What if you could gather some of the brightest women in their respective fields – an entrepreneur, the chief financial officer of a utility giant, a banking executive, a nonprofit leader and an expert in organizational communication and education – and learn how they’ve managed to not only steady their ships in the wake of COVID-19 but sail towards new and brighter vistas.
That’s the idea behind BizTimes Media’s Women in Business Symposium, set for Aug. 25 at the Brookfield Conference Center.
The annual event features a panel of five successful business leaders who will share key insights about their professional and personal journeys. They include Nina Johnson, Wisconsin consumer and business banking market leader for U.S. Bank; Xia Liu, chief financial officer of WEC Energy Corp.; Gretchen Jameson, chief learning officer for Kacmarcik Enterprises; and Nubian Simmons; owner and president of The Pink Bakery Inc. The discussion will be moderated by Kathy Thornton-Bias, president and chief executive officer at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
As part of the panel discussion, the group will share tangible insights on how they move forward in their own lives and as leaders in their respective organizations.
A former graphic designer, Simmons initially started The Pink Bakery as a way to create allergen-free baked goods for people who, like her, are allergic to many of the ingredients commonly used in cookies, brownies and cakes. She will share her story of how she turned obstacles into successes.
The Milwaukee native had initially planned to open a traditional brick-and-mortar bakery in Memphis, where she had briefly relocated but had to switch tracks after finding out the former dry cleaners building that she had planned to buy could not be used for food processing.
The realization, while tough, eventually pushed Simmons to switch to developing baking mixes instead of actual baked goods.
Today, Simmons’ company, which makes premium top allergen-free baking mixes out of its manufacturing facility in Milwaukee, is the first business in the state of Wisconsin to be gluten-free certified, and top allergen-free certified.
“I was a former graphic designer. I never thought I would bake,” said Simmons. “To be able to shift over into this space just shows how dynamic we can be as people and all the things we can learn how to do. We don’t have to stay in a box if we don’t want to.”
The panelists will discuss the factors that led them to either make a career change or stay in their field but take on a new job with a different company or in a different state.
For Liu, there was the decision to move herself and family across the southern and southwestern U.S. for increasingly high-profile positions at companies like Southern Company, Georgia Power, and CenterPoint Energy, eventually landing here in Wisconsin in 2020 to take her current job with WEC Energy Group.
For Thornton-Bias, it was the choice to move from the c-suite at companies like Saks Fifth Avenue and Verlo, to take a job leading one of the largest Boys & Girls Clubs in the country.
“I spent 30 years in the retail industry as an executive with various companies, and three-and-a-half years ago, I made the smart decision to leap from that industry and it has been a blast,” said Thornton-Bias.
The panelists are also expected to discuss how they’ve managed to address disruptions, both micro and macro, as they’ve navigated their careers and personal lives these past two years.
“If you do a Google search, you’ll find that in 2008 the Harvard Business Review had an article titled ‘The Great Disruption,’” said Jameson, who decided to be her “own disruptor” when she left a vice president position at Concordia University Wisconsin last year to take a newly created post with Kacmarcik.
“We are always in disruptive states. It’s been pretty remarkable the last two years, but it is kind of a state of being when you are leading in a certain space,” she added.
Registration for the Women in Business Symposium starts at 8 a.m., with the main panel discussion commencing at 8:30 a.m.
The panel discussion will be followed by a keynote address from Dr. Christine Pharr, retired president of Mount Mary University and BizTimes Media’s Woman Executive of the Year.
Afterwards, attendees will get a chance to attend multiple breakout sessions for deeper discussions on topics like building better work relationships and becoming an employer of choice.