Exceptional Businesswomen beacons of inspiration

by Tad Johnson
Thisweek Newspapers and the Dakota County Tribune

The Jan. 9 edition of the Dakota County Tribune Business Weekly carried profiles of the 11 Dakota County Exceptional Businesswomen for 2012.

The special edition was a preview to this newspaper and the Dakota County Technical College Foundation’s event-recognition breakfast Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Best Western Premier Nicollet Inn, where Fairview Ridges Hospital President Beth Krehbiel will be the featured speaker.

After reading the stories posted on Feb. 9 to the Dakota County Tribune section of ThisweekLive.com, one should walk away inspired, ready to take on the next business challenge.

Inspiration is easy to find among this class, which includes three company founders, three owner/entrepreneurs and five who hold top-level positions with some of the largest companies in Dakota County.

I had the opportunity to conduct brief interviews with each of the women, and, as managing editor, I’ve read all of their stories.

Talking to and reading about them had me constantly evaluating my own goals, priorities and vision for my own work.

The wonderful aspect about this project is that it affords us, as reporters, and you, as readers, a chance to meet these amazing, hard-working and accomplished women whom otherwise we might have never profiled.

Michele Engdahl, manager of government and community affairs for Thomson Reuters, put it best when she said the common thread that binds these winners together is their ability to articulate their business message into the community as ambassadors who give back to support other local efforts.

That’s seen in winners like Peggy Johnson and Sheila Longie, whose volunteer efforts in the community are too numerous to list here.

Johnson’s been tied in some way to nearly every chamber of commerce in Dakota County, and Longie lights up when talking about her work with the Taste of Lakeville, which is a great community birthday party that she says connects people like a family.

For those looking for a confirmation that hard work achieves major success, look no further than the different paths of Theresa Wise and Jamie Dahlen.

Dahlen talks about the long nights and early mornings it took to turn the Best Western Premier Nicollet Inn into the sparkling jewel it has become in Burnsville – the site of this year’s awards breakfast.

Wise, senior vice president and chief information officer at Delta, also talks about the days and nights needed to merge the millions of information technology records of Northwest and Delta Air Lines by creating thousands of subprojects with IT workers in Eagan. It’s a mind-boggling effort that she says was made seamless to customers by the work ethic of their team.

Carrie Guarrero knows the value in breaking lofty goals into small tasks as a life coach, in addition to being the senior vice president and regional manager for Cornerstone Mortgage Company. She says she couldn’t imagine juggling her work and family demands (she has seven children) without the accountability of a life coach.

Connie Braziel says she likes to stay behind the scenes at the Minnesota Zoo, which is an easy thing to do since the animals steal the show.

But she’s in charge of daily operations for  a zoo that has shattered attendance records in recent years while undertaking ambitious projects to inject new life into Dakota County’s most popular attraction.

Terri Shepherd, founder and CEO Xact Resources Inc., shows that keeping one eye on the business and the other on the outside world can result in finding new niches and even a second company. Shepherd’s firm is experiencing rapid growth because she was not statisfied with standing still and instead looking for the next opportunity.

Chris Holtan of Lancet Software Development Inc. proves that humor in the workplace can have some serious positive impact.

From the outset, Lancet’s founders made fun an equal partner with hard work as they dubbed themselves the company’s “flounders” to communicate their effort of “floundering around” to try anything to see what works.

Holtan also talked about the company’s “Wall of Greatness” where profound (and not-so-profound) quotes are pasted up for all to “admire.”

Sona Mehring’s story is pure inspiration for those who think they have a great idea.

She says her CaringBridge idea, which was born from a friend’s crisis, was the first social network. She says she couldn’t have imagined the nonprofit would become what it is today – a hug for the world that is used by millions across the planet.

While many women have encountered challenges in the workplace because of their gender, Sunny Bhakta, owner of Comfort Inn-Lakeville, has overcome dual discrimination.

I was disappointed to learn that, as owner of her first hotel in Owatonna,  she faced racism in the form of insults and rejected business because she happened to come from another part of the world.

She said she also faced gender discrimination from the outset in Lakeville as employees resigned because they wouldn’t work for a woman.

That goes to show that we still have a long way to go to overcome ignorance.

These are just a few of the lessons our winners have taught me.

They are very deserving of these awards, and it seems a small measure of gratitude for all they have given back to the community.

Tad Johnson is at [email protected]