Women in Business

From hall-of-fame athletes to educators to big-time corporate execs, women continue to redefine leadership in business. Here are 35 Delaware all-stars.

Anabel Panayotti (left) and Gwen North
Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli


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Driving New Business

Who knew used cars are so valuable in other countries? Meet two women who saw the glass ceiling, then crashed right through it.

Anabel Panayotti and Gwen North peer through the window of their offices along the Delaware River in New Castle. Beyond them, the 24-acre lot of their company, Port to Port International, is jammed with about 3,000 used vehicles. An average of 560 of them are exported to Central America every week.

That kind of volume is the reason Entrepreneur magazine named Port to Port International one of the nation’s Hot 500 Companies of 2007. Of the 19 million companies that applied, only 95,000 (0.5 percent) met Entrepreneur’s criteria. And of those 500 businesses, only 12 percent are owned by women.

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Most of Port to Port International’s business involves the export of cars to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panayotti’s native Honduras from the Port of Wilmington via empty banana boats owned by Dole, Chiquita and others. But new businesses are on the way.

As vice president, North oversees human resources and marketing. As president, Panayotti heads operations. She started the company in 1998 after learning the shipping business as an employee of Dole.

“I didn’t feel I was moving up at Dole,” says Panayotti. “Opportunities for women weren’t available, and I’m very hungry.” So with $1,500, she set up shop in a small shack a mile from the Port of Wilmington. “The opportunity I saw was for cars and for convenience. If a customer wanted to ship a car, they’d have to stop in Philadelphia, come to Dole, clear customs, get a title, drain gas, prepare and protect cars for shipping, etc. What I did was create a one-stop shop.”

In its first year, Port to Port’s revenues hit $1 million. Panayotti then partnered with North, who organized the business, advertised its services and looked for markets to serve, mostly Latino. As business grew, about 40 bilingual staffers were hired, and Port to Port opened offices in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. By 2006, revenues reached $16.8 million a year, making Port to Port the fastest growing used-car export business in the state.

It recently bought a 30-acre brownfield to develop in Wilmington, and the company is preparing to spend thousands on technology it hopes will help it stay ahead of the three other Delaware businesses that export used cars. “But we strive for excellent service,” says Panayotti. “In this business, people say, ‘Go see Anabel. She’ll take better care of you and your car.’”

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Last year Port to Port created World Trade Development, a division that searches for new markets around the world and for commodities such as textiles and agricultural products. “Essentially,” says North, “our licensing allows us to handle the shipment of anything, anywhere in the world.”

Panayotti and North recently visited Cuba with other Delaware delegates in order to arrange trade with the country. “Over there, they have old 1950s cars,” says North. “They’re just sitting there like they were when the revolution occurred, and they haven’t changed.” Because those cars are highly collectible in the United States, and because Cubans needs the cars that Port to Port has to offer, the deal would be a win-win if and when widespread trade with Cuba is permitted.

But when it comes to success, the partners agree on Port to Port’s real tipping point. Says Panayotti, “It came when we created a team instead of a bunch of employees.”

Maria Antonelli
Ever heard the Delaware Lottery slogans? How about those catchy ads for Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and Dover International Speedway? Credit Maria Antonelli, managing partner at StarShipley. StarShipley is one of the nation’s Top 100 marketing-public relations agencies in large part due to Antonelli’s “leadership, her creativity and her ability to prove to the Delaware marketplace that our agency can get the job done for them,” says CEO Linda Rosanio. Since the Shipley and Star agencies merged in 2005, Antonelli integrated the creative staffs seamlessly, and she’s now tuning the regionally recognized internship program she created, which will attract about 100 candidates next year. It matters to her. She started at Star as an intern in 1991.

Goodwill counts Antonelli launched YourCauseCards.com so consumers could raise bonus money for charity.

On a roll Antonelli has doubled agency revenues through aggressive new account acquisitions.

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Monica Balderas-Gourley
When local Latino immigrants are ready for a mortgage, they consult Monica Balderas-Gourley, president of American Home Funding Mortgage and the first female Hispanic mortgage broker in Delaware. “This is a society of people who are used to a cash-based society and don’t necessarily trust banks,” Balderas-Gourley says, “My staff and I speak Spanish, which makes the process easier, then we focus on of helping clients build credit profiles.” Since starting the company in 1992, Balderas-Gourley has served more than 20,000 people of all ethnicities. And though the mortgage industry is in chaos, Balderas-Gourley smartly found a niche that rains referrals when other companies dry up. And she stays in touch with clients after selling off loans, often counselling them free of charge.

Clinching a bigger deal will involve chatting up bigger lenders. “I want to become a resource for them, so we can work collectively to make loans for all people happen.”

Why pro-bono works “When you help people who have less than you, you will be a better person—and a better business person. The rewards are long term.”

Juanita Beauford
Each year, the Delaware Small Business Development Center names an exemplary staffer who impacts the industry. This year, the State Star Performer is Juanita Beauford. As director of DSBDC’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center, she helps businesses win government contracts, mainly with the Department of Defense, by interpreting government jargon and tedious manuals that, she says, “literally change daily.” Not only does she counsel clients, she helps them make the bids. “Small business is where economic development has its greatest impact,” says Beauford. She clearly understands her work. “There were a lot of barriers when I was a small business owner. Now that I’m on the other side, I have the opportunity to look at it from the government perspective.”

Accomplishments Beauford has re-made the annual DSBDC procurement expo from an event where federal agencies display their wares into an educational event for business owners who want government contracts.

Her challenge “Making owners understand that doing business with the federal government is not overnight. They have to earn the contracts.”

Jayla Boire

When CNN approached self-described “marketing cheerleader” Jayla Boire to produce a piece for “Fit Nation,” Boire successfully nabbed airtime for clients of her company, The Right Idea. “What I can actually take credit for is positioning The Fun Department and ING Direct in such a way that CNN said, ‘Yes, you fit what we’re looking for.’” Boire is one of only two full-timers at The Right Idea, where less is more for the 10-year-old company. Boire does strategic planning with business leaders and serves as ad-hoc marketing director for companies that can’t afford one. “The value-add for them is I come in, I get things rolling and I stay on board until things are moving along.”

Title change Boire prefers to be called “marketing maven.”

Check the books “While companies are quick to reduce marketing budgets or increase business development budgets, the communication breakdown between the two costs money­—and can cost people their jobs.”

Elaine Brenchley

The next time you stroll across The Green in Dover and explore First State Heritage Park, thank Elaine Brenchley. As project director, Brenchley secured partnerships between Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, city and county governments, nonprofits and the private sector to create what is referred to as Delaware’s first urban “park without boundaries.” “My real role is to develop the big picture out of the many individual contributions from the table, then strategize the implementation of that big picture,” she says. When Brenchley was nominated for the 2007 Governor’s Travel and Tourism Person of the Year, State Division of Parks and Recreation director Charles Salkin endorsed her. “Elaine’s dedication, passion and drive are making the park known and bringing visitors to Dover,” he says.

What gets her juiced It’s not the recognition. It’s the challenge. “Tell me something is impossible, then I’ll be interested.”

Plan for 2008 Restoring the 18th-century John Bell House on The Green, soon to be an interpretive center.

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Carolyn Smithson Burger
Carolyn Smithson Burger may chair the corporate governance committee at Wilmington Trust, but she’s most recognized for her personal commitment to empowering women. As the first female CEO in Bell Atlantic—and the only woman to have served as CEO of Bell Atlantic Delaware—Burger, now retired, saw the company through new regulations during a time of dramatic change in the telecommunications industry. She has served on several boards and was inducted into the Delaware Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 1998.

Still swingin’ Burger helped found the Fund for Women, a $2.5 million endowment at the Delaware Community Foundation, in 1994, and remains active in its governance. She also stays involved with the 15-year-old Swingin’ With a Star, Delaware’s most prestigious and profitable amateur women’s golf event, which benefits girls and women in Delaware—also her baby.

Stacey Burr

CEO Stacey Burr’s Textronics is the result of Burr’s two passions, electronics and textiles­. And if it were up to her, sports bras would do more than give support. Hence the NuMetrex sports bra. Invented by Burr and her team, the NuMetrex conceals tiny sensors that reveal physiologic data such as heart rate, which can be converted to breathing rates and calorie expenditures. Ditto for Textronics’ cardio shirt for men and a racing tank for women. Though athletes are Burr’s largest market, anyone can benefit from the information the garments provide. “My goal in life is to see my mom, my friends—everyone I care about—use our products to live better, longer,” Burr says. They look good, too. Burr has secured online distribution through Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, and she hopes to nab a spot at Christiana Mall next year.

Celebrity gossip A certain stud athlete may be sporting a souped-up Textronics men’s cardio shirt in ’08. Top-secret negotiations are under way.

Skivvies scheme Textronics Heart Smart Apparel hits the shelves next year. Burr will only hint. “It’s not the bra, but it’s something you wear all day long.”

Carole Chrisman
Carole Chrisman is co-leading efforts on Capitol Hill to pass the Medicare Long-Term Patient Safety and Improvement Act, which could allow everyone access to long-term care hospital services like those offered at her 35-bed, acute-care Select Special Hospital in Wilmington. As CEO of Select, Chrisman develops referrals while overseeing a staff of 100 and ensuring that Select remains in good standing with state and federal regulators. That’s not as routine as it may sound; the government creates new guidelines for long-term care hospitals every six months. Chrisman, a registered nurse, sees beyond paperwork and bureaucracy, so unlike CEOs of larger hospitals, she prefers to spend more time bedside, largely because “we see miracles happen every day here.”

Her motivation is an expression written by leadership guru David Cottrell that’s nailed to her office door: “Integrity is never being afraid of your reflection.”

A nurse first “I became a nurse in the day when there were no signing bonuses. It was physically and emotionally exhausting, and very rewarding. I’m still in health care for the same reason.”

Rosa Colon
Dr. Rosa Colon, the vice president of System Learning at Christiana Care, is trying to limit nightmare scenarios for hospital patients. How? By keeping the many subsystems of the company—administration, operations, caregiving and others—working in harmony, thus making 11,000 employees happier. Colon is responsible for planning, organizing, and directing Christiana Care’s learning and professional development. She’s been there before, having written a book on system learning for Columbia University and guiding companies like pharma giant Bristol Myers Squibb through a restructuring.

On nurses Colon tackles the huge shortage by offering ways for nurses to climb the ladder and earn salary increases.

Mammoth challenge Reinventing healthcare at Christiana Care.

Jennifer “JJ” Davis
As director of the State Office of Management and Budget, Jennifer Davis creates and executes Delaware’s annual financial plan. The position often puts her in the middle of debates among members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and various parties who are competing for state funds. “With the help of an exceptional staff, I try to be diplomatic in the face of, well, differing viewpoints,” she says. Davis manages more than tax dollars. She also has much to do with state assets such as personnel. Having helped to save Delaware about $500,000 through a wellness program called Health Rewards, her latest focuses are reducing the cost of healthcare and fine tuning her successful prescription-generic drug program for state employees. “I’m a civil servant,” she says. “I have to do the right thing.”

Starting young Davis has been a great debater since age 7, when she and her father conflicted over articles in The Wall Street Journal.

For the next 12 months “I will help build my governor’s legacy, with an emphasis on full-day kindergarten and cancer research and treatment.” Minner has spent $50 million on cancer issues so far. Davis will recommend another $10 million to $14 million.

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Patricia Evans
Wilmington Trust vice president Patricia Evans is the only Delaware trustee on the prestigious Asset Securitization Forum, a trade group that provides a voice for all participants in the international securitization industry. From the time Evans joined the Wilmington Trust sales team in 2000 until she was named a vice president in 2005, she generated more than $15 million in revenue for the bank. Since becoming vice president, she has generated another $7.5 million. Attribute the success to Evans’ great bedside manner. Her job is to bring in clients, and she’s traveled the world to do it. The bank recognized Evans as Super Achiever in 2005, and she speaks at home and abroad about asset-backed securitizations.

Trend central “Not only do I know the company’s mission and what’s going on in the market, I have to report it to my clients before The Wall Street Journal does,” she says.

Words of wisdom “No success is single-minded. The team is critical.”

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Carol Everhart
As CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, Carol Everhart is one of Delaware’s leading tourism experts. As an administrator, Everhart is overseeing improvement of local transit, starting a health insurance program for chamber members, and creating the Destination Station visitor’s center and transportation hub. Since taking the lead in 2000 (she joined as coordinator in 1989), Everhart and staff grew the chamber from 190 members to 1,228 and increased the budget from $180,000 to $900,000 a year. “For the past three to five years, there has been more frequent extended weekend stays (at the beach),” she says. “We aren’t 52 weeks a year, but barring a bad weather event, we are 52 weekends a year.”

What’s ahead for 2008 Installing a model railroad in the visitors center.

Staying steady “Visitation (to the beaches) has remained a constant 6 million plus for the past three to five years.”

Nancy Hawkins-Rigg

In order to find better ways of improving fitness, Nancy Hawkins-Rigg travels the world. She then applies what she learns at her Forever Fit Foundation operations in Sussex and Kent counties and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, teaching strength and conditioning programs such as Yamuna body rolling, Gyrotonics and Gyrokinesis. “I am one of the few individuals in the world that has all of these qualifications,” Hawkins-Rigg says. “The personal training and Pilates industry has absolutely no regulations or recognized governing body, which means anyone can call themselves an instructor-trainer.” Hawkins-Rigg also works with stroke victims, those who suffer brain injuries and people with multiple sclerosis. “We go way beyond losing weight.”

Sweat it out By April, Hawkins-Rigg will be certified to teach teachers how to determine if a client can tolerate the forces that exercise creates on the body.

Her mantra Exercise must fit the person. The person doesn’t have to fit the program.

Roxanne Higgins
Independent School Management in Wilmington, a 58-person firm that advises private and independent schools on how to run more efficiently, is a major player in education—and the only company of its kind in the world. Its president, Roxanne Higgins, sealed that international reputation. Since Higgins became president in 1990, the number of educational workshops for school administrators has more than doubled and on-site consulting has increased nearly 50 percent. At ISM’s annual Summer Institute conference of educators from around the globe in Wilmington, Higgins is one of the most-sought instructors. And ISM’s two acclaimed publications, Ideas & Perspectives and To The Point, now reach 11,000 subscribers. Her father, Rod Snelling, former head of The Tatnall School, founded ISM in 1975. “He always challenged me to do something more,” she says.

Why she does it “Because we are making a difference. Private-independent schools serve about 6 percent of the elementary-secondary student population in the United States. They also represent choice in education. We want those organizations to succeed.”

Why she wants to do more of it More than one private-independent school has been started in the United States each day of the past 10 years. “Our goal is to reach as many of those schools as possible.”

Patti Key
Patti Key is the only woman executive in the Delaware racino industry and one of only a few female casino execs in the country. As CEO of Harrington Raceway, she manages all day-to-day operations, including racing and gaming, which generate annual gross revenues of $130 million. Next month she’ll unveil the result of Harrington’s $40 million expansion, which she oversaw. The expansion will create 60,000 square-feet of gaming floor for 2,000 games and upscale restaurants. “The reason for the expansion is to be proactive rather than reactive,” she says. Competition is expected from Maryland when casino legislation passes there. “It’s not a question of if,” Key says, “but when.”

Ahead for 2008 The challenges of managing a bigger facility, which includes more maintenance staff training.

Networking Key interfaces regularly with counterparts at Delaware Park (Bill Fasy) and Dover Downs (Ed Sutor).

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Lili Kohr
Over the past two years, fashionista Lili Kohr has opened five Tiger Lili stores of designer apparel and accessories for women. And she’s planning even more—one per quarter, in fact. Tiger Lili started from Kohr’s “addiction” to selling purses via eBay as Bella Bags. When her husband found a storefront in an alley in Rehoboth Beach, Kohr marketed the boutique in a big way: by hiring steel drum players, among other things. Neighbors complained, but customers came. “You have to develop a clientele, especially in the clothing industry,” says Kohr. “By the time we hit the malls, we already had the customers.”

She was bruised when she opened a shop at the Christiana Mall last year, only to be replaced by a national chain five months later. Within two weeks, Kohr re-opened in Concord Mall.

Hip for 2008 Whatever JLo and Charlize Theron think is hip, including purples and furs. “I love what celebs wear. Their duds will be on our racks.”

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Kathleen Kriss
Driving in downtown Dover will soon be much easier thanks to the efforts of people like Kathleen Kriss, vice president of Kriss Contracting. Her company specializes in lighting highways, streets and parking lots, as well as updating and maintaining traffic signals, poles and other devices. “Our type of work requires us to trench in conduit (metal pipes that house electrical wiring), drill large pole bases, pour concrete, set poles and install lights and traffic signals,” says Kriss. Next year’s Dover signalization project, managed by Kriss Contracting, will replace aging signals and reduce traffic jams. (Kriss’ work will be especially noticeable during NASCAR weekends.) Kriss will rehab Wilmington’s Augustine Cut-Off and the Del. 141-Kirkwood Highway interchange. “Once we finish,” she says, “people will clearly be able to see and experience the improvements.” Her mentor and mother, Veronica Kriss, owns the company.

Biggest client the State of Delaware

In 2008 Downtown Dover will get new signals, 18 re-built intersections, new pavements, sidewalks and curbs, and new underground infrastructure.

Pam Marecki
As assistant vice president for marketing and communications, Pam Marecki came up with the Bayhealth Medical Center slogan “We are honored,” which was recognized by J.D. Power and Associates this year. Naturally. Marecki, who supervises all advertising campaigns, is known for coming up with great ideas at unusual times, like 3 a.m. A former journalist, Marecki created Bayhealth’s physician liaison program, which allows staff to call on doctors to improve communications. She will also be the spokesperson for Bayhealth during Phase II of Kent General Hospital’s expansion, slated to break ground this month.

Cost cutting Most companies contract graphic designers, but due to Marecki, Bayhealth keeps its creative team in-house. “It gives us a lot more flexibility, it’s cost efficient, and working here means you truly understand the message.”

On her toes “Healthcare changes all the time. That means there are always new services to promote.”

Jeanne Mell
As senior vice president of communications, Jeanne Mell is the voice of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, executing its publicity campaigns and feeding information to its 2,800 members. Under her leadership, unique visits to the organization’s website swelled from 3,000 to 23,000 per month. For serving as point person for Advocates of Hope, the chamber’s cancer awareness program, Mell accepted the 2006 Award of Excellence from American Chamber of Commerce Executives. During the next several months, she’ll oversee development of and serve as “behind-the scenes editor” for the chamber’s new Legislative Insider blog.

Kudos Mell is credited for organizing and marketing the chamber’s wildly successful annual dinners.

A new pen in hand Mell is also the chamber’s writer of speeches and op-ed columns. When new chairman Richard Struthers replaces Alan Levin next month, expect style changes.

Carla Messinger
Carla Messinger offers a reminder: “The founding of America is based on Native American principles.” As director of Native American Heritage Programs, a company she founded in 2002, Messinger shares the local Lenape culture and explains the role of Native Americans in Delaware and beyond. Her work has become more important than ever since state education departments have been mandated to meet diversity requirements. In 2008 Messinger will visit more Delaware schools and bolster her already impressive interactive exhibits.

It’s simple, really “We believe becoming aware of your neighbors’ cultures, religions and world views means you can communicate better with them, discover a common ground. That leads to better work and living environments.”

Embarrassing but true “While native women are equals in our culture, they are minorities in corporate America.”

Laura Novak
Laura Novak is doing something no other Delaware shutterbug has dared: conducting business via a boutique storefront in Wilmington, similar to studios in larger cities. Her real talent? Non-traditional wedding photography, exquisite children’s portraiture, intimate family shots and an exceptional professional manner. “We are the antithesis of a mall s

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