Home Posts tagged Women of Impact (Page 2)
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]

Women of Impact 2019

2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards

BusinessWest has consistently recognized the contributions of women within the business community and has now created the Women of Impact awards to honor women who have the authority and power to move the needle in their business; are respected for accomplishments within their industries; give back to the community; and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within the field of influence.

Nominees can be high-level executives, entrepreneurs, leaders of a non-profit organization, business owners, volunteers, or mentors: any inspirational woman, at any level in her career, who is doing remarkable things. Nominate NOW! 

Event Information 

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
Tickets on Sale: September 1, 2019; Price $65
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

Nomination requirements and information

For sponsorship information contact:
Kate Campiti 413.781.8600 (ext. 104)  [email protected]
Kathleen Plante 413.781.8600 (ext. 108)  [email protected]

Presenting Sponsor

Supporting Sponsor

Speaker Sponsor

Exclusive Media Sponsor

2018 Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6, 2018 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

The 2018 Women of Impact Honorees:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allen Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

2018 Women of Impact Honorees

Celebrating the 2018 Women of Impact

Scenes from the Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

Women of Impact 2018

Leaders Who Have Been to the Top

BusinessWest’s chosen Women of Impact for 2018 know what it’s like to surmount challenges, tackle huge obstacles, and clear bars they’ve set very high.

As they receive their awards on Dec. 6, they and a gathered audience of friends, family, and colleagues will hear some motivational words from someone who’s done all those things in a very literal sense.

Indeed, the keynote speaker for the Inaugural Women of Impact Awards will be Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to climb the highest mountain on every continent and to ski to both the North and South Poles. 

Wang, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Tsinghua University in Beijing, an M.S. degree in Computer Science from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was on track for a promising career in information technology — until she discovered her passion for mountaineering in 2004 and set her dream on reaching the peak of the world’s highest mountains on seven continents and skiing to the North and South poles.

With no previous athletic training, she started with running, from one mile to a marathon. She built her basic fitness foundation and learned the craft of climbing from scratch. She gave up a normal life to dedicate herself to this undertaking and overcame many physical and ideological challenges with her commitment and determination. Her remarkable journey culminated at the top of Mount Everest on May 24, 2010. With that climb, she became the first Asian Woman to successfully reach the world’s seven summits and two poles.

Wang now shares her reflections and experiences in front of a wide range of audiences as a motivational speaker. At the Dec. 6 event at the Sheraton in Springfield, she’ll be sharing the day with eight women who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession, but who have also devoted their lives and their careers to finding ways to give back to the community.

That’s why they’ve been chosen as Women of Impact, with the emphasis on both women and impact.

The Women of Impact for 2018 are:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

The awards luncheon will begin at 11 a.m. with registration and networking. Lunch will begin at noon, followed by the program and introduction of the Women of Impact by Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest and Healthcare News and Tamara Sacharczyk, news anchor and I-Team reporter for WWLP-22 News.

The Inaugural Women of Impact is sponsored by Bay Path University, Comcast Business, Country Bank, and Granite State Development Corp, with media sponsor WWLP-22.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (413) 781-8600, or go HERE.

Thank you to our sponsors:


Bay Path University; Comcast Business; Country Bank; Granite State Development

Exclusive Media Sponsor:

Springfield 22 News The CW

Photography by Dani Fine Photography

Cover Story Women of Impact

Women of Impact to Be Saluted on Dec. 6

Leader. Inspiration. Pioneer. Mentor. Innovator.

You will read those words countless times over the next 8 profiles as BusinessWest introduces its first Women of Impact.

In fact, you might read all or most of those words in each of the stories because each member of this inaugural Class of 2018 are, as you’ll see, worthy of those adjectives.

These are compelling stories about remarkable women, and as you read them, you’ll quickly understand why BusinessWest added Women of Impact to its growing list of annual recognition programs. In short, these stories need to be told.

Some have been told in part before, but not in this context. Not in the context of a celebration of women achieving great things, standing out in their chosen field, and doing impactful work in the community.

BusinessWest chose to create this setting, this stage, if you will, because, while there have always been women of impact, many of these individuals and many of their accomplishments have not been given their proper due.

We’ll rectify that first with these stories on these pages, which detail not what these women do for a living, but what they’ve done with their lives. Specifically, they’ve become leaders in their fields, leaders within the community, and, most importantly, inspirations to all those around them.

The stories are all different, but there are many common denominators: these are women and leaders who have vision, passion, drive to excel, and a desire to put their considerable talents to work mentoring and helping others.

Individually and especially together, they’re made this a much better place to live, work, raise a family, and run a business.

They will be celebrated on Dec. 6 at the Sheraton in Springfield, starting at 11:30 a.m.. We invite you to come and applaud true Women of Impact.

The Women of Impact for 2018 are:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.


Purchase tickets here.

Photography by Dani Fine Photography

Thank you to our sponsors:


Bay Path University; Comcast Business; Country Bank; Granite State Development

Exclusive Media Sponsor:

Springfield 22 News The CW

Speaker Sponsor:





Event Keynote Speaker

Lei Wang
The first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam. Lei Wang’s journey redefined success in her own terms, and today, she is challenging individuals around the world to do the same.

In 2004, Lei, who grew up as a Beijing city girl who had no athletic training, set out to climb Mount Everest. She was on a promising career trek in finance with an MBA from Wharton. But she was excited about proving that an ordinary person could climb Everest. That excitement empowered her to not only climb Everest, but to become the first Asian woman to complete a journey to the summits of the highest mountains on each of the 7 continents and to the north and south pole, a feat called the Explorer’s Grand Slam. As she endured outstanding hardships and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she made an astonishing  discovery. She discovered that excitement is the driving force motivates and empowers every one of us and the secret to innovation, peak performance and extraordinary achievement. Today as a speaker, author and adventurer she travels the world to ascend new summits and empower individuals and organizations to dream big, take a leap of faith and to tap into the power of excitement to realize their potential and reach the heights of success. Read more about Lei here.

Meet the Judges

Samalid Hogan
Samalid Hogan is the regional director for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Regional Office. In that role, she has built partnerships across public, private, and civic sectors to achieve economic-development goals for the Pioneer Valley region. In 2014, Hogan founded CoWork Springfield, the city’s first co-working space, which focuses on serving women and minority-owned businesses. In addition, she was appointed to the Governor’s Latino Advisory Commission in 2017, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including Common Capital, the New England Public Radio Foundation, the Minority Business Alliance, and National Junior Tennis and Learning of Greater Springfield. A BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree in 2013 and winner of the Continued Excellence Award in 2018, she was also awarded the Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 2017 and was recognized as a Woman Trailblazer and Trendsetter by the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce in 2016.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan
Susan Jaye-Kaplan is the founder of the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club and Go FIT Inc., and co-founder of Link to Libraries Inc., an organization whose mission is to collect and distribute books to public elementary schools and nonprofit organizations in Western Mass. and Connecticut. She is also the co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Network and founder of the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club of Western Mass., as well as an advisory board member and fundraiser for Square One. She has received one of the nation’s Daily Point of Light Awards, the President’s Citation Award at Western New England College, Elms College’s Step Forward/Step Ahead Woman of Vision Award, Reminder Publications’ Hometown Hero Award, the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women Unsung Heroines Award, the New England Patriots’ International Charitable Foundation Community MVP Award (the only person to receive this award two times), and the Girl Scouts of Pioneer Valley’s Women of Distinction Award. She was chosen one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers in 2009. She has also received the National Conference on Community Justice Award, the Springfield Pynchon Award, and the Holyoke Rotary’s Paul Harris Award.

Dora Robinson
Dora Robinson has served as a nonprofit leader and practitioner for more than 35 years. She recently retired from the United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) after serving for more than eight years as president and CEO. Previously, she served as the first full-time president and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services for 19 years. The foundation for these leadership roles is based on previous experiences as corporate director and vice president for the Center for Human Development and vice president of Education at the Urban League of Springfield. Her earlier professional experiences included social work with adolescents and families, community outreach, and program planning and management. She is currently an adjunct professor at Springfield College School for Social Work and the School for Professional Studies. Dora has received much recognition for her work as a nonprofit executive leader and her work in social justice. Most recently, she was elected to serve on the board of directors for the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and is serving as a steering committee member to establish a neighborhood-based library in East Forest Park.



More than a decade ago, BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty recognition program to celebrate the achievements of the region’s rising stars. A few years later, a new program was launched called Difference Makers, which paid tribute to those who have become just what the name on the plaque says.

And just last year, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched a program to recognize the accomplishments of those in the broad field of health and wellness with Healthcare Heroes.

Over the years, many women have come to the podium for ceremonies involving each award.

So why did BusinessWest create a new recognition specifically targeting that demographic, called Women of Impact? The answer is simple: while there are many women of achievement in this region — and have been over the centuries — not enough of them have received the recognition they are due.

What was needed, we concluded, was a new program that recognizes women not for what they’ve done, necessarily, but what they’ve become — specifically, role models, mentors, and inspirations to those around them.

And that is what Women of Impact does. As the stories clearly show, this region has no shortage of women making a real impact — in their specific business fields, but also in the community.

This inaugural class, meanwhile, is very emblematic of this region, its business community, and the nonprofit agencies that are such a huge force here. Indeed, this area is known as an education leader, and two of our honorees are from opposite ends of that realm — Janis Santos, leader of HCS Head Start, and Carol Leary, president of Bay Path University.

And, as noted, the region has a large number of nonprofits that are making a difference across the region. That realm is well-represented by Gina Kos, director of Sunshine Village; Colleen Loveless, director of Revitalize Community Development Corp.; and Katie Allen Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Mass. There are civic leaders as well, specifically Denise Jordan — now director of the Springfield Housing Authority and former chief of staff for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno — and Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services for the Springfield City Library, and one traditional businesswoman, if you will, in Kerry Dietz, principal of Dietz Architecture.

But while these women typically have business cards that tie them to one business, agency, or institution, their influence extends far, far beyond the walls of the place where they work. And that’s what makes them Woman of Impact.

This is an exciting new program, and it has allowed us to tell some remarkable stories. We hope you enjoy them, and we hope that you’ll nominate a woman of impact for the class of 2019. To do that, go HERE.

Women of Impact 2018

Assistant Director for Public Services, Springfield City Library

Photo by Dani Fine Photography


She Keeps Writing New Chapters to a Story of Community Activism

Jean Canosa Albano says she’s been called an ‘honorary Latina,’ not once, but on a number of occasions.

That’s not an official title by any means — there’s no plaque or certificate to this effect, obviously — but it might be the honor, or designation, she’s most proud of.

That’s because, while she’s not Hispanic in origin, she speaks Spanish — she’s studied it here and abroad — and has therefore made thousands of non-English-speaking visitors to the Springfield City Library more comfortable and better able to utilize its many resources.

More importantly, though, she has advocated for that constituency — and in many ways become part of it — during a lengthy career devoted not only to library science but to community building and community involvement.

A few weeks back, Albano again led a contingent from the Springfield City Library marching in the annual Puerto Rican Parade through downtown Springfield, something the library has done the past several years. It’s a symbolic step and an indicator of how the institution, and especially Albano, have taken great strides, literally and figuratively, in efforts to serve that constituency and connect it with resources.

“I’m not a Latina — I have a different heritage,” she told BusinessWest. “But I have embraced it as much as somebody from outside the culture can. “I’ve been called an honorary Latina, and I love it when I hear people say that.”

But service to the Hispanic population is only one chapter, albeit an important one, in the story of Albano’s career spent with the library — and as someone committed to being involved in the community and inspiring others to get involved.

“I’m not a Latina — I have a different heritage. But I have embraced it as much as somebody from outside the culture can. “I’ve been called an honorary Latina, and I love it when I hear people say that.”

To put that service, and her career, in their proper perspective, she said that all through it, she has adopted a variation, if you will, of Shirley Chisholm’s often-quoted bit of advice. The first black woman elected to Congress famously said, “if they don’t offer you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

“I feel very fortunate — the Springfield community is very open and welcoming, so I haven’t had to bring my own chair very often,” Albano explained. “But I have made my own invitation sometimes; when I see something going on in the community that I would like to get involved in or when I think the library could benefit from me being there, or when we have something to offer, I won’t be shy about inviting myself to be part of it.”

Examples of this mindset abound, from her participation in the Reading Success by Fourth Grade initiative to Gardening the Community; from summer learning groups to the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield.

With that last one, she acknowledged that maybe — that’s maybe — she’s not exactly in the target demographic group. But she saw a group with an intriguing mission and another opportunity to help strengthen the community through her own involvement.

“I said to myself, ‘they’re doing cool work, but maybe I’m a little old for that group,’” she recalled. “Then I saw some news coverage on them and heard that they didn’t have an age limit, so I decided to join. I go to the social events, and have learned about the small-business development happening in those circles, and connected them to the library; I really enjoy it.”

Jean Canosa Albano, right, with friends Maria Acuna, a Realtor, and Holyoke City Councilor Gladys Lebron, at the 2015 Puerto Rican Parade.

Jean Canosa Albano, right, with friends Maria Acuna, a Realtor, and Holyoke City Councilor Gladys Lebron, at the 2015 Puerto Rican Parade.

As she said, she’s been making her own invitations and getting involved. And while doing that, she’s always looked for new and different ways to help others get involved and help them develop professionally — especially women and minorities.

Which brings us to “My Beloved Springfield,” a women’s leadership panel and information fair she created. The most recent edition, staged last spring, featured a host of speakers discussing the paths they took to leadership positions, including Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh; Arlene Rodriguez, a senior advisor for the Mass. Department of Higher Education; and others.

Looking back on her career, Albano said her command of Spanish has created opportunities for her — when she entered a poor job market in the mid-’80s, it helped her land a job with the Springfield City Library. And in many ways, she has dedicated her career to creating opportunities for others.

As we explore the many ways she has done that, it will certainly become clear why this public servant, who keeps writing new chapters to her story of involvement, is a Woman of Impact.

A Good Read

‘Spanish desirable.’

That’s the two-word phrase that caught Albano’s attention as she read a job posting for the library position that would become the springboard for a career she says she “fell into.”

It was as a library associate with the Brightwood branch in the city’s North End neighborhood, heavily populated by Hispanics then and now.

“I remember saying to my mother, ‘I think this is a job I can do and that you would love,” Albano recalled, adding that her mother wanted to get into library science after high school, but was hindered by the cost of higher education.

Turns out, she came to love it herself — not only the job, but working with and on behalf of the residents of that neighborhood.

“Speaking Spanish was a real help in not only communicating with people, but also getting out into the community, becoming part of it, and discovering what the people there wanted and needed — from the library and from life — so we could respond,” she said. “I remember going to the old version of the Puerto Rican Festival or just going out onto Main Street or visiting schools; there was a lot of filling in the gaps and building bridges — and that’s been the way I approach my work to this day.”

Indeed, while Albano moved on from the Brightwood branch — she came to the central library in 1989 — she has continued to build those bridges, taking her service to the community far outside the library walls, while also making that institution a welcoming and responsive resource for city residents.

In her role as assistant director for Public Services of the libraries, she wears a number of hats — as well as an ‘Hablo Español’ button. She’s involved with a variety of human-resources functions, including hiring and recruiting, and as she recruits, she’s looking for individuals who embody what she calls a ‘turned-outward attitude’ with regard to the institution and how it must function.

Albano acknowledged that, overall, the library’s role within the community has changed somewhat over the past 30 years, and so have the duties of those who work there.

She can recall working on the reference desk decades ago and fielding a wide range of questions from callers who couldn’t simply Google things when they needed the answer to a pressing question. She remembers fielding queries on everything from stock prices on a specific date to the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for specific titles so people could order them (now, they just go on Amazon) to Dr. Seuss and his history in Springfield.

Today, while there’s still a reference desk, the librarian spends less time behind it, and the questions are generally much different than those of a generation or two ago.

“People will ask how they can upload their résumé to a specific site, or how they can tell if a website is legitimate,” she told BusinessWest, adding that today, libraries, while still storehouses of books and information, are more community hubs than anything else.

“The library is a place to be when you need some solace, a place to be when you need to reflect, a place to meet with neighbors and strengthen community,” she said. “It’s also a place to research your entrepreneurial idea, gather together to learn, and build community.”

Spreading the Word

When the Springfield City Library created a number of outreach teams several years ago, Albano was assigned — actually, she assigned herself — to lead the civic and community-engagement team.

The key word in that phrase, of course, is engagement, she said, adding that the group focused on connecting people with their city and getting them involved with government and the many issues impacting the community.

“A lot of people feel disconnected, and we wanted to do something about that,” she said, adding that, through partnerships with the Springfield Election Commission, the Secretary of State’s Office, the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Fund, and other groups, the library has helped stage ‘meet the candidates’ events and other informational programs.

“Speaking Spanish was a real help in not only communicating with people, but also getting out into the community, becoming part of it, and discovering what the people there wanted and needed — from the library and from life — so we could respond.”

Like “Slots, Pot, Veal, and Schools,” an intriguingly titled program focusing on the four ballot questions for last year, dealing with casinos, marijuana, animal welfare, and charter schools.

“That was a heated debate moderated and filmed by Focus Springfield,” she recalled. “And it was released throughout the Commonwealth, so we had hundreds of views beyond the people in the room.”

In recent years, the library has coordinated a host of other programs, including one on how to run for office and what it’s like to serve in an elected position, she said, adding that 30 or even 20 years ago, it is unlikely that the city library would have been involved in such matters. Today, though, as part of its changing role, the institution is acting as (or much more as) a connector and a convener.

And Albano has been at the forefront of many of these efforts, especially with the Hispanic population and other often-underserved constituencies.

The Hispanic population is now quite large in Springfield, said Albano, adding that, in the public schools, at least 60% of the students are Hispanic. These numbers demand attention, she went on, adding that institutions across the city, including the library, need more than people on their staffs who can speak the language — although that certainly helps.

They need people who can connect with that population, advocate on its behalf, and connect people with resources.

The city’s response, and the library’s response, to the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Maria is a good example, she told BusinessWest, adding that staff members there helped with everything from attaining a library card to figuring out where to receive help with insurance matters, and host of other issues.

“We were always thinking about ways to make a stressful time, a very traumatic time, less stressful,” she said, adding that thousands of refugees came into this region, and most all of them needed help on many levels.

While the Hispanic population has been a primary focus of Albano’s time and energy, so too has been the subject of leadership and helping others develop those skills.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Sonia Sotomayor’s historic visit to Springfield in 2015 as part of the Springfield Public Forum, an opportunity Albano said she ran with.

Indeed, she was able to obtain multiple copies of Sotomayor’s book in English and Spanish and set up a book-discussion group. She was also able to help arrange a meeting with the justice, the nation’s first of Hispanic descent, prior to her talk.

Sotomayor’s book is titled My Beloved World, and it, and the justice’s visit, inspired Albano to launch “My Beloved Springfield,” a now-annual program that brings in women leaders to tell their stories and lead a moderated discussion.

It’s simply one aspect of her broad efforts to help foster the next generation of leaders for this region, a role she takes very seriously.

“If you’re going to truly be a woman of impact, you have to pass things along,” she explained. “You have to make opportunities known to others, and you have to help them get there.”

Volume Business

As noted earlier, Albano hasn’t had to bring too many lawn chairs with her during her career. Indeed, she’s been given seats at a number of tables.

But she has invited herself to get involved on many occasions and in many ways, bringing the community into the library and the library into the community while doing so, and strengthening both.

Thirty years after taking a job her mother would love, she has come to love everything about it, especially the many forms of outreach.

She loves those almost as much as being called an honorary Latina.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Owner, Principal, Dietz and Company Architects

She’s Long Had Designs on Building a Stronger Community

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

The course was titled “Architects as Leaders.”

Kerry Dietz taught it at UMass Amherst, her alma mater, several years ago. This was a one-off of sorts, she told BusinessWest, adding that there was a critical mass of students interested in this material — which amounted to insight and instruction not on how to design structures, but rather on how architects could and should become leaders within their communities — and circumstances haven’t permitted her to teach it again.

But while that class is no longer in the catalog, ‘architect as leader’ has been a course of action for Dietz — and those who have come to work for her over the past 30 years or so. It’s a phrase that defines her career more than any building or office interior she’s designed, and it explains, better than any other three-word phrase we can find, why she is a Woman of Impact.

Examples of this mindset abound — from her time spent on the Springfield Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to her company’s involvement with several area nonprofits, from Revitalize CDC to Habitat for Humanity, to her decision to locate her growing company in Union Station at a time when that massive project was fairly desperate to land a high-profile tenant.

And then, there was the company’s 30th birthday party.

Rather than celebrate with a cake or maybe lunch on the town, the employees at Dietz & Company, as a group, decided to use that occasion to give back within the community, in a big way.

She took that number 30, added three more zeroes, and put a dollar sign at the front. And then, she and her team set about finding appropriate ways to bestow that amount on members of the community.

“She has also been an inspiration to me personally in promoting and supporting social-issue programs that support food and housing for the homeless, veterans’ housing, and health and scholarship funding for low-income students and families.”

Throughout the course of the year, a cookout was hosted by Dietz & Company staff for veterans of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and a monetary donation was made to assist with the home’s Veteran’s History video project. Also, a monetary donation was made and staff members volunteered their time to help make repairs to the home of a low-income Springfield resident as part of Revitalize CDC’s Green-n-Fit Neighborhood Rebuild. And $25,000 worth of materials and projects were funded for Springfield teachers through a competition in which initiative and impact were honored for educators going the extra mile to help and encourage the success of their students.

It was Dietz’s concept, but it was a company-wide effort.

“I basically said, ‘here’s my idea — the broad stroke,’” she recalled. “And people ran with it. As a company, we figured out who we wanted to support, and they (team members) did all the organizing. All you have to do sometimes is say, ‘let’s do it.’”

But Dietz has never waited for round-number anniversaries to become active and get herself — and her firm — involved. And in doing so, she has become not only an employer, but an inspirational leader, role model to those in this profession, and mentor.

“Kerry has committed her life to promoting women in the practice of architecture by promoting a fair work environment in her firm and as a leader in the Massachusetts architectural and business community,” said Kevin Riordon, an architect at Dietz. “She has also been an inspiration to me personally in promoting and supporting social-issue programs that support food and housing for the homeless, veterans’ housing, and health and scholarship funding for low-income students and families.”

While doing all that work within the community, Dietz has established herself within the field of architecture, one long dominated by men. She owns one of the largest firms in the region, and has carved out several strong niches, especially in affordable housing and education.

It is this combination of excellence in her field and career-long designs on finding ways to strengthen the community that has placed her in the inaugural class of Women of Impact.

From the Ground Up

Deitz traced the ‘architects as leaders’ concept — as a college course but also the M.O. for her career — to a summit she attended in the early ’80s that was hosted by the American Institute of Architects.

It was memorable because it was not what she was expecting.

“It wasn’t about how to be a good supervisor or how to do marketing and make more money — it wasn’t that kind of thing,” she recalled. “Instead, it was about our place in the political world and within the community — what do you have to offer?”

Kerry Dietz, right, presents a donation to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke as part of her company’s 30th anniversary celebration. Several staff members are in the background.

Kerry Dietz, right, presents a donation to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke as part of her company’s 30th anniversary celebration. Several staff members are in the background.

And because of their training and the collaborative nature of their work, architects have quite a bit to offer, whether they fully understand that or not, she went on.

“If lawyers think they can run the world, and captains of industry think they can run the world, well … how about architects?” she asked rhetorically. “We receive an incredible amount of training on how to take a whole bunch of dissimilar thoughts and ideas and listen to a whole group of people, and pull it all together and create a building. And even before that, a vision of a building; it’s all really about listening to people and synthesizing all that.

“These are core skills the world needs,” she went on, adding that a commitment to putting these skills to work has guided her firm, not only in its design efforts, but within the community as well. And it’s been that way pretty much since she got into this business more than 40 years ago.

Our story starts in Ohio, where Dietz grew up and later attended Kent State University, majoring in architecture. She was one of just four women in a class of 150.

“Kerry is an outstanding example of what it means to be a community-oriented businesswoman. She is an extremely positive influence and role model for young professionals and the next generation of architects.”

After earning her master’s in architecture from Michigan State University, she worked for a few firms in Western Mass. before partnering with Phil Burdick and launching a firm that would bear both their names.

While that venture was short-lived, Dietz would go into business for herself, opening Dietz & Company Architects in 1985. It has been a staple in downtown Springfield ever since, growing from three employees to a high of 28 (currently 23).

Over those 34 years, Dietz and her staff have ridden out a number of economic downturns, which are felt in this field perhaps as much, if not more, than any other, and firmly established the firm as a leader in several areas, but especially the commercial, education, and housing realms.

The portfolio of recent projects includes the poker room and restrooms at the $960 million MGM Springfield as well as renovation of 95 State St., MGM’s local headquarters; bankESB’s banking center and corporate headquarters, as well as a number of other projects for that institution; 83 Maple St. in Springfield, the Merrick Phelps House historic preservation project; a new branch for the Bank of Western Massachusetts in Northampton; and many others.

In the education realm, the company has designed the UMass Center at Springfield facilities in Tower Square, the Hoffmann Environmental Center at Berkshire Community College, the King & Scales dormitories at Smith College, and numerous renovations and repair projects at Springfield Technical Community College, among countless others.

And in housing, recent projects include Parsons Village, multi-family housing in Easthampton; Roosevelt Towers, a multi-family project in Cambridge that is still ongoing; and Highland Woods, a multi-family and senior-housing project in Williamstown, among many others.

But while what she and her team have accomplished is certainly significant, it is how Dietz runs her company that sets her apart within the field of architecture — and makes it clear why she is a Woman of Impact.

Drawing Inspiration

And this brings us back to the company’s 30th-anniversary celebration, and also to that class she taught at UMass and the mindset behind it.

“We started reading these stories about how teachers were paying for stuff out of their own pockets and they can’t get tax deductions for it even,” she recalled. “And we thought, ‘what if we could fund some special projects that teachers wanted to do?”

Working in concert with Springfield School Volunteers, Dietz & Company invited teachers to visit a website and propose specific initiatives, listing motivations, goals, and possible outcomes. It was competition, but the company had enough money to fund all the requests.

“We had an awards ceremony at Central High School where we had wine and hors d’oeuvres for the teachers, because they don’t get recognized for all they do,” said Dietz. “And some of them are just amazing in terms of what they’re doing with the limited resources they have.”

The work with Springfield’s teachers, as noted, is just one example of the operating mindset at Deitz & Company, one that is perhaps best summed up in the company’s primary marketing slogan — ‘design that looks good, does good’ — with the supporting line: ‘with a collaborative and dynamic approach, our designs reflect the desire to create exceptional architecture that also serves.’

There is much that goes into those two words ‘good’ and ‘serves’ — everything from a focus on the environment to meeting the needs of the client; from preserving the past to sustainability. But behind it all is that focus on this firm, and especially its founder, being leaders in the community and setting a tone when it comes to giving back.

Indeed, when referring to Dietz, team members consistently use words and phrases like ‘mentor,’ ‘role model,’ and ‘inspiration’ to describe her as well as her approaches to architecture and community involvement.

“Kerry has shown an ongoing desire to give back to the community on many levels, from spearheading design-inspired solutions that serve the community through addressing housing and public-space needs, to a more grassroots-level approach by dedicating personal time and efforts to enrich the lives of others face-to-face,” said Mark Hellen, a project architect with the firm. “She continually teaches her staff and colleagues that there is great importance, and great need, in helping the communities that surround us in as many ways as possible.”

Jason Newman, another project architect, agreed.

“From the perspective of a young professional, Kerry’s drive to educate and develop the next generation of architects is as much present in her company as it is in the classroom,” he said. “She continually creates learning opportunities within the context of our work, and does not punish a mistake made with good intention.

“Our office is an environment of shared learning, equity, and support in all aspects of our operation,” he went on. “In my opinion, Kerry is an outstanding example of what it means to be a community-oriented businesswoman. She is an extremely positive influence and role model for young professionals and the next generation of architects.”

Newman took the class “Architects as Leaders.” He remembers it opening his eyes to the larger responsibilities of all people in business.

“We learned about public engagement, advocacy in local governments, and serving the greater context of the communities in which we work,” he told BusinessWest. “Our assignments throughout the semester included things like attending the local government meeting of our choice and forming conclusions on the social impact of the items on the agenda, good or bad. This class taught us the importance of being aware and participating in the big-picture issues at the forefront of our communities.”

The Bottom Lines

The big picture.

That’s always been what Kerry Dietz has been focused on.

That’s not the company’s bottom line — although she’s focused on that, too. Rather, it’s the health and vitality of the communities in which she lives, works, and designs buildings.

She doesn’t teach “Architects as Leaders” anymore — actually, time doesn’t permit her to do much, if any, teaching these days.

But she still lives by that credo, and so does her firm. And that’s a very solid foundation on which to build.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Executive Director, Springfield Housing Authority

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

Throughout Her Career, She’s Been Both Active and Visible

Denise Jordan says she was caught off guard — “blindsided” was her exact terminology — when Domenic Sarno, then Springfield’s mayor-elect, asked her to be his chief of staff when he assumed the corner office in early 2008.

Not just because she had only recently started working for him on the campaign trail, but also because she had no real idea just what a chief of staff did and what this position might mean for her, career-wise and otherwise.

So she researched it the way people research things these days.

“I Googled ‘chief of staff,’” she told BusinessWest with a wide smile on her face, adding that her online search was, for the most part, fruitless. Indeed, about the only material she could find regarding that title related to the military.

Still desperate for some insight into what a chief of staff does, she said she started watching reruns of The West Wing hoping to get a clue.

In the final analysis, she said ‘yes’ to Sarno’s offer without really knowing just what the job entailed and what she would be doing day in and day out. Which turned out fine, because if there was a standard, or traditional, job description for the Springfield mayor’s chief of staff (and there wasn’t, really), Jordan essentially tore it up and wrote her own.

“She was driven, but she also had a great deal of compassion and empathy — and that’s important in this business.”

Indeed, during her more than 10 years in the post, she was highly accessible and visible (something most mayoral chiefs of staff were not) and also innovative and even entrepreneurial in her efforts to serve the city’s roughly 150,000 residents and represent her boss and his plans for the city.

Most everyone remembers how she was front and center after the June 1, 2011 tornado that practically went over the roof of City Hall as it traveled to the south and east across the city, working 45 straight days and assuming a wide variety of duties in an effort to restore order and begin the work of rebuilding.

But in many ways, she was like that every one of the nearly 4,000 days she spent as chief of staff for the Sarno administration, displaying the qualities needed to do that job well, but also being a true leader within the community.

“She was driven, but she also had a great deal of compassion and empathy — and that’s important in this business,” said the mayor, adding that Jordan, now executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, is recognized as a “voice of leadership” not just for the city but in the region.

This explains why she’s been asked to lend her time, energy, and talents to organizations and causes ranging from Rays of Hope (she’s a breast-cancer survivor herself) to Square One; from the Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition to the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s Women’s Leadership Council.

And when asked for her working definition of ‘leader’ and what separates such an individual from a manager, Jordan offered a response that explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Denise Jordan says she grew up in a “house of service,” and all through her life and career she has made it a priority to give back.

Denise Jordan says she grew up in a “house of service,” and all through her life and career she has made it a priority to give back.

“Managers tend to the day to day, and they keep things going,” she explained. “Leaders … they chart the path; they’re the ones who hold folks accountable and set the tone for an organization. Leaders are people who other people follow, not because they have to, but because they believe in their ability to lead.”

Stay with us, and soon it will be clear why Jordan certainly fits her own description of ‘leader.’

An Involved Effort

Jordan was at the famous civil-rights rally at the Octagon Lounge in Springfield in 1965. Well, sort of.

Her mother was several months pregnant with her at the time, and she was there, as was her father, Raymond Jordan, later a long-time state representative, who was arrested that day along with many others. Denise said her parents were a huge influence for her growing up, instilling in her the importance of getting involved and serving the community.

“I always tell people that I grew up in a house of service,” she told BusinessWest. “Both my parents were actively involved in the civil-rights movement in Springfield, and they were also very involved in the community.”

Her résumé would indicate that she learned well from her parents’ example. It lists stints as a civil-rights officer with the Executive Office of Health & Human Services in Boston, a variety of posts for the Department of Mental Retardation, starting in 1989, and as a personnel compliance monitor with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

But while carrying out those various responsibilities, she was also very active within the community.

“I just recall that, ever since I was young, I’ve always been someone who volunteered to do something,” she said. “When I was young, I did all the March of Dimes walk-a-thons, and just volunteered for anything and everything.

“I’m a product of the Girls Club on Acorn Street,” she went on. “And that was probably the beginning of just being around a lot of nurturing adults who always put us first and gave back. And I think, from that moment, I always strived to be one of those adults when I was old enough to be.”

She said she got her start within the community as a board member for Martin Luther King Family Services, and considered that a springboard to a wide range of service, from chaperone duties for the Martin Luther King Center’s black college tours to a stint on the FutureWorks board; from being a founding member of the Martin Luther King Charter School for Excellence to serving as president of Academic Athletic Arts Achievement Assoc. (5A) Football, a youth football league founded by her father in the mid-’90s.

She served for 10 years on the Election Commission and as chair for six years. Under Mayor Charlie Ryan, she served as co-chair of the Youth Commission.

All that work within the community caught the eye and the attention of Sarno. Jordan says she knew him, but not personally or very well when he called early in 2009 and invited her to a meeting, at which he revealed his plans to run for mayor and asked for her support.

He got it, and after the election that swept him into office, he named Jordan co-chair of his transition team. Not long thereafter, he had a different role in mind.

And as noted earlier, one of her first priorities was to make the chief of staff visible and accessible — to a host of constituents, but especially city employees.

“It’s been said that the doors of City Hall were really opened under the Sarno administration,” she said. “I remember my first week at City Hall … there were employees who had been in the building 25, 30 years, and they had never seen the chief of staff’s office the whole time they had been working there.”

Twists and Turns

Just to be clear, there is an official job description for the chief of staff’s job at the mayor’s office. The list of duties is rather extensive and includes everything from representing the mayor in dealings with constituents, city officials, and the business community to overseeing commission and board appointments, to being the mayor’s first point of contact for 2,800 municipal employees.

“Managers tend to the day to day, and they keep things going. Leaders … they chart the path; they’re the ones who hold folks accountable and set the tone for an organization. Leaders are people who other people follow, not because they have to, but because they believe in their ability to lead.”

But during a decade-long stretch that saw the tornado and a host of other weather events, a natural-gas explosion that damaged several city blocks, and a seven-year-long effort to bring a resort casino to the city, the position demanded that its holder provide real leadership, and Jordan did just that.

Especially in the hours, days, weeks, and months after the tornado tore a path across Springfield seven and half years ago. To Jordan, it seems like only yesterday, and the memories of that period remain etched in her mind.

She has vivid recollections from the moments just as the tornado passed almost directly over City Hall, such as gathering in the basement of that structure and later seeing what she described as “mass pandemonium” in Court Square and the area to the south.

She also remembers instinct kicking in as she hailed a passing police cruiser and directed the officer to take her to the city’s emergency command center on Carew Street.

“It was a like a scene out of a movie,” she recalled. “You literally jump in a car, and the sirens are going, and you’re driving down State Street trying to get where you need to go. To me, it was so reassuring to see the leadership qualities of the department heads of the city of Springfield; we had never had a disaster like that, but folks just knew what to do.”

Sarno said Jordan was one of those leaders, visible as always, doing whatever needed to be done, and acting with that aforementioned blend of drive and compassion.

“Boots on the ground, literally — that was her,” the mayor recalled. “She was out there in the days and weeks after the tornado, going to door-to-door in all the neighborhoods in that heat and humidity, talking to residents, assessing damage, helping however she could.”

Jordan was brand-new to the Housing Authority position when she talked with BusinessWest. In fact, it was her first day on the job.

She said she would approach it the same way she’s approached everything during in her career — by making full use of her strong listening skills, being visible and accessible, and putting those she’s serving first.

“Every job I’ve had, I’ve been paid to serve people,” she explained. “When the Housing Authority position came open … I didn’t see myself there initially. But the more I talked to people about the skill sets needed and things like that, I decided that this was something I wanted to pursue, based on the fact that it still put me in a position to help people.”

Soon after Jordan started her work with Sarno’s team in 2008, friends and colleagues threw a party to mark the occasion — specifically her becoming the city’s first African-American chief of staff. And as her time with the mayor was winding down, many of those people decided it was time to throw another party.

But Jordan, thinking another celebration wasn’t really necessary, decided to transform the event into a fundraiser for Rays of Hope, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary (she was one of the event chairs).

Her goal was $5,000. When she talked with BusinessWest, she had more than tripled that, and checks were still coming in.

“I’m beyond excited and overwhelmed … it’s good to be able to give back to an organization,” said Jordan.

And she should know; she’s been doing it her whole life.

Impact Statement

Jordan told BusinessWest that she had to give up her leadership post with 5A Football about a year after becoming Sarno’s chief of staff.

As she recalled, her time watching football was devoured by city residents making various requests and demands.

“I was too accessible,” she said with a laugh. “Every game, somebody wanted a job, or they wanted to complain about their taxes, or they wanted me to get their kids into a certain school … after a while, it became too much.”

‘Too much’ isn’t a phrase you hear Denise Jordan utter very often. Her career has always been marked by her willingness to take on more, do more, achieve more, and be more of a leader within her community.

That’s the job description not for a chief of staff, but for a Woman of Impact, and that’s why she’s a member of the inaugural class of 2018.

By the way, she didn’t have to look that title up on Google. Her career’s work defines it perfectly.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Executive Director, Sunshine Village

Throughout Her Career, She’s Made It Her Business to Get Involved

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

There have always been several ways in which Gina Kos embodies that phrase ‘Woman of Impact.’

At the top of the list, obviously, is the remarkable turnaround she has orchestrated at Sunshine Village, the nonprofit agency that operates a wide variety of programs that promote independence for individuals with disabilities.

When she took over as interim executive director in 1996, the agency was at a crisis point. Over the next several years, she scripted a compelling recovery story, stabilizing its finances, adjusting its roster of programs, and eventually transforming Sunshine Village into an employer of choice, so designated by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast.

And while doing all that, she has been very active within the community, especially Sunshine Village’s hometown of Chicopee. She’s served as a trustee of Elms College and as Chicopee water commissioner, and has also been involved with that city’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, she’s donated her time, energy, and talents to region-wide nonprofits ranging from Dress for Success to the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (now HassHire) to Link to Libraries.

But over the past several years, she’s managed to add a new wrinkle, a new vehicle for making an impact — one she’s rather proud of, actually. It’s as an unofficial but very valuable advisor to Chicopee’s mayor, Richard Kos, whom, as that surname makes clear, she knows quite well.

As Chicopee’s first lady, and even before gaining that designation — they became engaged while he was running for office — she said she’s been acting in a consulting capacity of sorts and introducing the mayor to both people and new opportunities.

“I had a full career, and I had been pretty involved in the city of Chicopee, and the Pioneer Valley, prior to marrying and him being elected mayor again,” she said. “But with his new position, he’s asked me for advice, and I’ve happy to offer it.”

When asked for examples, she listed everything from her suggestion to offer CPR in the city’s high schools so every student would know it when they graduated, to introducing the mayor’s office to a program called “The World is My Classroom,” which brings students on field trips to area employers, such as Hazen Paper in Holyoke and the Chicopee wastewater treatment plant, for lessons on the environment.

“When I would talk internally, or externally at various trade association meetings or other gatherings with other local nonprofits, I’d say, ‘where is the money coming from?’ And people would say, ‘shhhhhh … we don’t talk about money — we’re mission-driven.’”

She said she’s also helped the mayor with the challenging task of finding individuals to serve on boards and commissions (something she’s done, as noted earlier), and overall has been a “chief strategist,” as she called it.

“Supporting him in his public service has allowed me to give back to the city of Chicopee, but personally, I’ve also received a lot of satisfaction from that,” she explained. “Over the past six years, I’ve attended numerous events, so many I can’t count, and that’s exposed me to so many great people; it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Kos’s assistance to her husband, and all those other forms of involvement, are in keeping with a career-long philosophy of putting her considerable talents to work benefitting not just Sunshine Village and its clients, but the region as a whole.

It’s a mindset she sums up quickly and effectively with this comment to BusinessWest regarding the many ways she has become involved.

Gina Kos, third from left with her husband mayor Richard Kos, far left, leads a host of guests in ceremonies to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sunshine Village in 2017.

“When you’re given a lot, you have to give back,” she said, adding that she has been given a lot in terms of education and opportunities to serve the region.

And she has certainly given back — in all manner of ways, from being a forward-thinking leader of a pivotal nonprofit organization at a time of profound change and a host of new challenges for all nonprofits, to valued board member for a host of colleges, universities, and economic-development-related agencies, to mentor for countless staff members. And, yes, as an unpaid advisor to the mayor.

Like we said, she has spent her life and career as a Woman of Impact.

It Takes a Village

Kos will have to make some room in her office for the award she’ll receive from BusinessWest on Dec. 6. That’s because there’s already a number of other plaques and certificates crowding her desk and credenza.

There’s the prestigious Paul Harris award from the Chicopee Rotary Club, given to those who have served not only that organization, but the community as well. There’s also the Shining Star – Volunteer of the Year award from the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, the Woman of Achievement award from the Chicopee chapter of the Business & Professional Women’s Club, and the St. Joseph Medal – Distinguished Alumni Award from Cathedral High School, among many others.

Together, these honors speak to a career spent giving back, and it’s a pattern that began when she became a mortgage officer with WestBank.

And as most know by know, it was while getting involved in the community that Kos became acquainted with Sunshine Village.

Indeed, she drove the beer cart at the agency’s inaugural fundraising golf tournament at Chicopee Country Club, and enjoyed the experience so much, she signed up to do so at the next gathering.

To make a long story short, by the time players teed it up the following year, Kos was on the course not as a volunteer, but as a member of the Sunshine Village staff — director of marketing and development, to be exact.

She told BusinessWest that she came on board with a five-year plan in mind — not for the organization, but for herself. And that plan was to give the agency five years and then return to the corporate world.

But Kos would essentially make her foray into the nonprofit realm a one-way ticket. As she approached that five-year mark, the executive director left, and the agency’s board asked her to step in as interim.

She did, and 22 years later, she’s still at the helm.

Kos likes to say that she “right-sized” Sunshine Village, taking it from a $13 million agency with continuous losses to a $6 million operation, to a $13 million entity with continued surpluses.

How? Essentially by bringing a more business-like approach to the assignment of running a nonprofit agency, something she said was lacking — and needed — when she changed course career-wise.

“When I came to Sunshine Village as marketing director and would talk internally, or externally at various trade association meetings or other gatherings with other local nonprofits, I’d say, ‘where is the money coming from?’” she recalled. “And people would say, ‘shhhhhh … we don’t talk about money — we’re mission-driven.’

“And I would look at them say, ‘if you don’t talk about money, you’re not going to have a mission,’” she went on. “So, from the start, coming from the corporate world, I cared as much about the money, the funding, as I did about the mission, and it’s allowed me to make decisions with the board of Sunshine Village to create an organization that’s fiscally sound and very accountable to the taxpayer dollars that we’re so fortunate to get.”

And while this was a somewhat new way of thinking a quarter-century ago, today, all nonprofits think and act this way, essentially out of necessity, she told BusinessWest.

Giving of Herself

That’s because of a host of changes in the landscape — involving everything from the number of regulations that must be adhered to, to new employment laws regarding everything from wages to paid leave — that have made nonprofit management perhaps more challenging than it has ever been.

“If you were to ask me, managing a nonprofit is harder than managing a business,” she opined, “because in addition to everything that business has to worry about, within nonprofits, we have to worry about so many other things; in addition to state and federal labor laws, we have to get accredited by either state or federal bodies, and we have so many more compliance issues because we’re nonprofits.

“We’re managing everything that a business has to manage, as well as looking at our bottom line to make sure it’s positive,” she continued. “Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean no profit; every year, costs go up, whether its health insurance or salary increases or just paying for the electricity to keep the lights on.”

Meanwhile, the broad realm known as giving has changed in many ways, she said, listing everything from the ways people give to the amounts they give, to the growing number of entities asking people to give.

“When I was going to school, in parochial school, you had to sell candy bars or magazines,” she explained. “The public schools never had to do this; now, they have to fundraise as well. And so are the kids playing sports and the cheerleaders. And in addition to that, we have all these natural disasters. Ten or 20 years ago, people weren’t asked for money to help the people impacted by a hurricane in Texas.

“There’s more people looking for money; all the causes are good causes, but there’s a lot more competition for private fundraising dollars,” she went on, adding that, in this environment, nonprofits must be laser-focused on fundraising, and also on showing donors that their gifts have an impact.

While leading Sunshine Village to financial security and a place as an employer of choice in these challenging times, Kos has continued — and continually elevated — her work within the community.

As noted earlier, this has been a priority for her throughout her career, starting when, at age 23, she accepted Mayor Joe Chessey’s invitation to serve on the Chicopee Water Commission. A pattern of involvement has continued, and in her high-profile role as director of Sunshine Village, Kos has been afforded with more opportunities to give back.

She served on the board at Westfield State University and Elms College, with a host of business and economic-development-related groups, and also with several nonprofits.

She reads to fourth graders at Fairview Elementary School as part of Link to Libraries’ celebrity reading program, for example, and serves meals at Friends of the Homeless in Springfield.

Each experience is different and brings rewards on a number of levels, she said, adding that, while it’s sometimes hard to do so, she generally makes room in her schedule for such activities. And for many reasons.

Helping others is a big part of it, obviously, but by being active, she becomes more aware of the issues and challenges facing the region and the individuals who call it home. This makes her a better manager, a better leader, and even a more effective advisor to Chicopee’s mayor, especially with matters such as personnel searches and filling all those boards and commissions.

“I’ve done a lot at Sunshine Village, and I’ve been on presidential search committees for area colleges,” she said, noting that she’s done such work at the Elms and Westfield State University. “I’ve also done a lot with recruiting, and I’ve tried to help him with some of those things.”

Leading by Example

‘Chief strategist to Chicopee’s mayor’ isn’t a line on Gina Kos’s résumé.

But it is yet another example of how, throughout her life and her career, she has found the time, inclination, and energy to give back to others, and the community as a whole.

And that’s why she’ll be at the podium on Dec. 6 accepting her Women of Impact award, and then adding it to a growing collection of other plaques in her office.

As she said, “when you’ve been given a lot, you have to give back.” And that’s exactly what she’s done.

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

Women of Impact 2018

President, Bay Path University

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

This Inspirational Leader Keeps Raising, and Clearing, the Bar

When, 17 years ago, I was contemplating a career move out of the financial-services sector, I made a short list of the leaders in the region for whom I wanted to work. Carol Leary was, and remains, at the top of the list.’

So begins the nomination of Leary, president of Bay Path University, for the Women of Impact award. It was authored by Kathleen Bourque, vice president for University Relations and board liaison for the school, who, 17 years later, is still there, obviously.

In writing her nomination, Bourque captured — probably better than this writer could, although he has done it several times over the past 24 years — not why Leary is worthy of an award, but why she has become an incredible force of progress, hope, and, yes, leadership, on her campus and across the region.

Indeed, here’s more from that nomination form. “A leader with boundless energy, she has an infectious zeal for life in general, and for education in particular. Determined and magnetic, she is the ultimate role model. Those of us who work with her are perpetually inspired by the time and energy she so generously gives to the university, our students, and the community.”

That sums things up pretty well, but there’s more, a lot more — well-written and poignant.

“Her accomplishments are many, varied, and impactful; her unwavering passion for women’s education has positively changed the lives of thousands of women, as has her commitment to the advancement of women in general. Spirit, service, compassion for others, and professionalism all buttress her leadership and in so doing have caused her to wield tremendous impact on our community.”

Tremendous impact indeed. Since arriving on the Bay Path campus in 1994, Leary has transformed it from a sleepy — that’s the word many opt to use — women’s college of fewer than 500 students issuing only two-year degrees to a university with more than 3,300 undergraduate women and graduate men and women with a host of graduate degrees.

“Her accomplishments are many, varied, and impactful; her unwavering passion for women’s education has positively changed the lives of thousands of women, as has her commitment to the advancement of women in general.”

In 2013, Bay Path launched the American Women’s College, the first all-women, all-online baccalaureate program in the nation. That was a big year for the institution, because it was then that it became a university and also opened the Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center for allied-health programs.

But every year has been big for Bay Path, as growth has been continual and profound — and the same can be said of its reach, especially with the annual Women’s Leadership Conference, which has drawn keynote speakers ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Maya Angelou to Jane Fonda, among many others.

But Leary’s influence extends far beyond the campus and the conference. Locally, she’s become involved with agencies ranging from the Community Foundation of Western Mass. to the Beveridge Family Foundation. Nationally, she serves as a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Academic Advisory Council, representing the only women’s college on the council, a strong nod toward the work Bay Path is doing to educate women in the fields of cybersecurity, cybersecurity management, and counterterrorism at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

She’s a frequent speaker on subjects ranging from women’s leadership to issues in higher education, and has written a book, Achieving the Dream: A How-to Guide for Adult Women Seeking a College Degree.

Asked about it all, Leary said she’s simply leading by example, in all kinds of ways.

Indeed, none of her parents or grandparents graduated from high school, but they encouraged her to gain a college education. With it, she has changed her life and thousands of other lives. The message she has for the world — and the force that drives her — is that this is the power of education.

Carol Leary introduces poet Maya Angelou at one of Bay Path’s Women’s Leadership Conferences, one of many new programs and initiatives she has introduced.

Carol Leary introduces poet Maya Angelou at one of Bay Path’s Women’s Leadership Conferences, one of many new programs and initiatives she has introduced.

“One generation later, and you can see the impact of the education,” she said, speaking not about herself, necessarily, but every first-generation college student. “Hopefully, the person has a higher-paying job than they perhaps might have had. And what does that person do with the money? They educate their children, so that generation is assured a better life; they buy a house and pay taxes; they can contribute to their communities with time, talent, and treasure.

“One person getting their education has inter-generational impact,” she went on, adding that this is the fuel that drives Bay Path and the mission that defines her career.

And it also explains why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Course of Action

The students in that “Women as Empowered Leaders and Learners” class didn’t know it at the time, but they were providing some very helpful material for this examination of Leary’s life and career and the reasons why she’s been designated a Woman of Impact.

Leary was the guest speaker at the class that day, and as she recalled what transpired for BusinessWest, the highlighted back and forth between her and the students speaks volumes about her view of the world and the mindset she brings to her job and her life.

The 12 first-year students were asked to bring questions to ask her. Before they could do that, she had one for them: “I asked them to think about a woman leader,” Leary recalled. “I told them to take 30 seconds and tell me the first person that comes to mind, and then the attributes that makes someone a leader.

“Out of the 12, 11 of them said either godmother, mother, sister, cousin, grandmother … and then talked about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, being organized, balancing many balls in the air, and being very supportive,” she said. “And then I thought about how wonderful it was that, in their minds, the women they think of as leaders are everyday women.

“And that was my whole point to this class,” she went on. “Celebrating ordinary women doing extraordinary things is what we need to do more of in this country. That’s what we try to with our students, our faculty, and the speakers we bring here. Many of these people may not be making the most money in the world at their job, they may not have the big title of director or vice president, but there is potential in everyone to make a difference.”

Making everyone, and especially women, aware of this, and then helping them realize their potential to make a difference would be a quick and effective way to sum up Leary’s life’s work.

By now, most people know the story of how, in 1994, Leary, then an administrator at Simmons College in Boston, was encouraged to apply for presidents’ positions, and especially the one at Bay Path, and did so even though she had reservations about whether she was ready to take the giant career leap.

It is now part of Bay Path lore that she and her husband, Noel, were traveling back to Boston from a vacation in Niagara Falls and decided to make a stop at the Longmeadow campus. The two fell in love with just about everything, and Leary took over a few months later.

“When we talk about the impact of higher education or my role as educator, I get up every day saying I’m not just teaching one student. I am making an impact, hopefully, on generations to come.”

As noted, this was and is a turnaround story in every respect. Leary has taken Bay Path from sleepy to wide awake, and from a school that few outside this region knew about to one that recently hosted 27 colleges and universities from the 37-member Women’s College Coalition to discuss new and innovative learning models for women of all ages and stages of their lives.

It’s been a stunning transformation for the once-tiny school that has found its way onto the map and into national prominence.

When asked how it was accomplished, Leary mentioned teamwork, collaboration building, and some things the school now teaches in its classrooms — innovation and entrepreneurship.

Grade Expectations

While it’s quite difficult to tell the many facets of Leary’s story quickly and easily, Bourque managed to do so in her nomination with a hypothetical, but in many ways real, day from Leary’s time at Bay Path.

“On a given afternoon, she could be sipping tea with Lady Margaret Thatcher (and in fact did!), and that same night could be opening her home to share dinner with undergraduate women (and she does, frequently). Remarkably, she is equally enthusiastic and comfortable in both venues. To Dr. Leary, the promise of a young woman launching her studies in biology is as important as engaging the presence and prominence of a global head of state.”

Indeed, it is, and that anecdote speaks to the mindset Leary has maintained throughout her career at Bay Path. She has shaken hands with Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, prominent writers, and activists. But she also makes it a point to try to meet every student who comes to the Bay Path campus and learn their name.

And when she can, she ventures into the classroom, as she did with that “Women as Empowered Leaders and Learners” class. And her answers to some of their questions reveal more about why she has been named a Woman of Impact and how she has become such a great mentor.

When they asked her who supported her and enabled her to achieve her dreams, she started by listing her parents and grandmother, who, despite their lack of education, impressed upon her the importance of school and the notion that she could achieve anything she wanted if she applied herself.

And then, she mentioned her husband, Noel, and while doing so, imparted some important advice on her audience.

“He encourages me, and he’s given up a lot in his own career because of my career,” she noted. “I gave up a career and moved to Washington for him, and five years later, he gave up his career to move to Boston for me.

“The message I gave to the women was to pick a partner in life, if you want a partner in life, and make sure that it is an equal-footing relationship,” she went on. “You can figure out together how to make sure that both your lives and careers get equal time.”

Then one of the students asked if Bay Path would do what so many other women’s colleges have done over the past few decades and go coed. Leary’s answer was an emphatic ‘no.’

“We have kept our mission as a women’s college because that is what we believe in,” she said in summing up her answer. “Every day, we get up and say our mission is the education and advancement of women … and we have a lot of work to do locally and a lot of work to do globally to educate women.”

And that brings her back to her point about education being inter-generational in impact.

“When we talk about the impact of higher education or my role as educator, I get up every day saying I’m not just teaching one student,” she told BusinessWest. “I am making an impact, hopefully, on generations to come.”

Suffice it to say that she has.

Degrees of Progress

While Leary’s list of accomplishments, accolades, and awards is, indeed, quite long, it would probably be safe to say that her greatest power, her greatest talent, is the ability to inspire others, to make them dig deeper, reach higher, and achieve things they maybe (or probably) didn’t think they could.

That’s why Kathleen Bourque put Leary on her very short of people she wanted to work with and for, and why she has stayed at Bay Path for nearly two decades.

So it’s fitting that she gets the last word on this subject, sort of.

“She has touched my life in innumerable ways, professionally as well as personally. Carol Leary is an extraordinary woman.”

There are countless people, men and women, across this region and now well beyond it, who would say the same thing.

— By George O’Brien (with a lot of help from Kathleen Bourque)

In these times, many people will be working remotely. In addition to accessing BusinessWest online, readers may wish to add their home address. To do this, e-mail [email protected], visit  https://businesswest.com/contact-us/subscribe/, or call 413.781.8600.