It was more than 10 years ago when Utah Business magazine first decided to annually honor 30 women who are setting the professional gold standard, not just for women, but for every professional. Since then, we’ve annually combed Utah’s business landscape to bring you the most up-and-coming professionals you’d want to keep an eye on.
In this special recognition feature, we’ve done just that: kept an eye on the former 30 Women to Watch honorees and their scope of influence. Take a look now at what some of them have accomplished. Their achievements testify that a good leader’s reach is limitless.
Nicole Toomey Davis
Then: Co-founder, President and CEO of DoBox Inc.
Now: Director of the Centers of Excellence Program, Governor’s Office of Economic Development
When Utah Business magazine recognized Nicole Toomey Davis nine years ago, she was a successful entrepreneur who had just launched DoBox, a provider of residential gateway software and parental control solutions for the broadband gateway industry
Today Davis’ accomplishments could fill pages. Beyond having a hand in developing many startup companies, Davis now helps other entrepreneurs reach success in her role as the director of the Centers of Excellence (COE) program for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). In this position, Davis plays an integral role in the COE program, which is a grant program designed to provide early funding for technologies developed at Utah’s colleges and universities that are being licensed by either a startup or an existing Utah company to take to market.
Since becoming director of the CEO, Davis says she’s learned a lot about the role of politics in business—and vice versa. “If elected officials do not hear from the business community, they do not always know the impact of the decision that they are making,” she says.
Davis’ decision to take the COE director’s post didn’t come easily, though. “I never imagined that I would work for the government,” she says. “When I was approached about running the Centers of Excellence program, I discussed it with Brad, my husband and business partner. I told him that I felt government service was a huge left turn. He just looked at me and said, ‘If you do it, you could help change the game for entrepreneurs in Utah, and that is worth doing.’”
The impact of Davis’ decision to lead the COE program has meant accelerating the go-to-market phase of some very promising technologies ranging from life science technologies, to new types of materials to information technologies. “There are many companies which have come through our program, particularly in the past 18 months, who have told me that the company would not have survived the downturn without it.”
Then and Now: President and Principal Architect, ajc Architects
When Jill Jones’ was recognized in 2002, she describes being told that architecture was a “man’s field” and that she “wouldn’t get along with the boys in the drafting room.” Pushing those comments aside, Jones went on to start one of the first woman-owned architectural firms in Utah.
Now, Jones has not only proven that women have a place in the drafting room, her work is contributing to groundbreaking projects in Utah’s environmental building efforts.
Ajc Architects recently completed its first LEED Platinum-certified building for Utah State University, the Utah Botanical Center Wetland Discover Point. The firm also completed the design for a new visitor and research center for Mesa Verde National Park, which required working with more than 20 American Indian tribes to design the LEED Platinum-certified project.
These accomplishments, among her many others, have given Jones a new perspective. “My energy has shifted from being successful to finding and engaging in relationships with clients that have a strong commitment to sustainable design,” says Jones. “Now success means so much more. The type of client, relationships and type of work all add a deeper layer to the meaning of success.”
Jones says the most important thing a woman can do to succeed in today’s business world is obtain knowledge, experience and education in a field she loves. “You must have a passion for what you do. Your passion is contagious,” she says. “In the beginning, everything was unknown and scary [to me], and now I realize you can go after what you want with the passion and expectation of success.”
Julie H. Kilgore
Then: Principal, Wasatch Environmental, Inc.
Now: President, Wasatch Environmental, Inc.
Since being honored in our 2003 30 Women to Watch program, Julie H. Kilgore has remained committed to Wasatch Envirnomental and to protecting Utah’s environment.
Seven years ago, she was enrolled in the University of Utah’s Executive MBA program, chairing the national industry standards-setting ASTM Task Force and working as a principal at Wasatch Environmental, Inc., an environmental science and engineering firm that focuses primarily on soil and groundwater investigations and cleanups. She climbed into that position from starting as an office manager when the business was just a two person startup and later served as vice president. Today she has been with the company for more than 20 years and has a majority interest.
And through it all, no experience had quite the impact on her than being part of the 2003 EPA All Appropriate Inquiries regulatory negotiation. She was one of 25 negotiators appointed to this federal advisory committee to help the EPA develop its own set of standards related to legislation passed in 2002. She was successful in convincing the EPA and other negotiators to adopt ASTM E1527 as part of those standards.
“It was the most grueling thing I have ever been through,” she recalls. “I had incredible support, a great mentor and formidable foes. I learned a lot about my own strengths, and learned how to manage a couple of my own weaknesses that had the potential to limit the effectiveness of my negotiating position.”
Last year, Kilgore was presented with the ASTM International ASTM International Award of Merit and accompanying title of fellow. The Award of Merit was established in 1949 by the ASTM International board of directors and is the highest society award granted to an individual member for distinguished service and outstanding participation in ASTM International Committee activities.
Then: Vice President of Public Policy, Kennecott Land
Now: President, Vicki Varela Stategic Communications
Putting all the questions, ideas and challenges on the table creates the best results and greatest trust, says Vicki Varela.
“I nearly nixed my first career move from journalism to public relations because I feared asking for schedule flexibility when I got pregnant with my first child during the hiring process,” says Varela. “Once I started the conversation, the employer was fantastic.”
Varela has had many winning conversations since then. She’s worked as former Governor Mike Leavitt’s communications strategist and deputy chief of staff; director of the 1989 Olympics Referendum Campaign, which generated statewide support for the construction of Olympic facilities; and served as Western Regional chair for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. She’s also played an integral role in developing Salt Lake Valley’s west side and organized a community partnership that accelerated the construction of the Mid-Jordan Light Rail Line to Daybreak, which opens this year.
“The Daybreak promise we made at Kennecott Land is being fulfilled,” she says. “I’m proud of my part in it.”
Now, as president of her own strategic communications consulting practice, Varela is doing what she considers the most important thing a woman can do to succeed in today’s business world: advancing big ideas and actions that create the greatest value. Her work focuses on education, housing, energy and other public policy issues that mater to business.
Then and Now: President, Weber State University
Probably one of the most compelling things to notice about Ann Millner’s progression since her 30 Women to Watch recognition in 2005 is how she embraced her vision then to create results now.
“She has worked at five institutions across the nation and uses her experience to bring broad higher education strategies to her role,” we reported in 2005, mentioning how duing the course of her career she partnered with colleagues to construct the new WSU-Davis campus, develop WSU Online and launch integrated marketing strategies, among other accomplishments. “Under her leadership, changing minds continues as the hallmark of the WSU experience, where teaching and learning processes are designed to shape the next generation of responsible, educated citizens.”
Millner’s role in shaping the next generation came forward again at the Utah State Capitol the beginning of this year when she announced the Dream Weber program.
“Weber State University has a long tradition of making educational dreams a reality,” said Millner. “This program has tremendous potential to lend a hand and improve the economic circumstances of many individuals all across the community.”
The Dream Weber program provides free tuition to Utah resident students whose annual household income is equal to or less than $25,000 and who are Pell Grant eligible.
“I describe myself as a facilitative leader who works with people to develop and execute an organizational agenda that empowers everyone. Organizations are interdependent and people need to work together to achieve common goals,” says Millner. “I realize more every day how important it is to have a great team of people working together to help the university and our students be successful.”
Seeing the successes of WSU students achieving their educational dreams is the aspect of Millner’s job she enjoys the most, and makes for a great workplace, she says. “The engagement of students and faculty in learning and discovery makes the campus an energizing, dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment.”