Julia Westfall: Building a Community of Women

Julia_westfallJulia Westfall could easily have coasted to retirement. She was 59 years old and had a good job as director of finance and human resources for a marketing and communications company in Bethesda, Maryland. Her twin daughters had started college. She absolutely could have coasted.

But then Westfall read an article about something called Hera Hub and was intrigued. It sounded like the sort of thing she wanted to be involved in. “I wasn’t really interested in retiring; it wasn’t something my husband and I ever talked about, other than planning for it financially. I always saw retirement as something far off in the future, regardless of my age.”

So Westfall began doing some research early last year on Hera Hub – a work and meeting space where women could connect and collaborate – and then reached out to its owner, Felena Hanson, who is based in San Diego County. Many Hera Hub members are professionals who had previously worked from home but found it isolating, or wanted to continue working at home part-time but also needed a space to hold meetings or meet with clients one-on-one. Westfall learned Hera Hub has three established locations in California, but more importantly, Hanson was offering franchise opportunities.

Westfall continued to do her due diligence. She scrutinized her own finances, had a franchise attorney look at the contract, and even went to San Diego to meet Hanson and tour the Hera Hub locations. Impressed with what she found, she signed the franchise agreement after three short months.

“This struck me as an amazing opportunity to do something to help women in small business. I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses over the years and gotten a great education along the way. At this point in my career, Hera Hub seemed like a really exciting way to use that experience.”

Westfall admits there have been some who questioned her decision to buy a franchise rather than starting her own IMG_2811business. She responds, “I didn’t want to do all that branding work; reinventing the wheel. I found an existing opportunity that really suits me and my vision. I’m all about taking advantage of what someone else has done and using what they’ve learned. The franchise option was very attractive to me.”

But Westfall is still a trailblazer, as the Washington DC space is the first franchise for Hera Hub. “That intrigued me, too. I kind of like being first at things. It’s a challenge and I feel like I can make a difference for the people coming up behind me.”

Signing the franchise agreement was only the first step, after which the real work began. Westfall needed to find a location for the business and also to build brand awareness and educate people on the concept of shared workspace. When it became obvious that finding the right space wasn’t going to be easy, Westfall decided to open a temporary location so she could get started as soon as possible.

Westfall recently signed a lease for her permanent location in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. Hera Hub refers to its décor as “spa-inspired,” but don’t show up expecting a pedicure. The space is serene, quiet, and conducive to working, and private offices and meeting rooms can be reserved as needed.

IMG_2858Hera Hub also hosts evening workshops, programs, and events, where members come together as a community to learn from and support each other to the extent that they choose to.

“It’s a great group of women,” Westfall says of her founding members. “One is an artist. Another woman has a proofreading and editing company. There’s a website designer, an art curator, a business coach, a woman starting her own private equity firm. That’s what’s so great about Hera Hub – it’s real mix. This gives us the opportunity to make connections, support each other, and pass along some individual perspective.”

Eventually, Westfall would like to have about 120-150 members of different membership levels. At that point, she

Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet
Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet

would consider opening other Hera Hub offices in the DC metro area.

Westfall reflects on her age and why she isn’t ready to retire. “The advantage of me being 60 is that I’ve already done so many things, and your experiences make you who you are. I don’t think I would be as successful if I had done this at 40. I would have missed 20 years of experience. This is the right time for me. Also, being older, my husband and I have had the chance to establish ourselves financially.

“I’ve also had people ask if I’m buying this business for my daughters. I’m not. Sure, if they get out of college and are interested and have something to offer I would welcome them, but this business is for me. Although I guess I do want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do, at whatever age they happen to be.”

And for Westfall, Hera Hub can open doors at any age. “You always know that these amazing women are out there – especially in an area like Washington DC – but now I get to actually build relationships with them. That’s where I’m getting the most benefit – getting to know these women who are at all stages in their businesses, all different backgrounds, different education levels. I probably never would have crossed paths with most of them without Hera Hub. I’m very grateful for that.”

Tips from Julia Westfall
  • Whatever your business, find a community of people who care about you and support you.
  • Figure out where your strengths are, and be honest about your weaknesses. Then find support in those areas where you’re not as strong.
  • The pressure to achieve work/life balance can be intense. It can be hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it, but it helps to see work/life balance as something that’s spread over your entire life. Sometimes it’s more about work, and sometimes it’s more about family, and that’s okay.

Lyndsey DePalma: Working to Create a Space to Relax

Lyndsey DePalmaAlthough it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason that Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma decided to open a tea shop, it could have been her great-grandmother Agnes, with her lifelong love of tea and appreciation for its medicinal benefits, who planted the seed.  Or it might have been DePalma’s own longing for a space for tea drinkers to relax in a world overrun by coffee shops. Or maybe it was the fact that she was turning 30 and did not relish the idea of a lifetime in human resources at a big four accounting firm.

DePalma majored in biology as an undergrad but realized about halfway through that while she did like biology, she couldn’t imagine herself working in a lab. After graduation, a friend helped her get a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she started in an entry-level administrative role. She was soon moved to the human resources department and from there worked her way through the ranks to become an HR manager. She stayed for nearly eight years.

A few years into her job she decided to go back to school part-time to get her MBA. She didn’t have any particular goal in mind at the time; she just wanted to become more business savvy and thought the degree could be useful in her career. But as she pored over the business plans of so many others as part of her MBA classes, the idea slowly began to take root that perhaps she shouldn’t just be studying other people’s business plans but actually writing one of her own. She’d always had the idea in the back of her mind of opening a tea shop, so she decided that maybe, just as an exercise, she would write a business plan. “And that’s when it all kind of came together,” she says. (more…)

Celia Berk: Everything’s Coming Up Roses… Finally

Celia Berk Press PhotoDreams never die. Sometimes they just don’t happen exactly when you think they will.

Celia Berk remembers that moment vividly. The moment when she knew exactly what she wanted to do the rest of her life – sing… but not just sing … sing on stage, and sing on a New York stage. Her moment is now here, just a few years later than she originally thought.

She was in sixth grade and her mother took her to see the great Ethel Merman in what was one of her final performances. Merman was doing a revival of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun at Lincoln Center, and Berk was blown away. “She was absolutely amazing. I bought a souvenir program and when I got home, I crossed out Ethel Merman’s name and put my name in her place.”

Sort of like the business owners who write themselves a check for a million dollars before they’ve made any money, knowing that one day, they’ll be able to cash that inspirational check, Berk would look to the program occasionally as inspiration. (more…)

Michelle Tenzyk: Bringing Down Walls to Build Relationships

MichelleTenzyk-full-lengthWhen you look at Michelle Tenzyk, you see a very well-put-together, well-packaged individual. She’s a confident and successful business woman and feels comfortable talking about it. But like many high achieving professional individuals, there is a truth behind the woman that remains hidden. A truth that – up until now – has not been a topic of conversation in the business realm. Tenzyk aims to change all that. After a fulfilling career as a Human Resources Executive for 20 years, her second act is to help others realize their unique potential. “I want to address misperceptions. I want to take it down to the granular level and open up the conversation as to who really is the person behind the title.”

Tenzyk could have been a professional pianist. Discovering the keys at the age of eight, she played competitively throughout her school years and graduated from the College of St. Rose, New York, with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education. Knowing that pursuing a music career would be a difficult path to follow, she opted for business instead and headed to the University of Albany to get an MBA in Human Resource (HR) Management and Systems. “I miss music terribly, it was a big part of my life and enormously fulfilling but I didn’t see a future in it.”

Tenzyk held a coveted position at the infamous blue-box jeweler, Tiffany’s, where she spent five years as Director of Worldwide Training and Development. For the next ten years, she held senior HR positions in various industries until she landed a prestigious job with Condé Nast Publishing as the Senior Executive Director of Human Resources in 2005. Speaking frankly, Tenzyk says it was not a good fit from the get-go.

After parting ways, she went through a tough year, but equally used the time to consider going out on her own. With the support of her colleagues and confidantes she decided to move forward with the idea and in 2007 opened a full boutique consulting firm in Manhattan: East Tenth Group. “I wanted it to be a firm, not just a one-woman show. Seven years later, the business is going well. We offer strategic HR consulting, leadership development programs, and executive coaching services and I couldn’t be prouder.”

While Tenzyk is happy with the direction the business has taken, in recent months she’s been working on building up to something infinitely bigger, something she hopes will send waves through the corporate and business community and change forever the way we interact with each other in professional settings.

On October 1st, joined by a panel of women from a variety of industries, Tenzyk will launch “The Truth Behind Our Titles™”. This movement is dedicated toMichelleTenzyk-logo shifting the belief that in order to be professionally successful, we need to hide or disguise our inner struggles and difficulties. Tenzyk firmly believes the opposite to be true … our greatest challenges are often the key, and the door, to our greatest successes. The event will address the difficulties many executives face, personal challenges – such as depression, illness, burnout, domestic violence and more – which people tend to shy away from discussing or even acknowledging in a corporate setting.

“The Truth Behind Our Titles™ has been a ten-year dream. The concept is born out of a deep belief I have that, especially in the professional setting, there is a need to talk more openly about some of the struggles we face as very high achieving women and men: doing it in a way so that there is no fear of ruin of reputation or that this is somehow seen as a sign of weakness,” Tenzyk explains.

This not just pie in the sky and HR fluff. Tenzyk is speaking from experience …

“My own story is one of a deep adversity after being diagnosed in 1994 with clinical depression. I’ve been hospitalized many times and have had this illness as the undercurrent of my career for the last 20 years as a successful business woman. Depression can be misunderstood and carries a stigma especially when it falls into the category of major depression, which is what I have and live with. The illness is not always physically noticeable yet we suffer very deeply. And it’s not something people are as comfortable talking about in the corporate world. It is often treated as a weakness or something we should get over quickly and certainly not something to speak freely about.”

Yet, Tenzyk confidently states her depression has not prevented her from achieving great success because she was able to employ strategies and solutions to show up at work living a more balanced and integrated life. “I’ve had to find ways to cope, to keep a balance and be mindful of when there is too much stress on me. My depression definitely has a genetic component but can also be influenced by multiple life stressors. I tend to throw myself into everything I do. I can be very intense sometimes.”

Tenzyk’s story is a powerful one, but she is not the only woman courageous enough to share her story. She will be joined by a collection of powerful women with inspiring stories about their personal struggles in the workplace and their ability to overcome. Among others, Nikki Johnson-Huston will talk about her experience growing up homeless and Wendy Samuelson will share how she copes with Usher’s Syndrome, a debilitating hearing and sight condition. “We will speak to issues the corporate and professional world doesn’t like to get into, the messy bits, and how we have contended with these challenges in our careers. We want others to understand how we live our lives today, more integrated, well and wholly in the professional world and give those who need it hope that they can do the same. In other words, empowering others with strength and resilience through our common experiences.”

The launch event will perhaps be a personal challenge for Tenzyk as it is the first time she will speak so publicly about her experience. “It’s important for me to bring down the curtain of shame. To show it’s okay to talk about what I have gone through and speak proudly about what I have achieved over my career in spite of my illness. I want to inspire and make it possible for others to feel as capable themselves.”

The goal is not just to help individuals who might feel isolated in their working life but also to change how HR manages these issues and how we deal with each other more broadly in working life. A positive reflection of the HR community’s belief in Tenzyk’ s vision, CHRO of Global Business Travel at American Express, JoAnne Kruse, will make the opening remarks of the evening. Some prominent HR executives will be in the audience, along with CEOs, while other companies are bringing staff members using the event as a learning opportunity. “The turnout speaks for itself. People want to have this conversation. This is resonating. The idea of the truth. To know your truth and feel empowered, building a sense of community to know you are not alone.”

People can be inspired after events like this and many want something afterward. In anticipation of this, a LinkedIn Group will be available and other resources and support are in the works. There are plans to bring the event to Philadelphia in 2015 and other cities shortly thereafter.

Tenzyk’s timing couldn’t be better. Considering the growing debate around how to manage mental health in the US, there seems to be a momentum and sense of urgency to get these issues on the table. But regardless of the broad appeal an event like this might have, for this woman at least, the journey is personal.

“The Truth Behind Our Titles™ is my life’s work. My view is go big or go home. I’m going for it. I am acting in faith that this will gain traction and we will tour the country, possibly the world. If that doesn’t happen, I know I will have given it my all. And you know, what is most important is having one person that next day [the day after the event] to put down their shoulders and say ‘I am not alone.’ In all my years in business, I have yet to hear my story. I am not aware that we have looked behind the corporate door before in this way, but now it’s time to go there.”

Advice from Michelle Tenzyck

Michelle is often asked what women can do to support themselves more wholly in the workplace. She identifies some common traps women should avoid:

  1. Not asking for help.  As high-achieving women, we often “go at it alone,” as if making our own way demonstrates strength. This has many truths to it – but the real truth is, strength comes from asking for help – and regularly.  We have many different sources – from those who have expertise you don’t, the same expertise that I do have for better insights, from people with different POVs, and those more junior to my experience, more senior – you get the picture.  In doing so it makes us more efficient, productive and happier. Often, our strength stems from support.
  2. Not confiding in anyone. This pattern must be broken.  Whether it is someone internal to your company or external, but someone who is not only a good listener, but a great listener.  Someone who is willing to give you input and objective guidance.  Someone who is genuinely empathetic and compassionate.  As Brene Brown says, “someone who really has your back, no – really has your back”. Hope, once found, is one of the most powerful tools.
  3. Not utilizing support systems. Whether you go to HR, your EAP (employee assistance program) or an external group; find a group of like-minded, kindred spirits where you can share your struggles and challenges openly and honestly.  This could be just 2 of you or 10 of you.  But a group with whom you can share the truth without fear of repercussions or stigmatization.  Resilience is born from the realization that you are not alone.

 

Tickets are on sale now for the October 1 event in New York City at the 3 West Club.  You can register here: http://thetruthbehindtitles.com.

Chef Hollie Greene: From Human Resources to Healthy Hearts

Hollie GreeneChef Hollie Greene makes a mean cornmeal-crusted sautéed okra. And she is pretty sure she can teach you how to too and convince your finicky vegetable-phobic 8-year-old to try it and even love it. “Have you ever seen the delight in a child’s eyes when they discover they love a blanched green bean or a stuffed zucchini boat? It’s magic. That’s what I love doing most, unleashing the joy in exploring fruits and vegetables for kids and their parents.  I don’t start with a ‘get healthy’ objective. I start with joy. Good health and feeling great from what you eat is a natural outcome.”

Fresh out of grad school and armed with an undergrad degree and Masters in Human Resources (HR) from the University of South Carolina, Greene was recruited by Citigroup to join their management trainee program, which promised her a global rotation in HR. The fluent French speaker and lover-of-all-things-foreign was first posted to NYC but quickly transitioned to São Paolo, Brazil, where she worked on various projects. “I appreciated that CitiGroup sent me to a place where I didn’t speak the language. I had to learn very fast and rely on other skills. It stretched me to be out of my comfort zone. If you are worried about being an expert all the time, you lose a lot of learning opportunities. I embraced the idea of fitting in but I also learned patience and how to adapt to a different way of thinking. Brazil taught me you don’t have to stress about everything all the time to get things done. There are times to stress but most of the time, really, everything is going to be tudo bem. You’ll end up a lot less tired if you can take on this way of living.”

After a year in Brazil, Greene returned to NYC where she was a HR business partner, overseeing offshore banking investments for non-resident aliens for one-and-a-half years. After 9/11, her partner had trouble finding work so they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where Greene worked in pharmaceutical sales for a year. “I quickly learned it wasn’t for me. I really missed HR. I had always been more of a consultant as people were asking me for ways to improve their business.”

So when Citibank re-recruited her for a position in its regional office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Greene jumped. The bank even went as far as to help her then husband find a job, kind of a “two-for-one special”.

After seven years with CitiGroup, Greene moved to competitor American Express in South Florida, which was known for its leadership development program at the time. On a professional level, everything was going great. On a personal level, the situation was far from ideal. She and her husband decided to part ways. It was a life change for her: “It’s something that shifts you. You’re going along and everything’s fine and then something happens. For me it was the personal relationship not working out. My planned trajectory hit a bump in the road.”

Free to make her own decisions and finally do something she has always dreamed of, Greene went on a cooking vacation alone to Tuscany, Italy, in late October. Staying just outside the idyllic town of Lucca, she cooked from 10-1 every day in the kitchen of the 15th century estate and toured the countryside in the afternoon. Being immersed in the experience was therapeutic. Greene recalls, “There is something about getting your hands into food, it’s very healing. In a corporate setting you are using your mind a lot but in the kitchen, you take something from a raw ingredient and you working with it to create this beautiful outcome that gives people a lot of pleasure.”

The return journey to the US was nothing short of disastrous. Stuck at Pisa airport for 24-hours and again in Milan for even longer, Greene used the time to write in her journal. The trip had triggered some self-doubt about whether she was on the right path. She made a list of what she could do in life, what she is good at and what she liked. “It dawned on me that everyone on the trip had been in their late 50s and 60s and yet it was the first time they had experienced extremely simple healthy cooking that was delicious. I kept coming back to the same thing. I teach people leadership development, I connect them with information to improve their lives. Why couldn’t I do this with children? Why couldn’t I teach kids about the joy of understanding what a balanced relationship with food is like. It’s as simple as that. When you are in that place in your life where it could go any which way, you are just crazy enough to think of the possibilities. You are open to change.”

Greene had been with Amex for only one year, so it was with some trepidation that the then-33-year-old approached her manager, Janice Carulli, to tell her what she wanted to do: “I know this is not your problem, but this is just what I have got to do. I need to make a change. I’m going to move to NY and attend culinary school and I’d love to stay with Amex so if I could get a transfer to our NY office, that would be great. And if you can’t help me, I understand but then we need to start talking about my departure.” A 20-year veteran of Amex, not missing a beat, Carulli replied, “Hollie, most people at some point in their life will say ‘I wish I had done X’. If this is something you really want to do and I can help you in any way, then I really want to help you.” True to her word, she rang the NY office and – serendipitously – there was a position open in leadership development.

Within three months of her trip to Tuscany, Greene was in NY with Amex. Two months later she started 9-months of night classes at the French Culinary Institute. It was pretty grueling, but she loved it, “I worked 45-50 hours a week and then headed off to culinary class around 5.30 and stayed until 11.30. It was very physically demanding but I thrived on the intensity in the kitchen. Once you find your tribe of where you are supposed to be, you will take off. Yes, you have to cook dishes over and over again until they are perfect but unlike business, where you talk circles around the elephant in the room, in cooking this is not possible. You learn by making mistakes. You may have a good night or a bad night in the kitchen but you know where you stand.”

With no plans to be a restaurant chef, Greene took her newly minted skills to the not-for-profit world and volunteered with the Sylvia Center and Wellness in Schools while she still continued to work Amex. “Amex was exceptional. They wanted employees to give back to the community so were very supportive of the work I was doing in afterschool programs. There was no risk for me personally in doing this work, I just wanted to grow myself as a person.”

Blueberry and peach crumble from Joyfoodly
Blueberry and peach crumble from Joyfoodly

But then the magic happened! When teaching her first class of inner city kids about cooking with fruits and vegetables, Greene was amazed at their enthusiasm. “They absorbed it like sponges. Even if they didn’t like the food it didn’t matter because they were having fun in the kitchen, having a positive experience. It was really fulfilling to be giving them a window into this new world, helping them to see fruits and vegetables in a new way. Planting that seed of possibility.”

As her volunteer work became more serious, the non-profits offered her paid hours as Education Director at the Sylvia Center and a school chef at Wellness. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse despite Amex dangling the potential of a promotion. “The universe was really tempting me, but I told Amex I really needed to do it and it was now or never. I had to explore this path and see if this was my true calling. I figured I’d give it a year and I could always go back to the corporate world if it didn’t work—like a year-long anthropological study of me!” So she resigned.

The move from corporate banking to non-profit was most definitely a step back financially but she had savings and her partner to support her, “Up to that point, I had always been the breadwinner and so definitely it was very scary to take that step to the side – but it was calculated risk. But I am very thankful I made that move. I’ve never been happier.”

After a few years, Greene and her husband moved to San Francisco for his job and Greene had to rebuild her community. “The best way to meet people and build you base is to get involved! I consulted with some non-profits as a chef to improve nutrition in schools and with families at home for about a year.”.

Last year, she started writing a food blog, Joyfoodly, targeted at parents to promote eating seasonal fruits and vegetables throughout the year. But importantly she didn’t want it to be a pet project and toyed with turning it into a business. So she hired a business consultant, Stella Grizont, founder of Woopaah and former co-managing director of Ladies Who Launch, to map out her brand identity and spent six months doing lots of research to uncover the biggest “pain points” around food in our country today. After many surveys and lots of brainstorming, Greene hosted an ideation session with parents, community thought leaders, and educators.

“I didn’t want to take something and just do it better. I really wanted to fill a need,” she explains. “A couple of themes emerged, the first being that their children’s health is the number one priority for parents, they want to feed their kids well even if the culture doesn’t support children eating healthily. They also lack the time and the skill to put healthy and tasty meals together quickly. I thought ‘I know how to teach kids how to love fruits and vegetables, I’m good at it.’ So my plan centered around engaging kids in ways parents would not necessarily think about and sharing my simple yet proven techniques both in cooking and exciting kids to love trying new foods.”

Because Greene’s key goals in launching JoyFoodly had been to make learning how to cook fruits and veg easy and fun but also economical and readily accessible to a wide audience, a tech solution seemed the best way to go in terms of scale and ease of use. Greene’s Creative Director, Michelle Venetucci-Harvey brought the design perspective and together they developed a prototype of the Joyful12™ concept last Fall at the San Francisco Food Hackathon.

joyful12-logo-blackAn online Kitchen Learning Lab, the Joyful12 is a web-based cooking crash course for families that teaches them how to love cooking and eating 12 vegetables and fruits each season. A members-only site, it features video tutorials with Greene, allergen-and-gluten-free recipes, a time-saving shopping list generator, and a community forum to share successes and challenges with like-minded parents.

“Everyone can learn the basics of cooking fruits and vegetables and when you ask your kids to be part of the cooking process, that’s when they start to feel confident to explain how to make the food better…or at least taste better from their perspective. The Joyful12 is a self-paced course that guides you through each season and, depending on your constraints, let’s you try basic-to-adventurous recipes of in-season items. I believe it’s brings together the best of what’s out there in a unique and family-friendly way. It really is a true learning lab.”

The learning lab has been live for less than a month but subscribers are growing and Greene has created partnerships with companies like WholeFoods.

Potato-and-Leek-Soup-hi-res
Potato and leek soup from Joyfoodly

“We’re trying to do it the right way. Spring and Summer are built and I’m working on Fall and Winter. Basically I’m building the train and the tracks as I go along.” But it’s going well. Although all the recipes are gluten-free, she has hired Chef Annie Rose Hanrahan, a Natural Gourmet Institute graduate and former Sylvia Center and Wellness in Schools colleague, to re-test her recipes keeping an eye out for vegan, nut, and egg issues and to ensure any potential allergens are highlighted and substitutes are offered.

“I always look back at what I learned in culinary school. You learn by failing and clearly everything hasn’t been perfect, but I trust my instinct,” Greene says. “I’m surrounded by great people, people who stand by me, believe in what I’m doing, people who open doors for me. But I’m still learning, I have to have a lot of patience with myself. I still have that thread within me that wants it perfect today and wants it yesterday. That’s my journey … patience. If the intent of what I’m trying to do is good and the intent is for people to have a more balanced and enjoyable relationship with fruits and vegetable then it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen in its own time.”

You can sign-up for the Joyful 12 here and learn how to make a subscriber favorite: Japanese roasted green beans with a sriracha mayo dipping sauce.

Tips from Chef Hollie Greene

  • Figure out your value, don’t undersell yourself.
  • Believe in your intent, keep your head down and do the work: you’ve got to be in it for the long game.
  • When you do your own thing there are no checks and balances so be sure you have the support around you to give you a reality check.
  • Keep going because you have to complete the story!