of the conference rooms at PVPC’s headquarters on Congress Street in Springfield, Robinson said she doesn’t spend a lot of time looking at the APA jobs board and wasn’t necessarily looking to leave the Reno area.

“I applied for one job,” she explained.

It was a job she continually described as a one-of-a-kind opportunity, and for a number of reasons — but especially a desire to continue a nearly 60-year track record of service to the region, one that involves keeping one eye on today and the other squarely on tomorrow, meaning decades down the road.

That’s been the PVPC story, and Robinson is excited about the prospects of writing the next several chapters.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education

Center of Attention

Nikki Burnett, seen here in one of the Educare center’s outdoor play areas, says the facility is a showcase of what early education should be — and what all young children deserve.

Nikki Burnett says Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood and those surrounding it certainly need the gleaming new $14 million Educare facility constructed next door to the Elias Brookings Elementary School on Walnut Street.

More to the point, though, she told BusinessWest, they deserve this facility, which can only be described with that phrase state-of-the-art when it comes to everything from its programs to its play areas to its bathrooms.

“Mason Square, Old Hill, McKnight, Bay, all those neighborhoods … they’re so rich in history, so they’re rich in great success stories that have come out of here and are still coming out of here,” said Burnett, the recently named executive director of the 27,000-square-foot facility, who should know; she grew up there herself. “People like Ruth Carter, who just won an Oscar for the costume design in the movie Black Panther — she’s from Springfield.

“We have to celebrate those things, and we have to model those things for our children so they can see that they have greatness in them,” she went on. “One of the very important things about Educare is that it aligns potential with opportunity. I believe all children are born with immense potential, but many do not have the same opportunity to realize that, so Educare will give them that push — it will help readjust their trajectory.”

That’s why this area of the city, traditionally among the poorest neighborhoods in the state, deserves this Educare facility, just the 24th of its kind in the country and the only one in Massachusetts, she continued, adding quickly that this building, and the Educare model itself, were designed to show decision makers and society in general what all young children deserve and what has to be done so that they can all enjoy a similar experience.

Mary Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to bring the Educare facility to fruition, agreed.

“The message being sent here is that it costs money to do this work well,” she said. “It costs money to fund quality at the level that children in this community and others deserve, and we can’t expect outcomes that we want from children if the investment is not there at the front end.”

Considering those comments, Educare is certainly much more than a building, and those who visit it — and many will in the weeks and months to come — will come to understand that.

Indeed, the facility set to open later this year, supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and to be operated in partnership with Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, is, for lack of a better term, a standard — or the new standard when it comes to early-childhood education.

And it is, as Burnett and Walachy noted, a model — hopefully to be emulated — that incorporates everything science says young children need to flourish. This includes data utilization, high-quality teaching practices (three teachers to a classroom instead of the traditional two), embedded professional development, and intensive family engagement.

All this and more will come together at the much-anticipated facility, which will provide 141 children up to age 5 (already enrolled at a Head Start facility in that neighborhood) and their families with a full-day, full-year program that Burnett projects will be a place to learn — and not just for the young children enrolled there.

The Educare facility in Springfield is just one of 24 in the country and the only one in Massachusetts.

“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model,” she explained. “We understand that 141 children is not every child; however, what we learn here, we’re going to be able to send out — others can do what we’re doing. And on a policy level, it’s my hope that legislators can see the success of this and realize that, when they’re making out the budget, it needs to be funded so everyone can enjoy Educare quality.

“Educare is not going to be on every corner,” she went on. “But that doesn’t mean that the quality of Educare cannot be beneficial to all children.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Educare facility and talked with Burnett and others about what this unique early-education center means for Springfield and especially those young people who walk through its doors.

New School of Thought

Janis Santos, the longtime director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, recalled that, when she toured the Educare facility recently as construction was winding down, she became quite emotional.

“I have to be honest, I started crying,” said Santos, honored roughly a year ago by BusinessWest as one of its Women of Impact for 2018. “One of the construction-crew members said, ‘why are you crying?’ and I said, ‘because I’m so happy.’

“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model.”

“This is a dream come true,” she went on, adding that the facility provides dramatic evidence of how far early-childhood education has come during her career — it was considered babysitting when she got her start — and how important it is to the overall development of young people.

Tears of joy have been a common emotional response among those who have toured the site, especially those involved in this initiative from the beginning, but there have been others as well. Indeed, Burnett told BusinessWest, when the staff members assigned to the Educare center visited the well-appointed teachers’ room, many of them started clapping.

These reactions provide ample evidence that the six-year journey to get the facility built and the doors open was certainly time and energy incredibly well-spent.

By now, most are familiar with the story of how an Educare facility — again, one of only 24 in the country — came to be in Springfield. It’s a story laced with serendipity and good fortune at a number of turns.

It begins back in 2014 when an early-childhood center on Katherine Street in Springfield closed down abruptly, leaving more than 100 children without classroom seats, said Walachy, adding that the Davis Foundation began looking at other options for early education in that building.

One of them was Educare, she went on, adding that officials with the Buffett Foundation and other agencies involved, as well as architects, came and looked at the property. They quickly determined that it was not up to the high standards for Educare centers.

“Their model is ‘make it a state-of-the-art, unbelievable building to send a strong message that this is what all kids deserve,’” said Walachy, adding that, after those inspections and being informed that a new facility would have to be built at a cost of more than $12 million, the Educare concept was essentially put on the shelf.

And it stayed there for the better part of two years until an anonymous donor from outside the Bay State who wanted to fund an Educare facility came into the picture.

“This individual pledged to pay for at least half the cost of building an Educare somewhere in the country, and she was willing to do it here in Springfield,” she said, adding that the donor has written checks totaling more than $9 million for both the construction and operation of the facility.

With this commitment, those involved went about raising the balance of the needed funds — the Davis Foundation and another donor committed $2 million each, and state grants as well as New Market Tax Credits were secured, bringing the total raised to more than $20 million — and then clearing what became another significant hurdle, finding a site on which to build.

Indeed, the Educare model is for these facilities to be built adjacent to elementary schools, and in Springfield, that proved a challenging mandate. But the tornado that ravaged the city, and especially the Old Hill area, in 2011, forcing the construction of a new Brookings School, actually provided an answer.

Indeed, land adjacent to the new school owned by Springfield College was heavily damaged by the tornado, making redevelopment a difficult proposition. Thus, the college became an important partner in the project by donating the needed land.

But while it’s been a long, hard fight to get this far, the journey is far from over, said both Burnett and Walachy, noting that another $500,000 must be raised to fund an endowment that will help cover operating expenses at the school.

And raising that money is just one of many responsibilities within Burnett’s lengthy job description, a list that also includes everything from becoming an expert on the Educare model to attending regular meetings of Educare facility directors — there’s one in New Orleans later this year, for example.

At the moment, one of the duties assuming much of her time is acting as a tour guide. She even joked that she hasn’t mastered the art of walking backward while talking with tour participants, but she’s working on it. To date, tours have been given to city officials, funders and potential funders, hired staff members, like those aforementioned teachers, and, yes, members of the media.

BusinessWest took its own tour, one that featured a number of stops, because items pointed out are certainly not typical of those found in traditional early-education centers.

“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment.”

Starting with what Burnett and others called the “outside-in” of the building’s design, which, as that phrase indicates, works to bring the outside environment into the school to provide continuity and the sense that the school is part of the larger world. Thus, green, grass-like carpeting was put down in the entranceways, and green carpet prevails pretty much throughout the facility. Meanwhile, the brick façade on the exterior is continued inside the building.

Throughout the building, there are generous amounts of light and state-of-the-art facilities throughout, from the well-equipped play areas inside and out to the two sinks in each of the classrooms — one for food preparation, the other for hand washing — to the restrooms designed especially for small people.

In addition, each classroom is equipped with small viewing areas with one-way mirrors so that so-called ‘master teachers’ and others can see and evaluate what’s happening.

In all, there are 12 classrooms, seven for infants and toddlers and five for preschool. As noted earlier, they will be places of learning, and not just for the students.

Model of Excellence

Returning to that emotional tour of the Educare facility she took a few weeks ago, Santos said that, as joyous and uplifting as it was, she’s looking forward to the next one even more.

“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment,” she told BusinessWest, putting almost a half-century of work in early childhood behind those words.

She can’t wait because students will be learning and playing in a facility that really was only a dream a few years ago — a dream that came true.

It’s a facility that those students truly need, but as Burnett and all the others we spoke said, it’s one they deserve — one that all students deserve.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Veterans in Business

Retired Marine Corps Major Stresses Teamwork, Accountability

Corey Murphy, third from left, with several First American Insurance employees during a Toys for Tots campaign the company helped launch.

Corey Murphy knew he was no longer on active duty with the Marine Corps when he walked into his first staff meeting at his family’s business — Chicopee-based First American Insurance — with the accent on when he walked in.

Indeed, that meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m., and from his years as a Marine officer, Murphy translated this to mean that he should arrive no later than 10 minutes before the hour.

“You never, ever walk into a meeting if the boss is already there; you just don’t do that,” he told BusinessWest, referring to life in the Marine Corps. “So I show up at 10 of 8, because … if you’re on time, you’re late. I’m looking at my watch, and I’m the only one sitting there. I look at my watch again at 8, and I’m still the only one sitting there, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘what’s going on here?’ I couldn’t comprehend the idea of having an 8 o’clock meeting and have it not start by 8 o’clock.”

This wasn’t a serious wake-up call, but simply a reminder that life in the business world is not exactly like life in the Corps. He would get other lessons to this effect, he went on, adding that he once asked someone to get him something by the ‘close of business.’

“Two of the biggest similarities between the military and the business world are teamwork and accountability.”

“The military interpretation of that is that is ‘when you’re done, then you can close your business day,’” he explained. “As opposed to ‘it’s 5 o’clock, and I’m going home.’ They didn’t get it done by 5 and went home, and I said, ‘wait, I said close of business.’”

So there was certainly a period of what Murphy called “transition and adjustment” from life in the military to work at the office on Front Street. But, overall, many of the tenets, if you will, of life in the service do carry over to the workplace, often creating a more focused, more efficient, more sustainable workplace, he said, listing everything from an emphasis on teamwork to the need to keep up with — and take full advantage of — ever-improving technology, to stepping up when the need arises.

But there are other, perhaps even more important takeaways (if that’s the right term) from the military, he said, citing both the company’s philosophy of continuous education and training, and its commitment to the community.

There is a heavy emphasis on the former in the military and especially the Marine Corps, he noted, adding that there is now a similar degree of importance attached to it at First American.

“This is something I have tried to instill with everyone; training is very critical,” he said, adding that an even heavier emphasis on community involvement — one existed already at this company— stems from his experiences with the Marines is such places as Okinawa, the Philippines, and Korea.

“Coming home, I realized we have resources that we can use to try to make a difference, and so we try to help where we can,” he said, mentioning, as just one example, the company’s visit to a nearby elementary school on Halloween to distribute candy to the students.

Overall, Murphy spent 20 years with the Marines, on active duty and with the reserves, and retired as a major. He said joining the Corps was something he “always wanted to do,” although he couldn’t pinpoint a reason for this. He said his uncle served in the Marines during Vietnam and took part in the prolonged siege of Khe Sanh, but doubts whether that was a motivating factor in his decision.

Murphy went into the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va. while attending Virginia Military Academy, and, after gaining his commission, was stationed in Hawaii and, later, Korea and Okinawa.

In the fall of 1998, he finished his four-year tour of duty and joined the family business. He would eventually buy it from his father in 2014.

After only six months of being home, he joined the Reserves, and would continue to serve — he did take a break at one point to earn his MBA — for another 16 years, before retiring in 2016. The last five years were spent with Marine Forces Pacific, leaving First American for stretches lasting several weeks on average to take part in exercises across that vast theater.

To be able to take part in such assignments, Murphy said he knew he needed a capable team behind him, one he knew he could trust to carry on without him — although, with technology, he was able to keep in touch.

And this is one of the many aspects of military service that has carried over to the workplace, he said, noting that teamwork and doing what’s necessary are some of the guiding philosophies at First American.

“Two of the biggest similarities between the military and the business world are teamwork and accountability,” he said, adding that they are necessary in both settings, and he has worked to instill these attributes in his team of nearly 20 employees. “If someone’s out sick or if we’re down a person or things get busy, there’s an expectation that people are going to pitch in and do whatever they need to do.”

Overall, Murphy said what he’s brought back from the Marine Corps is a philosophy of “adapt and overcome,” which is a big reason for the success the company has enjoyed.

“You adapt to the situation, and you overcome,” he explained, adding that this what happens in the Marines. “You go in with aplan, but the enemy has a plan, too. So you have to adapt to the situation you’re presented with and come up with a new plan.”

Murphy said he’s adjusted well to the business world and how it differs from the military, right down to what time people are expected at meetings and what ‘close of day’ means in this setting.

But the two worlds are actually more similar than they are different, he added, and those basic tenets of teamwork and accountability are the cornerstones on which success is built.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Veterans in Business

Her Afghanistan Tour Brought Many Lessons for Life, Business

Dorothy Ostrowski is seen here during her tour of duty in Afghanistan with Gen. Karl Eikenberry (center) and fellow military police officers (from left) Ryan Stone, Dominic Cirillo, and Jeffrey Botcher.

Dorothy Ostrowski was only 17 when she joined the Army National Guard.

She needed her parents’ consent to do so at that age, and she got it, because they knew — and, more importantly, she knew — that this was something she needed at that critical junction in her life.

“I didn’t have probably the best circle of friends at that time,” she told BusinessWest, turning back the clock more than 23 years. “I was looking to get some direction in my life.”

To say she found some through her seven years in a military police company, serving in locations ranging from Italy to Panama to Afganistan, where she became a chase driver for Gen. Karl Eikenberry, would be a huge understatement.

Indeed, she said, during that time of service, she gained invaluable lessons in teamwork, trusting those you’re working beside, being ready for essentially anything, taking nothing for granted, and taking good care of team members.

And they have served her well since, in positions ranging from emergency-room nurse to president of the company that she and her husband, Mike, purchased at the start of this year, West Springfield-based Adams & Ruxton Construction.

“There are many ways in which what you learn in the military impacts what you do in life and in business,” she noted. “There’s the teamwork dynamic, the attention to detail, and the mindset of taking care of the troops — your troops eat first. It’s about taking care of the people around you, because they’re the ones who are going to pull you through things. And that directly impacts where I am now.”

“There would be times when you were out on convoys and there would be explosions, or you’d be out on a mission … and you’re not really thinking that you might not come back at the end of the day.”

Afghanistan was essentially the final stop in a lengthy stint with the National Guard that, as noted, took Ostrowski to several other countries and working situations. She told BusinessWest that her first ambition was to be a police officer. But, as she said, she needed to bring direction to her life, and so, while still enrolled at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, she made the decision to join the Guard with the stated goal of becoming a military police officer. Boot camp was the summer after her junior year.

Looking back on her time in Afghanistan, Ostrowski said it wasn’t until that tour of duty was over and she was back in this country that she could really put those experiences into their proper perspective.

“When you’re there, you’re just doing your job,” she told BusinessWest. “There would be times when you were out on convoys and there would be explosions, or you’d be out on a mission … and you’re not really thinking that you might not come back at the end of the day.”

Her Guard unit was there to be part of the efforts to train the Afghan national army, she explained, adding that her specific role with the Military Police was to protect Gen. Eikenberry, an assignment that often put her at the wheel of the chase car that rode close behind his Chevy Suburban.

“We would ensure that no one tried to drive into him or drive him off the road,” she noted. “Our mission for those several months was to get him where he needed to go safely, whether that meant chase-driving him or accompanying him in Blackhawks or Chinooks to different villages in Afghanistan.”

When that tour of duty ended, Ostrowski enrolled at Holyoke Community College, with the goal of joining the law-enforcement field, but instead took a different career path — into healthcare. She eventually became an emergency-room nurse after gaining her degree at Springfield Technical Community College, and later, while seeking work that would allow her to spend her time with her family, joined Sound Physicians, a medical process-improvement company. Along the way, she earned a dual master’s degree in nursing and business administration at Elms College to better position herself for new opportunities and, ultimately, a leadership position.

Dorothy Ostrowski says she won’t hesitate to do anything she asks her team members to do.

She created one for herself by acquiring Adams & Ruxton, a move she categorized as part of a lifelong pattern of continually seeking out new challenges and raising the bar when it comes it comes to her career ambitions — something else she took home from her time in the military.

Today, she leads a team of 25 people and boasts a broad job description, everything from meeting with clients to coordinating the subcontractors to handling the financials. And she brings her experience in the military to the workplace seemingly every day, especially those lessons in teamwork and working as a unit to achieve a mission, whatever it may be.

To get her points across, she referenced a cartoon a friend sent her that effectively illustrates — literally and figuratively — the difference between a manager and a true leader.

“In one panel, there’s a picture of a boss sitting up on a rock with all his employees pulling him,” she recalled. “And then, in the other, there’s a picture of a leader, the one at the front of that rope helping all his people pull that big rock; that’s the kind of leader I am, and I think a lot of it comes from my time with the Guard.

“It’s about not being afraid to do anything that you ask the people you’re surrounded by to do,” she went on. “But I think it’s also about recognizing the qualities of the people around you and being humble enough to say, ‘hey, I don’t know how to do this,’ and allowing those that know how to do it to teach you to do it.”

“In the military, you rely on each other,” she said in conclusion, adding that this mindset has helped enable her to be a driving force in business, long after she was a driving force in Afghanistan.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Veterans in Business

His Time in the Navy Provided an Education on Many Levels

Andrew Anderlonis says his time in the Navy helped him become an effective, people-oriented leader.

Andrew Anderlonis laughed as he noted that one of the Navy’s better selling points is that, no matter where you’re stationed, you’re certain to be close to be a beach.

And that was certainly the case when he was assigned to the destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69), which was based in San Diego; there are lots of fine beaches there.

But Anderlonis said he didn’t join the Navy to sit in the sun. No, he did so to get an education — in every sense of that term.

Indeed, through the Navy, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend George Washington University, earning degrees in international business and management information systems. But that’s just one aspect of the education he received. Later, serving on the Milius and then the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, he was put in situations where he could lead people, develop management skills, test himself, and grow as an individual.

And he credits those experiences — everything from work on nuclear reactors to missions to thwart pirates in the Middle East — with helping him become an effective, people-oriented leader at Rediker Software, which he now serves as president.

“I call my time in the Navy the ultimate leadership experience,” he told BusinessWest. “The experience that the Navy gave me, from an early stage, right out of college, put me into some really tough, really challenging situations that helped build my confidence, helped build my humility, and helped make me the kind of manager I am today.

“There’s different styles of leader out there,” he went on. “Through the Navy, I found out I was a people-first person. Taking care of people, taking care of the sailors under me really became how I was successful. I knew that if I took care of them, they would do their jobs and take care of me, and thus we would accomplish the mission — and I carry a lot of that same methodology to how I lead and manage today.”

“I call my time in the Navy the ultimate leadership experience.”

Before elaborating, Anderlonis flashed back a few decades to his decision to commit to the Navy.

As he noted earlier, this was, as they say in the military, a tactical decision. He knew that beyond a beach — somewhere — the Navy would help provide him with both a college education and invaluable work and life experience.

And it delivered all that and more.

“The Navy was really appealing to me, and I liked the opportunities that it offered — you’re given a lot of responsibility as soon as you graduate, especially as an officer,” he recalled, adding that, after graduating from the ROTC program as a midshipman, he started his career on the Milius, a guided-missile destroyer.

There, he wore a large number of hats, as he put it; he served as a gunnery officer, a legal officer, and was the ‘vessel-boarding, search-and-seizure officer.’

After two years in San Diego, he moved on to Charleston, S.C. for a year and switched gears, becoming a nuclear engineering officer. He earned his qualification to work onboard an aircraft carrier, and was later assigned to one of the reactors on the George H.W. Bush.

All told, he served more than five years of active duty that included those two ship tours and several deployments, including (while on the Milius) some anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and in the central and southern Arabian Gulf, previously known as the Persian Gulf.

“I was the vessel-boarding, search-and-seizure officer … I had an 18-person crew that was under me,” he recalled. “We would board ships and look for pirates; I was out there in my desert camos climbing up the side of tankers.”

Those were among the myriad experiences that, in total, helped prepare Anderlonis for his transition to the business world, specifically Rediker Software, a venture started by his wife’s father that specializes in integrated school-management systems.

And that preparation involved everything from technology and how to make the most of it, to management and how to handle just about anything that can be thrown at the leader of a small business.

Elaborating, he returned to that mindset, or philosophy, of being a people-oriented leader, a methodology that has worked at Rediker in the same way it did on the George H.W. Bush.

“I make sure that I take care of them,” he said, referring to his team of 95 employees. “I make sure their needs are met and that they’re happy. And I know that, in the end, they’ll take care of me and work as a team to accomplish the business objectives that we’ve laid as we move forward.”

Another tangible benefit from his years in the Navy, he said, is how it has helped him with the broad realm of crisis management and what falls into that category of ‘crisis.’

“It puts everything into perspective when you’re in a war zone and there are actual casualties or something happens and your training kicks in,” he explained. “That’s helped me decide here what’s a true emergency and what’s not. It’s also helping me to maintain a level head and manage stress. And while others are panicking or might be having a really difficult day, I’m able to help them keep a level platform and get through what they might be going through from a leadership perspective.

“At a young age, I was put in a lot of stressful situations, and there were a lot of challenging moments early in my career,” he went on. “And I think those really helped define who I am as a manager and a leader today.”

Meanwhile, there was certainly some beach time in the Navy as well, especially in San Diego. But that’s another story.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Driving Force

Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood with Mango.

A few years ago, Cheryl Clapprood was thinking about retirement. But a love of the work and opportunities for advancement kept her in uniform, and with the abrupt resignation of Commissioner John Barbieri, she was put on a path to lead what has become an embattled department, one dealing with fallout from scandals, controversy, and staffing issues.

His name is Mango.

He’s a 1-year-old German shepherd who carries a badge.

Legend has it — and he’s already becoming legend — that he lacked the temperament or concentration needed to be to be a medical alert dog, like his parents — a highly trained canine that can sense when its master is about to have a seizure, for example. And he wasn’t (and still isn’t) aggressive enough to be a true police dog.

So … he has become a comfort dog for the department (more on that later) and an ambassador of sorts — his business card (yes, he has one) reads ‘Comfort K9’) — visiting area schools, showing up at various events, and becoming a face of the Springfield Police Department.

He joined the force, if that’s the proper term, in June, and he is getting comfortable in his new role and seemingly enjoying it more every day.

Those are sentiments are shared by the person he shares an office with — Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, who dropped ‘interim’ from her title and was officially sworn in to her new position a month ago.

But she has been leading the force for roughly nine months now, since the abrupt resignation of John Barbieri amid a growing number of scandals involving the department. These include the arraignment of 13 current or former police officers on allegations that they either participated in or helped cover up the alleged 2015 off-duty police beating of four men outside Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant, and also federal indictments stemming from alarming video showing Officer Greg Bigda threatening two juvenile suspects arrested for stealing an unmarked police car, among other recent incidents.

“When a couple of incidents happen, it sets you back, and people tend to lump us all together — it’s a profession where, when one officer does something, the rest of us pay the price, and that’s nationwide.”

In the wake of these scandals, Clapprood said, all those in the department are being painted with the same broad brush as those accused of abusing their power, and this is unfortunate, because the vast majority of officers don’t.

“When a couple of incidents happen, it sets you back, and people tend to lump us all together — it’s a profession where, when one officer does something, the rest of us pay the price, and that’s nationwide,” she said. “They treat us all the same, as if we had all committed these crimes. The video got out of Bigda in the cell block, and a lot of people were appalled and shocked at the behavior, but now, people think, ‘oh, that’s how the Springfield Police Department treats prisoners, that’s how they treat juveniles; it’s like we were all in that cell block with him.”

Still, the culture of the department needs to change, she said, adding that these scandals are just one of the challenges facing a department of roughly 500 officers. She told BusinessWest that police work is not as popular and glamorous as it was years ago, and it is, by almost all accounts, more dangerous. That means there are fewer people looking to enter law enforcement, she went on, and when you couple this with the number of officers currently on suspension and those planning to retire early next year, the department is facing a potential staffing crisis.

“We cannot recruit, and we cannot retain,” said Clapprood, adding that Springfield is certainly not alone when it comes to this challenge — other departments are facing the same issues. “We’re having a very difficult time recruiting and retaining officers, and every city in Massachusetts, and, from what I hear, every major city in the country, is facing the same problem.”

Despite these pressures and challenges, the department is, by most measures, creating progress when it comes to the incidence of many types of crimes, and in improving the perception of the city when it comes to public safety, especially in a downtown that is drawing ever-larger numbers of visitors since the opening of MGM Springfield.

Cheryl Clapprood, see here being sworn in as police commissioner, says the Springfield Police Department must change its culture to regain the confidence of the public.

“Violent-crime numbers are down, in large part because there are a lot of officers in the downtown area now,” she said, adding that the department’s relatively new Crime Analysis Unit, which crunches the numbers when it comes to what types of crimes are being committed and where, is also helping make the streets safer.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Clapprood about the state of public safety in the City of Homes and her efforts to change the perceptions of, and the culture within, the department she has been part of for four decades.

Out of the Blue

Clapprood told BusinessWest she recently met up with a woman she attended elementary school with a half-century or so ago. “She gave me a hug and said, ‘do you remember in the second grade when you said you wanted to be a cop?’”

Clapprood didn’t remember actually making that specific comment at that time, but she did recall always being drawn to that type of work.

“I was the crossing guard, I was in school security — I was in all those things,” she recalled, adding that her family lacked the money to send her to college, so she joined the Air Force, where she also gravitated toward the security side of the equation, and fully embraced it.

“It’s going to take some time. I knew we would not win back a good reputation in a short amount of time. It’s going to take some years to build this back up again. But you do it slowly; you show the community that you have officers who are professional officers who have integrity and do a good job.”

While stationed at Westover, she read in the local paper about the upcoming Springfield police cadet exam.

“I was 19, and I said, ‘that sounds really interesting,’” she recalled. “I took it, I passed, and became a police cadet in April 1979. And it’s just followed a course from there — I love the Springfield Police Department; it will be 41 years next April.”

Most police officers retire long before getting to 41 years — a fact of police work that is contributing to the staffing issues we’ll get to later — but Clapprood said she loved the work, and opportunities to advance continued to present themselves.

Fast-forwarding through four decades with the force, she said she gradually moved up in the ranks and eventually reached captain and eventually captain of the Community Action Division, which includes traffic, canine, C3 Policing (or what Clapprood calls “community policing on steroids”), and other programs. And that experience inspired her to stay on for a few more years.

She then took the assessment test for deputy chief, thinking it would be a good experience for her. She would soon discover that everyone else on the list for that post had retired, and with more retirements pending, she decided to hang in still longer.

It was a decision that would eventually propel her to the commissioner’s office, first as interim in February, and then on a permanent basis earlier this fall.

Since taking the helm, she has made it a point to get out in the community and meet with as many constituencies as possible, learning of their needs and concerns and letting them know what the department is doing to address them.

She’s also brought Mango into the department, giving him a role that is new to the force — comfort dog.

Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood says one challenge facing the police department — and all departments — is recruiting and retaining new officers.

“I don’t think people realize what the police officers go through on a daily basis, the things they see, and how it affects them,” she explained. “And he’s been a home run; I bring him to roll calls and the report room, and so far, everyone loves him. He makes trips around the station every day and goes to community events and meetings.

“Sometimes people come in here and they can be jacked up a little bit — they have problems and complaints,” she went on, referring to both members of her department and the general public. “I always ask, ‘are you all right with a dog?’ By the time they’re done petting him and him kissing them, they’ve come down to a level that’s very amicable for me.”

Arresting Developments

But there are a number of issues and problems that can’t be solved with a visit to or from Mango, and these are the matters currently absorbing most of Clapprood’s time.

The department’s scandals and the image problems they’re creating are at the top of this list, she said, adding that she knew changes needed to be made even before she became commissioner.

“You can’t waffle, and you can’t wait for problems to go away — that tends to cause you more problems than you had before,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she is taking a proactive approach to the issues facing the department and bringing about a change in the culture.

“It comes back to instilling discipline, it comes back to training, it comes back to accepting responsibility,” she explained. “That’s what I preach at the staff meetings and with the officers, and you have to lead by example.

“When I was a young police officer here, you’d have to force people out at 65; they were fighting it, calling it age discrimination and threatening to file suit. They didn’t want to go at 65. But it’s a tough job now, and I can’t blame people for wanting to retire earlier.”

“And it’s going to take some time,” she went on. “I knew we would not win back a good reputation in a short amount of time. It’s going to take some years to build this back up again. But you do it slowly; you show the community that you have officers who are professional officers who have integrity and do a good job.”

Meanwhile, another matter is keeping the department staffed, a considerable challenge given the fact that many officers are retiring at an earlier age than a generation ago and fewer young people are looking to enter what was once a proud profession.

“They go early now,” she said, referring to officers and retirement. “When I was a young police officer here, you’d have to force people out at 65; they were fighting it, calling it age discrimination and threatening to file suit. They didn’t want to go at 65.

“But it’s a tough job now, and I can’t blame people for wanting to retire earlier,” she went on. “There have been a few on-duty deaths in recent years, and the last one [Officer Kevin Ambrose] shook up a lot of people.”

Clapprood told BusinessWest that the staffing challenges will soon force some hard decisions on which programs it can continue to operate. For the long term, she worries that such issues will force her department and others to lower their standards when it comes to who can eventually wear a badge.

“In time, lowering standards can cause more problems,” she said, adding that, while once the department desired a bachelor’s degree and later an associate degree, it will now accept a GED. “You might see people here who maybe are not mature enough or didn’t want it for the right reasons; it will bring about a host of other issues.”

As she noted, there are positive things happening within the department and across the city from a public-safety perspective, but these developments are getting lost amid the scandals and negative press.

In an effort to shed some light on them, Clapprood has gone on radio talk shows and writes a regular column for the Republican in an effort to get the word out.

This month’s offering is typical of the submissions: there is commentary on timely topics — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so she discussed the department’s team of domestic-violence advocates — as well as relevant updates, specifically one on the pending decision on which vendor will supply the department with body-worn cameras.

“Cameras aren’t perfect, but they will be beneficial both to our officers and our residents,” she wrote, echoing comments she offered to BusinessWest on this subject. “Just about every department to which we’ve spoken said complaints about officers nearly disappear once they implement a body-worn camera program.”

She also shares news about the department — this month there was mention of how Bill Schwarz, the department’s Crime Analysis director, was recently presented with the International Assoc. of Crime Analysts membership award — as well as another warning about scams and a reminder that photos of she and Mango for the police officers’ ball book can be seen on Mango’s Facebook page.

“I’m trying to get out a lot of good and a lot of the things that we do here,” she said. “And it’s been received very well.”

Paws for Effect

Like most dogs, Mango now has the run of the house — well, Clapprood’s office, anyway

There’s a dog bed not far from the commissioner’s desk, and she likes that he recently developed an affinity for the couch that sits in the corner.

“No one else likes to sit there, so I guess it’s Mango’s,” she said, adding that she and the department’s comfort dog are both growing into their jobs — and they both have a detailed job description.

Clapprood’s can be boiled down to putting her department and all its officers in a position to succeed while also changing the culture within the department, and, at the same time, making the city a safe place to visit and for those who live and work here.

There is considerable work to be done and challenges to be overcome, but Clapprood believes the department can get where it wants and needs to go. It won’t happen overnight, as she said, but it can happen slowly but surely.

Leading those efforts has been a life-long ambition, or at least since the second grade, according to at least one account.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C.

She’s Made It Her Mission to Help Others Get Connected

‘Hi, Ellen. I hope all is well. I can’t wait to see you soon and hear all about your trip! My colleague Erica is very interested in getting even more deeply connected to the philanthropic life of the Greater Springfield area. Your name immediately came to mind, and I thought you both would have a lot to discuss.
Erica: Ellen is incredible! Please feel free to connect directly.’

Ellen Freyman doesn’t know how many e-mails like this one she’s received over the past few decades, but she does know it’s a big number. And she’s proud of each one.

The subject matter varies slightly (she’s obviously not recently back from a trip in all cases), but there are similar themes and like words and phrases used, and, yes, probably lots of smile emojis.

In short, this missive she agreed to share, sent by an executive at a large local employer, sums up perfectly why Freyman, an attorney with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, is a Woman of Impact and, well, what makes her tick, to summon a phrase from another time.

In short, Freyman’s name is the one that immediately comes to mind when people such as the executive who sent this note want to help others get more connected to the philanthropic life of this region.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating.”

That’s what Freyman does. It’s not all she does, as we’ll see. But that’s mostly what she does, and that’s what she believes is her biggest impact within the region.

She connects people with opportunities to get involved with their community, especially people new to this region and its business community, and also members of what would still be called the ‘minority community’ even though they’re not the minority anymore in Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she regularly gets e-mails like the one above asking her to make connections and introduce people to one another. “That’s what we need in this community — people working collaboratively — and that’s what I like to do.”

These sentiments explain why she founded an organization called OnBoard, which works to make some of those connections she spoke of and help organizations achieve not only diversity but cultural sensitivity by enlisting women, people of color, and other under-represented populations to their boards.

The nonprofit organization stages a biannual event at the Basketball Hall of Fame designed specifically to help organizations and people looking to get involved make much-needed introductions.

“I call it a cross between speed dating and a job fair,” said Freyman, noting that the event involves a host of area nonprofits with small tables arranged in a horseshoe. Attendees — those individuals looking to get involved — move from table to table looking for good fits.

The next event is slated for December (no specific date has been set), and Freyman is working hard to secure strong representation on both sides of the equation.

As she talked with BusinessWest for this story, Freyman brought along a cheat sheet of sorts — and she really needs one. It’s a running list of the boards and organizations she’s serving on or has served on in the past. There’s also a compilation of awards she’s won — and there have been many.

They range from BusinessWest’s Difference Makers Award (presented a decade ago) to the Pynchon Award; from Rotary International’s coveted Paul Harris Fellowship to Mass. Lawyers Weekly’s Top Women in Law Award.

The board-activity list is quite impressive as well, and includes everything from the Community Music School to Elms College to the World Affairs Council. Equally impressive, though, is her desire, as she put it, to replace herself on all those boards and get other people involved with those organizations and the community at large.

“I want all of these boards to have younger people on them — new blood,” she said as she ran her finger down the list. “And I want these boards to have memberships that look like the community today — not what it looked like years ago.”

She said this process of replacing herself will take place over the next few years and certainly by the time she retires — six years from now is the plan. In retirement, she might sit on a board or two, but her real ambition is to return to the classroom (that’s where she started her career) and teach adult basic education to refugees and others. But that’s another story.

This one’s about making connections and creating diversity, and those are the reasons why Freyman is a Woman of Impact.

Creating a Deeper Pool

Freyman said she’s made it a habit in recent years to stop for a minute at each event she attends — and there are several each week, and often a few each day, during the busy seasons in the spring and fall — and also at each board gathering, and do some counting.

Ellen Freyman says she launched OnBoard to help individuals get involved in their communities, and also assist area nonprofits and institutions with achieving diversity.

Specifically, she’s counting the Hispanics and African-Americans in whatever room she happens to be in, hoping that the number will represent something approximating the demographic profile of the Greater Springfield area.

Rarely, she said, does it meet that threshold.

“No one wants it to be that way — no one,” Freyman told BusinessWest, adding that there are reasons why boards and gatherings lack diversity. For starters, while there are some candidates, the number is not as high as it should be given this region’s demographic profile, she said, adding that many groups need introductions to the many fine candidates that are in the 413.

Creating a larger pool of candidates, and then making these connections, has become Freyman’s life’s work outside of her life’s work.

And that is a law practice focused on several specialties, but especially commercial transactions and commercial real estate.

She segued into law after stints in the classroom and as a commercial banker, and joined Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin in 1988. Even before that, though, she was getting involved in the community.

She started with Jewish Family Services (JFS) in 1984, not long after she relocated to this region and joined Third National Bank as an auditor training to be a loan officer — and also not long after she enrolled at Western New England University School of Law.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that.”

She recalls having lunch with Steve Dane, principal with the accounting firm Themistos & Dane, and asking how she could get involved. Dane was on the JFS board at the time and asked her if she wanted to join him.

She did, got very involved with the group’s efforts to assist Russian refugees, and soon added the board of the Springfield Museums to her schedule. And many others followed.

But her work in the community has involved much more than board sitting. Indeed, she has been very active in raising money for many of the groups she’s been involved with, and also with identifying, and in many cases mentoring, the next generation of leadership for those organizations.

Indeed, looking back to that lunch with Steve Dane, she said she’s doing for others what he did for her nearly 40 years ago — helping them get involved in their community.

Freyman said the initial impetus for OnBoard, which she created in the mid-’90s, was to get more women involved and on area boards.

“But immediately afterward, I realized that we’re not the only voice that’s missing,” she said. “We need to focus on all under-represented groups, and we have.”

In December, the nonprofit will stage its sixth board-matching event, she noted, adding that, to date, the initiative has had a good amount of success with connecting members of those under-represented groups to opportunities to get involved. But there is still work to be done when it comes to making boards, businesses, and, yes, those myriad events where Freyman takes a head count more diverse.

Overall, she wants other boards, commissions, and businesses to look like the Springfield Rotary Club, which is much smaller than it was years ago (all service clubs are), but more diverse, in large part because Freyman, who has been a member for nearly 30 years now, has recruited members of minority communities. And like the Springfield City Council, which is far more diverse than it was years ago because candidates from underserved constituencies have come forward and become candidates for those seats.

“The Springfield City Council looks like the city,” she said, putting a verbal exclamation point on that statement, adding that other groups need to take on that quality, not for the sake of numbers, but because boards and commissions are more effective, she believes, when their membership mirrors the community they’re serving.

How can boards become more diverse?

Well, Freyman, without exactly saying so, suggested this goal could be achieved if more people worked as she does to make connections and help others get involved.

This, as she said, is her most meaningful contribution locally, far more than her work on any specific board — or all the boards she’s served on over the past 35 years.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that,” she told BusinessWest. “What’s nice is that people do think of me as someone who can help them connected. People will say, ‘someone told me you’re the person I need to talk with if I want to get involved’ — I get those calls and e-mails all the time, and it makes me feel like I am helping to create progress.”

And these efforts extend to replacing herself on many of the boards she’s currently on.

“I want to open up my seat — I don’t want to take the spot of someone who should be there,” she said, using that phrase to reference younger people and those of color.

Overall, she believes progress is being made on this broad front — she noted that Springfield’s hiring of a diversity officer is a significant step in the right direction — but that much work still needs to be done.

Walking the Walk

The OnBoard website features a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that sums up not only its mission, but Freyman’s considerable impact in the community: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

Freyman has always done a lot for others, whether it’s donating time and imagination to a board, helping to raise money for a nonprofit, or assisting refugees as they try become part of the community.

But her biggest contribution has been prompting others to ask that question posed by Dr. King — and then answer it in a resounding, meaningful way.

And that’s why, as the e-mail writer noted, “Ellen is incredible.”

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Assistant Superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

This Educator and Leader Strives to Position Students for Success

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez says she entered the education field somewhat by default.

As she tells the story, she was working first at American Airlines at its reservation desk in Hartford and then Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield doing similar work just to make ends meet.

And then … she took a job as a substitute teacher and, as she put it, “got the bug.”

Big time.

Nearly a quarter-century after entering that fifth-grade classroom at Samuel Bowles Elementary School as a sub, she is the assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (SPS). This is a position with a broad job description, as we’ll see, and one that ensures that each day is not like the one before it or the one after it.

She likes that aspect of it, certainly, but what she enjoys most is the challenge — and the opportunity — of positioning young people for success later in life, and this, when you get right down to it, is the basic job description for every one of the more than 4,000 people working for Springfield Public Schools.

It’s one of the many aspects of her work she is passionate about, as evidenced by these comments about the Working Cities Challenge — an initiative led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to create opportunities for low-income residents of smaller cities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — and Springfield’s involvement in it.

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally,” said Martinez-Alvarez, a core member of the team leading the city’s efforts within the program. “I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.

“That didn’t sit well with me,” she went on. “So when the opportunity came about to create a group to try to close that gap of unemployed and underemployed individuals, I jumped on it.”

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally. I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.”

She has jumped on a number of strategic initiatives to take what has long been one of Springfield’s weakest links — its school system — and make it an asset.

These efforts are still very much a work in progress, but there are encouraging signs.

Indeed, when Martinez-Alvarez and Superintendent Dan Warwick took their respective positions in 2012, the graduation rate in Springfield was 56.6%, and the dropout rate was 6.5%. Today, those numbers are 76.9% and 5.1%, respectively, rates of improvement that are among the most, if not the most, significant in the Commonwealth.

When asked what’s behind them, Martinez-Alvarez said there are many factors, but especially ongoing work to promote parental engagement and work vigorously to keep kids in school.

Summing it all up, she said it comes down to building relationships with those at every level of the equation — students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, and the community — and also creating more accountability.

While building these relationships, SPS works to develop plans for specific schools that will set goals for improvement, measure results, and keep the school in question on the desired track. And these are group efforts that involve many stakeholders.

Such efforts have generated improvement on many levels, including progress with taking a number of underperforming schools (formerly known as Level 4 schools) off that list (although many remain on it), and moving the needle in the right direction on graduation and dropout rates.

But the ultimate goal is to ensure that students can take those diplomas and use them to not only enter the workforce, but thrive within it.

And Martinez-Alvarez believes the system is making progress in this realm through initiatives ranging from internship and work programs to the new Conservatory of the Arts being created in the former Masonic Temple on State Street.

While playing a significant role is all these initiatives, Martinez-Alvarez, the first Hispanic to hold the assistant superintendent’s position in Springfield, has become a role model to all young women, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike, who aspire to careers in education.

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, left, seen here with Annamarie Golden, director of Community Relations at Baystate Medical Center at Baystate’s recent Adopt-a-Classroom Challenge, has been instrumental in helping Springfield’s schools get the tools they need to succeed.

That’s a role, like her one with the School Department, that she takes very seriously, and that’s one of many reasons why the judges have chosen her as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

Learning Curves

Martinez-Alvarez remembers a few intriguing, somewhat awkward, but ultimately “neat” moments when she became assistant principal of Chestnut Accelerated Middle School.

And perhaps with good reason.

After all, she attended the old Chestnut Middle decades earlier, and some of those who taught her were still at their jobs.

“All of a sudden, I became their boss, and that was interesting,” she recalled. “I would still call them … Miss Taylor, for example, and she would say, ‘no, Lydia, you don’t have to call me that.’ It was like I was still afraid of her, she was still my teacher; I couldn’t flip the relationship for some reason. But we did some really good things, and they were very supportive.”

Martinez-Alvarez has enjoyed a good deal of support during a 23-year career that has taken her from the classroom at Forest Park Middle School to the principal’s office at Chestnut to the administration offices of Springfield Public Schools.

Looking back on it, she said there has been a succession of opportunities made available to her, and she has taken advantage of each one — starting with that substitute teaching assignment.

After getting the ‘bug,’ as she put it, she knew she would need more than her degree in Business Management from Westfield State University to go any further in education. She consulted with David Cruise, then HR director of SPS (now director of MassHire Springfield) about charting a new career course. She earned her MAT (master’s degree in teaching) at Elms College, and while doing so took a job teaching Spanish part-time at Forest Park Middle School.

That job eventually led to a full-time teaching post at Forest Park Middle, during which Martinez-Alvarez said she was encouraged by her principal to get her administrators license. She did, taking part in both the Lead program within SPS and returning to Westfield State to earn her certificate of advanced graduate studies in education administration. She eventually became certified as a principal.

When asked about the shift from teaching to administration, Martinez-Alvarez said she started to take on administrative duties at Forest Park Middle — everything from the yearbook to creation of an annual talent show to MCAS tutoring — and enjoyed those assignments. With some encouragement, she decided to alter her career goals.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself,” she told BusinessWest, adding that this was the case with her principal at Forest Park Middle, Carol Fazio, who became a mentor in many respects.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

“She said, ‘I would love for you to become an assistant principal,’ Martinez-Alvarez recalled. “When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she said ‘absolutely,’ and that prompted me to go back to Westfield State and enter Project Lead.”

She interned at Forest Park Middle, and when Jesus Jara was named superintendent of the High School of Science and Technology in 2003, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as one of four assistant principals, a challenge she accepted.

“He gave me the 9th-graders,” she recalled, putting an exclamation point on that comment while acknowledging that was a logical move because she just came from a middle-school environment and knew many of the 9th-graders. “That’s a hard assignment for a newcomer like me, but it was fascinating; I really enjoyed the challenge.”

That has been a consistent theme throughout a career that saw her then take the helm at Chestnut Accelerated Middle School, which at the time, in 2004, had more than 1,200 students, an assignment that is in many ways a microcosm of her career and her commitment to help students succeed.

Grade Expectations

Like Sci Tech, as it’s called, Chestnut was facing a number of serious challenges when she arrived, including high absenteeism, a high suspension rate, test scores she described simply as “not so great,” and a relatively poor level of parental engagement.

She addressed those issues the same way she and the team at Sci Tech did, and the one the current administration does now.

“We really took a deep dive into what was happening through quantitative and qualitative data,” she explained. “We took a good look at who the teachers were, their strengths and weaknesses and attributes, and made some changes around the needs of the children.

“We had to look at everything, from the way the children were interacting in the halls to the PE schedule to the lunch schedule, and adjust according to the needs of the children,” she went on, stressing that word ‘we,’ and noting that this was a team effort.

And an effort focused on building those relationships she mentioned earlier, including one with the neighborhood, Plainfield, that surrounded the school.

“Many of our teachers at the time didn’t know the community, and they were afraid of it in many ways,” she explained. “Plainfield had a reputation which I didn’t agree with because I’d always lived in that part of town; I didn’t see what others saw. I saw a beautiful community filled with beautiful people. So we did a lot around the community so people would get to know it and people would get to know us.”

Martinez-Alvarez remained at Chestnut until 2008, when she became senior administrator for the Leadership Continuum and was named to the system’s senior leadership team.

Near the end of 2009, she became chief schools officer for Zone 3, meaning she supervised and led nine middle schools and high schools in the city. And when Warwick became superintendent in 2012, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as assistant superintendent.

As noted earlier, this position comes with a detailed job description and a host of responsibilities.

Running through them quickly, she’s involved in all school initiatives, but specifically oversees everything from IT to attendance; from college readiness to summer school; from student services to Springfield School Volunteers.

That list also includes athletics and, most recently, work to identify the latest members to be enshrined into the SPS Sports Hall of Fame and the naming of its class of 2019, to be honored on Nov. 23 at Central High School.

Slicing through everything within her job description, Martinez-Alvarez said she and all those in administration at SPS are charged with positioning teachers, schools, and students for success.

This brings her back to those aforementioned strategies developed for specific schools within the system in conjunction with the state — and the relationship-building efforts with the many stakeholders involved with these strategic initiatives. And also to something she called “learning walks,” which are taken after plans are created and put into place.

“We need to monitor things and make sure these plans are not dust collectors on the shelf — that they’re live plans that are being fulfilled,” she explained. “We do learning walks — we go through the classrooms and look for evidence that change is occurring and that we’re doing what we told the state we were going to do to in order to make progress and close the learning gap for our students.”

Such initiatives have succeeded in helping 10 city schools exit the list of underperforming facilities, she went on, adding that several are still in underperforming status.

Overall, she believes SPS has turned a corner of sorts over the past several years.

“There are many things we’ve been doing, and that I’ve become personally involved with, to change the dynamics of what’s happening not only in our schools, but in our city,” she told BusinessWest. “And I believe we’re making some real progress.”

That phrase extends to efforts to close that gap involving the unemployed and underemployed, she said, adding that, through a host of initiatives, students are more workforce-ready when they take their diploma on graduation day.

Class Act

When asked to look back at her career to date and identify what she’s most proud of, Martinez-Alvarez didn’t hesitate.

“It’s the work to ensure that our students have the best possible learning experiences before they leave us, and that there’s something for them to go to when they leave,” she said. “It’s not just taking them to the end of their time with us — it’s about where they’re going next and preparing them for that.”

As noted, significant progress has been made in this realm, and Martinez-Alvarez has been a real force in making it come about.

And that’s just one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Executive Director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Girls Inc. Leader Is an Innovator, Role Model, and Inspiration

The phone call came roughly 13 years ago, but Suzanne Parker remembers it like it was yesterday.

It came several days after she had agreed to become the new executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, but a few days before she officially took the helm. The caller was informing her that the nonprofit was not going to be able to make payroll that week — unless some action was taken.

“I said, ‘you have a line of credit — and you’re going to have to use it,’ she recalled, adding that this was an expensive but very necessary step for an organization that had relied heavily on a federal grant that was due to expire soon and essentially lacked a plan for sustainability.

As she recounted that phone call all these years later, Parker said she wasn’t entirely surprised by it — “I went into this with my eyes wide open,” she told BusinessWest, noting that she was well aware of the agency’s fiscal condition — and not at all fazed by it.

“I like a good challenge — I knew what I was getting into,” she said, adding that she was in many ways motivated by the situation she found herself in.

Indeed, within a year she had righted the financial ship at the agency through a series of cost-cutting and revenue-generating steps (more on those later) and recalls with a huge dose of pride that she has never again had to tap that aforementioned line of credit.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”

But Parker, who earned a law degree earlier in her career and has certainly put it to very good use in her position, has done much more than put Girls Inc. of Holyoke on solid financial footing. Since becoming executive director in late 2006, she has led the nonprofit on an ambitious course of expansion — geographically, programmatically, and in terms of its overall impact to the region as a whole and to the individual girls who walk through the door.

For starters, she has taken the organization beyond its original borders and into Springfield and Chicopee, territorial expansion that has prompted a name change to Girls Inc. of the Valley. She has also helped introduce new programs, including the hugely successful Eureka program, an innovative and intensive five-year program that Girls Inc. operates in partnership with UMass Amherst and which is developing a pipeline of girls into STEM majors and careers.

Overall, Parker has become deeply and energetically involved in every aspect of the program, from board recruitment to fundraising; from events management to marketing.

And the results have been stunning, with the local chapter of Girls Inc. winning recognition for its efforts regionally — the nonprofit was named one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2018, for example — and within the Girls Inc. network, especially for its innovative programming.

Melyssa Brown-Porter, chair of the Girls Inc. board, put Parker’s impact on the nonprofit, area girls, and the region in its proper perspective while nominating her to be a Woman of Impact.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold,” she wrote. “She is extremely passionate about the work that GI is doing for girls and the communities they live in. She is always looking out for the best interest of the girls and concentrates very hard on the results programming has on their lives. Her focus is to reach and serve more girls with impact on our community.

“Suzanne has been an innovator and leader throughout her career,” Brown-Porter went on. “In tune with workforce needs and changes in the economy, Suzanne was piloting state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering, and math programs for girls long before STEM became the focus that is today.”

Innovator. Leader. Inspiration. These are the words many people have used to describe Parker’s work not only at Girls Inc., but at Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start before that and other stops on a lengthy career working with and on behalf of young people.

Some of her best work, however, may be as a role model for the girls who come into the program.

Indeed, Parker, who became a mother at 41, has managed to effectively balance work, life at home, and deep involvement in the community, meaning that girls looking for proof that all that can be accomplished need only walk down a few doors at the Girls Inc. complex in Open Square.

And now, those looking for more descriptive terms that can be applied to Parker have three more — Woman of Impact. Although, truth be told, they’ve probably been using them all along.

Orchestrating Progress

Parker joked that, while she played the clarinet well in her youth growing up in Belchertown — and later in some impressive performance venues, like the Esplanade and Government Center in Boston — she didn’t play it well enough to get paid to do it.

But her love of music prompted her to get a degree in music education from UMass Amherst and eventually teach instrumental band music at Cohasset Middle School. And that’s a good place to begin our story, because it was there that Parker developed an interest in working with young people — and a passion for helping those less privileged.

Seen here with some members of Girls Inc. of the Valley, Suzanne Parker has become a mentor and role model for many members.

“Cohasset was a very affluent community, and, with my humble beginnings in Belchertown, it was a little bit of a culture shock for me,” she explained. “The students I connected with the most were those who were part of the METCO program, mostly students of color living in Dorchester.

“It was important to me to make sure they were included in the band,” she went on. “I also wanted to include kids of different abilities, something that wasn’t the case when I got there, thus creating an environment and atmosphere where there was a lot of inclusion. That’s what I was most proud of from my work there.”

These themes of inclusion and working to provide opportunities to those less fortunate would define her work throughout her career.

Fast-forwarding a little, Parker said she soon realized that she wanted and needed more than teaching, but didn’t know exactly what. She started by returning to Western Mass. and working in sales for a time. Her career path took a rather sharp turn, however, when she saw a sign on the roadside advertising for Head Start substitute teachers.

She knew was overqualified, but took the job anyway, with her first assignment at the Westover Air Reserve center for Head Start. She spent the next 16 years moving up the ladder, serving in a number of roles and eventually deputy director.

Along the way, she realized she needed another degree, and after considering several options, including a master’s in social work and a master’s in education — she settled on a law degree.

“A friend of mine who I grew up with decided to go to law school at Western New England University, and he passed,” she recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘I know that guy — I think I’m as smart as this guy; I think I can do it.’”

So she applied, received some needed financial aid, and went to law school part-time at night, commencing an arduous journey that ended in 2003 when she passed the bar.

“There were many days of tears because I was working tons of hours as a senior-level exec at Head Start,” she said in reference to the difficult task of balancing everything she was doing at the time. “But I did it.”

And now, her very unofficial job description at Girls Inc. is to not only show young girls that they, too, can do it — but to give them a road map for getting where they want to go and the tools to get on the right course and stay on it.

Degrees of Progress

As noted, she has put that law degree to good use, providing ample evidence that such an education isn’t just for those who want to work in the courtroom.

“I use it every day,” she told BusinessWest. “That law-school education helps you every day as an executive director. I use it with everything I’m involved with: contracts, employees, real estate, administrative law — we have federal and state funding — as well as writing skills — I was on the Law Review. It was a really great education, and it has really helped me.

Beyond serving as a great advertisement for law school, those comments hint at Parker’s broad job description at Girls Inc. Slicing through it all, though, her primary work early on involved turning the organization around, putting it on solid financial ground and a path to sustainability — and keeping it on that path.

“It’s all about the mission. It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.”

She’s done that through a variety of measures, including some restructuring, belt-tightening, and the establishment of several of reliable fundraisers, especially the annual Spirit of Girls breakfast, launched in 2007, which does a lot more than raise roughly $150,000 each year, although that is certainly significant.

Indeed, girls involved in the program are heavily involved with the event, and several take to the microphone — in front of an audience of more than 500 people — to talk about Girls Inc. and how it is impacting their lives.

“We keep the expenses incredibly low; it’s a light breakfast, and we don’t pay for speakers — the girls are the speakers,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s an empowering experience for the girls themselves — they take leadership roles in this event.”

The breakfast is just one of the ways the organization works to empower girls and put them on the path to becoming leaders — in their chosen fields and the community as well.

Looking ahead, Parker said the obvious goal is to broaden the regional impact of Girls Inc. and continue those efforts to give the nonprofit the same qualities it strives to give young girls — to be strong, smart, and bold.

Thus, the agency will look to continually extend its reach within Springfield and Chicopee, while keeping Holyoke as its home and base. Finding a new, permanent home is one of the assignments moving forward, said Parker, as is creating sustainability for the Eureka program, conducted in partnership with UMass Amherst and its College of Natural Sciences, Bay Path University, and several other area colleges, and scaling up that initiative. A capital campaign to pay for all this is also in its formative stage.

As for Parker, who has continually sought out new challenges throughout her career, she’s looking forward to being with Girls Inc. as it strives to get to the next level.

“It’s all about the mission,” she noted. “It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.

“Every year, we have the conversation — am I still helping this organization, and is it still a win-win, for me and Girls Inc.?” she went on. “As long as I can still feel challenged and that we’re growing and we’re changing, and that I have something to give and I’m making a difference, I’m in.”

Leading by Example

And there are a great many people who are happy she’s in.

Indeed, Parker has become a Woman of Impact not just because of what she’s done as the leader of a nonprofit clearly in need of strong leadership.

She’s also reached that status by being an effective role model for the girls who join her program — and girls across the region. Years ago, she set goals for herself, understood what was needed to reach those goals, and positioned herself to succeed.

That, in a nutshell, is what Girls Inc. is all about, and while its success doesn’t stem from the work of a single woman, Parker’s influence has greatly enhanced its ability to carry out that all-important mission.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Managing Director, Golden Seeds

This Investor and Mentor Is Making a Difference within the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

Katherine Putnam was a history major in college, and she certainly knows her stuff.

While she really likes European history, she knows all about this country — and this region — as well. She knows, for example, about the very rich tradition of entrepreneurship in Western Mass., and what it meant for the development of individual cities and towns.

“From the 1880s to the turn of the century, Holyoke had more millionaires per capita than any city in the country,” she said, referring to the dozens of mill owners living in the Paper City. “There are two McKim, Mead & White buildings in Holyoke; there was so much money, they were paying for world-renowned architects to come in and design their buildings. And it was the same in Springfield.

“When you read your history books, for 100 to 140 years, this region was a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity,” she went on. “But that hasn’t been true for 50 years.”

Putnam knows that a return to those glory days is certainly not likely, given how global the economy has become and the development of innovation and entrepreneurship hubs such as Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and the Research Triangle. But she firmly believes that the region can once again be a thriving center of new business ventures, and she’s playing an active part in such efforts as managing director of Golden Seeds — a national investment firm that focuses on early-stage businesses that have women in management and leadership roles — and in a host of other roles within this region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

As an investor and a mentor — the two primary roles she plays — she has a number of goals and missions. They include sparking levels of entrepreneurial activity reminiscent of those from generations ago, and also leveling what is currently a very uneven field when it comes to which demographic groups receive venture capital and mentoring, and which ones don’t.

“We have two main problems overall. We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

“We have two main problems overall,” she noted. “We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

Putnam brings an intriguing background, a wide variety of experience, and a host of skills sets to this mission and her various roles within the region’s growing entrepreneurship infrastructure.

Indeed, she started her career in the banking industry before shifting to corporate treasury work and then deciding she wanted to run her own company. In 1996, she put together a group of angel investors and purchased Package Machinery. Before selling it 20 years later, the company had become a technology leader in wrapping machinery for consumer-product manufacturers.

Today, while investing in some developing ventures, she spends most of her waking hours advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, especially women.

Meanwhile, she’s working diligently to create strategies for helping women and minorities crash through the many barriers facing them as entrepreneurs.

“Statistics tell us that 70% of angel money and about 95% of VC [venture capital] money go to teams that are all white males,” she told BusinessWest. “I love white males — I had one as a father, I have one as a son, and I have one as a husband — but that’s not equitable. What are the barriers that are keeping women and minorities — diverse teams — from getting more money?”

There’s no quick or easy answer to that question, she went on, adding that she and some colleagues are hard at work trying to not only find some answers, but develop strategies for somehow changing this equation.

Ali Usman, founder and president of PixelEdge and a fellow investor and mentor of entrepreneurs, summed up Putnam’s work in this region while nominating her for the Woman of Impact award.

“Kate should win this award for her consistent commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he wrote. “Kate is not just involved with one project or company at a time. She is constantly using her knowledge and expertise to help others day after day, week after week. Currently, she serves on three different boards, is a managing director of an angel-investment group, and, in her spare time, manages to mentor entrepreneurs through several different programs.”

Actually, mentoring is much more than a ‘spare-time’ pursuit. For Putnam, it’s her passion, and that’s one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Ventures and Adventures

When asked to summarize the best advice she gives to entrepreneurs at all levels, Putnam didn’t hesitate and recited the lines as if she’s uttered them hundreds of time, which she is undoubtedly has.

“Have lots of conversations with your customers and your prospective customers,” she said. “Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this.’ And then they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they’re solving that problem now.

Kate Putnam says it’s her mission to level the playing field when it comes it diverse groups and their efforts to gain capital and mentors.

“If you get out and make a lot of your widgets without figuring that out, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money,” she went on. “Whether it’s something really cool that you’ve developed in some esoteric lab at UMass at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences or you did it in your garage, you have to figure out who is feeling enough pain to change however they’re doing it now and adopt whatever it is that you’ve developed.

In short, she explained, people are more motivated by pain then they are by gain. “People will go a lot further to avoid losing $10 than they will to gain $10, and so I tend to ask people to think in terms of whether they’re solving someone’s pain and if people will be uncomfortable enough in their pain to switch.”

Steve Jobs was famous for not asking customers what they wanted and for actually saying that “customers don’t know what they want if they haven’t seen it before,” she noted, but he is certainly the exception to the rule with development of such products as the iPhone, and young entrepreneurs would be wise not to emulate that approach.

Passing on such advice has become a career of sorts for Putnam — or the latest career, to be more precise. Indeed, as noted earlier, she’s had several, which in sum have given her exposure to business and entrepreneurship from all angles.

That includes the finance, or funding, side, and also the entrepreneurial, risk-taking side with Package Machinery, which was struggling when she took it over, and she guided it back to prominence within that specific manufacturing niche, increasing machine sales by more than 300%.

In this, her latest career, she spends a good deal of time on the road — she’s put 40,000 miles on her car over the past 15 months by her reckoning — working in a variety of settings and with companies of all shapes and sizes.

Currently, she’s mentoring a few entrepreneurs involved in a program called I-Corps, a National Science Foundation initiative to increase the economic impact of research the agency funds.

“It uses the Lean LaunchPad model for getting people to identify a problem to solve,” she explained, adding that she’s mentoring teams behind ventures in Connecticut and Vermont. “You’re a scientist, and you’ve invented something cool; now you have to figure out if anybody wants it.”

She’s also involved with MIT and its Venture Mentoring Service, and also Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, which she has served in a number of capacities, including entrepreneur in residence for its most recent accelerator class, as well as Greentown Labs. She’s a founding member of Women Innovators & Trailblazers, which strives to make Western Mass. a more vibrant hub for women innovators and entrepreneurs, and also serves as an instructor with RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established small business owners created through a collaboration between the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business and Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

All this keeps her quite busy and her car’s odometer spinning, but it’s work she’s passionate about.

That’s especially true when it comes to mentoring women, leveling the playing field when it comes to capital and opportunities for women and minorities, and launching — and keeping — more businesses in the 413.

Capital Ideas

And the playing field is certainly not level, she told BusinessWest, citing those statistics concerning venture capital awarded to teams comprised of white men given to white men and noting that, by and large, the investing community has historically treated women differently than men, holding them to what amounts to higher standards.

When asked to elaborate and offer a tutorial, she talked about questions asked by potential investors and some of the categories they fall into, including ‘promotion’ and ‘prevention.’

“Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this. And then, they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they were solving that problem now.”

“A promotion question would be ‘how big would the market for your product possibly be globally?’” she explained. “And a prevention question would be ‘how are you going to reach your first $1 million in sales — how are you going to do that?’”

Prevention questions are associated with raising less money, she went on, adding that the more of these questions an individual or team gets, the less money they are likely to raise.

“We know that women get more prevention questions than promotion questions,” she went on, adding that she can’t get inside the heads of investors and come up with an answer to why this is the case, but she had some guesses.

“The sense of it is that the general theory is that women are less competent than men,” she said. “It’s also true that most of the people who are doing the investing are white men, and that they prefer to invest in and mentor people who look like them.”

Diversity refers to geography as well, she said, adding that there is less money flowing to people in more remote areas because, well, there is simply less money there, from the seed (friends and family) level on up to the VC rounds.

“If you’re in Wellesley and you want to raise seed money, it’s a lot easier there than if you’re in Holyoke,” she explained. “In Wellesley, you’ve got friends and family who are likely to have money, and in Holyoke, you’re less likely to have that.”

As she mentioned, changing this equation has become a mission, and she’s carrying it out in a number of ways, from creation of Golden Seeds to involvement with groups like VVM and SPARK EforAll Holyoke, to mentoring in places like Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities in this region.

These are cities, which, as she noted at the top, have a rich history of innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking that is, unfortunately, referred to mostly in the past tense.

“That kind of attitude toward building it, and taking the risk, and making that investment has been gone from this region for quite a while,” she noted. “And it’s tough to recreate it; it’s a real challenge.”

She acknowledged that the needle is moving in the right direction when it comes to entrepreneurial energy and startups taking flight, but not enough movement to suit her.

“I’m impatient — I want to see more activity, sooner, faster, all those things,” she said, adding that the two main ingredients needed are capital and mentoring. There is some of each, but there needs to be more if companies are going to get off the ground and then remain in the 413 rather than packing up and going to where the capital is, be it Cambridge, Boston, San Francisco, or somewhere else.

In Good Company

Reflecting on what has happened in recent years when it comes entrepreneurial activity in this region and efforts to level an uneven laying field when it comes to opportunities and capital for women and minorities, Putnam said there has indeed been change.

Just not enough of it.

As she said, it is her mission to create more of it. That’s the latest focal point of a career that has included success in business and a host of initiatives to help others enjoy some of that same success.

And it’s just another way in which she’s certainly a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]