Since 2009, Girl Scouts River Valleys has annually honored local role models whose professional accomplishments, leadership and community contributions inspire girls to reach their highest potential.
As senior vice president, chief actuary, and chief risk officer at Securian—a company that creates financial security and long-term value for more than nine million clients in all 50 states and Puerto Rico—Leslie Chapman uses her teamwork philosophy to oversee many initiatives that are central to maintaining the company’s current strength and future stability.
Since beginning her career at Securian, Ms. Chapman has regularly taken on increased responsibilities. She was appointed second vice president in 1996, vice president and chief actuary in 2009, and chief risk officer in 2010. She is responsible for enterprise risk management, rating agency coordination, and the corporate actuarial and tax functions. Minneapolis-based Finance & Commerce named her to its 2010 list of Top Women in Finance.
“Our company is growing so fast that I have had a lot of opportunity to do many different things,” Ms. Chapman said. “I like more variety. I like things to move fast. I’ve been able to spread my wings here. There is so much to learn from—even your mistakes.”
Ms. Chapman prides herself in being a patient, hard-working leader who helps others by setting a good example. “I think the world of her,” said Nancy Nelson, chief actuary at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. “She is incredibly smart and a really good teacher. She simply leads by example and people follow.”
Ms. Nelson, who previously worked for Ms. Chapman for five years, said she hopes to model her management style after Ms. Chapman’s. “Leslie juggles a lot of things — her faith, family, and a very busy job,” Ms. Nelson said. “It’s good for women to see that you can have it all if you work hard. She is a warm person — thoughtful, deliberate, and happy.”
In addition to her work at Securian, Ms Chapman is a member and fellow with the Society of Actuaries where she chaired its tax committee. She also is a member of the American Academy of Actuaries. “Becoming an actuary is hard work and can take four or five years of serious study,” she said. “But I encourage any young woman with a love of problem-solving to consider it because it can put you in a position to help others, and that is a win-win: interesting work that helps others.”
Outside the finance field, Ms. Chapman has worked closely with SteppingStone Theatre, where young people find inspiration and improve their communication skills. They explore unique and creative opportunities both on and off the stage. Ms. Chapman served as treasurer for the board of directors, co-led the strategic development committee, and helped identify and raise funds for SteppingStone Theatre’s new site.
“Leslie is a consummate professional in everything she does. She is intelligent and thoughtful,” said John Kelly, vice president of tax for UnitedHealth Group. “She is a devoted parent and a great role model for girls.”
Ms. Chapman earned her bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
It’s so important for girls to keep their options open. I love the idea that young people are saying they want to try something different for a while—interact with other people who aren’t just like them. That gives people the opportunity to grow. It may not be their forever deal, but they can stretch themselves and cast their net wide. Don’t turn your back on any opportunity.
The first female chief officer in the 100-year history of Hormel Foods—a company that focuses on people, products, process, performance, and philanthropy— Jody Feragen directs accounting, internal audits, investor relations, treasury, and information technology. She joined the Austin-based company in 2000 as treasurer, and assumed roles of increasing responsibility before being promoted to executive vice president and CFO in 2010.
“I never really kept score on being the first woman in any of my businesses,” she said. “I never really looked to make an impression for that reason. I just looked at the company and the opportunity and decided if I had the right skill set. That was it. But being in my position now allows me to be vocal about bringing more women into the room.”
While Hormel’s business is transitioning from a meat-packing operation to a prepared-foods company, the culture hasn’t changed as much and still employs more men than women, according to Jeff Ettinger, CEO–Hormel Foods. “She has won over the organization with her strong work ethic, and her keen understanding of the financial drivers of our business,” said Mr. Ettinger, who has known Ms. Feragen for 10 years. “She is a no-nonsense, highly capable, and professional manager.”
That professionalism carries forward into Ms. Feragen’s efforts to support young women as they choose their own career paths. “Jody is extremely diligent and competent, while she’s also a fun person to be around,” Mr. Ettinger said. “Our company has enjoyed meaningful success in the last several years and she has been a key member of the team delivering that success. I admire how Jody has been both a highly successful business leader and also a terrific mother. I believe the balance she has achieved is a great example for young girls.”
An active member of St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Ms. Feragen has served on the church council in officer roles and chaired the annual stewardship campaign. She served for six years on the board of trustees and was finance committee chair of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Ms. Feragen also is active with the United Way Day of Caring.
“She is someone outstanding in her field—she brings a lot of credit to her profession,” said Tim Penny, president of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. “If she walked into a Girl Scout meeting where young women were the audience, she would immediately command attention. And people would be inspired by her example.”
Ms. Feragen was the first in her family to attend college. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota and her master of business administration from the University of Minnesota.
As you move toward your goals, learn all the skills you need and take advantage of the challenges that are out there. Don’t think you can’t do something until you try it first. Being a successful woman gives you the visibility needed to set that standard so be well prepared when you go out there and really know what you want.
As vice president of corporate services and corporate secretary at Xcel Energy Inc., Cathy Hart is responsible for corporate communications, property services, shareholder relations, aviation services, corporate compliance, and the Xcel Energy Foundation. Xcel Energy currently provides services to 3.4 million electricity customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers. Prior to the 2000 merger between Northern States Power Co. and New Century Energies (NCE), in Denver, Colo., Ms. Hart was corporate secretary for NCE.
Ms. Hart previously held public relations positions at NCE, American Electric Power, Desbrow & Associates, and Old Ben Coal Co.
“I am genuine about who I am and what I’ve done. I’m not afraid to say I’ve made a mistake or that I don’t know something,” Ms. Hart said. “Having respect is very important to me; respect for the job and for the people who help you do that job.”
Ms Hart commutes from Denver each week to Xcel’s Minneapolis headquarters. She is active in United Way campaigns for both communities. She also serves on the board of trustees of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, the Colorado Ethics in Business Leadership Council, and the advisory committee of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals.
Having changed careers five times and lived in five states and two countries, Ms. Hart stays flexible and open to opportunities. Her experiences are one reason she promises to support women who are just starting out. “She is highly encouraging of women and girls in all aspects of business,” said Elizabeth Willis, vice president of corporate communications for Xcel Energy. “She never turns anyone away and is always very giving of her time.”
Ms. Willis has known Ms. Hart for 11 years and has worked directly for her during the past six years. “It is hard to work with her and not know her personally,” Ms. Willis said. “She is a very warm person who shares a lot about herself. I think that is one of the reasons she is such an effective leader.”
Ms. Hart received recognition for her mentoring when she was selected as the 2009 Woman of the Year by the Women’s Vision Foundation, and was one of five finalists for the 2009 Athena Award from the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Cathy is my mentor and, I’m proud to say, my friend,” said Patrice Blaeser, assistant corporate secretary for Xcel Energy. “She does a lot to make sure those around her get recognized and is always sharing the credit she receives.”
A native of Magnolia, Ohio, Ms. Hart earned her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and has completed the public utilities executive course at the University of Idaho.
It’s not enough to have a dream; you have to tell people what that dream is. Unless people know exactly what you want, you’re not likely to get it. Have your voice heard and don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never tried before. It’s okay not to succeed the first time. Use those experiences to build up to your next success story.
Born to immigrants from China, Judy Kishel learned two things from her parents at a young age: be respectful, and anticipate the needs of those around you. Ms. Kishel took those early lessons and became a positive influence in her community.
That community includes the Girl Scouts. Ms. Kishel has served on the board of directors for the Girl Scout Council of St. Croix Valley, chaired self-evaluation and corporate goals task groups, trained national delegates, facilitated focus groups for the 100th anniversary, and served on several committees, including the nominating, fund development, and diversity and outreach.
“Women’s organizations such as the Girl Scouts are like incubators for women leaders,” Ms. Kishel said. “They offer opportunities and comfort zones to learn to lead. They allow you to fall and they will pick you up. They will offer you applause, recognition, thanks, a better, robust community, and, if you’re lucky, lifelong friendships.”
As a University of Minnesota alumna, Ms. Kishel spends much of her time volunteering for her alma mater. She is active with the Weisman Art Museum as a member of the colleagues’ advisory board, the executive committee, re-opening gala committee, and the search committee for the communications and events director. She is a board member for the Regions Hospital Foundation and serves the Junior League of Saint Paul, Cathedral Heritage Foundation, United Way of Saint Paul, and YWCA of Saint Paul.
“Judy is a high performer and a wonderful communicator. She is clear, direct, and organized,” said Sister Madeleine Munday of Home of the Good Shepherd. “She is warm, courageous, genuine, and generous. And she loves life, family, community, travel, beauty, and has a wide range of interests.”
Sister Munday is Ms. Kishel’s friend and worked closely with her as volunteers for the Home of the Good Shepherd. “Young girls see Judy in action and want to be just like her. Girls hold her up as a role model because she is a role model,” said Sister Munday. “She has a charm and graciousness that are very attractive and girls pick that up and learn from it.”
In the past, Ms. Kishel has volunteered for a diverse group of organizations, including the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Courage Center Foundation, Children’s Hospital of Saint Paul, Minnesota Orchestral Association, Minnesota Public Radio, and Saint Thomas Academy.
Throughout her career in public service, Ms. Kishel received numerous awards including Outstanding Service from the Saint Paul District Dental Society, the Girl Scout Appreciation Pin, and she was chosen one of 11 “Bright Lights of the Twin Cities” by Lear’s Magazine.
Ms. Kishel earned her bachelor’s degree and her registered dental assistant certificate from the University of Minnesota, and her certified dental assistant and teaching certificates from Century College.
I get a deep satisfaction from volunteering and creating strong networks with my community and the people in it. It has helped me build great confidence and, as I have gotten older, it has helped me find my voice.
As assistant vice president of corporate accounts at Food Safety Specialists, Ecolab, Jamice Obianyo’s formula for success is mentoring, leveraging current customer relationships to build new safety programs, and making a positive impact wherever she goes. At Ecolab, a global leader in cleaning, sanitizing, food safety, and infection prevention products and services, Ms. Obianyo is the first African-American technical director and a founding member of the first Employee Resource Network. She launched the St. Paul chapter of E3 Women’s Affinity to encourage women in their personal and professional growth. She also supports numerous initiatives focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and inspires the exchange of ideas and knowledge.
When she joined Ecolab nearly 13 years ago as a chemist, Ms. Obianyo saw that she was the only woman on staff, the only female scientist, and the only person of color. “How do I move forward when no one who looks like me has done it before?” she said she thought at the time. “It was then that I decided to celebrate differences by connecting to the heart.”
Taking on leading roles for the Women’s Foodservice Forum and the Network of Executive Women, Ms. Obianyo demonstrated her commitment to empowering women, helping them achieve their highest potential, and attracting, retaining, and advancing women in the foodservice industry.
“It’s her bubbly personality and her smile—no doubt about it,” said Armando Camacho, president of Neighborhood House, where Ms. Obianyo recently held the position of board of directors chair. “Her personality is full of love, full of joy. You see it and you feel it,” Mr. Camacho said. “She is an amazing project manager and can balance corporate and community needs perfectly. She gives back to the community to protect the next generation, and truly has her priorities straight—family, faith, career, and community.”
An active supporter of children’s programs, Ms. Obianyo works with the Minnesota Science Museum and area high schools where she leads annual exhibits spotlighting African-American, American Indian, and Latino scientists who encourage kids to pursue STEM careers. She is also on the board of directors for Children’s Home Society and the YWCA of Minneapolis.
“She doesn’t wear her professional success on her sleeve,” said Marsha Pitts-Phillips, public relations manager for Greater Twin Cities United Way. “She gives people the same personal attention whether you’re a woman of 80 or a girl of eight.” Ms. Pitts-Phillips works with Ms. Obianyo on the women’s ministry leadership team at their Minneapolis church. “She has grace, humility, and her unwavering love for God which is something that we can all learn from.”
Ms. Obianyo earned her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and completed graduate studies at Penn State University. Ms. Obianyo is currently enrolled in the executive master of business administration program at the E. Phillip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Don’t let anyone set boundaries for you. Reach for the stars and don’t settle for anything less. And no matter where you are, pay it forward. Help someone else. There is nothing more important than that.
Valerie Halverson Pace
Serving IBM in the corporate citizenship and corporate affairs department, Valerie Halverson Pace has a mission: leverage IBM people and technology in effective partnerships to solve problems impacting society and our quality of life. Her special interests are education, diversity, and the application of quality management and technology for systems improvement.
Since joining IBM, Ms. Pace has worked diligently in several different roles, including location manager for sales and services operations in Duluth; state education advisor for Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota; and administrative assistant to the IBM director of education and management development.
“Expose yourself to a lot of different experiences before you make any decisions,” Ms. Pace recommends to young girls. “Do your work. Go the whole nine yards and complete a project once you start it. Put yourself in a mix where you can spend time with people who aren’t like you or your family. Expose yourself to different views and different attitudes and keep your mind open to opportunity.”
Ms. Pace serves on the Governor’s Education Council and on the board of directors for the Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges. She participated in the Citizen’s League Higher Education Study and the University of Minnesota Commission on Out-of-School Time. She has served on the boards of the Minnesota and Rochester chambers of commerce, the Minnesota Council on Foundations, and the Minnesota High Tech Association. Ms. Pace is active in the Minnesota-Uruguay Partners of the Americas.
“I had many ‘a-ha’ moments during my time in Girl Scouts,” Ms. Pace said. “I found out what I didn’t want to do and what I did. It was also a great opportunity to make good friendships that will last a lifetime—friends who like you for who you are. Girl Scouts is a place to go where you are welcome and accepted.”
The native Iowan earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and her doctorate in American studies from the University of Minnesota. She taught urban studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and joined the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs as director of the Metro Urban Studies Team.
To find your passion, you have to have self discipline. You have to know that it is you who creates your future—you can’t blame mom and dad anymore. You make the decisions. We need to enable our girls—give them role models. They can build their confidence and we can show them that the important part is just to try. You may make a huge mistake but you will have succeeded because you tried.
The Honorable Wilhelmina Wright
The Honorable Wilhelmina Wright sits on the Minnesota Court of Appeals where she reviews civil, administrative, and criminal cases. Appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2002, Ms. Wright is a member of Minnesota Judicial Council, Minnesota Courts Public Trust, and Confidence Working Group. In 2002, she served as a Federal Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel member.
Before joining the Minnesota Court of Appeals, she was the first black woman to sit on the Ramsey County District Court, was assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Minnesota, practiced law in Washington, D.C., and clerked for the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District.
“I wasn’t sure if I should become an English professor or a lawyer,” Ms. Wright said. “But I decided that becoming a civil rights lawyer would give me a greater opportunity to impact people and improve our society. So, I went to law school.”
Always open to helping a young lawyer find their way—especially when that budding lawyer is a woman—Ms. Wright learned these values from her parents when she was growing up. “Mimi is a positive role model to young women simply because of the way she conducts herself in the courtroom and in the community,” said B. Todd Jones, United States Attorney. “She has one daughter, but seems to have a lot of ‘children’ as she takes on the role of mentor for young lawyers. She loves helping to develop young women into strong citizens.”
Judge Wright serves on the Saint Paul Academy and Summitt School board of trustees, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs advisory council, and the Minnesota Women Lawyers advisory board. She has also served on the board of directors for the Girl Scout Council of Saint Croix Valley, the William Mitchell College of Law, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
“For Mimi, stewardship for the next generation is always on the forefront. She makes sure those who come behind us have better opportunities and are positioned to do even better things,” said Lisa Brabbit, assistant dean for external relations at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Ms. Wright graduated with honors from Yale University and earned her law degree from Harvard. She received the Myra Bradwell Award from the Minnesota Women Lawyers, the Lena O. Smith Achievement Award from the Black Women Lawyers Network, the B. Warren Hart Award for Public Service from the Saint Paul Jaycees, and the Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans Award.
Be deliberate about finding your passion, seek it out. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Develop a voice for yourself. Take a position and defend it. And more than anything, don’t be afraid to disagree with people—just do it respectfully.
Representing 3M as vice president and treasurer, Jan Yeomans maintains appropriate capital structure, manages global operations and global liquidity, and identifies and measures financial risk. Ms. Yeomans also finds opportunities to advance the company’s goals through innovation, external and internal resources, and process improvements.
One of the first female senior executives at 3M, Ms. Yeomans is committed to developing leadership and professional skills of employees. She aims to maximize their engagement and contributions to the future of 3M.
Since joining 3M, Ms. Yeomans has worked in several areas, including as manager of benefit funds investment, director of benefit funds and financial markets, and vice president of mergers and acquisitions.
“Jan has assembled a finance team at 3M that is one of the best around,” said Brit Bartter, a business colleague who has known Ms. Yeomans for 20 years. “Everyone on her team has tremendous respect for her and what she does. She is always willing to think outside the box, think of things in a new way, a different way, maybe even her way—but never the old way. She is unconventional, and that is a very good thing.”
Ms. Yeomans said she is not intimidated by the male-dominated career she has chosen for herself and hopes people judge her by her work performance. “Did I raise 10 percent on that investment? That’s the important question,” she said. “And that’s what I want people to see.”
“Jan is honest and very dedicated. She is a financial expert who gets to the real difficult points of a problem and offers positive ideas along the way,” said Thomas Madison, president and CEO–MLM Partners and Ms. Yeomans’ fellow member of the board of directors for Delaware Family of Funds. “Jan is the best example of a woman who has moved into an area where you don’t traditionally see women at this level. She has proven that she is there because she belongs there.”
Ms. Yeomans earned her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, graduating magna cum laude. She earned her master of science from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and her master of business administration from the University of Chicago.
Do what you love to do. If you do that, you will find success. But even better than that, your excitement will spill over to the people around you. They will see you having fun and will respect what you’re doing even more. If you wake up every day and can’t wait to get to work, then you’ve found the right path.