18 Columbus Women Share Their Career Defining Moment

Columbus Women 2018
18 Columbus Women

Top: Christie Angel, Melissa Blackburn, Elizabeth Brown, Kris Cannon-Jackson, Janet Chen, René Delane.
Middle: Erika Gable, Jami Goldstein, Jane Grote Abell, Lori Kaiser, Danielle Lim, Aslyne Rodriguez.
Bottom: Katy Smith, Barb Smoot, Nicci Sprouse-Grosso, Teresa Trost, Priscilla Tyson, Tammy Wharton.

March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. In honor of the many inspirational female leaders in our community, we asked 18 Central Ohio women: “Tell us about your career defining moment.” Here is what they had to say!


“I’ve had many career defining moments but advocating for those who are marginalized and voiceless have been my most memorable experiences. When I was working for Mayor Coleman in 2000, I was a YWCA Columbus volunteer. At the time, the YWCA was attempting to build an emergency shelter in order to provide critical services to stabilize some of the most vulnerable families in central Ohio. The idea of building a homeless shelter in a neighborhood was not popular, but I found my voice as an advocate for others and helped remove the barriers to entry to pave the way for what is now known as the YWCA Family Center.”

Christie Angel, President & CEO at YWCA Columbus


“My career defining moment was pretty early on when I was promoted to a role that was much bigger than my experience qualified me for. My boss told me, ‘Do what’s right, be kind, and work hard.’ He made it seem so simple and, as a result, I worked harder and grew more than I ever thought possible. Those core tenets still drive me today and define how I lead others.”

Melissa Blackburn, Co-Creator at Haven Collective


“When I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, I needed to make a decision within 24 hours about whether or not I would run for Columbus City Council. I didn’t have any clue yet what it was like to be a mother of a newborn, a first-time campaigner, or even a council member. Amidst that uncertainty, there was one certain conviction: I had ideas about my city and wanted the chance to earn voters’ support to implement them. This 24-hour decision period taught me that in most leaps we make we have very little idea of what’s on the other side, but that should not deter us from leaping. Today, I feel privileged to be able to serve my city and grateful my spouse and family supported my leap.”

Elizabeth Brown, Council Member at Columbus City Council


“A career defining moment happened when I was working as an executive assistant at an engineering firm in town. I was a single mom, in school full time and worked full time. I went to my boss to ask for time off to study for finals when she said to me, ‘I don’t know why you’re worried about studying, you’ll never be anything more than a secretary.’ Not only did that fuel me in school, but also to work hard to climb ranks in whatever organization I was in. Now there’s nothing wrong with secretaries and executive assistants, as they help the busiest CEOs, Directors and other Executive levels manage their day to day lives. But, I knew I was destined to be more and have more. I also vowed that I would never work for any organization that didn’t value someone’s personal development. I am a life-long learner and will always work for an organization that values personal and professional development.

I aced my finals and then started crafting my exit strategy. I began interviewing for a new position, but instead of them just interviewing me, I realized I needed to interview the organization to ensure that the organization’s mission and actual practice aligned with my goals as well.

Lesson learned: Never settle on someone else’s beliefs for life. Set your own goals and work at meeting them.”

Kris Cannon-Jackson, Training Coordinator/HR Strategist at City of Columbus


“When I had the tremendous opportunity to the become the Executive Director of ProMusica, it was a very scary moment. Having spent all my education, time, huge financial investments, and an early career refining my craft as a performing musician (a flutist) — I felt overwhelmed in thinking that it would all go waste if I chose to pursue this new career path in orchestral management. (What would a flutist know about budgets and business plans?) But I realize now that in seizing that scary moment — it made some amazing things happen. That I could channel my love for music as a performer, into being convener and passionate advocate for our community to experience the joy and power of music.

Once I realized that I could “give back” being off the stage, was a wonderful defining moment for me. Take risks and don’t be afraid to pursue something that seems a little scary — take a chance as it can open opportunities not just for careers, but to unlock a part of yourself that can be empowering to you and to others around you.”

Janet Chen, Executive Director at ProMusica Chamber Orchestra


“The hardest work I’ve ever done is getting to know myself.  What I learned was to forgive myself by reframing missteps with this mindset mantra –  “You did the best you could with what you knew.” Once I believed this it led to suspending self-judgement, the courage to speak truth to power and ownership of my purpose in life to show up, stand up and speak up for equality.”

René Delane, CEO/Founder of Women Who Dare LLC


“Through undergrad, I had been managing local coffee shops and trying to figure out what was next. I had recently applied to a stretch job at the United Way of Dane County (in Madison, WI) in the Community-Building Department and I didn’t even think that they would consider me! I have a distinct memory of standing in the back office of my coffee shop and realizing that I wanted to be part of an organization, part of a team, that is passionate about serving the community. It was a very clear and calming realization. A few days later, I was again in the back office of my coffee shop and the phone rang. I picked up the receiver (this was before cell phones) and it was the HR Director at United Way calling to offer the job to me! I was trying to play it cool on the phone, but when I hung up I was so elated and assured that this was the right direction for my career that I had to tell a bunch of people right away! This position allowed me to become involved and familiarized with the movers and shakers in the nonprofit community throughout the county. I knew that working with nonprofit organizations and serving the community was where I belonged and, although my career has taken many twists and turns, the nonprofit community is where I call home.”

Erika Gable, Executive Director at the Women’s Small Business Accelerator


“When I realized that being a person of integrity was not just important for me personally but also critical to my career leadership goals. I say what I’m going to do and I do what I say. And of course being true your word also just makes you a better person.”

Jami Goldstein, Vice President, Marketing, Communications & Events at the Greater Columbus Arts Council


“Working in a family business all my life, then selling our family business to the world’s largest restaurant company, McDonald’s, provided me with some memorable moments. However, the single biggest career defining moment came in February 2003. McDonald’s stock hit a record low and they publicly announced their intention to sell or close all of the Donatos restaurants. Within moments of the announcement, my dad walked into my office and I blurted out, ‘Let’s buy the company back!’ It was my first reaction to the news, even though I had no idea how to buy back our family business from a publicly traded company. I was confident that our destiny to build a business based on principles wasn’t going to end by closing our doors. Our family worked hard to build a company founded on solid principles of goodwill, honesty and integrity and we were not going to walk away from our customers or our people. While we believe we have great pizza, we believe that food served with love nourishes the soul. It’s bigger than the pizza. At Donatos every piece is important.”

Jane Grote Abell, Chairwoman of the Board at Donatos Pizza and Jane’s Dough Foods


“When I realized that I didn’t need to work 60 hours a week to have a great career. I then proceeded to build a business around professionals working in a part-time flexible way.”

Lori Kaiser, Founder and CEO at Kaiser Consulting, LLC


“Doors closing have always been blessings in disguise for my career. Most recently, being downsized from a corporate role has allowed me to focus all of my attention on building my own business. The transition may have been unanticipated, but it’s allowed me the time and space to fully-embrace being an entrepreneur and follow my passion.”

Danielle A. Lim, Co-Creator at Haven Collective


“A career defining moment for me was when I was appointed Co-Executive Director of After-School All-Stars Ohio in my mid-twenties. We were not on a path of growth. In fact, we were on our way to closing our doors. My Co-Executive Director and I redefined the organization, strengthened our board of directors and set high standards of excellence for our students, staff and community partners. In four short years, we went statewide with nine school sites serving over 1,000 students in three cities, 18 full-time and over 40 part-time employees. It was hard work. I got my MBA by fire, but that experience set me on the path to having the courage to start my own business and become an entrepreneur.”

Aslyne Rodriguez, Co-Founder & CEO at EmpowerBus


“Being part of an organization where I can use my creativity to boost our city’s quality of life gets me out of bed early and on the bus smiling every morning. Big bonus – my team is ambitious, smart, resourceful and kind.”

Katy Smith, Copywriter at Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA)


“The day when my non-negotiables and boundaries emerged with raging clarity. The day that I understood my worth and my purpose in this world. The day that the power of choice grabbed me by the back of my collar and shook me to ‘my next.'”

Barb Smoot, President & CEO at Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD)


“Finding fulfillment in my career has come in many different forms. Whether it’s making an introduction that turns into a second date, attending the wedding for a couple I’ve introduced, or simply providing hope to someone who needs uplifted.

The first defining moment in my career was finding the confidence to start my company, A-List Introductions. ‘Executive Matchmaking 101’ was not a course option at college, so finding the courage and confidence to create a company from scratch, motivated entirely by the drive I had to show my daughter that she, too, can create anything she feels strongly about, was no easy feat. Two advice columns (Ask Nicci), four business model adjustments, and 1000+ introductions later, I learned that staying the course and being confident is key.”

Nicci Sprouse-Grosso​, President at A-List Introductions​


“In 1994 I interviewed for an Administrative Assistant to the President/CEO position ​of a national non-profit. What I knew about non-profit work at the time was defined only by The Heart Fund drive that my mom always volunteered for and I, my sisters and brother did the walking. (That was also when door-to-door solicitation was safe). My interview was a 90-minute education session on non-profit work, and the unmet needs in every community. Walking out of that interview, I knew that there was a place for me and the work that I would do could be important. 24 years later and I still feel there is a place for me and that the work we do is important.”

Teresa A. Trost​, Executive Director​ at Community Shares of Mid Ohio​


“There is a fine line between success and significance. My career defining moment can be characterized in this way. I began my career as a management trainee with Ohio National Bank, now known as PNC Bank. I climbed the latter of success and ended up as Vice President of Community Development. It was at this point after 16 years of success that I experienced my career defining moment.

In short, the President and CEO of Ohio Health made me an offer that I could not refuse – an offer that changed the trajectory of my life! I left my colleagues at the bank for a position which not only provided me significant compensation but a position that allowed me the flexibility to interact with the community in a way that impacted lives for generations.

Ohio Health provided me the opportunity to start City Year Columbus, and ironically allowed me to leverage my previous relationships in ways that I could not believe. In fact, the President of the bank chaired the City Year Board and later a former colleague recommended me to Mayor Greg Lashutka for what turned out to be a 13 year appointment to the Columbus Civil Service Commission. This experience not only elevated my understanding of the city, but ultimately led to me becoming a member of Columbus City Council where I’ve been honored to serve for the last 11 years.

My career defining moment was the catalyst that changed my previously successful life to a life of significance – a life which makes a difference in the lives of others.”

Priscilla R. Tyson, Council Member at Columbus City Council


“Girl Scouts has taken on new branding over the past year by the unveiling of G.I.R.L. which stands for Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk Taker, and Leader. I believe that leaders often display all of these traits within their roles.

My career defining moment was a time when I had to display my risk taking characteristic. In 2007, I accepted the role of CEO of a legacy Girl Scout Council that would be merging with two other Girl Scout Councils. My hope was to be selected as the CEO of the newly emerging Council at the end of the process however there was no guarantee especially since a national search would be conducted.

I figured that I would either learn a lot about what it takes to successfully conduct a merger; skills that would serve me well in my future job search; or I would retain the job of my dreams. That was over 10 years ago and had I not taken the risk, I would not be CEO of Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland Council today.”

Tammy H. Wharton, Chief Executive Officer at Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland


Photo credit: Headshot photos were submitted to us by each interviewee. Additional photo credit goes to Rich Buchanan (for Janet Chen) and LaJuana Taylor (for Kris Cannon-Jackson, Erika Gable, Katy Smith and Teresa Trost).


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