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#HeForShe: Which female business leader do you most admire and why?


A few weeks ago, I made a pledge to support #HeForShe and my female colleagues by blogging about ideas relevant to this issue on a monthly basis.

So, here goes!

I thought I’d start by taking ideas directly from the #HeForShe web site, as they have a list of potential topics and conversation starters. First up: Which female business leader do you most admire and why?

This one’s a tough one for me, as I’ve worked with many female leaders over the last 20 years that I admire. Deborah Ely-Lawrence was one of my first mentors during my five years at McGladrey years ago. Nicki Gibbs taught me five years worth of learnings and consulting tips in just under a year. And, I’ve had the fortune to work with some absolutely brilliant female clients the last eight years likeKellie Due Weiland, Gabby Nelson, Anna Lovely, Sarah Panus, Sarah Reckard, Susan Eich, Susan Roeder, Melissa Voronyak, Ellen O’Brien, and many others.

But, I have to talk about one person I admire. And, that’s actually a pretty easy decision. It’s Natalie Bushaw. Now, I’ve never had the chance to work with Natalie, but I’ve known Natalie now for more than 20 years as we went to school together at Winona St. And, while Natalie is one of the best PR leaders you’ll find in town, what I admire most about her has nothing to do with her day job and everything to do with Natalie the person.

Natalie had twin boys some 14+ years ago. Both were born with physical challenges. One of the boys wasn’t expected to make it past age five. But, here we are in 2017 and both are healthy and strong (one of her sons had a heart transplant last year and is doing great!). Through the last 14+ years, Natalie (and her husband) have not stopped living their lives–not even a little. They’ve met each challenge with resiliency and fortitude. And, they’ve done it with tremendous grace. That’s not easy. I can tell you I wouldn’t have handled nearly as well as Natalie has handled it. And, that’s why I admire her–for the incredible strength she displays every day.

Now, since the idea of this campaign is to get MORE men involved, I thought I’d ask a few male colleagues to talk about one female leader they admire–and why:

Sarah Joseph, director of business operations, FRWD

From: Nathan Eide

All too often in the agency world, operations leaders are seen as an impediment to creativity and innovation. At FRWD that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We are constantly asking ourselves “what’s next?” and it isn’t so much that we’re chasing the shiny object, but constantly looking to build upon our ethos of “small moves every day” laddering up to big impact.

I’m loathe to ever toot my own horn, or that of my agency coworkers, but when Arik asked me to participate in #heforshe, I instantly knew that this was a great chance to tell everyone how awesome Sarah Joseph is at keeping our operation running, always thinking about what’s best for the culture of the agency, fighting for life balance, and being a sounding board for both work-related and non-work-related issues.

Here’s what I hate about the way “behind the scenes” agency staff are often overlooked, especially when they are women, which is frequent. These women, their strengths and impact are all too often invisible to the clients and seen as lesser than “traditional agency leaders” since their work is getting work done. Let’s stop giving them “the mom” job in the agency. Stop assuming they are going to pick up after you, or handle your “admin tasks”. Know what sucks about “the mom role” in an agency? Mom always did 90% of the work for no credit, then when Dad came in and did something that should be par for the course he got a ton of credit for going above and beyond. Sarah lives in the above and beyond. Every day of every year, she’s there keeping the ship afloat.

I hate hearing about how “soft skills” are great for administrative work or “relationship building” when in reality those skills are things like … actually communicating like a human, dealing in the nuance of making money, growing a strong corporate culture, understanding that people have complex lives, and that running a business is more than just numbers on the page.

Sarah is an exceptional business mind, ensuring that the agency is always managing that precipice between what’s best for the client, the agency, and the individual. Frankly, it’s the hardest job in the agency world, working ridiculous hours, dealing with the business of running the business, is the first person to hear complaints and the last person to get credit for the ridiculous amount of work she does. If I could, I’d give her an Academy Award for managing the drama of agency operations, but since I can’t, this avenue provided me is the next best thing.


Merry Morud, associate creative director, Aimclear

From: Kevin Watterson

Merry is one of those people you feel lucky to have crossed paths with during your career. I’m fortunate to get to work with her everyday in her role as Aimclear’s Associate Creative Director, but her pioneering work developing and applying psychographic targeting concepts to social advertising has filtered its way into the campaigns digital marketers use every day. In fact, social channels come to her when they need guidance on how to use their own tools better.

But what elevates Merry to the level of an industry leader is her eagerness to share her expertise and help people grow into more talented marketers. Personally, I can attest to her leadership because I’ve been a recipient. Merry was always there to offer guidance and support as I transitioned into from the world of politics into digital marketing, helping me grow along the way. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Hardly a task goes by where I don’t apply something Merry taught me over the past four years, and I know marketers around the industry can say the same. She’s spoken at industry events in Europe, Australia, Asia and all across the U.S. with an enthusiasm and level of insight that inspires others.

Lynn Casey, CEO, Padilla

From: Matt Kucharski

Going back to my first job (spending summers detasseling seed corn), I’ve had a roughly equal split between male and female supervisors and mentors, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better leader than Padilla’s CEO Lynn Casey. Lynn has been my boss for nearly 27 years and I think she would fall into that camp of “servant leaders” who recognize that leadership doesn’t necessarily mean having the best idea, the most competitive spirit or the clearest voice (though she often has all of these!). It sometimes means seeking out ways to be of service to others – enabling them to excel and helping them clear the path for their own growth. That’s the reason that other up-and-coming leaders – male and female – seek Lynn out for her advice and counsel, and it’s the reason why she’s always on the short list for anybody trying to convene a board or committee wanting to accomplish meaningful work in the community and our industry.

Sarah (Peterson) Post, senior director, loyalty marketing, Target Corp

From: Sean Ryan

I had the opportunity to work with Sarah on the Target Social Business Strategy team at the time she was helping birth the idea of the Cartwheel app.

She went on to lead the Cartwheel marketing initiative and used her razor sharp intellect and collaborative skills to grow Cartwheel into the app so many of us know and love. It took incredible focus and collation building to make an app idea as big as Cartwheel come into existence at a company the size of Target.

Post is a leader I admire because of her humility, genuine concern for doing best by the project, and futuristic vision for what could be. Honored to have been able to work with her.

Janet Stacey, president, Fairview Foundation

From: Dave Folkens

Janet has a true passion for health care and that’s been true in all she has done for many years. Her career has included time on the provider side, medical device industry, agency and now leads the Fairview Foundation. She is invested in her work, committed to those she works with, and leads in a manner that encourages growth with everyone’s voice heard. Beyond her professional skills, she is one of the kindest people you may meet and has had a tremendous impact on the careers of many.

Janet Walsh, deputy director, Human Rights Watch

From: Michael Walsh

There are several women leaders I have in mind, but if it is not too self-serving or corny I would like to offer up my own sister. Her name is Janet Walsh and she is the deputy director of women’s rights for Human Rights Watch.  The main reason I’m selecting her, besides doing some really prominent and important work at the international level for women’s rights, is to convey the message that supporting women among boys begins at a very early age and starts in your immediate family. That is foundational to every effort society makes to have men be better advocates for women. Experiencing my sister’s independence, passion for equality, and deep conviction that a woman can and should do anything she wants to in life from a very early age was hugely influential for me. That perspective was ingrained in me throughout my childhood and sticks with me to this day. In short, she was my role model for how to view women and what they can do in life. That’s where it all starts.



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