30 Women to Watch

There is no way to encapsulate the women highlighted in this year’s 30 Women to Watch feature. They come from industries ranging from tech to philanthropy to the law, and more. Some are just hitting their stride in their careers, while others have gathered decades of knowledge and talent. What they do have in common, though, is each woman brings a wealth of experience, expertise and vision to her organization, helping spur growth for the company and its employees alike. Please join us as we honor our 2016 Women to Watch.

Evette L. Allen, Ph.D.
Director of Student Life
Utah State University Eastern

In her role at Utah State University Eastern, Evette Allen, Ph.D., helps engage students in life on the campus through projects, programs and activities. She works with the student government team, student activities team, leadership programs, and diversity and inclusion programs to create programs that support differences in people, society and the community as a whole.
In 2014 Allen assembled a strategic planning committee to create a Center for Diversity and Inclusion at USU Eastern. Although the Center is still in its infancy, it has already led to more diversity trainings, workshops and events for faculty, staff and students. The Center held its second annual diversity conference in April.

Allen says she enjoys “introducing students to varying perspectives and cultures, helping them to become more socially conscious and aware, which will help as they move through our increasingly diverse world.”

Leadership is another focus for Allen, who has been working to enhance student leadership programs at USU Eastern, giving students the opportunity to build their leadership experience. She also implemented a card-swipe system to track student attendance at campus activities. In addition to providing a head count, this helps the school track the demographics of who attends events to determine what types of activities students enjoy participating in.

“Don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown, because our best growth happens when we are uncomfortable and learn to become more comfortable with things that are unfamiliar to us.”

Kat Archibald
Chief Product Officer

In Kat Archibald’s work at Degreed, she has helped build an award-winning platform that enables people to discover, curate, share, trac, and value all kinds of learning from internal portals, external training vendors and over 1,200 providers of free and low-cost informal learning resources—all in a single, unified system. She was part of the founding team at Degreed, which started with fewer than five people but has since grown to over 100 employees and just closed a $21 million Series B financing.
Working at a startup has motivated and energized Archibald. “Each day I wake up to a new challenge, and therefore a new opportunity to learn and to grow,” she says. “Startups present a dynamic atmosphere where there is always a chance to grow and improve not just myself, but also the business.”

Archibald has been active in the tech community and has spoken at StartFEST, DevMountain and Innovation in Action, and has volunteered at She-Tech. She believes in promoting diversity and inclusion, saying that all businesses would benefit from having more perspectives heard.

“I’m passionate about finding and exploring solutions that can get those different perspectives a seat at the table and allow them to thrive,” says Archibald.

“I am still trying to become a master at paying attention. It has challenged me to look at the details, to see how people act, how they work, how they’re feeling. It’s my opinion that everyone has a stroke of genius—and if we pay attention, we can take a little of that genius for ourselves.”

Alison Beddard
Director | Office & Investments
Cushman & Wakefield/Commerce

In her role with Cushman & Wakefield/Commerce, Alison Beddard says she enjoys “the thrill of strategizing with clients to help them realize their ultimate business goals. Seeing our collaborative work with clients turn into tangible results is so rewarding.”

Some of those tangible results include sizeable transactions, including her team’s representation of SolarCity and University of Utah in their site expansions.

Collaborative work also led her to become involved in the CREW Network, an organization for women in commercial real estate that boasts 10,000 members across the country. This year, Beddard is serving as CREW Network’s 2016 president-elect, which includes serving on its board of directors’ executive committee. Next year, she will be the organization’s president.

Additionally, she is a member of the Zions Bank Women’s Financial Group advisory board. Previously, she was an advisory board member with Salt Lake City’s Downtown Master Plan Advisory Group, and served on the Utah Pride Center’s board of directors.

“Watching my CREW member colleagues step up and take risks in their own careers, and reap the rewards of their efforts, provides deep satisfaction and recharges my motivation daily,” says Beddard. “Passing on what I have learned to others, and using my knowledge and influence to change the industry is not only my duty, but my passion.”

“I love getting everyone thinking on the team and then bringing the team together to share and move forward on the best ideas for a project. In short, my leadership strength is empowering the group to lead as a group. Leadership is important, but as a choreographer or facilitator, not a commander.”

Kimberly Blakeney
Fluent Home

From strategic planning, finance, accounting, payroll, sales, contract drafting and administration to overall operations, Kimberly Blakeney has done it all for Fluent Home. She began her career in the security industry in 2007 and has since risen to her current role of president, where she has created a compliance board to ensure the highest standards are met, restructured the company’s product offerings, and helped bolster communication and cohesion between departments.

Blakeney says she enjoys working for a company she deeply respects—not only for the quality of its work and her coworkers, but also for the company’s commitment to giving back to the community.
“My time with Fluent Home has allowed me many opportunities to travel with those I work with to places across the world to help provide relief to those in extreme need, which has impacted my life in a tremendous way,” says Blakeney. “… I have a passion for travel, especially in the context of doing so for charitable efforts … It instills in a person an appreciation and desire to help that they are able to carry with them throughout life, long after a trip or volunteer experience is over.”

“The workforce offers opportunities for growth, advancement and adventure. It can challenge a person in many ways, but challenges are what shape people. The traditional workplace which may have placed women in certain roles no longer exists.”

Dawn Cannon
Executive Vice President of Bank Operations
EnerBank USA

Dawn Cannon isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. In a period of rapid growth for EnerBank USA, Cannon volunteered to develop processes to help the bank accommodate its rapid growth while still providing excellent customer service. She also implemented a new financial accounting standard, saving the company $40,000 per year. She led the effort to consolidate the company’s headquarters to Salt Lake City, and last year opened a second call center location in Provo. Cannon also assumed the responsibility of taking the bank and its board of directors through an annual strategic planning process.

“I love the challenge that comes from my different responsibilities,” says Cannon. “… It’s the prospect of complex challenges that makes me continue to search for new responsibilities and opportunities.”
In addition to her work for EnerBank USA, Cannon volunteers for People Helping People, where she serves as secretary to the executive committee and board of directors. She also helped that organization launch its Women Investing in Women fundraising group.

She advises those just starting their careers to find what they’re good at and be willing to take risks. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to learn the lesson and grow from it.”

“Decisiveness and accountability are important traits for all leaders because team members, peers and superiors all want to work with leaders who are willing to make decisions and then be held accountable to those decisions.”

Monica Millard Collard
Allied Electric Sign & Awning Co.

Allied Electric Sign and Awning Co. has seen its highest profitability in the last two years, with stock worth rising more than 30 percent. At the helm has been Monica Millard Collard, who praises her team for making that growth happen, but whose leadership and example helped pave the way for them to work their magic.

Collard’s work ethic rests on honesty, reliability and seeing the good in others. Landing and managing big projects is fun, she says, but it’s working with the customers that makes the job great, as well as motivating her team to go in new directions. Though she works in a typically male-dominated industry, she rarely comes across anyone who sees her gender as a liability. In fact, she says, she enjoys walking through job sites in high heels and a pink hard hat.

Beyond her demanding work duties, Collard has also served on the Sandy City Planning and Zoning Commission for the last 12 years, where she says she likes the opportunity to give back to her community and help shape the growth and development of her city.

“You must step outside of your comfort zone at least once every day. That is where true growth happens. Do something that makes you smile or laugh every day. … Don’t blame others for your mistakes, own them. It is very liberating. I promise you will learn more from your mistakes when you take complete ownership of them—just don’t make the same mistake again.”

Ann Dalton
Founder & CEO
Perfectly Posh, LLC

Ann Dalton co-founded Perfectly Posh in 2011, and in just five short years, the company has reached $50 million in annual sales and boasts a sales force of 50,000 consultants across the country.
Dalton is most passionate about providing opportunities for other women to improve their lives and contribute financially to their families. Every year, she travels the country to hold multiple conventions in cities close to her consultants, making it easier for them to attend and benefit from the experience. Additionally, she created an advisory board composed of consultants, nominated by their peers, who provide leadership and insight as the company grows.

“It’s crazy to look back and see how different the whole company is in just a short window of time,” says Dalton. “Some of my favorite milestones have been being able to build an executive team full of talent—a real powerhouse—working with strong, successful businesswomen all over the country, and being able to put together our charitable foundation so we can see even more good come from our business.”

Last year, Perfectly posh created 300 holiday gift bags for women at The Road Home. The company donated its own pampering products, and Dalton organized a donation drive for items like socks, hats and hygiene items.

“I love building. Being able to set an objective with our incredible team, then rolling up our sleeves and making it happen. The results you can see from your efforts keep you working hard, and the best payback we get is to watch women take an opportunity and run with it.”

Nikki Davis
Senior Director of Global Philanthropy
Young Living Essential Oils

Nikki Davis dove into a legal career, sure she had found her dream job. But although she did well at one of Utah’s largest law firms, she realized she had overlooked other priorities—namely, a deep-seated desire to help and empower under-represented people who lack many of the opportunities and resources people in this country take for granted. So when Davis got the opportunity to direct Young Living Essential Oils’ philanthropic efforts, she leapt at it.

Over the last two years, Davis has helped the company’s charitable giving grow by 700 percent, and her involvement in the program isn’t limited to what she can do from her office—Davis frequently travels to the area to help install the project herself, working side-by-side with other employees and locals to help better that community.

Davis says a hands-on approach is the key to good leadership: digging in and leading by example. At times, Davis has found herself in patriarchal parts of the world, where her gender gives her less credibility in the eyes of local leaders. Her experience, knowledge and expertise help prove her credibility, though, and she finds children are often more naturally comfortable with her than many men.

“I need to feel passion in what I am doing and that I am doing it for a reason much bigger than myself. I need to feel like I am part of building something, helping someone, rather than just building up a bank account and accolades. To me, people are most successful when they feel like their purpose and profession are aligned.”

Kristin Dittmer
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
EnerBank USA

Kristin Dittmer cut her teeth as a financial examiner in the Utah Department of Financial Institutions before moving into the private sector. In the years since—Dittmer joined EnerBank as a senior vice president and chief credit officer in 2010 before being named as its CFO earlier this year—she has built a reputation of finding solutions that benefit both parties. Among those solutions is a pragmatic approach to underwriting unsecured consumer credit, which brought about a 20 percent rise in loan growth annually with a net loss rate below 1 percent—one of the best rates in the industry.

Dittmer believes in helping others reach their potential and puts that belief in action by serving as a mentor to emerging bank leaders and working with the Utah Small Business Growth Initiative credit committee to help support small businesses and those lead by women and minorities.

Having held positions of increased authority since she was 24, Dittmer says whenever she encountered someone surprised to find out that she was in charge, she always assumed it was due to her age, not her gender. That leadership experience, she says, has taught her to lead by example, give credit where credit is due and hold others accountable for fulfilling their commitments.

“It’s in my DNA to deliver on a commitment to someone. Not getting something done when I have a firm deadline is just not an option. I love problem solving—particularly if I can find a solution that makes something more effective and efficient or is considered a win-win for all parties involved.”

Jennifer Falk
Kruse Landa Maycock & Ricks

As an attorney whose practice is focused on family and employment law, Jennifer Falk tries to be a creative, compassionate and effective problem-solver. Although the industry has fewer than 18 percent of its leaders as women, Falk does her best to stand out and empower and elevate others. Falk is a former member the SJ Quinney College of Law alumni board, a former board member of the Alta Club, a member of Women Lawyers of Utah and was honored with the 2016 Utah State Bar Outstanding Mentor award.

She is involved with multiple organizations that have enabled her to participate in a legacy of improved legal services for the poor, stronger opportunities for women and better emotional outcomes for family law practices.

In addition to her thriving practice at Kruse Landa Maycock & Ricks, Falk is a board member of the Legal Aid Society, where she participates in fundraising and is capable of providing critical legal services for victims of domestic violence. She also is a member of the 3rd District Court pro bono committee, where she helps underserved people without legal representation obtain legal services.

“My clients [motivate me],” says Falk. “I enjoy meeting with interesting people and providing help to them as they navigate through the challenges they face in their lives.”

“Being collaborative is essential. I think good listening, thoughtfulness and the ability to make a hard decision are important attributes of a good leader.”

Sarah Farnsworth, PhD
Vice President of Scientific Affairs
PEGUS Research, Inc.

After earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Utah, Sarah Farnsworth was hired at PEGUS Research and has worked her way up the company’s ladder ever since. Farnsworth says she was drawn to the research field because of the positive impact on public health that can be achieved by applying solid scientific principles and solving problems creatively.

One of Farnsworth’s biggest areas of interest is in improving public awareness and attitudes towards mental health and addiction. She studied the neurochemical effects of various drugs in graduate school, and although she does not work with the issue daily, has tried to stay on top of the research in the rapidly evolving field, and feels strongly about removing the shame and stigma often directed to those suffering from those conditions.

Farnsworth, who has also served as an adjunct professor of neuroscience and psychology at Weber State University since 2009, says she feels of all the ingredients to success a person can have, the most vital is a good work ethic and the courage to strive for things that might seem beyond a person’s reach.

“No one has all the fixed qualities they need to succeed from the very beginning, so you have to be willing to try and to fail at times in order to grow. And when things don’t go as planned, it is important to be persistent and to continue to try to solve the problem. … No matter one’s innate intelligence or abilities, lasting success is based on hard work and perseverance.”

Karin Fife
Sales Consultant
CCG Howells

Whether it’s continuing her mother’s tradition of bringing others goodies on trademark yellow plates, serving her clients at CCG Howells, participating in CREW Utah or raising funds as its Gala Chair, Karen Fife is doing her best to bring positivity to all she does.

“Each day is a new day for me to be able to make a difference, whether it be something as big as solving a problem that has yet to be solved or as little as making a client’s day with a little plate of cookies,” says Fife. “Helping to exceed a customer’s expectations or developing lasting relationships makes it easier to get out of bed, so why not strive for that goal each day?”

Fife has over 25 years of experience in sales and design in commercial furniture projects and has consistently been a top performer in helping to bring in millions of dollars in furniture contracts for CCG Howells. She has also spent the past 23 years participating in the University of Utah Burn Camp, a nonprofit organization established to help pediatric burn survivors heal after leaving the hospital.
“Burn Camp has been a huge impact on my family and me,” she says. “It has shown us the beauty of service and love.”

“Integrity and dedication to providing the best service are developed through passion. If an individual doesn’t have a passion for what they do, they won’t be successful. No passion is the equivalent of no drive. No drive is the equivalent of never getting anywhere in life.”

Alexandra Fuller
Creative Director

For 15 years, Alexandra Fuller has worked as a storyteller in several distinct roles, ranging from brand communications to editorial writer to Emmy-nominated filmmaker.

She produced, wrote and edited the 2009 Sundance Film Festival documentary, Sister Wife, which won the Special Jury Award at SXSW and screened at over 40 festivals worldwide. In her work at Struck, Fuller has provided creative direction for clients such as Nickelodeon, Deer Valley Resort, SkiUtah, O.C. Tanner, The Grand America Hotel and more.

She has been deeply involved with the Utah Office of Tourism’s branding campaigns, and last year, the Mighty 5 campaign, which highlights Utah’s national parks, garnered $1.96 billion in visitor spending, which equates to an ROI of $338 in visitor spending for every dollar spent on the campaign.

“I love the alchemy that is the creative process,” says Fuller. “The inevitable anticipation before beginning, then the act of taking these lumpy and rough ideas and guiding a team to shape them into something that shines.”

“As a leader, curiosity propels me toward innovation. I’m fearless about throwing out established procedures and practices. I embrace the notion that the right ideas can come from anywhere, and encourage collaboration and collective brainpower. I not just tolerate, but welcome experimentation and encourage my teams to fail early and fast. I believe that any subject, any brand, any budget, any person holds potential for an interesting story and an unexpected creative opportunity.”

Diane Fullerton
Chief Operating Officer
GBS Benefits, Inc.

When Diane Fullerton started her tenure at GBS Benefits nine years ago, the company had 40 employees. Today, it has more than 130 employees, services 900 businesses and operates in four locations—two of which she helped open.

Prior to joining GBS Benefits, Fullerton founded a nonprofit organization, School Opportunity Stores, which provides incentives for students to find success in the classroom. Students can earn “class dollars” for doing well, and then spend those dollars on items in stores provided by School Opportunity Stores. The organization continues to serve Title 1 schools in the Salt Lake Valley.

“Coming from a non-profit background, I thought I would lose the opportunity to make a positive impact and feel like I was truly helping someone,” says Fullerton. “I am fortunate to say that I still have that at GBS Benefits. I interact with team of people who are so dedicated to their work and who I believe are making such a positive difference in the lives of our clients and their employees.”

Fullerton continues her community outreach at GBS Benefits, where she coordinates company’s annual Holiday Class Party service project, which provides holiday parties for over 10,000 students.

“Most people wouldn’t think that the insurance industry is interesting or innovative, but I have found it to be both of those things. The landscape of employee benefits is very dynamic, the economic climate, reform and regulations, and the changing needs of employers require strategic and creative solutions that keep me on my toes.”

Jennifer Godfrey
Chief Operation Officer of Social Services
Salt Lake Community Action Program Head Start

Jennifer Godfrey’s job as COO for Salt Lake Community Action Program Head Start has her wearing many hats. She is responsible for social service operations at one of Utah’s largest nonprofit agencies, consisting of six distinctive programs with a total agency budget of nearly $20 million. Her responsibilities include oversight of the following departments: housing case management services, heat services, weatherization services, the Central Kitchen, and social services for Head Start and Early Head Start.

The projects that Godfrey takes part in fulfill a need within the community—like the creation of Head Start’s Central Kitchen, which helps provide good quality, healthy food for school children, or Diversion, a project launched in late 2015 that helps families facing homelessness identify immediate alternate housing arrangements. This, she says, is what motivates her to be at her best.

“I am passionate about what we do as an agency. I believe in the programs and services we offer and I am committed to the delivery of quality services to our clients,” says Godfrey. “We have the ability to make a difference in the lives of the children and families we serve everyday … that is what motivates me. I am committed to making a difference within our community and to the clients we serve.”

“Find something you are passionate about and want to invest your time and energy in. If you find purpose and meaning in what you do, it is never work.”

Carrie A. Johnson
Vice President

“I began with CHG in 1999 in the most entry-level of positions,” says Carrie Johnson. “I have had the opportunity of working in almost every role within our organization from administrative assistant to executive leader.”

During that time the company has grown to become the largest locum tenens company in the country. But Johnson is most proud of the corporate culture she has helped create. CHG Healthcare Services, parent company of CompHealth, has been named to Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list each of the past six years.

“I believe the best leaders put people before profit and consider the thoughts and feelings of others when making decisions for an organization,” she says. “They are committed to providing whatever effort is necessary to move the organization forward and do so with grace and humility because it is what is best for the people within the organization and not to gain personal glory or accolades.”

Giving back is important to Johnson, who volunteers with United Way, The Road Homes, Utah Food Bank and Meals on Wheels among other groups. She is also a member of the AAFP board of trustees and is involved with CHG’s university internship program and its leadership development program.

“I believe making a difference doesn’t necessarily require a herculean effort. In my experience it is done through collaborative efforts of like-minded individuals who believe in a cause and are committed to do the work necessary to make a difference.”

Inga Johnson
SVP, Marketing

In her role at Experticity, Inga Johnson is responsible for marketing and brand, which includes both business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing. Johnson has focused on building the marketing function within Experticity over the past three years; the company went from a very limited email program to one that serves up more than 40 million messages. She also spearheaded the development of a new brand identity, which will be launched later this year.

“I am most proud of the large testing engine we are building within marketing that is constantly experimenting with moving our metrics,” she says. “Some of our key programs will have over 600 percent lift in daily sales for the brands involved. These results didn’t happen the first time, but rather with a lot of experimentation and optimization.”

Johnson says she most enjoys being able to create something new. “Our company is trying to create a new category in the marketplace. This is both incredibly rewarding and incredibly challenging. It forces a constant cycle of innovation and experimentation. We don’t get to inherit someone else’s playbook; we have to make our own. Who wouldn’t want front row access to that type of adventure?”

“Early in my career I would take a back seat because I believed that someone in the room probably knew better than myself. Turns out that if you are smart, inquisitive and genuinely motivated in finding the right outcome, people want you to be an active part of the dialogue.”

Lindsey Kneuven
Chief Impact Officer

For Lindsey Kneuven, going to work means trying to solve some of the world’s biggest and most persistent problems—and she loves it. As chief impact officer for Cotopaxi, Kneuven directs the company’s philanthropy efforts, focusing on how to make the most impact with the resources available. Between helping people find what they’re passionate about and turning that into action, and enabling nonprofit organizations to accelerate their work, Kneuven says, for her, the job is the definition of fulfilling.

One of Kneuven’s favorite programs since joining Cotopaxi last year is the Refugee Coding Project, which engages refugee youth with computer science programs. So far, the program has 45 participants hailing from six countries, and Kneuven says she hopes it will only get bigger from there.

She says the most effective way to manage a team is to lead by example and show others that from bottom to top, everyone is expected to get their hands dirty and go above and beyond their job description. Another tool she has found for helping bring success as a team is to get to know each team member to find their strengths and determine how to help them achieve their goals.

“Every day I get up because there’s more to do and more we can do to make it better, and it’s necessary, it’s urgent. The need is great, and I’m motivated to really find sustainable solutions to help people live healthier, more empowered lives. I think it’s a strong kick every morning to get out there and do it.”

Molly LeRoy, CCC-AuD
House of Hearing

When Molly LeRoy first started working at the House of Hearing in 1998, she had taken the secretary position as a way to help pay the bills while she went to college. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with the industry and pursued a doctorate of audiology from the University of Utah—and then bought the company.

In the beginning, the business fit into a single office, with just LeRoy and a secretary to tend to the average of 10 patients a day. Today, House of Hearing has nine locations throughout Northern Utah that see an average of 2,000 patients a day. The business has also expanded its services and will be opening a tinnitus treatment clinic and two more office locations before the year is out.

LeRoy says passion is vital to success, because when someone does something that makes them excited, their excitement is contagious to others on their team. Confidence and dedication, too, are important to use that passion to produce tangible results. LeRoy feels her experience working up the ranks helps her to understand challenges employees have, and to know what expectations are realistic.

“I am motivated knowing that people rely on me. I love working with my employees and meeting the day’s challenges. I love being part of something that improves quality of life. I also love to compete. I love to figure out new ways to do things.”

Jami Marsh
Vice President

As a professional with over 15 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry, Jami Marsh says she is motivated by the constant reshaping and innovation that occurs in her industry. “I’m motivated by learning something new. There is quite a bit of innovation in the commercial real estate industry right now,” says Marsh. “… I love the variety. Every day presents different challenges and unique opportunities to creatively solve problems for our clients.”

Commercial real estate is an industry with comparatively low involvement from women, which Marsh is working to change through her work as president of CREW Utah. She says she embraces the challenge of sometimes being the only woman in the room and has completed over 200 transactions totaling over $250 million in value and is a multiple recipient of the Circle of Distinction Award.

“The number of women working in commercial real estate is quite low. It’s starting to change, but it will take some time,” she says. “I’m aware that oftentimes I will be the only woman in the room, but it’s an opportunity to stand out realizing that being part of the minority does not undermine your value. My focus has never been on my gender, but rather on doing the best job I can for my clients.”

“I admire those who live their passion; those who are fearless in their unyielding pursuit of happiness. To me, that’s true success.”

Stephanie Meredith
Director of Human Resources

Stephanie Meredith has spent her career in the tech industry, working for names like LANDESK Software and Omniture before starting her current role at EMC Corporation in 2013. Throughout her career, Meredith has developed a passion for problem solving, especially in the tech industry, where what gets developed and how could potentially have a big influence on every aspect of someone’s life.

Working in human resources has also given her the opportunity to enjoy a diversity of thought from others in the multinational company, and to see people grow and develop through their success.
Her drive to help others grow and succeed is not limited to her day job—in addition to serving as a board member for a collection of groups for EMC, Meredith has been involved with community organizations like Utah Tech Council, the Utah Women Tech Council, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Silicon Slopes,, Women in Technology, the Society of Women Engineers and the Utah Food Bank.

Inspired from a young age by Harriet Tubman, whose courage to do the right thing inspired passion and bravery in others, Meredith says she has tried to emulate those qualities in her life.

“Be courageous to speak your mind, pursue your interests, and offer your ideas. And worry less! The things you are spending your time worrying about today will be over tomorrow. Have the courage to say it, write it, do it and it will change your course and your co-workers and company will benefit from your unique contributions.”

aga merx
Vice President, Manager of SBA Lending
Bank of American Fork

aga merx worked for several years in small business lending before joining the FDIC in 2009. She was involved in the liquidation of that agency’s SBA portfolio of the closed banks in Utah, and she collected an SBA certification on 92 percent of the portfolio, meaning the FDIC was able to sell 92 percent of the portfolio at par, with no discounts taken. She worked as a contractor for banks after that, reviewing their files for SBA and FDIC compliance. In 2015, at the age of 34, she joined Bank of American Fork and was charged with heading up its SBA lending.

merx is also heavily involved in the community, serving as an ambassador for Women’s Networking Group, as a director consultant at BNI, Business Network International, in the Northern Utah Region, and on the board of directors for Community Health Charities.

“I came to this country with one suitcase and built everything I have with hard work. I pursued banking and found that it truly is my passion,” says merx. “Then, I turn around and help others get the financing they need to fulfill their dreams. Helping small-business owners is the most rewarding. When borrowers get the financing they need, they are closer to succeeding in their industry.”

“I love the feeling of helping people pursue their dreams. Any loan I close, any small-business financing need I meet, I feel accomplished. We build communities and economies one business at a time, one loan at a time, one successful entrepreneurship story after another.”

Renya Nelson
Brand Aid, Inc.

After a decade of working with some of the biggest companies in the ad industry in Los Angeles, but being frustrated by their creative limitations, Renya Nelson struck out on her own. When Nelson started her branding company in 2012, she ran it out of her apartment. An opportunity to move back to her native Salt Lake City, however, turned out to be a boon for the company—over the last few years, it has thrived on big clients including AARP, Levi’s and Pepsi, and new local connections with companies like Clearlink, Squatters & Wasatch Breweries, and Equality Utah alike.

Nelson prides herself on her ability to think outside the box and provide solid, customized customer experiences. The two help her find ways to tailor a client’s message to make sure it will reach their audience in the most impactful way possible, she says. And while no one said starting a company would be easy, Nelson says she flourishes under the opportunities that come with the challenges.

“There are many struggles that come with being an entrepreneur, but there is nothing like the payoff for being able to create anything you can think up. … I love to laugh and collaborate with our brilliant team and come up with new ways to do things. Staying innovative keeps us ahead of the curve and allows us to better ‘wow’ our clients.”

Kellie Owens
Innovative Telecom Solutions

Kellie Owens has been in the telecommunications industry since 1987; her experience reaches across various fields such as operations, network design and billing. In 1998, she began selling for Nextlink (now XO Communications) and rose to the top of her field nationally, making the National XSellers group every year while with XO. In 2003, Owens took all the knowledge she’d gathered and founded Innovative Telecom Solutions.

“I enjoy consulting on complicated networks and creating better solutions that fit the customer’s environment and needs,” she says. “I also get a lot of satisfaction through auditing my clients’ bills and contracts to ensure they are getting the best value with products that fit their current needs.”

Owens was one of the first women to break into the telecom agent world, and Innovative Telecom Solutions has flourished under her care. The company has seen a 46 percent growth in revenue in the past two years while reducing costs by 20 percent.

“There are certainly barriers women need to overcome to make a name for themselves within this industry,” says Owens. “On the other hand, women who succeed in breaking down those barriers tend to stand out and ultimately gain respect from both customers and competitors alike.”

“A good leader is someone who instills confidence in their employees and someone who truly listens to their needs. Flexibility is key also because companies are always growing and changing and a good leader needs to grow right along with it.”

Miriam Padilla, MD, CDE
Physicians Group of Utah Endocrinology of Utah Diabetic Clinic

The drive to help others has fueled Miriam Padilla to success in her career as a doctor specializing in diabetes treatment. Beyond treating ailments, Padilla says she enjoys educating patients to help them manage their conditions better, and the constant research and discussion in the field make it an intellectual challenge, as well.

When Padilla helped open the Endocrinology of Utah Diabetic Clinic last November, it was with the goal of creating a comprehensive diabetes center, so patients could have access to specialty care more easily than at traditional medical centers. Because the clinic was started from scratch, Padilla says she had the flexibility to build it with her vision of what it could be.

Padilla, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to Salt Lake City by way of Maryland, Ohio and California, says she tries to lead by example, not only for her coworkers and employees but for her patients, as well, by embodying the healthy living values she teaches. She believes success is dependent upon hard work, patience, organization, dedication and being a good listener, and feels there is always a way to improve and make a difference.

“Determine what your mission is in life or what you desire the most and don’t let anything stop you from trying to get there. Find a mentor or a support system that will help you along the way. Young women must not let negative expectations stop them from trying to achieve what is in their heart.”

Karin Palle
Executive Director
Women’s Networking Group

Called the “connector extraordinaire,” Karin Palle is passionate about matching business leaders with the best resources to help their companies and careers expand. She is the executive director of the Women’s Networking Group and was previously a business advisor at Salt Lake Community College for the Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, encouraging small business owners to develop their entrepreneurial ideas.

“I am passionate about supporting women and locally owned businesses and providing positive role models for girls and women,” says Palle. “I love being a resource for friends, neighbors and the business community.”

Using the connections gained through an impressive career—which includes her current work as the growth and strategic operations director at Prestman Auto, as well as a long background in business development—Palle has helped the Women’s Networking Group grow to over 750 members. To do so, she created a team of ambassadors to stay in contact with the women while continuing to find collaborative allies to further the work of the group.

“I am passionate about providing an environment for women where they feel safe to ask for help, support and advice to be successful business owners and professionals. I strive to educate women on all the resources available to them to succeed and be the best they can be.”

“I believe women are learning to collaborate, use the resources that are available to them and support each other to follow their dreams and own their own business. They are learning to surround themselves with a team of professionals and employees that complement their strengths and let them know they do not have to do it all on their own.”

Jessica Peterson
Durham Jones & Pinegar

Jessica Peterson is a member of Durham Jones & Pinegar’s bankruptcy and creditors’ rights section, as well as the co-chair of the firm’s recruiting committee and the chair of the women lawyers group. She is deeply committed to giving back to her community and doing all she can in the service of others, be it through service trips or pro bono work.

Small moments of kindness reinforce Peterson’s belief in the goodness of others and motivate her to continue working for the underserved. She recounts stories where others have shown her goodness or kindness—a stranger who changed her tire, or times she had left her phone or purse in public places, only to see them returned.

“I love to volunteer. I enjoy serving people and making the world around me a better place,” says Peterson. “I believe in sustainable service and making a difference in ways that are impactful and lasting.”

Her strong motivation and resolve has also led Peterson to many accomplishments in her career, from being named a Rising Star by Mountain States Super Lawyers from 2012-14, and named in Mountain States Super Lawyers in 2015. She is a board member of AMICUS, Women Lawyers of Utah and the University of Utah Young Alumni Association.

“We live in a time where the opportunities for women in the workforce are unprecedented. You have more opportunities than your mothers and many more opportunities than your grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Set high goals and don’t be afraid to reach those goals. You can exceed all of your expectations for yourself.”

Shante Schroeder
Director of Growth
97th Floor

With a résumé that includes being a host broadcaster at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, working with startups and running her own marketing business, Shante Schroeder’s path to 97th Floor has taken some interesting twists and turns. Through it all, she has relied on strength, humility and resilience—a trio of virtues she says help work through challenges to find success.

Those virtues helped her when she started at 97th Floor. She was the company’s first outside hire for a lead enterprise digital marketer, and she had no experience in SEO when she was approached by the company’s co-founders. But over the last two and a half years, Schroeder created one of the largest revenue-producing teams in the company and found she thoroughly enjoys the industry.

Schroeder likes the constant challenge of setting up systems and processes and then being able to change and fine-tune them as the situation demands to make the outcomes better with each incarnation. There’s nothing that can’t be improved upon, she says, and she finds it exciting to help it reach that new level.

“Business keeps you humble and it’s a love/hate relationship for me most days, but I know I’m consistently improving, in business, in relationships, in communication. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have far fewer fears knowing everything is ‘figureoutable’ and that what business has taught me.”

Amanda Smith
Holland & Hart, LLP

A native Utahn, Amanda Smith developed a passion for the outdoors. “I care very deeply about what happens on the land that we live on and enjoy,” she says. “I went to law school to focus on environmental law and environmental policy, so that turned out for me to be a good combination, to work in an area that I feel passionately about but also in an area where I’m able to problem solve and work on policy issues.”

Early in her career, Smith worked for the Nature Conservancy, where she raised funds to preserve private lands with ecological diversity. Later, she moved back to Utah to work for Gov. Jon Huntsman as his rural and economic advisor. From there she transition to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, where she served as executive director of the department for six years.

For Gov. Gary Herbert, Smith helped launch a new nonprofit, UCAIR, an organization that educates Utahns about how they can make a difference in the state’s air quality. UCAIR also provides grants to local governments, businesses and community groups to implement strategies to reduce emissions.
Last year Smith transitioned into the private sector, working for Holland & Hart, where she advises clients on how to achieve their business goals in the context of Utah’s environmental regulatory framework.

“Being a good leader means understanding and listening to people, and hearing where they’re coming from and what their goals are. But at the end of the day, I also believe that you have to have structure and people have to be held accountable, because that way you create a more fair and systematic process for people to move forward in their careers.”

Kirsten Widdison, CPA
Assurance Manager
Mantyla McReynolds, LLC

Before Kirsten Widdison became the assurance manager for Mantyla McReynolds, LLC—where she has managed over $450,000 in firm revenues annually and helped to bring in nearly $100,000 of audit work—she spent three years working as a senior in the audit practice of the public accounting firm HJ & Associates, LLC. While there, she developed and led the firm’s training program for new hires and second- and third-year audit staff. Much of her career includes teaching, mentoring and empowering others.

In that vein, Widdison worked as an adjunct instructor for Broadview University, teaching courses in accounting and business, and is the chairman of the Leadership Development Committee, a subcommittee of the ProNet Council of the UACPA (Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants), where she helped organize and plan the first annual Leadership Academy.

“My goal as a leader is to give confidence to those I work with. It’s easy to tell someone how to do something, but to give them the tools and confidence to learn how to do something for themselves, to feel ownership for a project, and to be competent in completing a project, that is what’s important to me,” says Widdison. “I want my staff to feel empowered and to feel like the work they do is worthwhile.”

“Success is defined by you. Whether it is owning a business, being a parent, making enough money to support your hobbies, or being a leader in your field, only you can decide what makes you feel successful.”

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