Welcome to the New Hampshire Business Review’s
inaugural special section honoring six Outstanding Women in Business.
Inside this section, we profile each of this year’s winners - six remarkable women whose achievements in the workplace and the community have made them exemplary role models, not only for future generations of women but all of us.
Choosing the winners was not an easy task, especially with the dozens of truly qualified nominations we received. But despite the size of the job, going through the nomination letters and supporting information was an education about the size and scope of the impressive contributions women make throughout New Hampshire’s business community and beyond. The women we honor on these pages reflect the diversity of industries in which women not only have an impact but are leading the way.
New Hampshire Business Review would like to thank Laconia Savings Bank in sponsoring this first of what will be an annual event - an event with a mission to honor the hard-working and inspiring women of New Hampshire’s business community.
Shelagh Connelly - Resource Management Inc.
Growing up in the Lakes Region, Shelagh Connelly knew the importance of New Hampshire’s natural resources and an integrated approach to environmental management. After working for a number of years as a soil sampler for a wood ash recycling program, she eventually became president of Resource Management Inc., with recycling programs throughout New England and New York. Today the company is the third-largest employer in Holderness, and many of the firm’s key management positions are also held by women. She also has been on the cutting edge of turning organic by-products into fertilizer and marketing it for use by consumers in the formation of Heart & Soil brand fertilizer products, a division of RMI that has reclaimed over 100,000 wet tons of organic waste.
Q.What made you decide to go into the work you’re doing?A. I took a summer job after college as a soil sampler, intending on saving up some money to travel, but I ended up having knee surgery and couldn’t go. I found I really liked the recycling industry. I stayed with the company and become more involved and worked my way up. It certainly wasn’t anything I had heard of or planned on.
Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge as a woman on the road to achieving your success?A. The residuals recycling industry is predominately male. I think my biggest challenge was just being able work in these circles and be respected and have what I say taken seriously. The industry is changing now. I would go to conferences 15 years ago, and there would only be four or five women in the room. Now, I would say the room is 40 percent women.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts? A. Absolutely. In my first senior position, I was paid $4,000 less than a man with the same position, same job title, same job responsibilities, just because I was a woman.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. Trusting our bookkeeper implicitly. This employee was stealing from us. It was a sad and painful process because this company is built on relationship of trust. Luckily, it only involved about $2,000, but it taught me an important lesson to do internal auditing on all systems.
Q. Who has been most instrumental in your success and why? A. Tom Rumpf, my boss at a former company. I learned a tremendous amount from him. He was in the right place at the right time for me to grow professionally. I use his tenets daily.
Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?A. Document your successes and your failures. Track your growth and development. Lobby for yourself, and have the record to demonstrate that.
Catherine Hamblett - Litchfield School District
Catherine Hamblett has held just about every position one can hold in education, from teaching middle-schoolers to being a principal, an adjunct instructor at New Hampshire Vocational Technical College, an assistant superintendent in the Manchester School District. She even worked in Botswana as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years, where she served as assistant to the education officer for English in the Ministry of Education.
Through her leadership in her current role as superintendent of the Litchfield School District, graduation rates now top 95 percent. She has instituted a number of programs that are as innovative as they are effective. She helped to develop a mentoring program pairing students with senior citizens. She even initiated a survey asking new high school graduates what they thought might make the educational experience in Litchfield better.
Q. What made you decide to go into the work you’re doing?A. When I was in high school, there weren’t a lot of career exploration programs in school. We didn’t have what students have today. Teaching was a traditional role for women, so I likely entered it in that way.
Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge as a woman on the road to achieving your success? A. I’ve had some individuals share with me that they’ve never worked for a woman before. But I was fortunate that, even though I entered a field traditionally held by women and didn’t have a wide knowledge of career choices, I was encouraged to take administrative opportunities. Administration is another way to serve in education, and I’ve had a lot of support. My work is very difficult, but very rewarding.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts? A. New Hampshire is such a small state, women do have more visibility and more support here than from what colleagues in other states have told me about their experiences. It really hasn’t been a factor for me.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. I don’t know if I would call it a mistake, but I wish I could have spent more time with my family. Being a school principal or a superintendent is a very demanding job. Trying to balance work with personal life, family, getting in some exercise, my music lessons is difficult.
Q.Who has been most instrumental in your success and why?A. Mark Beauvais, the former superintendent of the Concord school district; Randy Bell, superintendent of the Hudson school district; Marge Chiafrey in Merrimack; Cynthia Mowles, the former superintendent of the Henniker-Hopkinton schools. They’ve all been incredibly supportive. And many others as well have all been very helpful, friends, family. My parents gave me a strong work ethic and taught me to be generous in giving back to the community.
Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers? A. Look for feedback and support from colleagues. And take risks as well as opportunities.
Beth Hughes - Elliot Health System
When someone calls for an ambulance, he or she might expect to see emergency medical technicians familiar with a hospital, but not the hospital administrator herself. This fact speaks volumes about Beth Hughes, who is not only executive vice president and chief operating officer of Elliot Health System, but a volunteer EMT as well. Unlike many other business executives, she has seen the advantages in partnering with so-called competitors, rather than competing, and developed affiliations with the Payson Center for Cancer Care at Concord Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth. She has initiated a number of innovative hospital programs. One of the most important has been the creation of an on-site child-care facility at Elliot Hospital, reasoning that the mothers seeking child care are the same women who are caring for the rest of the community’s families.
Q. What made you decide to go into this type of workA. I started working as an emergency room registration clerk just to pay college bills while I attended Northwestern University. I was a music major. I just fell in love with the health-care environment. I saw all the things I wanted to fix, all the injustices in health care. I pursued health care as a profession to make things better.
Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge as a woman on the road to achieving your success? A. I have been very fortunate in that I’ve worked with men and women who’ve acknowledged my contributions. My philosophy is that the worst thing women can do is segregate themselves. Men and women need to be treated as equals.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts?A. Some people are a little surprised to find out my background is not in nursing, but it’s not really an issue for me. It’s not something I think about.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. I feel if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks and not moving forward. Most of the ones I can think of have been small and in teachable moments. They have made me a better administrator.
Q. Who has been most instrumental in your success and why?A. Without a doubt, it’s Doug Dean, Elliot’s CEO. Doug is a fabulous teacher and has been instrumental in my career. I also have to say my husband. He’s a stay-at-home dad, and because he is, he makes this all possible. I don’t think I could work like I do without him. I’ve grown in my career because of Doug; I have my career because of my husband.
Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers? A. I tell people the best thing for your career is to find a good mentor, and allow yourself to be taught. Be honest with what you know and what you don’t, and hook up with someone who will teach you. Another important thing is to always move forward. Do what you absolutely love to do. The day I wake up and don’t like what I’m doing, is the day I’ll quit.
Linda Johnson - McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton
In her 20 years as a lawyer, Linda Johnson has amassed a list of accomplishments that are too long to list, although a few stand out. She was the first female officer of the New Hampshire Bar Association, was the 2002 recipient of the Jon Meyer Civil Rights Award and was named a “Champion for Children” by the state school administrators association. Long a respected expert in education and employment law, perhaps her most important work involves harassment prevention. In 2005 alone, she made presentations to literally thousands of people, in private businesses and other workplaces around the state. She also is a well-known speaker on key issues — including, most notably, domestic violence.
Q. What made you decide to go into the work you’re doing? A. It was not a master plan, but it evolved. In high school, I was an after-school receptionist for a law firm and eventually became a legal secretary. My boss encouraged everybody who worked for him to pursue a higher education. I got a paralegal studies degree from Rivier College, and then went on to law school. The law taps into what I enjoy — logic, helping people and helping the complex become pragmatic.
Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge as a woman on the road to achieving your success?A. The work/life balance. When your priority is your family, and you’re a person with high standards all around, it takes a lot of energy and perseverance to balance all of those things and feel you’re successful in each area. All of them are demanding in their own way, and it’s not always easy to manage on a day-to-day basis in meeting those high standards.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts? A. I’d like to think no, but the reality is still yes. The leadership positions of the business world are still dominated by men, and for a woman to be successful it is still more of a rarity. As a lawyer, I have encountered some situations where you maybe had to prove yourself more, be exceptional and perfect to kind of gain the respect that I don’t think a man has to work as hard for.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. Not going to college out of high school. The opportunity presented itself when I went to work for a law firm and Gus McDonough, who did the defense work there, offered to pay for us to get a college education. In the bigger picture, I learned to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, and to appreciate the generosity and assistance of others. I have adopted this latter sentiment as one of my themes in life.
Q.Who has been most instrumental in your success and why?A. Margaret Flynn, my college professor, who was a lawyer and judge in New Hampshire. She took an interest in me and encouraged me throughout my career. We became lifelong friends. In my own office, there are two people, Jack Middleton and Bruce Felmly. Almost immediately after I joined the firm, Jack encouraged me to become involved in the community, suggesting places where he thought I could contribute — the sign of a great mentor. Bruce helped me in career development opportunities. He took a personal interest in my career, and in the work/life balance, my mother was there to help me — to this day, I am able to rely on her.
Q.What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers? A. Find what you have a passion for. There are plenty of opportunities out there and what you initially try may not be the right place. It’s a great world to live in to do what you love.
Hollis McGuire - Small Business Development Center
As executive director of the Small Business Development Center in Nashua, Hollis McGuire has guided fledgling businesses from conception through buyout or sustained growth. As an educator, she has taught classes in accounting, finance and business management. Her support of young high-tech companies can also be felt as a board member of the New Hampshire High Technology Council. But beyond just giving solid advice and crunching an occasional spreadsheet, McGuire has created a way to give young businesses the funding they need to grow by founding the NorthEast Angels, an investment group focusing on businesses in southern New Hampshire.
Q. What made you decide to go into the work you’re doing?A. My role at the Small Business Development Center was fortuitous, although the elements behind the work are quite deliberate. I learned some key things about myself in decades of work in various roles, as a CPA, a business owner, and an employee of large and small companies. I work best in result-driven environments that encourage independence and creativity. I am happiest when I can balance personal interaction, technical skill, and the need to keep learning. I need all these traits in my current role. The result is that it is delightfully rewarding to do this work.
Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge as a woman on the road to achieving your success?A. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the life paths presented to me personally and professionally were dreadfully narrow and uninteresting. The biggest personal challenge was to learn to believe in my goals and my imagination in order to move past what I was presented. The women who broke new ground in the 1970s and in each subsequent decade have increased the options for all women in this culture.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts?A. I have found that many elements go into being accepted as successful in a chosen career, and gender is just one dimension. I don’t have the insight to separate gender from the rest of the dimensional list.
The bigger surprise is that “the chosen career” can take so many twists and turns. I may have expected to have a chosen career, but it has been more like a wonderfully interesting ride.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. Not believing in myself earlier on. Eventually I learned that believing in me was my responsibility.
Q. Who has been most instrumental in your success and why? A. I can’t narrow this down to one person, one group or one description. Every excellent teacher, mentor, client, co-worker and friend I’ve had has been instrumental.
Each one has been inspiring; inspiration is most instrumental to success.
Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?A. Current choice impacts future choice. Even if a current choice is not perfect, it will not limit you in the future. This advice allowed me to take risks I would not have taken otherwise. I received this advice early on in my career, and it still is meaningful.
Christine M. McMahon - Easter Seals, NH
As senior vice president and chief operating officer of Easter Seals New Hampshire, Christine McMahon’s region ranges far beyond the Granite State to include Maine, Vermont and New York. The myriad of programs she manages across the four-state area provide education, rehabilitation, counseling and therapeutic recreation for thousands of children, adults and families living with disabilities. Her most recent venture in New Hampshire is the Getting There project, which seeks to provide accessibility to transportation in communities around the state, initially helping people who do not drive or otherwise have access to an automobile but recognizing that improved transportation helps an entire community positively, in creating social capital and resulting in economic and cultural benefits.
Q. What made you decide to go into the work you’re doing?A. I guess initially it was just being at the right place at the right time. Once you get into this work, even at the entry level, it’s particularly reinforcing and rewarding so that you want more and more of it as you think about the kind of impact you have on real people, real lives, with lasting assistance. It’s hard to trade that in for other kinds of work that might not be as rewarding.
Q. What did you find to be your biggest challenge as a woman in achieving success?A. Independent of being a woman, the challenge in achieving success is really less about ability — although a certain amount helps — and more about surrounding yourself with a variety of people, not just people who are like you, but people who can challenge you. That should be both on the way up the ladder and when you are at the top.
Q. Have you found a difference in how women are accepted as successful in their chosen career as compared to their male counterparts?A. I would say that either I’ve been very, very lucky or maybe in the human services industry, because there are so many women, I have felt very fortunate and have always had great female role models. I think of that funny statement that behind every successful man is a woman — well, I think the opposite is true too. There are countless men behind successful women around New Hampshire, women who had the support of men to get where the are.
Q. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?A. I’m not in any short supply of mistakes. There’s always tomorrow, and that means there’s always another chance to make things right. From what I can recall, for almost every mistake a person can make, there’s a way to fix it.
Q. Who has been most instrumental in your success and why?A. My boss, Larry Gammon, who’s the president and CEO of Easter Seals New Hampshire. When I came to Easter Seals, I was in my 20s and was probably one of those people you could easily have determined to ignore. I was in a line staff job that might not have gotten the attention from anyone, but he had a knack to see the qualities in people that were yet to be seen by most. He makes it possible in the work environment to see people for who they are. He creates a general atmosphere for people to really be the best they can be. I’ve benefited from that, and I also hope that I can deal with people in that way as well.
Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?A. I would say don’t set your sights too low — set your sights high. Believe you can be what you want to be, and surround yourself with good people, men and women. The biggest asset a person can have as they try to achieve their goals is by the way they create relationships, the social capital that they can build around them.
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This article appears in the Archive 2006 issue of New Hampshire Business Review