2018 Influential Women in Business honorees

Susan Beth

COO, NRD Capital Management LLC, Downers Grove

Nominated by Emily Walsh, Emily Walsh Consulting

Susan is a leading COO, a prominent woman in business, and an Illinois native. She has been immersed in business and operations for over 30 years and primarily oversees fund management, portfolio company oversight, executive recruitment and deal sourcing at NRD. Through those tasks, she navigates the challenges a female COO faces every day in a male dominated industry with tact and intelligence.

She creates a culture of growth and empowerment that encourages employees of all levels to take risks. She has overseen the growth of NRD Capital to encompass 12 investments and $1.5 billion combined annual systemwide revenues in just three years.

Susan is passionate about mentoring other women in business, helping people through times of transition and making a positive difference to individuals and organizations in both the Chicagoland area and nationwide and has received numerous awards for both her career and service.

Andrea Biwer

Andrea Biwer

Executive Director, Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce, Des Plaines

Nominated by Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau

As Executive Director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Andrea has created renewed excitement for the chamber over the past few years, generating more than 185 new memberships and has creating many events and multi-chamber events.

On behalf of the chamber, she led a coalition of members to successfully reverse a decision by the Des Plaines City Council to opt out of Cook County mandates on minimum wage increases and paid leave. Assisting more than 150 businesses in lobbying local legislators to educate them on the damaging effect the mandates would have on the business community.

In 2017, Andrea created a new program through the chamber's Foundation to address the needs of local Veterans transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce, called the Des Plaines Chamber Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp. The Veterans boot camp was also designed to assist businesses in filling open positions with qualified applicants. In May 2018, Andrea successfully launched the second year of this transformative program that included a community service project, where the Veterans in September helped remodel the American Legion Post 36 and a Military Career Fair in January 2019. Over the past two years, she was able to raise over $200,000 for this worthy cause.

Terri Brax

Terri Brax

Co-founder and CEO, Women Tech Founders and TeacherCare, Schaumburg

Nominated by James Salvato, J.R. Salvato & Associates

Women Tech Founders is a Chicago-based collaborative created to advance women in technology by inspiring, educating and connecting them with other successful female leaders to drive potential, advance business, and ultimately change the word.

She is a longtime entrepreneur and women's rights advocate, aspiring to create platforms that marry technology with neuroscience and education to equalize imbalances of power, paving the way for women to develop their potential in male-dominated spheres around the world.

Terri also founded TeacherCare, a nationwide agency that helps private families and organizations find highly-qualified teachers for child care and educational services. TeacherCare has been recognized as the leader in personalized educational child care, placing teachers and tutors everywhere, to ensure children receive care tailored to their particular interests and needs.

Erin Brooks

Erin Brooks

Executive Director, District 214 Education Foundation, Arlington Heights

Nominated by Deborah Nelson, Daily Herald Media Group

Erin has the important job of promoting public education with three focused goals, which include ensuring our local audiences' knowledge of and engagement in the District 214 mission, sharing their story at a national level with an eye on positively influencing the national dialogue on public education, and building a Foundation that supports innovation and lifelong learning Districtwide.

As Executive Director of the District 214 Education Foundation, Erin creates ever-growing campaigns and annual giving strategies to fuel student success beyond the District's operating budget. In this role, she launched the District's first Alumni Advisory Council to engage alumni toward future success.

Because of Erin's outreach efforts, there are many examples of individual students and their families who have personally benefited in specific ways from Erin's work - from free college tours for newcomers to scholarships for at-risk kids and special supports for disabled students.

Julie Chavez

Julie Chavez

Senior Vice President, Community Relations Manager, Bank of America, Chicago

Nominated by Paul Lambert, Chicago Market President, Bank of America

Julie is responsible for managing multiple programs involving philanthropy, community and civic engagement, volunteerism, sponsorships and communications initiatives in the Chicagoland area.

Throughout her extensive 40 year career with Bank of America, Julie has held various managerial positions within the company, including in global marketing, corporate affairs, charitable giving and community development. In each of these positions, she has shown great leadership and integrity.

Julie feels a personal responsibility to improve diversity and inclusion both at Bank of America and throughout the communities we serve. She continues to advocate for more people of color to be leaders in philanthropy, whether serving as staff, board members or active donors. This is reflected clearly and evident in her daily work.

Michelle Damico

Michelle Damico

Founder and CEO, Michelle Damico Communications, Lincolnshire

Nominated by Katie Karsten, K2 Communications Group

Michelle Damico has a passion for telling a story, spreading the news, and finding the right news outlet and journalist to convey her client's messages. She has an award-winning journalism and public relations career spanning over 20 years. Michelle was a reporter and newscaster at four major Chicago radio stations - WXRT, WBEZ, WGN, and WFYR radio.

She transferred her journalism skills to marketing and public relations as the Communications Director for Mayor Richard M. Daley's 1995 re-election, the first Director of, and Communications Manager of the Illinois Tollway. She has built a reputation for innovative thinking through her early adoption of digital communication and continues to stay ahead of the ever-changing communications landscape.

Michelle's leadership and experience have cultivated her firm's continued success to produce highly effective results that exceed client expectations.

Linda Fine

Linda Fine

Co-chair of Estate Planning & Estate Settlement Departments, Kelleher & Buckley, LLC, North Barrington

Nominated by David P. Buckley Jr.

As co-chair of the Estate Planning and Estate Settlement practice groups at Kelleher & Buckley, Linda has helped grow the once single office with eight attorneys, into a 24-attorney firm with offices located in Chicago, Barrington, and Hinsdale.

She enjoys getting to know her clients and families and takes advantage of each engagement as an opportunity to build long-term relationships with them. This "team" approach has helped Linda grow her client base exponentially and contributed to her becoming the first female group chairwoman at Kelleher & Buckley.

Her compassion also extends outside of the workplace to her community and family by volunteering at her daughters' schools and sporting events, as well with helping families implement their charitable goals.

Jennifer Friedland

Jennifer Friedland, Esq.

Member & Managing Partner, Momkus, LLC, Lisle

Nominated by Carrie Buddingh

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jennifer later learned as an adult that her parents suspected she would be a lawyer at a very young age, due to her second-to-none negotiation skills. However, she never knew the winding road would lead her to manage one of the largest firms in DuPage County.

Jennifer started her career as an associate attorney practicing insurance coverage law and general civil litigation. Over the years, she grew to love the professions, serving clients and assisting her partners in solving difficult disputes efficiently.

In 2009, Jennifer and David had their first child, Sam, who was born with special needs. Of course, Jennifer was concerned about the course of her career while caring for a child with special needs, but she managed to make it work.

Today, Jennifer is a Managing Partner of Momkus LLC and focuses her practice on business, trust, and estate litigation. She has tried cases and argued appeals in both state and federal courts.

Lisa Gilbert

Lisa Gilbert

President, Schaumburg Business Association, Schaumburg

Nominated by David Benke, Better Business Bureau

For the past 6 years, Lisa has been with SBA, where she started as Membership Director, then became Vice President of Membership and just recently was named President of the organization.

At SBA, educating members about the vast benefits of their membership, and holding them accountable to their goals through positive coaching is among the staff's primary focus each day. Members of the SBA are busy and talented and know their business, so she and her staff make sure members are visible even when they're not physically present at events and meetings. Done through enhancing their online profiles and making sure their companies create top-of-mind awareness for the community.

Since her tenure, the SBA has seen 43 percent year over year membership growth, a statistic rare in the industry. The SBA has also seen a net growth of 200 members since she developed an innovative approach to new membership development and retention.

Anuja Gupta

Dr. Anuja Gupta

General Partner, Aman Living LLC, Frankfort

Nominated by Paula Widholm, Taylor Johnson

As general partner of Aman Living, Dr. Anuja Gupta is developing Verandah Retirement Community, a $43 million active adult community in Hanover Park, masterminded by Gupta and designed to uniquely serve both Indian and American lifestyles. The project combines Gupta's passions for medicine and real estate.

Prior to her career as a real estate developer, Gupta was a practicing cardiologist in Chicago's south suburbs for 14 years. She completed her medical education with distinction from India's top medical school in Mumbai and continued to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Becoming an accomplished physician and transitioning later to a career in real estate development, a typically male-dominated area, speaks to her determination and focus.

Noreen Heron

Noreen Heron

President, Heron Agency, Chicago

Nominated by Liane Hedditch

Since 2000, Noreen has founded and built the award-winning Heron Agency into one of the nation's leading lifestyle communications agencies. As a pioneer of new communication and digital technologies, Noreen ensures that Heron Agency is always on the cutting-edge of the media industry and its trends.

Throughout her career, she has represented 30 hotel brands, more than 1000 theater productions including national tours, 400 restaurants, and countless events including the Taste of Chicago, the Race to Mackinac and many more. She has also represented numerous celebrity clients, along with Nonprofit organizations.

Her entrepreneurial mindset has garnered her over a dozen prestigious industry awards, and her reputation of consistently delivering fully integrated marketing campaigns that improve a client's bottom line and profitability is well known.

Sue Kramer Harrawood

Sue Kramer Harrawood

Founder, Peace of Mind Virtual Assistance, Orland Park

Nominated by Kimberly Brisky, Small Business Advocacy Council

Sue is a leader whose corporate career spans 20 years, supporting executives and projects from software rollouts, building hospitals and airports, to coordinating facilities, logistics and purchasing. Whether a large corporate office or a construction trailer, Sue's background has strategically prepared her to lead Peace of Mind Virtual Assistance, while supporting small business owners from Chicago to across the U.S.

Sue examines every prospect personally, as they must meet the intentionally narrow client criteria. Sue's philosophy is quality over quantity and only works with clients whose culture, beliefs, leadership, communication and personality styles mesh with the firm's.

As a business owner and leader, Sue firmly believes in servanthood to her industry, the marketplace as a whole, along with her community, where she serves as a volunteer for many organizations and boards in the area.

Jean LaVallie

Jean LaVallie

Founder and CEO, Women Entrepreneurs Secrets of Success,

Nominated by Heidi Thorne, Thorne Communications LLC

Jean LaVallie knows that for women in business, collaboration is more effective than competition. The nature of women is to add value to each other through connection, resources, and support in both business and life. WESOS is founded on that belief.

Created seven years ago, Women Entrepreneurs' Secrets of Success grew out of Jean's desire for authentic, supportive networking. The WESOS Network "sisters" emphasize relationships first, then help each other grow businesses together. Jean's vision has helped hundreds of women entrepreneurs remove their business masks and connect with people on a more heartfelt level.

As the WESOS Network continues to expand, with new chapters opening across the U.S., Jean lives by the same intention which closes every WESOS meeting: "How would your life and your business change if you surround yourself with women who refuse to let you fail?"

Laura Newman

Laura Newman

City Administrator, city of Batavia

Nominated by Christopher Cudworth

As City Administrator for the City of Batavia, Laura is responsible for managing economic growth and development of a municipality undergoing continual growth and change. This leadership includes collaboration with a 15-member City Council overseeing a $134M budget and workforce of more than 400 employees.

Since assuming the role of city administrator three years ago, Newman has welcomed and collaborated with businesses new and old, large and small to diversify the city's mix of commercial, industrial and retail businesses. These are necessary challenges that require vision toward transitioning a community engaged in a long arc of change since its original establishment in 1833.

Newman's accomplishments in her role as administrator include advancement of a new downtown development in One Washington Place, bringing increased residential housing into the primary business district, as well as vital new residential communities for senior and assisted living.

Diane Nyhammer

Dr. Diane Nyhammer

Vice President of Educational Affairs, Waubonsee Community College, Sugar Grove

Nominated by Dr. Christine Sobek, Waubonsee Community College

Dr. Nyhammer serves as the chief academic officer for the college and provides strategic leadership for all curriculum, program development, assessment of student learning, and faculty recruitment, retention, and development. In this role, she works to inspire an innovative, holistic, and sustainable learning environment that aligns with the divergent needs of a global society.

She has more than 10 years of experience as an academic administrator in roles such as Provost and Vice President of Learning and Chief Academic Officer as well as more than 11 years of experience as a full-time English faculty member.

Dr. Nyhammer received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from Loyola University, a Master of Arts in English from Northern Illinois University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Barat College.

Danielle Ozer

Danielle Ozer

Executive Vice President in Brokerage Services, TandemHR, Westchester

Nominated by Kimberly Brisky, Small Business Advocacy Council

Danielle has over 25 years' experience in the industry and her knowledge of insurance products has been a key asset with her role as Executive Vice President of Brokerage Services for the Tandem Family of Companies, or TFC for short.

In 1997, Danielle partnered with Bruce Leon, Founder and Owner of TFC, to form an insurance agency named Benefits Solutions Group. Shortly after they realized a need in the market for HR to help beyond benefits, thus TandemHR was born.

Danielle dedicates her time and efforts to several industry organizations and sits on several planning committees, along with being an active member with SBAC.

Adria Meehan Siewert

Adria Meehan Siewert

Vice President and Financial Advisor, Wealth Enhancement Group, Itasca

Nominated by many colleagues; Joanna, Leah, Sharon, Merridee & Todd

Adria has worked in the financial services industry since graduating from Purdue University in 2008, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Financial Planning & Counseling. As Vice President, she works with clients to develop and manage financial plans that are specifically geared toward their values and retirement goals.

She has helped grow the firms reach from overseeing approximately $250 million in client assets in the local market in 2013 to nearly $1 billion in client assets in the Chicagoland area in 2018.

As a businesswoman and mother of 2 young children, Adria is passionate about providing financial education to her peers. That's why she has wrote several articles on financial topics for parents of young children and financial planning for women.

Jean Theis

Jean Theis

Executive Vice President & COO, Andigo Credit Union, Schaumburg

Nominated by Devonie McCarty

Working in credit unions for over 23 years, Jean subscribes to the notion that when you find work that is fun and aligns with your values, it never feels like work.

At Andigo, Jean champions their employee engagement efforts. This involves measuring the current state with employee engagement surveys twice per year and facilitating discussions with their leadership team about how to communicate with their team to gain insight on the results.

Jean is passionate about shaping their culture by engaging and developing employees, as well as giving back to the communities they serve, by participating in many local organizations.

Credit unions philosophy of 'people helping people', and helping make a difference in the lives of others is the reason why Jean is excited to go to work every day.

Amy M. Toepper

Amy M. Toepper

Founder and CEO, AMT Law, LLC and LEGAL IN A BOX, INC., Naperville

Amy is a business attorney with more than 17 years of experience, specializing in the areas of labor and employment law and began her own law practice about 4 years ago.

In 2016, she came up with a concept to deliver legal services in a new way, providing affordable, reliable and transparent legal advice. Her solution was LEGAL IN A BOX, powered by the staff at AMT Law.

Her clients include both national, publicly traded companies and small to mid-size companies that simply may not have the capacity for their own attorney or human resource manager.

As a Chicago native, Amy holds a Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University Chicago and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and currently resides in Naperville with her husband and two children.

Catherine Tojaga

Catherine Tojaga

President and owner, CT Mechanical, Itasca

Nominated by Diane Middlebrooks, Itasca Bank & Trust Co.

Catherine started CT Mechanical in 2008 with the idea of creating a business that emphasizes honest collaboration and customer service. CT Mechanical is a contractor that specializes in commercial HVAC construction and service. Early on, she felt it was important to create a brand within the construction industry that focused on people and not the commodity. She often says that they are not in the construction business, but rather in the business of people and that their brand is their promise strengthened by their actions.

Catherine serves on the National Board of Women Construction Owners & Executives, whose focus is helping woman-owned businesses and women executives succeed in the construction industry.

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