2010 Outstanding Women in Business

Welcome to NHBR's 2010 Outstanding Women in Business. Presented with Centrix Bank, the fifth annual awards celebrate the success and achievements of women across the state's diverse business community.

Each year, we recognize six women who have truly excelled, not only in their professional lives, but as leaders and role models. While they come from different industries and walks of life, they share several things in common — extraordinary accomplishments, a strong sense of self and a belief that anything is possible.

Their commitment and vision make them true leaders in their chosen fields.

Mary DeVeau, Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association

Mary DeVeau has been president and chief executive of the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association for the past 12 years. CRVNA provides comprehensive home care services and end-of-life care to residents in all of Merrimack County and several towns in Hillsborough County.

Under her leadership, CRVNA has been guided through a significant technology program, which includes development of an electronic medical records system along with scheduling, payroll and financial management systems, and she directed the planning and construction of CRVNA's offices to their current location at 30 Pillsbury St. Street in Concord — no small feat for an organization with 327 employees.

As the largest home health and hospice agency in New Hampshire, CRVNA had revenues of over $20 million in 2009, with an operating margin of 7.99 percent and a total margin of 10.35 percent.

DeVeau's support of her employees in both their education and empowerment is so deep that the organization?s nurse turnover rate is 5 percent ? far below the industry average of 21 percent.

DeVeau also serves as a board member of several agencies, including the Visiting Nurse Associations of America, New England Life Care and the Community Provider Network of Central New Hampshire, among others.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. My first job out of college was at New England Baptist Hospital. Even though it was a teaching hospital and I was caring for a variety of patients, I didn't feel I was learning as much as I wanted.

I then went to New England Medical Center. It had such a dynamic learning environment. I was there for 10 years, and made so many relationships.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. I love doing what I can do every day — and that it makes a difference. That could be teaching staff how to handle difficult situations ? we?re now taking care of patients at home who used to be in hospital beds — or helping staff to balance their lives. Many times caregivers have tough lives themselves.

I'm passionate about providing benefits, education, good pay, opportunities for advancement, but I'm also passionate about helping people to realize they have a personal life that needs to be taken care of too.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. My husband was diagnosed with cancer six months after we were married. When I realized that I wouldn't be having children, I had to change my career goals.

I really wanted to help other people. I realized that if I managed others, I could help even more people than just the one patient I was caring for.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. Make sure to build relationships — learn how to network. Also, learn the financial side of whatever business you're in. Keep exercising and live a healthy lifestyle. And learn how to play golf — you can learn a lot about another person in four hours!

Laurie Ferguson, NH Made

As the official statewide organization that is creating brand awareness of New Hampshire products and services, the original concept — called New Hampshire Stories Inc. — worked well locally, but was a bit esoteric beyond the Granite State.

In 2004, Laurie Ferguson, who had been working with the organization since its inception in 1998, was asked to become its executive director and work on rebranding it, giving up a successful marketing firm of her own to accomplish that.

Since Ferguson took the reins of the organization — renamed NH Made — it has grown from a few dozen members to over 850. She was instrumental in the redevelopment of the organization?s Web site, the redesign of the its logo, and she launched the successful publication "Guide to New Hampshire Products & Services," with an annual distribution of 100,000 copies, among countless other projects.

Having direct oversight of the two New Hampshire Stores on I-95, she has helped to double sales, and income generated by all other sources has risen by more than 80 percent.

Ferguson is also a role model for breast cancer survivors, having waged and won her own battle with the disease.

Q. What made you choose your career?

A. My whole career has been marketing. I love to write about and promote what I love. One of my first jobs was with a ski company because I love to ski. Then I worked for a Boston agency with lots of ski and sports clients.

When I heard that there was going to be a task force developed for marketing products made in New Hampshire, now called NH Made, I wanted to be part of that.

Since day one, I've been with the organization ? first with the task force, then on the board, now executive director.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. I did ski racing all through high school and college, and that taught me a lot about taking risks and handling pressure. You don't win if you don't go fast and take risks.

My first job out of college — I have a history degree from Middlebury College — was working with high school students at Holderness School. I loved it. It taught me teaching skills, which developed into communication skills. I only left to learn more of what was out there.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. I get to promote something I love. It's a natural fit. I truly feel every gift I have is being utilized — public speaking, writing, helping women. I also like the independence, being able to direct and lead, to go where my gut says we should go. I also have a very trusting board of directors!

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. Financial stability for a nonprofit — you don't know if you?re going to get grants or not. Yes, I manage the two stores, but, bottom line, I?m responsible for payroll, and that weighs heavily on me.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. Take risks. Have the nerve to take a leap, especially if you're young. A lot of women hold back, but they are smarter than they think they are, stronger than they think they are.

Melanie Gosselin, New Hampshire Food Bank

When Melanie Gosselin took over the reins of the New Hampshire Food Bank as executive director in 2003, the organization was struggling as hard as many of its clients. It was Gosselin who turned the organization around, with a new departmental structure and strategic plan.

Under her leadership, food distribution has more than doubled from 2.3 million pounds to 5.8 million pounds in 2009. The number of programs supported by the Food Bank has also more than doubled, growing from 180 to 411 today.

A Keene State College graduate with a degree in classical guitar whose career began working for large retail and technology firms, Gosselin has instituted a number of successful programs at the Food Bank. Among them are Operation Frontline, a nutrition-based cooking program, and the Culinary Training program, giving individuals the skills and experience necessary to find jobs in the hospitality industry.

The other agencies Gosselin works with include Leadership Greater Manchester, Feeding America National Council and the New Hampshire Center for a Food Secure Future.

Perhaps Gosselin's greatest accomplishment is helping to shine a light on hunger in our own communities and guiding the Food Bank to address the root causes of poverty and hunger to foster independence.

Q. What made you choose your career?

A. It wasn't exactly planned. I was working at Teradyne when I was laid off. I wasn't sure of which direction to go. A former manager at Hannaford told me about the position at the New Hampshire Food Bank. I found it very intriguing, and I could really use a lot of skills I learned in my colorful background.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. It was pouring concrete with my dad at age 8. He was a fireman, and like many, he had a side career. What I take most out of that experience is to be a stickler for details, making sure the job is done right.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. It's the generosity of people. It's having the ability to empower people.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. Being patient. I'm learning that patience is a virtue. You've got to do the legwork and put together business plans. Donors are an investment, and you want good results from those investments.

The hard thing is when I go on inner-city food drops and see faces, the kids and the elderly. It just tears your heart out. You want to do more right then, but you know you really can't.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. There are going to be hurdles along the way, but just breathe. You won't win every battle, but your voice will be heard and you will be able to make a difference. You can achieve what you set out to do.

Leslie Sturgeon, Women Inspiring Women

When she was 22 years old, Leslie Sturgeon started her own office support business, providing administrative support to other Lakes Region companies.

That business has since flourished and has grown to include subsidiaries in executive suite rentals and management of homeowners associations and professional organizations.

Sturgeon's admiration of other women leaders and business owners prompted her to create Women Inspiring Women in 2007, a networking group with membership that spans from the Lakes Region to the Massachusetts border. With a mission to provide a forum for personal and professional growth, Women Inspiring Women has given hundreds of women entrepreneurs the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

Sturgeon has been a board member of many organizations, including the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce, an incorporator of Belknap County Economic Development Council, executive director of the Newfound Region Chamber of Commerce and former president of Kidworks Learning Center, a child-care facility with an operating budget of more than $600,000.

In 2008, Sturgeon was named a "Women in Business Champion" by the U.S. Small Business Administration in New Hampshire for her commitment to the advancement of women's business ownership.

Q. What made you choose your career?

A. The reason I started Women Inspiring Women in May 2007 was for the energy and the camaraderie I found when I met with other professional women. I had an informal get-together and wondered what if we did this on a larger scale. My office support business and my association management business gave me the contacts and skills I needed. Without all of that, I wouldn't have been able to create WIWNH.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. Back in high school, I started working in a school office, and I loved it. That set the stage. I went to business school to learn more secretarial skills. I've been self-employed since I was 22. I offered a whole array of services. I've worked with thousands of different clients, and they all touched me in so many ways.

The work has been very diverse — that's what really helped prepare me for the future.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. It would have to be all the amazing women I've met through WIWNH. Their energy, their desire to succeed, to be given permission to succeed and given the tools to succeed. I love to hear them share dreams and to help them see the potential they don?t see in themselves.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. Just getting word out about what WIWNH is and how unique it is. I don't want it to be compared to other groups because it is different.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. Surround yourself with positive people and believe in yourself — find a mentor. Really delve into professional and personal development.

If you have setbacks, don't give up — it maybe wasn't the right opportunity or the right person.

Deb Titus, Dale Carnegie-New Hampshire

As managing director of Dale Carnegie-New Hampshire, Deb Titus has taught thousands in the Granite State how to become better businesspeople through practical principles and processes, and by connecting proven solutions with real-world challenges.

Titus launched Human Capital Solutions LLC in 1999. Through its Web-based subsidiary, Human Capital e-Solutions, she grew the company from start-up to $1.5 million in earnings in just one year and added five Fortune 100 companies to its roster. Since 2006, her firm, which markets and delivers Dale Carnegie-NH, has achieved 30 percent year-over-year growth and increased her client list by 50 percent.

Deb's outreach to the greater New Hampshire community extends to many philanthropic and professional organizations, including assisting in the creation of the Manchester Young Professionals Network and the Manchester Visitors Center, leadership support for the Greater Manchester Community Music School and she provides direction for the Leadership Greater Nashua program.

Despite such a full agenda, she has found a way to balance being a wife of 25 years and a mother of two children (now grown) and she still finds time to nurture her passions for music, horses and supporting young people, especially young women.

Q. What made you choose your career?

A. The career really chose me. I started in radio broadcasting. I just knew selling radio wasn't what I wanted to do. I wrote letters to national companies, including Dale Carnegie, looking for opportunities. I was asked to come on board. At the first session, I was watching the trainer and thought, "I can do that! That looks like fun!" I became a trainer because I just loved knowing I could impact people.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. My very first job was a busboy. I also worked for The Gap. We got to go to all stores in the mall and see how they served us. I really learned about customer service there. I taught aerobics for a while. I learned about teaching and being prepared and having a plan.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. Now that I'm 25 years in, I love bumping into people and businesses I've trained and seeing their success, seeing that I made an impact. I also love getting to work with young professionals.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. I was 27 or so and had already been training and consulting for about three years when I started my family. I thought, "How am I going to do this?" The biggest challenge was in making choices. How much was the young mother piece going to come into my career? I wanted to be sure I could be balanced.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. It's OK to dabble and try things out and give it your all. If you're very young, try lots of things. Be bold.

Kathryn Underwood, Ledyard National Bank

Kathryn Underwood has demonstrated just how integral to a community banks are.

She worked at Key Bank in Maine for 25 years, eventually becoming president and helping it to grow to $2.5 billion in assets.

As president and chief executive of Ledyard National Bank in Hanover for the past five years, Underwood has guided the bank toward continued growth in assets and total deposits, despite the worst economy since the Great Depression.

She currently sits on the board of the New Hampshire Bankers Association and has earned her certified financial planner designation to further assist clients.

One of her greatest achievements has been appointment to the board of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, helping to guide monetary policy that impacts not only small community banks but large financial institutions.

Underwood also serves with such organizations as the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, Kendal at Hanover, a continuing care retirement community, and the Upper Valley Corporate Council.

Underwood also has instituted "Ledyard Lend a Hand Day," when Ledyard employees provide hundreds of volunteer hours to local nonprofits and charities, giving support that goes far beyond just the financial.

Q. What made you choose your career?

A. At home, banking was frequently the topic of conversation. My dad was an international banking consultant — he traveled around the world helping banks.

When I went to college, I was taking an accounting course, and my professor suggested I look further into a career with number. So I became a teller. I loved it.

Q. What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that prepared you for the future?

A. Really, the teller job was the one. I liked working with people and numbers. I really liked the industry.

Q. What do you love most about your career?

A. Interaction with people. In my position, I have the opportunity to work with clients, directors, employees and nonprofits. My favorite days are ones that I'm out of the office.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge on the road to achieving your success?

A. Being a working mom. When you also volunteer, when you're committed to kids, extracurricular activities, and work 60 hours a week minimum, it's not easy. You want to be good at everything. There is a struggle in that journey to balance everything.

Q. What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

A. Find a mentor, someone who will give you good advice and even challenge you when you need a push. Find someone to be on your side. I had a number of mentors who pushed me sometimes. One was my dad.

The day they asked me to be president of Key Bank, I was in the wealth management department and loved my job — I didn't want to be president. Basically, he said I'd be silly not to take the opportunity. And he was right — it turned out to be everything I loved about my old job and more.

For Outstanding Women in Business winners from previous years, click here.

Cindy Kibbe can be reached at ckibbe@nhbr.com.