CUMBERLAND — A panel of women executives shared the experiences and challenges that have come with reaching top positions in their industries at the Cobb Chamber’s monthly breakfast on Monday.
The chamber also named Allison Giddens, director of operations at Win-Tech, Inc., an aerospace machine shop in Kennesaw, as its 28th Woman of Distinction. Giddens, who in 2012 founded the Dave Krache sports nonprofit foundation, sent a message of empowerment to female business owners and entrepreneurs, highlighting her success in a male-dominated industry.
“I’m stunned. To be up here with the list that’s come before me is incredibly humbling,” she said. “This one is for everybody in industries where (you’re) not supposed to be. Thank you. We’re supposed to be here.”
Giddens comments were punctuated by discussions in the morning’s “Climb to the C-Suite” panel, moderated by Carla Jackson, Cobb’s tax commissioner and chair of Cobb Executive Women.
Panelists included Tammy Cohen, founder and chief visionary officer of InfoMart, a pre-employment screening human resources company; Gretchen Corbin, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corporation; and Pamela Whitten, president of Kennesaw State University.
The executives answered questions on topics including how their businesses or institutions would stay relevant in the digital age, how each executive displayed resolve during a challenging time in their career and what advice each could share for how to climb to the C-suite, a title derived from the titles of top senior staffers.
Cohen encouraged local business owners to invest in their relationships and workers and to persevere in the face of adversity, reflecting on her own father’s attempt to undermine her success nearly 30 years ago. She said in her company’s infancy, her father stole and trademarked many of her ideas, a setback that could have sunk her business endeavors altogether.
“He decided he loved this idea so much, he was going to steal the idea, start a business across town, take two of my employees, steal my database ... and it was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was just very devastating,” Cohen said.
It was through her relationships with competitors that Cohen said after only six or seven months she was back on her feet. And when the recession hit, she said she was able to give back the help she received.
Whitten said her climb to the C-suite stemmed from thinking outside the box. She said during the Great Recession, when she was serving as a dean at Michigan State, she had to make difficult choices about where to cut 15% from her college’s budget, as requested by her superiors. Instead of cutting 15% across the board, Whitten said she analyzed what programs in the college were producing the most for the school and only cut the programs that were lagging behind.
“It ended up actually ... being the best thing that happened to that college,” she said, adding that it had been an opportunity for the school to look to the future. “I would say it taught me a lot, in terms of courage, about being a leader, particularly in a public sector and higher education as well.”
All three women said their success was seated in their investment in employees, commitment to integrity and morals, as well as consistent hard work. The panelists urged entrepreneurs to accept as many opportunities as possible and to be flexible.
Corbin said the most important advice she could give is to “champion others,” take risks, and identify a passion.
“Push the noise away. Make sure you know your passion, follow your passion, and keep with it,” she said.