Lorraine Holcombe remembers the day in 2011 when she got a call from Lucia Stegaru and Mary Betz of PNC Bank, asking if the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce wanted to start a women’s business group.
They agreed to set a date for an evening event at the Nassau Street branch of PNC Bank, and invited Terry Adams, of Adams Consulting Group, to speak about the different ways men and women go about networking. Then they sent out invitations and waited.
Somewhat to their surprise, 125 women showed up, and with that, WIBA—the Women in Business Alliance, a Princeton Chamber committee—was born.
On Oct. 16, WIBA will host the fourth annual New Jersey Conference for Women—formerly known as the Women’s Leadership Conference—a networking and educational event designed with only women in mind. Scheduled speakers include Karen Finerman of CNBC’s Fast Money, Mercadien Group managing director Marguerite L. Mount, and Nancy Armstrong of MAKERS–Women Who Make America.
WIBA began with monthly meetings and a plan to host quarterly events for women in the local business community. “It started growing and growing to the point where the committee decided we needed to do more,” Holcombe said in a recent interview. So in 2012, they held the first Women’s Leadership Conference at the Princeton Marriott. The event sold out, with 300 women attending.
“We decided to create the conference because women were looking for leadership opportunities, for education, for professional development,” said Holcombe, who is managing director of WIBA. “They also wanted a spot where they can collaborate with business community leaders and advocates for women’s issues.”
Each year a WIBA subcommittee is tasked with finding speakers and themes for the conference. They survey their membership and people who have attended in previous years to see what topics are on everyone’s minds. Not surprisingly, several of this year’s talks and breakout sessions will be focused on social media.
Guest speaker Erika Jacoby will be giving tips on optimizing LinkedIn profiles, while Sarah Cerilli, marketing manager at Withum Smith and Brown, will give a presentation on phone apps that can make one’s work life easier. Other topics will include negotiating a job offer, giving better presentations and healthy eating.
This year’s conference will be held at the Westin Hotel in Forrestal Village, and Holcombe said the committee expects around 500 to 600 attendees from across the state. Attendees of all ages and in all stages of their careers—from recent college graduate to retirement age—typically attend.
This year, thanks to Operation Reinvent, which aims to help ex-military personnel re-enter the workforce, a number of veterans will be in attendance.
“I like the conference to be a place where you are inspired and a place where you are emplowered and feel good about yourself when you leave,” Holcombe said. “It’s going to be inspirational to see these women.”
On the occasion of the New Jersey Conference for Women, the Princeton Echo interviewed several women who are prominent leaders in the Princeton community. In addition to Mayor Liz Lempert, we also talked to Judy Hutton of the Princeton YWCA, Piper Burrows of SAVE, Krystal Knapp of Planet Princeton and Mollie Marcoux and Courtney Banghart from the Princeton University Athletics Department.
We asked them to tell us about key moments in their careers—moments when their leadership skills were called upon—and we asked them to give us some advice for aspiring business leaders. Their profiles follow below. –Joe Emanski
PIPER BURROWS, Executive director of SAVE.
Just north of Rock Brook on Belle Mead-Blawenburg Road, a state-of-the-art animal shelter is nearly ready to open its doors—a reward for 2 ½ years of hard work for Piper Burrows and the staff and volunteers at SAVE.
For 6 years, Burrows has been the executive director of the nonprofit animal welfare agency based for now on Herrontown Road. With the current facility crumbling, SAVE’s board of trustees bought the land in Skillman from the state with the stipulation that they spend at least $1M to restore the 130-year-old Van Zandt mansion.
SAVE’s board entrusted Burrows with the $4M task of renovating the home (it will house the SAVE offices) and getting a new 25-dog, 75-cat shelter built. The new facility has surgery suites, bonding rooms, ringworm isolation chambers, public meeting spaces and many other amenities that take it to the next level.
“SAVE was a great opportunity for me, to come into a local organization with some management and financial issues and really turn things around,” Burrows says. “I feel as though I have accomplished that not only because of the skills I brought to the table, but also because of the team I have built around me. With the trustees, volunteers and staff, I’ve been incredibly fortunate.”
Fourteen years ago, Burrows was starting over after a divorce. She left Valdosta, Georgia, with her 3-year-old daughter to live in Ewing and work as director of development at Chapin School. She knew no one in the area. “You can imagine how demanding a job fundraising is for a single mother,” she says. “I was on call 24/7.”
Burrows left Chapin to become McCarter Theatre’s corporate and foundation director. She was there 3 years before joining SAVE. The experience she gained in those roles was crucial, especially when one considers the challenges of convincing donors to help fund the shelter project.
“Fundraising is all about the manner in which you interface with people. You’re building loyalty,” she says. “Being at SAVE has given me a good dose of what it takes to run an effective business—leading a team, running construction meetings, winning support of the trustees and staff.”
Burrows wants SAVE to be seen as the area’s foremost animal shelter. “If other folks are thinking of establishing a shelter in the area, we want them to say, ‘Look at SAVE. Not only did they build this incredible facility, but they also invested in the adaptive reuse of a historic building.’”
When she was a child growing up in Westchester County, New York, she volunteered at the SPCA. There she developed a passion for helping homeless animals.
“If I were to counsel someone about choosing a job, I would say be passionate about what you do,” she says. “Step out of your comfort zone and never be afraid to aim high.” –J.E.
KRYSTAL KNAPP, Founder and editor of Princeton Planet.
In 2011, after more than a decade of reporting in the Princeton area, Krystal Knapp saw an opportunity, and took it. With the traditional newspapers in the area shrinking in staff and coverage, the journalist thought that Princeton needed a hyperlocal news website to fill the vacuum being left behind by traditional media.
“I saw the potential for a web-only (outlet) that covered breaking news at the local level, and uses social media to spread that news,” she says.
Thus, PlanetPrinceton.com was born.
Knapp earned her reporting chops writing for the Times of Trenton, often about Princeton. She took a buy-out from the paper in 2006, and freelanced for several years in Princeton, and Beirut, Lebanon. She started Planet Princeton as a Facebook page and Twitter feed in 2011, and saw it blow up during Hurricane Irene, as residents sought information via their phones and laptops.
Using her own money to hire a Web designer and photographer, she began publishing daily on the website in 2012. Today, the site gets more than 60,000 unique viewers and 260,000 pageviews each month, a success by any standards.
In her ongoing quest for financing, Knapp has raised $23,000 from a crowdsourcing campaign on indiegogo.com, and she is seeking to hire an ad sales rep as her advertising revenue grows. This year, she expanded her mini-media empire, launching Planet Trenton, a nonprofit site that covers arts and community issues in the city, funded with a grant from Montclair State University.
Knapp, who arrived in Princeton 25 years ago to get a degree at the Princeton Theological Seminary (she has a master’s), became a journalist as a way to effect social change. Now, she wears two hats: investigative reporter and entrepreneur. She seems to relish both roles.
“I love it. I like being my own boss and working in the town I live in,” she says. “I like being creative and having a lot of flexibility.” Knapp has had to learn to think like a business owner as well as a reporter.
“I have to write the stories people want to read” on topics such as traffic and train delays, she notes. “Not just the stories I want to write.”
While the site has presented financial challenges, Knapp is driven by the belief that investigative news coverage matters to the life of a community.
“It’s definitely been a struggle, but you have the freedom to experiment,” she says. “The takeaway is, don’t be afraid to try something new. In order for innovation to take place, sometimes you have to fail. And if you fail, you adapt quickly, and (try) something else.” –Alicia Brooks-Waltman
JUDY HUTTON, Chief executive officer of Princeton YWCA.
In more than 30 years of running a non-profit organization, Judy Hutton has learned a lesson about being the boss that can be summed up in two words: thick skin.
“You want everyone to like you, but sometimes you make decisions that others don’t like,” says Hutton, the CEO of the YWCA of Princeton. “I’ve learned to get a thick skin, to be the voice of advocacy, someone who can say her opinion and not worry if people don’t agree.”
At the same time, Hutton, who has run the YW for a decade, says she seeks to “work from consensus” whenever she can, even though, as boss, she “has the bottom line,” as well as all the responsibility that goes with it.
It wasn’t always that way. When she started out with a degree in social work and a Master’s in Education from The College of New Jersey in 1983, she had other plans.
“My career goal had always been to work with kids and be a social worker,” she says. “Never in my wildest dream did I think I would be an administrator.” Soon after graduation, though, she was working as a program director at Anchor House in Trenton, which provides housing and programs for at-risk teens in transition. When the executive director there left, the board asked if she would take over, and she’s been “the boss” ever since.
Hutton held the Anchor House job for 23 years, and came to the YWCA in 2006. The organization serves 4000 people a year through programs such as the Breast Cancer Resource Center, a Bilingual Nursery School, and English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.
“I am most proud of expanding our programs,” says Hutton, “and we try to make sure money is not an obstacle that keeps anyone from taking part.”
Another lesson of leadership? Take care of yourself, and always have someone who has your back.
While at Anchor House Hutton went to Toms River to help a similar project, Harbor House, get off the ground. As she pulled into a zoning board meeting where she was set to present the project plans, she panicked at the sight of hundreds of unhappy citizens trooping into the meeting to voice their opposition.
“I called my mother on one of those giant mobile phones (from the 90s), and told her I was going to pull away and call the organizers and say I’d been in a car accident and couldn’t make it. She said, ‘Get in there, those kids need you!’
Her legs were like rubber, but Hutton managed to go into the hall. The end result: Harbor House got its zoning and still operates today. “Always have someone you can call in those week moments, “ advises Hutton. “Someone who will say to you ‘You got this!” –A. B-W.
MOLLIE MARCOUX, Athletic director and COURTNEY BANGHART, Women’s head basketball coach at Princeton University.
Mollie Marcoux was giving a press conference shortly after taking the job as Princeton University’s director of athletics, when a reporter asked what it was like being the first female director of athletics in university history. “I hadn’t really thought about that,” Marcoux says. “I just thought, is this a good opportunity for me? Rather than, is this a good opportunity for a woman?”
She never compares herself to those around her or those who came before her. She focuses on making the right choices for herself, her employees and the company.
Looking back, she says the choice to take the job as athletic director was the biggest risk of her career. Before Princeton, she worked for Chelsea Piers Management, where she was a VP for strategic planning and general manager for the company’s largest sports venue.
Marcoux was a student-athlete at Princeton University herself, playing varsity soccer and ice hockey before she graduated in 1991. When she got the offer to return and work for her alma mater, she knew it would ultimately be a great fit.
“I think sometimes some women don’t have enough confidence in themselves,” she said. “You can’t lead like you think you have to lead as a man. You have to lead as who you are.”
The Princeton women’s basketball team made history last season after it went 30-0 during the regular season, but head coach Courtney Banghart didn’t celebrate until the sound of the final buzzer. For Banghart, success comes from being in the moment.
“To have the focus to go undefeated like that, you have to go in the moment, otherwise it’s just too big,” she says.
Banghart has found great success during her eight years as head coach. She won the 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year award, and was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 greatest leaders.
Banghart enjoys seeing players surpass their own expectations. The team is back on campus getting ready for the upcoming season, and Banghart has seen them excel in workouts. “Does that mean we will definitely win our first game? No, but that means we won today, and if we win the day, success will follow.” –Laura Pollack