Welcome to the second annual May Women Business Leaders issue—a celebration of successful and influential North Bay women. Last year, we spotlighted a number of business leaders on these pages, and the feedback from our readers was so powerful we’re devoting this section to another sampling of women, making an impact on the North Bay. We asked these business leaders to answer two of the following questions:
• Who (or what single event) had the most influence in choosing your career path?
• What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?
• How has your industry changed and what other changes do you foresee?
Chief Executive Officer
At Your Service Nursing & Home Care
My mother was a registered nurse and started her career as an officer in World War II (in the Burma theater). She taught me the intrinsic value of service. This was what influenced me to get my nursing degree, and now my doctorate in nursing practice. She set a great example that is now a tradition and my son has also followed in her footsteps. She would’ve been so proud.
Home care services are racing toward a crisis of care. In the very near future, there are going to be more people that need home care services than there are caregivers who are able and willing to provide care. There have been so many regulatory changes that every day it is a challenge to help people stay at home (where they want to be) as they age.
At my first job in a creative agency, I worked for a dynamic account director who always fought for the best creative work to win, but never lost her focus on superior client service and delivering ideas. From then on, I desired roles that allowed me to develop strategy and deliver creative outcomes to various clients. I love the variety of branding challenges that marketing communication consulting brings.
We have evolved from product-centric to customer-centric marketing and branding. A product-centric organization is one that is focused on the products it brings to market rather than the customers that buy those products. The future is going to mean that consumers don’t “buy” brands, they “join” brands. (This is already true for the biggest brands.) Customers want to get involved and contribute ideas. They want to be a part of a “tribe” that is represented by the brands they love.
Doing Business Today, Santa Rosa
Working for mom-and-pop shops while I was younger and watching the freedom they had. There was a ton of hard work, but also a ton of time they were able to spend with their families.
Being a single mother of three children for seven years was very difficult. I was not only managing young teenagers, but also a growing and thriving business.
Paradise Ridge Winery, Santa Rosa
When I was in college my parents started planning the winery. My father wanted me to be a part of the business, while my mother preferred that I go to grad school. The idea of opening a winery was exciting so I followed that path. No regrets, but I do still need to make good on my promise to go to grad school one day.
When we opened in 1994, there were fewer than half the wineries in Sonoma County that there are today. Staying ahead of trends and always going the extra mile is important. I also think being a family business and giving back to our community has built our reputation. Right now, we’re concerned with the growing costs of farming our grapes. With rising wages, we need to find a way to stay competitive.
Lu Lu Camora
Bohlux, Santa Rosa
Looking back, it was the moment that I was walking in downtown Santa Rosa and saw an open space for rent. I had been taking classes from a master leather artisan and had been producing bags in a studio from my home. I was already passionate about leather work, but seeing that space and imagining myself there, imagining people viewing my bags from the street and walking in to experience them, that is when I knew I was ready to scale my business and take a risk to pursue my passion.
The biggest challenge for me has been communicating the value of a one-of-a-kind, hand-constructed bag. Ninety percent of Bohlux bags never touch a machine and they’re sewn with the same techniques and same quality of materials as Prada or Hermes. These bags are a lifetime investment and can be passed on to future generations. I believe the ultimate luxury is owning something no one else can own, and that's the luxury people experience with a Bohlux bag.
Prosper Real Estate, Santa Rosa
The birth of my beautiful daughter (Charlie Presli, who turns 2 in May) inspired me to be the business woman I always secretly wanted to be. I wanted to show my daughter that you can do anything
you put your mind to. When young girls were dreaming about their future wedding dresses, I was dreaming of a sleek pant suit with a tight bun on the top of my head, a briefcase and heels walking swiftly to my important job. I had always wanted to be a woman of power in the workplace but had a slight fear of not being good enough. When my daughter was born, my partner and I saved up our every last penny to buy our first home in Santa Rosa. During that process, I fell in love with all things real estate—the hunt, the risk, the sale, the escrow. I knew I had found my calling to my childhood dream of being a woman in business without fear.
While I’m relatively new to the industry, what I see looking forward is the influx of advanced technological marketing. As the Millennials make their way into the housing market, the ease of online home shopping is becoming popularized. At Prosper Real Estate, we try to incorporate the fun and appeal of online marketing with the irreplaceable need of a local and knowledgeable professional.
Principal/Chief Operating Officer
Private Ocean Wealth Management, San Rafael
I owned my own business directly out of college, and I realized I would always be in the business of business. As for where I am today, I would say completing my MBA later in life was the stepping stone that brought me to Private Ocean. In my role, I’ve had an opportunity to wear many hats and really put my education to work institutionalizing our business.
The challenges I faced when I was younger are different than those I face today. I grew up in the “power suit” era where a woman was expected to behave more like a man to be taken seriously. Thankfully, I think those days are behind us. Today, my biggest challenge is time—there doesn’t seem to be enough of it.
Encore Events Rentals, Healdsburg and Cal-West Rentals, Petaluma
My career path was largely shaped by my parents for a few reasons. First, I initially took over our family business, Cal-West Rentals in 2001, when my father passed away suddenly. That unexpected event changed my early career plans, as I stepped in to “temporarily” run the business after graduating from college. After about three years of running the business, I knew it was going to be my career—not because I had to, but because I wanted to. This is largely due to the way my parents raised me. They were both huge influences in my life in pushing me to always grow and give my best, to work hard for what I wanted and to never shy away from challenges.
My biggest challenge has been to constantly grow and evolve as a business owner and manager. I enjoy change, as I feel it forces us to make better decisions and take action in areas within our company and organization that we may otherwise leave alone. However, the drive to constantly change and improve takes time and energy, which can prove challenging. Our business has been fortunate to grow and expand over the years, which requires everyone, including myself, to look for new and better ways to work together and become more innovative.
Chief Executive Officer
DELLA TOFFOLA USA, Santa Rosa
Person/Event: I was born and raised in Italy and my great aunt was one of the first female wine connoisseurs in the country. She was a pioneer in the industry and introduced me to the world of wine appreciation and winemaking at a very young age. My great grandmother (on my father’s side) was also a winemaker and her family winery is still making wine today and now dates back four generations. I guess wine and the winemaking process is very much in my blood and going into that industry seemed like the natural path.
Challenge: Being a female in a very male-oriented environment can be challenging. You need to be strong and yet personable, work hard and don’t accept “you can’t do that” as an answer.
Owner/Chief Executive Officer
vox.magneta, Santa Rosa
I was working a part-time job and also working on the side as a marketing consultant. I was anxious about taking the leap into being a full time consultant. I began consulting for a software client and they were so excited by my work and wanted to expand services so rapidly that I took the plunge. That was my first “I-can-really-do-this moment.” From there, I created my business, and now I've got an amazing team to support me.
The biggest challenge I've dealt with is imposter syndrome. I often feel like my progress is just luck and that it will eventually run out. I’m having to constantly remind myself that I've earned my place as an entrepreneur, that I've worked hard and I'm deserving of success.
Director of Government Affairs
Comcast NBC Universal
My grandfather was president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and I participated in 4-H and farm bureau activities as a youth, which fueled my passion for advocacy. This passion motivated me to further my education, which I did at Santa Rosa Junior College and then Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. My first job after college was with the California Farm Bureau in public relations. This position led me on the career path to advocacy, policy making and government relations, which has included work on a local, state and federal level and across many fields, including agriculture, resource management, media and technology.
The cable and Internet industries are relatively new, but their impact on society has entirely changed the way we are entertained, work, communicate and access information. We are living in exciting times with these advances in technology and innovation constantly driving change. I expect these changes will continue to occur and will happen at an accelerating pace.
Private Eyes, Inc., Walnut Creek
My father taught me to be a strong person and take charge of my own destiny.
Our industry has changed dramatically in the last 18 years. We used to be a service company, and now we’re a technology company that provides a high-quality service, and background checks for pre and post-employment screening.
The Legacy Paver Group, Santa Rosa
The birth of my eldest child 17 years ago. I had a demanding career in hi-tech public relations and marketing, with long days and a lot of travelling. I didn't want my daughter raised in daycare, but didn’t have the option to take a few years off. My father was running a small operation installing paver driveways and I decided to help him grow his business. I thought I would do it for two or three years and go back to my career. I quickly realized I didn't want to go back. I absolutely fell in love with everything I was doing. When my father retired in 2003, I took over the business.
I have worked on many challenging projects from city sidewalks and shopping centers to balconies and decks nine stories up, but I would say that being a woman in construction has presented me with the most interesting challenge of having to convince some clients that I am qualified for the job. It's less of an issue nowadays, but for the first few years I was often asked if I could bring my boss along to appointments.
Director, Public Affairs & Marketing
Sonoma Clean Power, Santa Rosa
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career is one faced by all working parents at one time or another: the challenge to balance a demanding career, a busy family/home life and devoting enough time to friends, family and community.
The renewable energy and utility industries are ever-changing, and will continue to do so as public demand and legislation call for more renewable energy and as new technologies emerge. I foresee that storage and the increased uses of electric vehicles will become what the conversations center around in the immediate future, as we focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of the climate we all share.
Performance and Transformation Coach
Samadhi Coaching, Sausalito
After having participated and enjoyed amazing insights, revelations and personal shifts during workshops and events that were focused on personal development, I soon realized my true calling was in this area of service for others. Ultimately, it was the work of Landmark Worldwide that solidified my desire to create a space for people to discover for themselves what true possibilities are available to them through authentic self-expression and transformation.
Coaching has grown exponentially and we are beginning to realize that mentors, coaching and trusted advisers are important, if not essential, for individuals to excel and realize their full potential in this lifetime. Having someone who sees you as a whole, complete and perfect being and who will support and hold you accountable to living into the vision you have of yourself and your life is invaluable. You can't put a price tag on that type of deep, profound support.
Employee Engagement Consulting, ub:inspired, Petaluma
I loved the first chapter of my career in marketing. I knew I wanted to go into marketing or psychology since I was 10 years old because I love creating and understanding what inspires people to take action. After writing my first book, I was encouraged to do something with it, and I started to evaluate what that could look like. I never foresaw a career change and it required a lot of risk, but once I committed to creating inspiring workplaces through employee engagement and leadership, I knew on every level this is where I'm meant to be.
I believe Millennials are a call to action for greater leadership. Other generations are also asserting with words and action that they want to do meaningful work that is tied to a purpose and vision greater than a paycheck. Our empowered “gig economy” is shifting the power dynamic to companies needing to earn employees’ loyalty, and not being entitled to have employees show up simply because the employees are lucky to have a job.
Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, EVP and Director
Hennessy Advisors, Inc., Novato
I was an economics major at U.C. Davis and at the time, I wanted to pursue a career in finance. In 1989, I crashed a party at the home of our founder, Neil Hennessy. Neil was an entrepreneur launching his own business, so I asked him for a job. My timing was perfect. Meeting Neil and joining his firm gave me the opportunity to learn all aspects of building and running a small business from a young age. It has been an honor to help Neil build Hennessy Advisors from a small broker-dealer to a publicly traded asset manager offering a broad base of mutual funds, serving almost 400,000 shareholders nationwide, and managing nearly $7 billion in assets.
The phrase that comes to mind is, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” For more than 25 years, I’ve been in the investment management business, and it has been characterized by volatility, bull and bear markets, bubbles building and bursting, and today is no different. What has changed is the media coverage, financial and social media alike that can create a heightened reaction from investors, on the positive and negative side. Our mantra is to remain focused on long-term fundamentals to be successful, and we follow that advice in our business, no matter what comes our way.
Sonoma Coast Spirits, Petaluma
My original business was Residential Real Estate Appraising, while raising four children at home. After 25 years, the appraisal business became monotonous. I was encouraged by my friends, family and the ladies at The Petaluma Woman’s Club to start Sonoma Coast Spirits after they sampled some of my cocktails. I decided to have some fun and follow my passion to make craft cocktails and spirits in bottles for everyone to enjoy!
The distilling laws changed in California in January 2016, which now allows the industry to sell to the public in a tasting room. Looking to the future, this opens up opportunities for start-up distilleries, who might not have been interested in the business in the past.
Chief Executive Officer
Two events converged to set me on the path as executive director of the Petaluma Chamber for the last 21 years. The first was owning a small business and understanding challenges and opportunities such businesses face. The second was serving as district representative for assemblywoman Beverly Hansen and learning ways to help to small businesses.
Decades back, chambers were viewed as basically ideological or political action groups. But on the local level, this has evolved into organizations being first as a voice for business but also activists for healthy communities and strong local economies, working collaboratively with local governments.
President/Chief Executive Officer
Trope Group, Santa Rosa
Helping clients make the connection between space design and organizational success. There are so many details in the office furniture business, it would be easy to get stuck there. My goal is to advance the conversation from “we need a table and chairs for our conference room” to “here’s how I want my team to collaborate.” Business leaders who understand the power of space can leverage it as strategic tool to build culture and support their objectives. Poor design hinders everything you want to happen in a space. A well-designed space enables people and teams to do their best work.
Reality TV has created some inaccurate perceptions and unrealistic expectations about the design industry. (Hint: you can’t remodel a space in under an hour and budgets are not created off the top of anyone’s head.) While I don’t want to say that anyone can’t be a designer, some of us went to school for that, which is one reason I’m involved in the International Interior Design Association. We are actively engaged in advancing the awareness and the profession of interior design, specifically in code impacted environments. Interior designers create extraordinary spaces and experiences, and add substantial value—usually without a team of television producers.
Crown Trophy Petaluma
Prior to opening Crown Trophy, I’d been working for an organization for almost 20 years. I had not expected to move on from there, but management changed and it was no longer a healthy or happy work environment for me. This forced me to look for something new, and start a new phase of my life.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in running Crown Trophy would be making it through the first five years. Some of our biggest and most loyal customers took several years to convince that they should give us a chance. I came from a job that provided a regular paycheck. It took a lot to have the confidence in my decision to open the business and believe that we would make it. Now the biggest challenge is in finding and maintaining the staff that can sustain the business we have developed.
Wedding & Celebration Consultant, Project Management
Event Manager, Les Lunes
I was lucky to have grown up in a supportive and close-knit family. I’ve also been lucky to have worked with some great “teachers” who I’ve learned a lot from and who trusted me enough to hire me in the first place.
Being a “baby boomer” my biggest challenge is learning the ever-changing technology. There are so many young, bright, talented professionals who are inspiring to be around.
Chief Executive Officer/Founder
The Pendolino Group, Sausalito
On the heels of spending 23 years in the corporate environment, I embraced my calling to create a network of human resources professionals who are committed to spreading best practices in leadership. The event that most influenced me to start The Pendolino Group and launch our company was when I received my first invitation to speak to a group of more than 400 business professionals. I found my calling in that moment.
The human resources industry continues to be distracted by the introduction of transactional services and automation. Every company, every business leader, every team, deserves access to quality human resources, in addition to the traditional HR administration activities. We aim to deliver exactly that quality and wisdom, at a reasonable cost.
Lisa Wittke Schaffner
John Jordan Foundation, Healdsburg
One conversation with John Jordan at his True Grit Halloween party about creating a foundation when I was dressed as a saloon girl completely changed my career and life path.
I’ve only been in philanthropy/nonprofits for five years, but I’m excited the movement toward collaboration and collective impact is guiding local funders. If we invest money in programs that we know have results and can be duplicated then our impact is greater.