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Entrepreneurs who Empower
The term “glass ceiling” was coined more than four decades ago. Since then, women have been positioning themselves in the workforce to break down the barrier. While there’s still work to do, there are plenty of successes to celebrate. These local women are on top as leaders and business owners. Learn what keeps these women in business moving forward.
1785 W. Stadium Blvd. #202
734-531-9024 | niaspongberg.com
What do you do? As a life coach with a niche in productivity, I help adventurous people blaze new trails concerning their personal time, tasks and transitions.
What’s one thing every entrepreneur should ask themselves? Asking, “Whom can I learn from?” has been helpful. There are so many accomplished people who have experienced similar situations and scenarios. Very often they’re generous women who are willing to share their wisdom, which can help to prevent an entrepreneur from getting caught up in reinventing the wheel.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? To make peace with my inner perfectionist. I’m still working on this, and probably will be for life. I’ve learned, though, that each time I embrace the notion that “completed is better than perfect,” I am rewarded with good outcomes.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? In coaching, training really matters, and there are many training programs to choose from. I encourage prospective coaches to take the time to research options, understand the differences, and see which ones resonate. Good training programs are accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF), so I’d focus on their affiliates.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? Being vulnerable— admitting that you don’t know something, asking for help, speaking your truth— almost always results in a strengthened relationship both with others and with self.
What are some traits of great leaders? I think leaders are guided by curiosity, live by their word, facilitate growth and inspire excellence in others.
What’s your professional philosophy? I used to want to be “an expert” at my job— I wanted to have all of the answers. Coaching has invited me to become more comfortable with not knowing outcomes: I’ve become a much deeper listener, and I’ve come to reside more in the present, trusting in process. This evolution has shaped my professional philosophy, which somewhat aligns with Lao Tzu’s words, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
What has been the role of luck in your success? We yearn to feel in control of our lives, but I think that a great deal of our existence takes place at fate’s whim. I’m fortunate to say that luck has dealt me several generous cards in the form of wonderful clients, chance connections, and well-timed opportunities.
Generally, do you think there is a difference between how men and women lead? While there are exceptions to every rule, I’ve found that women tend to be consensus-builders.
Publisher of Ann Arbor Coffee News
& President of Elevate Marketing Ann Arbor, LLC
What’s one thing every entrepreneur should ask themselves? “Are you ready to work really hard?”
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? Taking more risks, especially in my younger years. The only way to learn and truly grow is by stretching outside your comfort zone. You may fail, at first, but you are one step closer to success.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? Don’t be afraid to partner with experts. It’s ok not to know everything about starting a business, when first starting out. Learn and grow as you go. Bookkeeping was a challenge for me, so I hired a great bookkeeper.
What’s your professional philosophy? How has it changed throughout your career? Keeping current in your industry, believing in your product or services, and being honest to the customer— even if it’s something that they don’t want to hear but will help them to be more successful.
What are some traits of great leaders? Authenticity, commitment, a positive attitude, honesty and a sense of humor.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? Try to see the best in everyone, and to not take things so personally.
How do you achieve work-life balance? It’s tough; I try keeping it top of mind, making balance a priority. It’s so easy to just keep working; there is always something to do, especially with all the hats that I wear.
What has been the role of luck in your success? Luck is a winning lottery ticket. I have been fortunate in working hard and choosing like-minded people to connect with— having friends who share the same values and drive, in order to keep growing and to be happy.
What’s your mantra? Keep moving forward, and don’t sit still. Doing the best that you can at this moment in time puts you in the best place for the next moment. You got this!
Co-Owner, Media, Marketing, Graphics, Web, & Design
506 N. Main St., Chelsea.
734-433-9700 | jetspizza.com
The Rumpus Room
510 N. Main St., Chelsea.
734-626-6646 | therumpusroomchelsea.com
The Grateful Cow, coming soon.
What do you do? I am a co-owner with my husband, of Jet’s Pizza in Chelsea, The Rumpus Room, and, coming soon, our new restaurant in Chelsea, The Grateful Crow. I work in the creative side of ambiance and promotion.
What’s one thing every entrepreneur should ask themselves? “What’s the end goal?”
How has being a woman impacted your career? The early years, of being a mother of five sons, took up much of my time and attention.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? Every role is equally significant in the functioning of a business.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? You are absolutely capable of accomplishing your dreams and desires.
What’s your professional philosophy? Mindset is a huge make-or-break factor. Entitlement opposes success— an idea that has become more evident and concrete.
What are some traits of great leaders? They’re good listeners and remain lifetime students. Decisiveness. The ability to make difficult decisions and tackle the inevitable daily obstacles, head-on— that is a normal part of running a business. Delegation. Personal responsibility. Placement and positioning. Leaders are readers.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? It is not easy being an entrepreneur; though, it is rewarding. It requires long-term vision, delayed gratification, and the power of compounding good decisions made over time. Success does not happen overnight.
How do you achieve work-life balance? Work and life are one in the same. I love what I do. My whole family works with me in different roles; so, essentially, we are always doing life together. We do make a point to take a family day together to rest and/or have fun every week.
What has been the role of luck in your success? We have been blessed with some really great mentors, for sure, but there is not much luck involved with our success story. Maybe the timing on how things play out, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that luck. Mostly, success comes from hard work, accountability.
Hinton Real Estate Group
36 N. Washington, Ypsilanti
734-480-8650 | teamhinton.com
What do you do? My daughter, Kayia Robinson, and I sell real estate in southeast Michigan, specializing in the Ypsilanti area.
What’s one thing every entrepreneur should ask themselves? “Do you have the capacity to create opportunities for your business and your community?”
How, if at all, has being a woman impacted your career? It makes me stay awake and aware. You can’t take this business for granted, and as a woman, you have to be out there, in terms of your work, to make sure that people notice you and respect the job you can do!
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? I wish I would have started tracking what I was doing from the very start. I was so absorbed and never really looked at the data; so, I wish that I would have paid closer attention to that aspect.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? Don’t give up. Work hard, and stay focused. Many things will divert your attention— don’t fall for it— stay the course.
What’s your professional philosophy? My philosophy has never changed: “I have a limited amount of time to make an unlimited amount of impact.” Every move matters!
What are some traits of great leaders? A great mindset and continuously improving skill-set— and they take action.
How do you achieve work-life balance? I don’t try to balance; rather, I look at it as a scale. For the majority of time, your life will be unbalanced. Manage it, and stay aware of heavier times, so that you may create lighter times.
What has been the role of luck in your success? It is never luck. God is good, all of the time.
What role does confidence play in your career? It’s important to be confident. I feel as though I missed out on many things because I didn’t feel confident enough to raise my hand. As I have grown, I’m more comfortable with failing, instead of trying to achieve perfection.
Generally, do you think there is a difference between how men and women lead? Women lead with feelings, and men lead with gut!
What gender-specific assumptions do you encounter, and how do you respond to them? People assume that, as a woman, I am more sympathetic to their issues. I have empathy; however, I expect more and don’t care for excuses.
What is your advice to women about handling uncomfortable situations in the workplace? Address what makes you uncomfortable and let people know where you stand, in a professional manner.
LMSW / Executive Director
Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor
2010 Hogback Rd., Suite 3. Ann Arbor
734-975-2500 | cancersupportannarbor.org
What do you do? As the Executive Director of the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor, I am charged with the fiscal oversight, governance, and operations of a nonprofit that positively changes how people live with, through and beyond cancer.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? To trust my instincts. Some voices are louder than others, but I think the most important voice to listen to is the one that comes from within.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? Surround yourself with other amazing women, and don’t be intimidated when they have expertise in areas that you don’t. In fact, embrace that! I have found some of the best professional relationships have flourished by sharing differing and sometimes conflicting opinions about an issue. You will never grow if you only surround yourself with people who think, look, and behave just as you do.
What’s your professional philosophy? Be open. I realized early on in my career that it is unrealistic to accurately predict where life will take you. After graduate school, I thought that I had my entire career mapped out and, interestingly, it did not include leadership of an organization. My passion for service has remained the same, but how I provide that service has unfolded as I became motivated to create change on different levels and scales, and in various communities. You never know what opportunities will arise; we need to be receptive in order to see them.
Karin & Jillian Brooks
co-owners Go Blow
335 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.
734-263-7610 | facebook.com/letsgoblow
9am-8pm, Monday-Saturday | 10am-4pm, Sunday
What do you do? We are a mother-daughter duo who opened Ann Arbor’s premier blow dry bar! GO BLOW provides an enjoyable, relaxing experience with services including a shampoo wash, condition, and blowout style.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? To have PATIENCE—everything in opening a business takes much longer than you anticipate. Don’t get discouraged if your timeline isn’t going according to plan. Everything we did took longer than anticipated, but we kept on going. We wanted to make sure things were done right. Even when it feels like there’s no progress, keep pushing forward and be patient.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? Listening to our employees— this sounds simple, but actively listening to our employees has been extremely beneficial to both them and us. We want all of our employees to feel valued. Since neither of us has a background in cosmetology, we rely on the knowledge and input of our stylists. Their voices are heard, from simply asking what products and tools they like, what they did or did not like at their previous salons… we want to make the environment here fun and open, where our stylists can freely share their opinions.
Alexandra (Alix) Berneis Hoag
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre
322 W. Ann St., Ann Arbor
734-971-2228 | a2ct.org
What do you do? I am the executive director of a 90-year-old nonprofit community theatre.
How, if at all, has being a woman impacted your career? I feel as though I’m sometimes underestimated, especially in terms of technical knowledge.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? How to assert myself.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? Take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty vessel, and especially in the world of nonprofit and the arts, it feels like there is always something more to do. But remember, it doesn’t all need to be done NOW.
What’s your professional philosophy? Don’t take a situation personally, and remember not to get bogged down in the details. These two ideas help to remind me to stay focused on making the best decisions possible for my organization.
What are some traits of great leaders? Being a good listener, thinking before speaking, and standing up for what is right.
How do you achieve work-life balance? I schedule time to do things that I enjoy, and I turn off my email after 7pm.
What role does confidence play in your career? Confidence is HUGE, in what I do. I’ve never had a problem getting onstage, but this was a new role for me. I’ve definitely learned to speak up for what both my organization and I need, also learning to say no when it’s appropriate— being confident in those two areas is a major leap forward for me.
What is your advice to women about handling uncomfortable situations in the workplace? My advice to anyone about handling uncomfortable situations is, first, don’t let it fester— address issues as soon as possible, but don’t approach a scenario unprepared. When tackling a problem, make sure that you have as much information as possible, choose a neutral location, and be kind but firm. Stand your ground, and make sure to follow through.
What are you doing to ensure more diversity in your industry? We’re really focusing on diversity and inclusion within our organization. We want to make sure that we really are a COMMUNITY theatre, representative of our community. We want to make sure that our message and mission is out there— we are open to one and all, no matter your age, race, gender identity, socio-economic status, physical ability, or any other qualifier. As an organization, we are working to ensure that our programs and facilities are accessible, and that we have opportunities for all sorts of different people to come play with us.
What inspires you? Creativity and passion: those of our production staff, actors, volunteers, members, and audiences, as well as my own. I love how theatre makes people feel.
What’s your mantra? I have a photo of Tim Gunn on my desk that says, “Make It Work.” Sums it up!
Main Location: 300 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor. 10am-8pm, daily.
Phoenix West Location: 117 N. First, Suite 30. 9am-9pm, daily.
734-623-1951 | relaxstation.com
What do you do? I run two businesses, RelaxStation Massage Therapy in Ann Arbor (with the help of a resident manager), and Sahara Lounge in Austin, Texas.
How did you get your start? Working in my parents’ motorcycle shop in Houston. I was pulling a paycheck when I was 9, helping out in the parts department. Our motorcycle shop had customers from all walks of life, all races, professions and income brackets. So I am comfortable with all kinds of people.
What’s one thing every professional woman should remember? Kindness comes first.
What are three secrets to your success? Hard work, persistence and being open to trying ideas from employees and managers.
What is your current top priority? Making more time for music, yoga and meditation.
Have you ever had a mentor relationship? No, not officially, but always glad to talk with people.
What do you wish someone had told you five years ago? Take regular yoga classes and change my diet to eat a lot fewer carbs.
Who is a woman you admire and why? Aretha Franklin, so intelligent and multi-talented.
What’s the best advice that you have ever received? Cut yourself a little slack, just like you cut your friends some slack.
What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women? Working to harmonize income disparity.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? Opening two businesses. Just starting something is a huge risk. You can count on losing money during the first few years.
How has your industry changed for women since you first got your start? Being the business owner, I haven’t perceived a lot of change. Not having someone over me who might not respect me was never a problem.
What’s your professional philosophy? Live by the Golden Rule— treat others as you would like to be treated.
Director of Marketing
Vinology Restaurant | Event Space
110 S. Main St., Ann Arbor
734-222-9841 | vinologya2.com
What do you do? I manage our Birmingham restaurant location, Vinotecca, and oversee our location in Ann Arbor, Vinology.
What’s one thing every entrepreneur should ask themselves? Is the day-to-day work required for this business something I will never tire of.
How, if at all, has being a woman impacted your career? The wine business, and for a long time, the restaurant business, had been dominated by men. I have always felt like I had to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my worth. Having said that, I feel wonderful support from my community as a female business owner.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier? I wish I had gotten more early training on the administrative requirements of running a restaurant. I think people view it as more of a creative field, but managing 30 employees requires a lot of paperwork and understanding of HR.
What advice would you give to another woman entering your industry? Don’t feel like you have to change to be a woman in your industry. We don’t have to become men to be successful. Like anyone else, we have to find our own management styles and perhaps carve a new path for how things should be done.
What’s your professional philosophy? How has it changed throughout your career? I have always wanted my employees to get better jobs when they leave me. We educate relentlessly and like for people to leave us better off. I have always regarded myself as an Equal parts leader and teacher.
What are some traits you think great leaders possess? A great leader brings the best out of someone. It’s a hard job because that means a different type of nurturing for each different type of person. So if you can really pay attention to what people want and to fill that need, they will usually give you all of themselves in return.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? Always take the high road.
How do you achieve work-life balance? When I leave work I really try to check out. I put my phone away as much as I can, I play games with my kids, exercise as much as I can, And try not to worry until I get back to work.
What has been the role of luck in your success? Timing and some lucky partnerships
What role does confidence play in your career? Confidence plays a huge role and I have grown more
Isabel Wanty, Jamie Brooks and Kit Wanty-Lambert
Co-owners of O&W Inc. along with their fathers,
cousin Cooper Wanty, and Isabel’s Twin Brother.
What do you do?
Isabel: I manage the people and everyday processes at our family-owned and operated beer distributorship. O&W, Inc. has been run by our family since 1933, and today six Wanty family members work hand-in-hand with over 180 employees to “deliver cheer” to licensed accounts in seven Michigan counties.
Jamie: As Director of Communications, I collaborate with our executive team concerning company goals, vision, and strategic plans. I deal with marketing, communications, creative and special events as well.
How, if at all, has being a woman impacted your career?
Isabel: Being a woman in the beer business provides a very unique and valuable perspective for our company. This industry is teeming with men, at all levels, and their opinions are everywhere. However, we have three women built into our top management level which guarantees that a rare viewpoint is heard.
What’s your mantra?
Isabel: “It’s probably nothing a beer can’t fix.”
Jamie: Lead with love.
What’s one thing you wish you learned earlier?
Isabel: You’re not going to please everyone, so just do and say what you believe is right. You’ll probably end up kicking yourself later if you don’t.
What are some traits that great leaders possess?
Jamie: Great leaders start with “what is the goal” and work backward figuring out how to get there. They’re excellent listeners, great questioners, caring motivators, direct with expectations and empowering for their collaboration team.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Isabel: To be in a learning mindset. As a leader, you may feel like you need to have your opinion heard or that you need to be the one teaching others. I’ve felt the strongest as a leader after a day of learning from others— we all make each other stronger.
Jamie: You don’t have to be an expert at everything, find the experts in each field. Let those experts shine, and give credit where credit is due.
What has been the role of luck in your success?
Isabel: Luck has played a huge role in my career, (I think as I sit at my grandfather’s desk at the business that has been handed down through generations). It’s important to me that I am cognizant of it, that I don’t get lazy and that I use this privilege to advance others.
Kit: I am very lucky to be a Beer Distributor! Our business has a very low barrier of entry due to being in a regulated industry, franchise laws and the high priority families place on having succession plans. So I guess you could say I was born into something lucky, but luck isn’t the thing that motivates you to wake up every day and be the best leader you can… that is hard work, patience, being optimistic, having a vision, listening, caring about people and at the end of the day being fun to work with.
What is your advice to women about handling uncomfortable situations in the workplace?
Kit: Be confident and stay on message. Something that often happens to me is that I will ask people to do something, and people will push back. I’ll stay on message and ask again and get push back. I’ll ask a third time, and after the man is done explain to me all of the why’s, he will finally agree that it is good to look at the situation in a new way and gives in to the ask.
What inspires you?
Kit: Setting a goal, working collaboratively to get there, and getting the results you want.
Jamie: My faith, family and this incredibly fun and ever-changing industry we’re in.