Women in Business

At the little law firm that handled the biggest banking merger in Delaware and the global corporations that are so central to t

If the adage “behind every successful man is a woman” is true, then Kim Adams, vice president of Mountain Consulting Group, is its living embodiment. Adams and her husband, Troy, an engineer, have transformed Mountain Consulting Group from what started in 2003 as a sideline surveying firm into what is becoming a full-service engineering consultancy. The transformation of MCG has taken place while Troy works full-time and Kim takes care of day-to-day operations such as writing contracts, drafting proposals and dealing with clients. It’s a far cry from the business’s infancy when Troy conducted small surveys on weekends. “It started to grow and then it became my baby more than his,” Kim says. “I had worked in business and management before, so I’m used to it. Engineers are not business people—it just doesn’t work. That’s why we like to keep it separate.” Plans are for Troy to go full time with MCG by 2008. In the meantime Kim works to build client relationships. She has also worked to expand the company’s certifications, which include those from DelDOT, the Women’s Business Enterprise Institute, the City of Wilmington and the Delaware Office of Women and Minority Business. But don’t expect much expansion in the interim, because Kim says staying small helps more than it hurts. “It’s still kind of personal with clients, which is key because they still feel comfortable with us.”

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Carol Arnott’s 30th birthday proved to be a crucial turning point in her career. At the time, she was a recently divorced mom and the idea of continuing her career in retail management had become unbearable. She started working for an insurance company and later joined Wilmington Trust. Looking for a way to stand out in “the financial crowd,” Arnott became a divorce planning specialist. Now affiliated with Greenville Financial Group, Arnott runs her own practice and advises individuals about the inevitable financial changes that come with a divorce. Most of her clients are women, and Arnott constantly encounters wives that have had little to do with the finances in their household. “It’s the first mistake I usually encounter,” Arnott says. “I make it a point to educate and empower clients that are unaware of the financial options they have when going through divorce.” Arnott is pleased with the direction her career has taken, and it makes her most happy to see her clients take charge and make independent decisions, financial and otherwise, as they work their way through a divorce.

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The roots for Synchrogenix began growing two decades ago when Ellen Barrosse was a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Delaware. When she realized that she wanted to be a scientific writer, she set aside her studies to begin her business. Synchrogenix currently employs 35 people with various backgrounds ranging in science and medicine to the arts. While Synchrogenix offers services in marketing, brand development and management, and public relations, most of its business revolves around assisting scientists in medical research with their technical reports for organizations like the FDA. “Scientists are busy,” says Barrosse. “Since they don’t have the time to write, we can do a write-up in one day that may take a scientist one week to finish. We end up saving a lot of people time and money.” Barrosse says her business has always offered part-time work opportunities for professionals. This option has helped professional women who are trying to juggle family and work responsibilities. Synchrogenix has a lengthy list of long-term clients, including the American Red Cross, AstraZeneca, DuPont and Cephalon. Barrosse hopes to open offices in England within a few years.

After working in the IT industry for companies like Oracle, Teresa Cason switched her career to real estate and hasn’t looked back. During her first four years in the business, Cason successfully accumulated sales of between $8-10 million per year. In response to her growing business, Cason has added people to her team at T.C.’s Team of Realty Executives—Bay Coast. However, agents on T.C’s Team have additional work—Cason and her team members are big on community service. Cason gives 25 to 30 hours per week to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and its Computer Tots program. Others donate time to Meals on Wheels and the Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary. “I would like future team members to be involved in community service,” says Cason. “As long as their heart is in whatever they choose.” When she’s at work, Cason concentrates on commercial sales and land development, while her team members handle residential sales. “We’re always helping each other out,” she says. “I strive to be a participatory manager, not a dictator.” Cason is intent on growing her business, but she’s “keeping it small on purpose for now.”

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Growing up in India, Uma Chowdhry knew that accessing the best education would involve relocating to the United States. After finishing her undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Science, she studied at Caltech and MIT before arriving at DuPont as a research scientist. Because of Chowdhry’s knowledge of electronics and ceramics, DuPont asked her to lead its research in ceramic superconducting materials. Her work earned her an appointment as Fellow in the American Ceramic Society. Chowdhry has held numerous positions at DuPont in both research and business management capacities. She became a senior vice president and DuPont’s Chief Science and Technology Officer in June 2006. Her responsibilities include overseeing DuPont’s Experimental Station facilities in Wilmington as well as research in the company’s global facilities. Although she no longer regularly works in DuPont’s labs, Chowdhry’s past lab experience allows her to lead both scientists and business people. “I have to act as a bridge between the two groups,” she says. “I walk the fence between science and business, and I have to translate the needs of one group into the needs of the other.” Current DuPont projects include new technology for LCDs and a new gas additive that is “better than ethanol.” On her toughest days, Chowdhry seeks out her fellow scientists. “To be a scientist, you must be an optimist,” she says. “Talking with scientists always makes me happy.”

Carpenters build houses. Developers build neighborhoods. Betsy Z. Cohen builds banks. Her latest construction project, The Bancorp, Inc., is a virtual business, joining the growing ranks of Internet-only banks. It is tailored specifically to act as a behind-the-scenes player for non-bank companies, affinity groups and organizations that want to electronically offer their own “private label” bank services. The Bancorp, Inc. project is the continuation of a long career of launching and running businesses that began with a commercial law firm she founded and ran as senior partner from 1969 to 1984. Since then, she’s created and run several “brick and mortar” banks before forming The Bancorp, Inc. in 2000. She is also the chairman and CEO of RAIT Investment Trust, a $12 billion real estate trust that trades on the New York Stock Exchange. “One could say that I have had no position other than CEO in every business I’ve ever had,” she says. Originally a professor of law who focused on the intersection between law and finance, she was compelled to create her commercial law firm because “there wasn’t enough action” in academia. “I found it more creative,” she says of starting and running businesses. “It was a matter of having an idea and pursuing it. My major thrust is finding inefficiencies or holes in the market and trying to fill them.”

Growing up, Pat Creedon schemed and dreamed of starting a business with her father. At the time, her father managed construction projects for DuPont. “Naturally, our business ideas always revolved around construction—women’s boutiques never entered the picture,” says Creedon. After working for DuPont and American Life Insurance Company, Creedon took time off to be a full-time “home engineer” for her children. Eventually, she was able to start her construction-related business, Creedon Controls, out of her basement. “It was a good working environment, and I eventually learned to only worry about the major things going on with the kids and the business.” As laundry, dishes, and homework stacked up, Creedon put together her strong and reliable business team. She became the first woman to serve as president of the Allied Division of the Delaware Contractors Association. In 1997, she was named the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year, and the Business Ledger named her as Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year in 2002. Seventeen years after starting Creedon Controls, Creedon notes that fewer people raise eyebrows at a woman running her own electrical contracting business. “Due to stereotypes, I spent a lot more time explaining myself in the earlier years than I do now,” she says. “After 17 years, my hide is tougher.”

Since opening their own Keller Williams real estate franchise in March 2000, Dee Hake DeMolen and Doreen Lucas have watched their professional lives change significantly. The two met early in their careers while working at the same real estate office. Eventually, they came to the same conclusion: There was no room to grow in their company. After being denied their own satellite office, DeMolen and Lucas set out to do real estate their way. After opening their franchise in 2000, opportunities for growth were plenty. “We were working so much that we didn’t have a life,” says Lucas. “I probably worked 60 to 65 hours a week, every night, and weekend.” Gradually acquiring their current team of real estate agents has further increased business, rather than allowed things to slow down. Their team, originally consisting of eight people, has expanded to 100. DeMolen considers that growth one of their greatest accomplishments. “Out of the approximately 570 Realtors working in Kent County, 100 of them work for us,” she says. DeMolen and Lucas are most excited about opening their new beach office. Says, DeMolen, “Keller Williams is a completely different concept to real estate, and we’re excited to bring it to this area.”

Judy Diogo firmly believes that the future of Delaware lies not in the huge industries of New Castle County or among the farms and resorts of Sussex County, but squarely in the heart of the state. Knowing that she’s helping to shape that future is part of what makes her work as executive director of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce so rewarding. “We are actually sitting in the driver’s seat. We can really shape what Kent County will look like in five, 10 or 15 years,” she says. “It certainly comes with its challenges, but it’s also that the opportunities are in abundance.” In pursuing chamber work, first with the Milford Chamber of Commerce for 10 years, then in her current spot for the last two years, Diogo says she’s been repeatedly impressed by the diversity of businesses in Kent County as well as the willingness of county residents to work toward a better future. “I’ve been given the opportunity to work with fabulous people who have skills and vision, people who want to see this county be everything it can be, and they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get in there,” she says. “Having the opportunity to be part of that and work with those people is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Though Linda Drake had originally planned on becoming a teacher, a job opportunity with Ohio’s state legislature gave her a push toward business. Drake went to work for a healthcare company and noticed a need for better customer service and accessibility. “Being an entrepreneur is about seeing opportunity,” she says. As plans for her own business took shape in 1988, Drake spent an entire summer and fall putting together business plans to take to the bank. Eighteen years later, TCIM Services offers its clients assistance in customer sales and care, order provisioning, third party verification and customer surveys. Additionally TCIM offers multilingual support depending on clients’ needs. Drake’s company has also received ISO 9000 certification, a recognition reflective of TCIM’s “commitment to maintaining the highest level of quality and consistency in product services, management and overall capability.” Drake is involved with Wilmington Women in Business, which she founded in 1980 for local business women who had no consistent opportunity to meet. Wilmington Women in Business continues to sponsor the Fresh Start Scholarship, which is awarded to high school graduates reapplying for higher education.

After raising her children and establishing a career in academia, Cathy Ferguson, Ed.D., decided to make some changes and “venture into the business world.” She came to Girls Incorporated of Delaware in January after handling leadership roles in the Disney GOALS program, the Red Cross and the American Youth Soccer Organization. Ferguson’s first task at Girls Inc. involved reassessing the available program options. Although many new ideas are still works in progress, Ferguson is most excited about a combined sports and economic literacy program. In between athletic games, girls ages 9 to 11 learn about how bank accounts work and the many ways a person can invest money. Girls can work their way through various levels of this program and eventually tackle more challenging financial concepts, such as the stock market. Ferguson’s business philosophy overlaps with her life philosophy. “You always need three things,” she says. “A plan, great people surrounding you and commitment to hard work.”

Katina Geralis was involved in the home fitness industry for three years before opening her own business, Leisure Fitness, Inc. She spent the first four months working out of her garage, receiving everything from treadmills to free weights in her home before their delivery to customers. Business has grown to include multiple retail locations in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. Leisure Fitness has its own in-house service, marketing and delivery teams. Geralis has proudly cultivated her own corporate culture over the past 11 years. “When I used to work for other people in this industry, I quickly learned how I did not want to run my business,” she says. As a result, Geralis has made the happiness of her employees one of her highest priorities. She strives to fit people into the jobs that best match their talents. Even after 11 years, Geralis is shocked at how quickly her business changes from day to day. “I’m always saying that we’re a different company every six months.” Within the next year, Leisure Fitness plans to add hot tubs to its regular selection of products, as well as open new retail locations in Maryland and New Jersey.

Delaware and its Court of Chancery are legend in the world of corporate law and governance. What is less legendary is the legion of companies that help businesses from all over the globe take advantage of Delaware’s corporate-friendly environment. As executive vice president of Delaware Corporate Agents, Inc., Jane Goldberg serves as a one-woman clearinghouse for companies that want to incorporate in Delaware, whether they’re from across state lines or across the globe. The business began after she had already worked for 14 years as a paralegal and her husband, a lawyer, moved to a firm that maintained a registration agency. Both saw the potential in the World Wide Web and figured Jane could easily run the business using the Internet as a platform. “And that’s what’s been going on since June 1999,” she says. “I came in through the back door of doing my husband a favor. Now this is my life.” The company’s advantage over many others, she says, is that it offers only the registration services, not legal advice. “We’re dealing with the small guys. We’re not trying to sell them something they don’t need,” she says. “We do the same things as many of the larger companies, but we’re lean and mean.”

Economics came naturally to Joan Sharp-Gupta as an undergraduate student. After graduation, she worked in marketing for companies like Burger King, M&M Mars and Frito-Lay. Eventually Sharp-Gupta became interested in working as a financial advisor and Wilmington Trust provided her the opportunity to work with branch customers while pursuing her financial planner certification. While learning the ropes of financial planning, Sharp-Gupta became more certain that she wanted to go into business for herself. Life Strategies, LLC became a reality in the summer of 2003. “My business is holistic,” says Sharp-Gupta. “I look at every aspect of a client’s financial picture, from home insurance to health benefits.” Sharp-Gupta is determined to educate her clients in every type of personal financial matter and she thoroughly researches the investment options facing each client. Sharp-Gupta’s knowledge and know-how gives her clients a new feeling of financial empowerment and security.

When it dawned on Camille Ingram that she had no desire to work a typical corporate job, she walked away from her graduate studies in legal justice at Widener University. Ingram opened Studio 11, her own boutique, “to offer women another option” in their hunt for the best attire. Studio 11 moved from its original location on West Street earlier this year, but its new spot on Delaware Avenue continues to offer the best of West Coast fashion and favorites like Rock and Republic jeans. “I leave myself open to suggestions from customers, and I don’t target specific trends or designs,” she says. Ingram flies to Los Angeles three or four times a year to find the laid-back fashions that she favors over East Coast styles. In addition to offering handbags by Philadelphia designer Holly Aemes, Studio 11 has jewelry by Delaware designer Olga Ganoudis. “I love that women will call or email me to tell me how much they enjoy wearing what they have bought,” says Ingram. Celebrating its two-year anniversary this month, Studio 11 has already secured its place as a favorite shopping destination for local women.

Melissa Joseph, founder and president of Delmarva Temporary Staffing, Inc., likes to say that nearly 25 years after she turned to a placement agency after her career in broadcasting abruptly ended, the agency still hasn’t found her a job. A bad batch of hairspray was the culprit in halting her reporting aspirations just one year after she graduated from college. The hair spray caused respiratory problems that continue to affect Joseph. She arrived at the placement agency seeking work in public relations, but no such jobs were to be found. Instead the placement agency hired her to help them fill executive positions—a job in which she billed more than $1 million in salaries. After seeing that many other companies had begun to use temporary workers to fill vacancies, she decided to borrow $10,000 and start a temp agency of her own. Today, Delmarva Temporary Sta

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