2017 Influential Women in Business honorees

Updated 11/14/2017 9:50 AM
Rita Sola Cook
Rita Sola Cook

Rita Sola Cook

Midwest region Executive Global Commercial Bank at Bank of America -- Merryll Lynch.

Nominated by: Paul Lambert

Throughout her nearly 20 years with Bank of America Merrill Lynch and its predecessors, Rita Sola Cook has held various management positions in finance, product management and sales.

Among her strong professional achievements, Sola Cook is also devoted to diversity and inclusion initiatives, and was chosen to be a regional Diversity and Inclusion (D & I) Champion at Bank of America. Through this program, she is focused on growing a diverse workforce, promoting a more inclusive workplace and leading the charge to encourage all employees to achieve their goals while meeting the needs of customers.

Georgia Dobbelaere
Georgia Dobbelaere -

Georgia Dobbelaere

President, Business Office Systems, Roselle

Nominated by: George Pfeiffer

Georgia Dobbelaere has grown from an interior designer to the president of a $70 million office interiors firm, with locations in Roselle, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Orlando.

With her incredible business mind and exceptional attention to details, she holds herself to a very high standards and those around her. With her tireless work ethic, she is also a very compassionate leader who cares for her co-workers.

Dobbelaere is an incredible leader, role model and inspiration to her teams and has made those around her better leaders.

Bonnie Proctor
Bonnie Proctor -

Bonnie Proctor

CEO & principal, Challenger Lighting Co., Batavia

Nominated by: Timothy McLean

During her 17 years of leadership, Bonnie Proctor has served as the guiding force in securing Challenger Lighting's stature as an industry leader in hospitality lighting with her company's ability to manufacture domestically and internationally.

Proctor has been at the forefront in expanding the innovative line of products that Challenger Lighting offers to the hospitality industry. She actively has supported her community by serving on local school boards, college foundations and was the only woman chairman of the Valley Industrial Association (VIA), a 115-year old manufacturing trade association.

Her successes and influence in our local business community are attributable not just to her phenomenal business acumen but also to her wonderful interpersonal skills.

Cheryl Molfese
Cheryl Molfese -

Cheryl Molfese

Chief Operating Officer, Crown Coverings, Inc., Roselle

Nominated by: Rocco Molfese

In 2011, Cheryl Molfese and her husband started their own business -- Crown Coverings. She continued her work in real estate and at night helped Rocco with the company set up, doing so from her parent's basement.

In 2013, Molfese devoted herself full time to the company and the couple added more employees and established an office and warehouse space. Crown Coverings continued to grow as Molfese expanded her role in the company.

She has faced all the challenges that any start up company experiences and has met them head-on as Chief Operations Officer. These challenges helped Cheryl grow as she implemented new processes and policies that have helped bring record breaking revenue, company expansions, larger workloads, and expanding the company nationally.

Lora Georgieva
Lora Georgieva


Founder and President, Destination College, Lincolnshire

Nominated by: Norman Roth

Born in Ruse, Bulgaria, Lora Georgieva always challenged herself academically and professionally, but decided to challenge herself more by moving to the U.S. where she had a new continent, new language, no friends, and no family.

In 2010, she started her college planning business, Destination College, proudly serving families from all over the world, driven by a desire to make college affordable for everyone. For the past 3 years, Destination College has seen growth of more than 300 percent and has helped many families educate their children, by helping them obtain more than $30,000 a year in grants and scholarships. Part of Destination College's success is credited to Georgieva's innovation of offering both admission and financial aid strategies.

Georgieva is a member of several networking groups and serves on the board of many organizations. This past year she started a not-for-profit helping homeless kids and single moms go back to school.

She not only achieved her dream but continues to help many others achieve theirs.

Sarah Orleans
Sarah Orleans -

Sarah Orleans

President and CEO, DuPage Children's Museum, Naperville

Nominated by: Kimberly Stull

Experienced, passionate, results-oriented, and creative not-for-profit Executive Leader with 19 years of executive leadership experience, describes Sarah Orleans.

She has had a profound impact on the Children's Museum field and most importantly, in DuPage County at DuPage Children's Museum where she has helped draw attention to the critical importance of early learning in informal learning environments.

Her career has been focused on creating amazing learning experiences for children and supporting families. Her administrative strengths lie in shaping and guiding an organization to do its very best work, and she is doing that now at DuPage Children's Museum.

Beth Marchetti
Beth Marchetti -

Beth Marchetti

Executive Director, DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downers Grove

Nominated by: Mike Feigenbaum

Beth Marchetti has been a dedicated member of the DuPage County Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) for 18 years serving in various positions. For the last three years, Marchetti has served as the Executive Director during which time she has created a passionate and dedicated team that is solely focused on delivering positive results to the County's economic development initiatives.

In addition, her voice has had a consistent and strong presence among the business leaders and legislators, educating on the importance of tourism on the state and local level.

Tourism is an economic driver in DuPage County and Beth Marchettis is one of its major players.

Nicole Wolter
Nicole Wolter

Nicole Wolter

President, HM Manufacturing, Wauconda

Nominated by: Hannah Schmidt

As a young adult, Nicole Wolter never imagined taking over the family business of HM Manufacturing, however when desperate times came, she was called back home to help her father keep the company afloat. Now she couldn't imagine doing anything else.

Her work ethic and mission, aspiration to be the utmost in manufacturing, has influenced the rest of the company. Under her leadership, she has encouraged others on her team to work toward that common goal.

Wolter has a passion for giving the next generation the opportunity to learn the skills of this industry, and is committed to working with high schools as an advisor, while also improving, sustaining and promoting the pursuit of careers in this industry.

Wolter is a leader in her industry, bringing a positive spirit into the workplace every day.

Susan Abrams
Susan Abrams -

Susan Abrams

CEO Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie

Nominated by: Fritzie Fritzshall

Joining the Museum as CEO in 2014, as the Museum was celebrating its fifth anniversary. Susan Abrams' arrival came at a time of pivotal transition for our Museum. With a mission to educate students and adults on the history and lessons of the Holocaust through personal testimony, the Survivor community began to worry about what might happen to their precious institution once they were no longer there to share their stories.

Under her leadership, the Museum, in partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation, pioneered a state-of-the-art storytelling experience that allows visitors to interact with a three-dimensional projection of Holocaust Survivors in a strikingly lifelike way.

With her at the helm of IHMEC, the museum is confident that all the hard work, and the stories from the Survivors, will not be forgotten. Their message will live on.

Dina Derman
Dina Derman -

Dina Derman

Senior Vice President, Inland Bank and Trust

Nominated by: Stephanie Nommensen

Dina Derman is a Senior Vice President working at Inland Bank and Trust for 15 years. In 2014, she launched the internet based bank division with a national niche line of Health Savings Accounts.

She is the driving force for Inland Bank and Trust's online new account services and HSA programs. This includes working with employers, benefits brokers and employers across the United States assisting with employee and consumer education about this complex tax advantage account. Inland Bank and Trust's HSA program serves consumers and employer groups both large and small.

Inland Bank and Trust is a $1 billion-plus bank with 10 offices located throughout Chicagoland. The bank is focused on serving the financial needs of both consumers and business owners. Solutions the bank offers includes deposit accounts, loans and treasury management.

Derman serves on the Board of DuPage Association of Health Underwriters and also the Small Business Advocacy Counsel Board. Inland Bank and Trust is a corporate sponsor of the SBAC in support of businesses and the value business brings to the economy,

Alison Gutterman
Alison Gutterman

Alison Gutterman

President & CEO, Jelmar, LLC, Skokie

Nominated by: Denee Zumwalt

Alison Gutterman is the first female President and CEO in a third-generation family business and began her career at Jelmar in 1993, without a desk or job title. She worked her way through various jobs at Jelmar, from Customer Service Representative to COO, and later received an MBA. In 2007, her father passed the family business down to her, where she immediately recognized the need to adapt the business to align with the evolving consumer needs and desires.

She took the risk of rebranding several products and expanded on her commitment to provide both safe and useful products for both consumers and the environment, while accommodating existing customers.

Gutterman is dedicated to elevating the role of women in the business community and empowering female entrepreneurs of tomorrow and to help create, build, and connect this community she involved in several women's organizations including C200 and NAWBO.

Siobhan Cottone
Siobhan Cottone -

Siobhan Cottone

Executive Director, Lakeside Legacy Foundation, Crystal Lake

Nominated by: Lauren Young

Under Siobhan Cottone's leadership, Lakeside Legacy Foundation has thrived, expanding arts programming to record numbers. She has had a direct hand in growing programs and partnerships that benefit human service organizations, senior service organizations, and nonprofits serving children, such as their Afternoon Concert Series for Pioneer Center and Alexander Leigh Center for Autism, among others.

As a businesswoman, Cottone has modeled excellent judgment; fiscal responsibility to Lakeside Legacy Foundation, their donors, constituents, business partners, and servant leadership. Her efforts to streamline programming and events at Lakeside Legacy Foundation have guided the organization into a more efficient, fiscally feasible, and most importantly mission-focused service to others.

Miriam Cooper
Miriam Cooper -

Miriam Cooper

Law Office of Miriam Cooper & Associates, Rolling Meadows

Nominated by: Susan McKenna

A practicing attorney since 1988, Miriam Cooper's knowledge of the law has allowed her to excel in her profession while always treating colleagues, associates, clients and staff with the upmost respect, loyalty and grace.

Cooper's life passion is working with kids -- advocating for them, communicating with them, and creating safe and stable foundations for them. She opened her own practice in 2001 with a primary focus on divorce, child support and custody, spousal support, visitation, paternity and post decree modifications.

Cooper is also certified as a Guardian Ad Litem, Child's Representative, a certified Mediator, and a Collaborative Law Fellow. Her service as a high school District 214 board member serving as president and vice president has led to the creation of the Kathryn M. Lee Center; providing low income female immigrants with the opportunity to learn basic skills and education.

Karyn Charvat
Karyn Charvat

Karyn Charvat

Executive Director, PowerForward DuPage, Warrenville

Nominated by: Laura Crawford

Karyn Charvat joined PowerForward DuPage in June 2014, and has over 27 years of experience in various areas of advertising and marketing. Charvat has helped lead PowerForward to represent over 400 of the most highly qualified electrical contractors and 1,700 highly skilled and trained electricians in the local community.

A few years ago, Charvatbegan a successful rebranding project and executed an integrated marketing plan consisting of a combination of radio/print advertising, social media, and specific industry/community sponsorships.

Charvat also volunteers and works with several organizations, including Joliet Junior Woman's Clubs, Gigi's Playhouse Fox Valley, Children's Research Foundation, and more. Since 2004, she has helped to charter nine new General Federation of Women's Clubs, leading hundreds of women in volunteer service through the state.

Lisa Fiorenza
Lisa Fiorenza -

Lisa Fiorenza

CFO, Quantum Plastics, LLC, Elgin

Nominated by: Morris Rowlett

Lisa Fiorenza was named Chief Financial Officer of Quantum Plastics in January 2015 and is responsible for all facets of financial functions including financial reporting, audits, tax, treasury and cost accounting.

She provides key financial leadership and oversight for the multi‐location company including budgeting and financial controls, financial reporting, and is a key executive involved in mergers and acquisitions. She is responsible for the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and information technology deployment within the Quantum Plastics divisions. She is a leader of both diligence and integration strategy for acquisitions.

Fiorenza is a mentor, having assembled a financial and accounting team that helps division managers achieve financial results. Lisa is also a member of the finance committee, has served as treasurer and board member at Boys and Girls Club of Elgin, and served several years with CREW Chicago, Commercial Real Estate Executive Women, an organization dedicated to advancing the success of women in commercial real estate. Lisa also supports Landmarks Illinois and was a member of the board of directors.

Sharmila Wijeyakumar
Sharmila Wijeyakumar -

Sharmila Wijeyakumar

COO & Founder, Rahab's Daughters, Cary

Nominated by: Darnesha Gordon

Sharmila Wijeyakumar is a Senior Account Executive at Liferay and has a long and distinguished career in software sales. While pursuing her software career she has dedicated her life to God and to rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking.

She worked in projects globally to reduce the number of child trafficking victims in twelve Spanish speaking countries and since last July, Wijeyakumar has rescued 22 women from human trafficking, the youngest was a child of 22 months. She dedicates every free moment to make a positive impact for these victims by personally mentoring them daily.

Wijeyakumar hosts brick painting parties for the local community to raise awareness and educate people of their tip line and how to identify suspicious activity. Every year Sharmila also leads a mission trip to prevent trafficking in the city hosting Superbowl, which is a major week for trafficking.

Wijeyakumar opened a thrift store last year which trains women retail, merchandising, and marketing skills to help women and their families long-term, having served over 100 survivors.

Jessica Freiberg
Jessica Freiberg

Jessica Freiburg

Partner, Sassetta, LLC

Nominated by: Jim Robbs

Jessica Freiburg has been volunteering and fundraising with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater Illinois Chapter since 2005. She originally was motivated to get involved because her father has MS and has met many others who have seen impact on their life, career and family ambitions. She currently serves as secretary and a member of the finance committee of the Chapter's board of trustees, and has taken on many roles within the organization from leading fundraising events to serving as the treasurer and chair of the junior board.

In Freiburg's professional career, she is instrumental in making a positive impact in the development of her employees and in giving back to her community. As a partner at Sassetti, LLC, Freiburg works with numerous not-for-profit organizations, some of which include social service, religious and spiritual organizations, and community foundations. As one of the first female partners at her firm, Jessica leads the employee development, recruiting, and women's initiatives within the firm and their alliances.

Freiburg is also a member of the Women's Executive Committee of the IL CPA Society and was active in the creation of the Society's Women's Mentoring Circles.

Nasutsa Mabwa
Nasutsa Mabwa -

Nasutsa Mabwa

President, ServiceMaster Restorations by Simons, Chicago

Nominated by: Marie Lazzara

Nasutsa Mabwa manages the strategic direction and daily operations of ServiceMaster Restoration and ServiceMaster Cleaning by Simons. She is focused upon building the commercial and residential side of property restoration and construction business by nurturing and developing key real estate industry relationships. Most recently, Mabwa served as a Senior Project Manager for McCaffery Interests a real estate development firm where she managed the Lakeside Development, a 600-acre mixed-use community on Chicago's southeast side.

Mabwa is involved in a variety of community and academic involvement positions, serving as chair of the Job 1 Youth Program for the Rotary Club of Chicago, a member of the Leadership and Diversity Committee of Commercial Executive Real Estate Women of Chicago. She also served on the School Advisory Council for the Lycee Francais de Chicago and on the board of EPIC Academy. Her company is partnering locally with The Talking Farm in Skokie and that she serves on the board for Roosevelt University Marshall Bennett Real Estate Institute.

Jacqueline Krage-Strako
Jacqueline Krage-Strako

Jacqueline Krage Strako

Vice President, Area Operations, United States Postal Service, Chicago

Nominated by: Luz R. Moreno

Jacqueline Krage Strako began her United States Postal Service career in 1989 as an Industrial Engineer at Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, DC. She now serves as the senior Postal Service official in a 201,824-square-mile geographic territory encompassing all of Michigan, most of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and part of Missouri.

Krage Strako is responsible for managing ongoing Postal Service programs and operations, overseeing the development and implementation of strategies to increase productivity and revenue, and identifying current and potential operational opportunities to develop long-range, strategic initiatives.

Her responsibilities include the oversight of a 12.3 billion dollar annual operating revenue and a workforce of 61,119 employees delivering postal products and services to 36 million customers at 16 million addresses through 32 mail processing plants and 3,723 deliver and retail units.

Mildred "Millie" V. Palmer
Mildred "Millie" V. Palmer -

Mildred "Millie" V. Palmer

Partner Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC, Rolling Meadows

Nominated by: Nichole M. Waltz

Millie Palmer received her Juris Doctorate cum laude in 1990 and is a founding partner of an all-women-owned, mid-sized law firm in the Chicago area which has grown from the three founding partners in 2008 to eight attorneys and six support staff.

She leads the Estate Planning and Administrative Department which includes three other attorneys, a paralegal and department coordinator. The Waltz, Palmer & Dawson client base has doubled since 2008 and continues to grow not just with new clients but with repeat clients and their extended families.

Palmer is known for her volunteerism and is a member of the District 214 school board and a board member of the Arlington Heights Rotary, Noon Club. She is a founding member of the Michael J. de Zonna Foundation and a charter member of the Northwest Community Healthcare.

Over the years, Palmer has also been involved in a variety of school and youth related activities in Arlington Heights.

Susan Hagberg
Susan Hagberg -

Susan Hagberg

President, Wild Goose Chase, Inc.,

Canine Detection and Inspection Services, LLC,

and Migratory Bird Management, LLC., Chicago Ridge

Nominated by: Joe Garbarski

Susan Hagberg has spent her entire professional career solving unique challenges for her clients using innovative solutions. A majority of these advanced techniques include the use of trained canine teams. Over the last 19 years, she has created the largest group of trained canine handler teams in the U.S. that provide pest bird control services, and insect scent detection services.

Hagberg's fascination with the world of canine scent detection has intrigued her to identify what the "nose knows". This continuous search has led Susan and her team of experts to assist oil and gas pipeline operators detect costly leaks in their pipeline infrastructure. In addition, she has owned and operated Wild Goose Chase since 1998, providing wildlife management services. In 2009, Hagberg diversified their services to launch Canine Detection Inspection Services, addressing the growing need for early detection of bedbug infestations.

Hagberg has received recognition for all three of her companies by the Chicago's Women's Business Enterprise and outside of work and is the only Woman Owned Business to be acknowledged with three businesses in the Chicago area.

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