2019 Powered by Women

From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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2019 Powered by Women

Photographs by Lians Jadan | Hair and makeup by Gjysta Nuculaj | Photo assistance by Erik Henderson | Art curation by Jessica Allie | Gallery owner is Rob Onnes, 333 Midland | Artwork by Vineta Chugh, Sophie Eisner, Ann Lewis, Ellen Rutt, Ann Smith, Fatima Sow, Alberte Tranberg, April Wagner


DBusiness Breakfast Series | What: 2019 Powered by Women Honorees | Where: Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, Detroit | When: Aug. 20, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. | Tickets: DBusiness.com


Ronia Kruse // Lisa Cawley // Aine Denari // Mary Culler // Darienne Driver Hudson // Lisa Kocsis-LeCureux // Nancy Tellem // Olga Alavanou


Ronia Kruse

Co-founder and CEO | OpTech, Troy | Employees: 325 | Revenue: $37M

Ronia Kruse
Above: Ronia Kruse. Revolution Codex: A Detroit-area sculptor, Ann Smith is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. As part of her work, she uses abandoned materials such as wires from political signs, shredded utility bills, and tree branches, among other items, to communicate a collaboration of the past and hope for the future. Her award-winning sculptures have been on displayed at group exhibitions in the Midwest, selected for solo exhibitions, and found in private collections. superiorfolly.wixsite.com/ann-smith. The sculpture on the left, Amazon, is by gallery owner Robert Onnes.

Ronia Kruse has made the transition from a shy girl to a dynamic executive as she’s navigated the mostly male world of public accounting en route to founding OpTech, a talent and development solutions company in Troy.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Ronia, how did you get here? Don’t you know it’s an all-boys club?’ ” she recalls. “I’ve gone into a bank with my brother to get funding, and I’m the one with the CPA — I’m the one who knows all the numbers — (and) they wouldn’t even look at me. They looked at my brother.”

She’s overcome those challenges, though, to create a $37-million enterprise that identifies, trains, and places IT professionals, engineers, and health care professionals with companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Comerica Bank, Flagstar Bank, the Department of Homeland Security, and Lear Corp., among others.

“We believe that companies are only as good as the people they’re able to attract and retain,” Kruse says. “We do both short-term and long-term pipelines to help our clients address their critical talent needs.”

After graduating from Wayne State University in Detroit with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Kruse worked for Coopers & Lybrand (now part of PwC). While there, she earned a master’s degree in science in taxation and moved on to Deloitte & Touche (now Deloitte), where her biggest client was General Motors.

“I was working on large projects requiring really big data,” Kruse says. “I started developing applications to do the complicated tax computations — everything that would go into a tax return for General Motors. I was working hand in hand with the IT department to extract large pieces of data. I learned all that on the job; I didn’t take any classes.”

One of the GM executives with whom she was working suggested she go into business for herself,with the automaker as her first client. “It took me about two years to gain the courage to do that,” she says.

Kruse says her biggest challenge at the time was balancing her work life with home life. “I think being a woman and balancing work and family life is very tough. I think there’s a better work/home balance for men. As a woman, you’re always making sacrifices one way or the other, and feeling guilty no matter which way you go.”

As difficult as it has been at times being a female business owner, Kruse says there are elements of the experience that make it all worthwhile.

“When you’re a business owner, you have highs and lows,” she says, “But when you’re the underdog and you have a big win, that’s a really great feeling. For me, the greatest impact is to be able to give back to the community. That’s the best feeling in the world — being able to donate a soccer field, being able to contribute to a lot of schools financially, and do more charitable work. To me, that’s the most gratifying.”

She also says she’s proud of the fact that she’s been able to provide career opportunities to a lot of stay-at-home moms. “I think that’s important.”

Kruse says while there are challenges to overcome as a woman professional world, there also are advantages. “I think women tend to have more empathy,” she explains. “And they’re able to multitask more.”

While noting that women have come a long way in business since she started her career, Kruse suggests there’s much more work to be done.

“I think things have changed, but there’s still a long way to go,” she says. “There are women in leadership positions and on boards, but there aren’t enough.”

So how can more women climb higher up the corporate ladder? Kruse says women have to be more assertive about their careers. “You have to be an advocate for yourself,” she says. “I think, in general, women don’t do that as well as men. Leverage your network.

“I grew up as a very shy child, (but) when you start a business you really have to go outside your comfort zone and be a risk-taker, ask for business, and take on new opportunities,” she says of her career path. “If it’s uncomfortable, go for it.”

— Tim Keenan

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Lisa Cawley

Managing Director, Michigan Public Service Account Lead | Accenture, Detroit | Employees: 482,000 globally, 1,200 in Detroit | Revenue: $41B

Lisa Cawley
Above: Lisa Cawley. Idibala, 2019: Sophie Eisner is an artist who lives and works in Detroit. She works in several media, including sculpture, installation, drawing, and design. She received her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills and her bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Eisner has had her work exhibited in the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands. She has been a visiting artist and critic at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Carleton College, and the University of Louisville, where she gave the 2018 Nora Iasigi Bullitt Memorial Lecture. Eisner has received awards for her artistic achievement from the Muskegon Museum of Art and Carleton College. sophieeisner.com

Lisa Cawley has taken a self-described “zig-zag” path from serving as a budding environmental lawyer with an eye toward “saving the world” to working as a manager and Michigan public service account lead for the Detroit office of Accenture, a professional services company.

Cawley acknowledges that taking advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves has been one of the secrets to her success. At first, she wanted to be a law clerk, but she wound up running a political campaign at age 27.

The initial career zig came when the attorney she was clerking for in San Diego, where she was going to law school after graduating from the University of Colorado asked her to manage his campaign for San Diego City Council in the late 1990s. Scott Peters won that race and now represents California’s 52nd Congressional District in Washington, D.C.

“When I think about my career, it’s a crooked path,” Cawley says. “A lot of folks, certainly younger people, think their career is going to be a straight line. I thought it was better to take advantage of the opportunities as they arose. Maybe I have a high risk tolerance, but the things that have been put in front of me that I’ve said yes to resulted in really amazing things that I never would have dreamed, in my wildest imagination, would come about.”

Her other secret is developing a “robust and diverse network.” She says she enjoys being in a position where she meets and knows a lot of people and can facilitate synergies. “I really like being in a position to meet and interact with a lot of different people, all of whom tend to operate in silos,” she explains. “I can see connections and I like helping people make those connections. Helping people make those connections is furthering my ability to make the world a better place.”

As Accenture’s Michigan public service client account lead, Cawley is responsible for selling and delivering services to state and local governments, higher education, and nonprofit organizations.

“My experience in politics helps me understand the environment in which I operate,” she explains. “I like politics. I like being in a position to help make the world a better place. I still believe that good can come from people working together. That’s what I try to do every day.”

Cawley says she gets her strength and business acumen from her mother, who ran a coal company in eastern Kentucky in the 1970s.

“My mom is badass,” Cawley says. “She was my idol and mentor growing up, and still is. I’ve had so many women in my professional life who have taken me under their wing and taught me things, and I am forever grateful for them, but mom was the very first influence on me.”

Having a tough mom and several other mentors helped Cawley navigate the climb, as a woman, up the corporate ladder.

“When you get to the top of the pyramid, so to speak, there are very few women at the table,” she says. “At that level, the higher up you go, there’s still not a lot of gender or racial diversity. And that’s with a tremendous amount of effort going on to change that, which is sobering.

“When that happens, you’re the only voice in the room, and sometimes it feels like your voice isn’t being heard, or it takes more effort for your voice to be heard,” she says. “When you have homogenous environments, homogenous discussions happen. If you’re disrupting that simply by having a different gender, your voice can sometimes feel a little quieter.

“The advantage is that I’m at that table. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, and my voice is equally important. And it’s important that I put it out there.”

Cawley adds that she enjoys being a role model for other women. “Others look at you and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” she says.

— Tim Keenan

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Aine Denari

Senior Vice President and General Manager | ZF Group Global Electronics ADAS, Farmington Hills | Employees: 5,000 | Revenue: $1.2B

Aine Denari
Above: Aine Denari. Frame (shelf): Alberte Tranberg is a sculptor and metal worker from Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2018, Tranberg graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills with an MFA in metalsmithing. There she developed her practice by immersing herself in minimalist sculpture as an intervention to notions of domesticity and gendered architecture. Tranberg is a certified metal worker. She was a metal worker in an all-women’s blacksmith shop; customizing furniture and interior elements, mainly in steel. Tranberg is a recipient of a Fulbright sponsorship which has supported her work in the United States. Tranberg currently lives and works in Detroit. She is currently exhibiting works at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Midtown, Detroit. Her solo show Turning the First Sod is showing through July 6.
albertetranberg.com

After being tapped to lead the integration of two large automotive suppliers that each operate large facilities in metro Detroit and across the globe — Germany’s ZF Group acquired TRW in 2014 — Aine Denari now leads a $1.2 billion enterprise that’s on the cutting edge of new technological advances within the auto industry, which is growing at a rate of 15 percent per year.

“It’s the fastest growth part of the industry right now,” says Denari, senior vice president and general manager of ZF Group’s Global Electronics ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist Systems) in Farmington Hills. But even with her success in merging the two companies, she says the road is uneasy moving forward. “It’s ironic that combustion is kind of going away, and that’s what I studied in college.”

As for the merger, she says, “It was an incredibly interesting process and an incredible learning opportunity. The whole idea was to take the best of both companies and put them together. We called it the ‘Power of Squared.’ There were 240 locations, 146,000 employees, 28 countries, and two phenomenally different cultures. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but we really tried to be open and transparent as we were going through the process.”

Once that project was complete, Denari was offered her current position. “The technology in this space is so exciting, so dynamic, and moving incredibly quickly, changing incredibly quickly,” she says. “My youngest child is 6 years old, and I wonder if she’ll ever learn to drive.”

Although Denari studied mechanical engineering, specifically combustion, at the University College Dublin in her native Ireland, she managed to diversify her personal skill portfolio by continuing her education and gaining different experiences along life’s road.

She earned a National Science Foundation fellowship to study at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and received a master’s in mechanical engineering. Her first job after graduating was at Ford Motor Co.’s Scientific Research Labs in Dearborn, where she worked on direct injection and spark ignition.

While at Ford, she earned a master’s in engineering management from the University of Detroit-Mercy. “I love learning,” she says.

After Ford, she became a consultant for Bain and Co. in Chicago, and worked with “high-level people on big-picture issues,” says Denari, who picked up an MBA from Northwestern University while in the area.

She moved back to Ireland and worked for another big consulting firm, McKinsey and Co. “Although I don’t think I ever had a project in Ireland, I did a fair amount of traveling to the UK and throughout Europe.”

When her oldest child reached school age, she and her husband decided to move back to the U.S., specifically Indianapolis, where Denari got a job working for diversified industrial product manufacturer Ingersoll Rand.

Denari says she’s fortunate to have a husband who’s willing to stay at home and take care of the house and children while she pursues her career. She also says she hasn’t experienced many of the negative aspects of being a woman in the business world.

“I know plenty of people who weren’t as lucky as me,” she says. “Things aren’t equal, but nothing (happened) that’s been a real issue for me. There were times I wouldn’t get invited to play golf with the guys, or wouldn’t get invited to go out for a drink with the guys after work.”

She says the key for a woman to succeed in business is to find a network of other women to talk to, bounce ideas off, and get advice.

“It’s easy to get discouraged, because things aren’t always going to be easy,” she admits. “It’s more difficult to find a network or a support group in the workplace. I always had a good, strong network of friends. The consulting world really had a strong system to get those support networks in place.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve either been heavily involved with, or set up, networks for women,” Denari adds. “At Ingersoll Rand, for example, a few colleagues and I set up a group, starting in the location we were in, and it expanded to more than 1,000 women at 20 different locations.

— Tim Keenan

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Mary Culler

Chief of Staff to the Executive Chairman, Detroit Development Director | Ford Motor Co., Dearborn | Employees: 196,000 | Revenue: $160.3B

Mary Culler
Above: Mary Culler. Figurative Lands: Fatima Sow is a painter and collage artist whose work focuses on themes of identity, family connections, and natural environments. Her mediums have evolved from portrait paintings to wood assemblages, from landscape photography to landscape photo collage. The imagery used are original photographs by the artist from spaces in her hometown of Detroit, to cities she’s traveled to over the years. Sow has participated in various exhibits over the years in the Detroit area, and this Spring 2019 her work will be displayed in a group exhibition a part of her year long teaching residency with Project Art. Sow is also a studio assistant at the Detroit Institute of the Arts and is a K-12 Art Educator in the city. fatimasow.net

Long before Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, had the idea of converting Detroit’s long-forlorn Michigan Central Station into a mobility and R&D campus for the automaker and numerous partners, Mary Culler knew what it was like to live, work, and play in a landmark city. Think Paris, London, Rome, and Sydney, Australia, to name a few.

“I grew up overseas because my dad was in international business, so we moved a lot between seven countries in Europe and Sydney, Australia,” says Culler, chief of staff to the executive chairman at Ford and Detroit development director for the emerging Corktown campus. “Both my parents spoke Spanish, and I learned to speak Spanish and French. I was fortunate to grow up in some wonderful cities.”

Culler says after she began working with Bill Ford more than four years ago (she’s been with the automaker for 16 years), they would talk about opportunities to enhance Detroit. “He always had a vision of doing something much grander than an office building, and one day he said, ‘What if we did something with the train station?’ ” she recalls. “So we went down that road to see if it was a real option.” Culler says conducting the assessment — along with Dave Dubensky, chairman and CEO of Ford Land, and his team — took a few months to complete between late 2017 and June 2018, when the deal to transform the train station and surrounding property was publically announced.

“Following college, I worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., and I was really fortunate to have a lot of responsibility at a time when the EPA launched its brownfield program to help cities burdened by environmental remediation projects, which can be very expensive,” Culler says.

“I also worked in Chicago’s planning department in the industrial development program, and we focused especially on the city’s south side. Coincidentally, part of it involved Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, and we helped to create one of the nation’s first (neighboring) supplier parks. I also had a stint working in the U.S. Senate, so I knew how these things came together from a government standpoint.”

After her husband took a job with Compuware Corp. in Farmington Hills, where he helped oversee the company’s relocation to a new building in downtown Detroit in 2003, Culler accepted a job with Ford in the government relations department. “Now I was working in the private sector, so I checked that box, and then I got into policy work. When my husband’s job was done, we moved back to Chicago.”

After eight years, she returned to Ford to run the government relations department. From that experience, she learned all the different business units in the company before joining the office of the executive chairman.

“When we started researching the train station, Dave had this great (attitude) that there’s never anything that’s too hard to do,” she recalls. “He said, after all the research, ‘Yes, we can do this.’ Ultimately, he was a great negotiator and we got the deal done. At first, we saw the station as the centerpiece of development where we create these collaborative spaces for our company and our suppliers, but now we’re looking at how the transformation of the station, the Roosevelt Warehouse (next door), and the other parts of the campus can be a laboratory of sorts to solve some of the challenges cities are facing.

“In addition to working with the local community, we’re looking at how we can reimagine and redefine transportation so people can move more freely and safely, and have better access to jobs and education, and (use that to) help get more people out of poverty. If we can figure that out, we can do some terrific things for the community and the world.”

— R.J. King

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Darienne Driver Hudson

President and CEO | United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit | Employees: 153 | Revenue: $61.4

Darienne Driver Hudson
Above: Darienne Driver Hudson. Our Future Past #10. Ann Lewis is a multidisciplinary activist artist who uses painting, installation, and participatory performance to explore themes related to American identity, power structures, and justice. She often creates her works in public and communal spaces to drive interest. The Pittsburgh International Airport commissioned her most recent mural, which measures 500 feet in length. She is currently preparing for multiple projects focused on equitable reproductive health care access. annlew.is

Darrienne Driver Hudson isn’t a Detroit native, but she considers herself Detroit-made. “This is a city that means so much to me,” she says.

Driver Hudson, who grew up in Virginia, began her career teaching in the Detroit Public Schools. She also attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned a master’s degree in curriculum development, before going on to earn a doctorate in education at Harvard University.

When she took the leadership position at United Way for Southeastern Michigan last summer, news was about to break that the Detroit Public Schools Community School District (the district’s name since 2016) was shutting off drinking water at all of its schools because some buildings had water contaminated with lead or copper. One of Driver Hudson’s first efforts was to pledge $500,000 from the emergency fund of her United Way chapter — with the support of the leadership team and board of directors — to help pay for a water filtration system for the schools. “I think it’s a civil right and a basic right to have clean drinking water,” Driver Hudson says. “If not United Way, then who?”

Soon after taking the helm of one of the region’s notable charitable organizations, she set a goal of assisting families in need. Most recently, the Michigan Department of Education included the United Way for Southeastern Michigan — the only nonprofit and non-education organization — as one of four groups charged with implementing a newly established Early Childhood Support Network for the southeast region of the state. The effort, funded by a five-year renewable state grant worth upward of $20 million, is intended to help make navigating the state’s early childhood network of services easier for providers and families.

The recognition reaffirms United Way’s longstanding work in the area of early childhood, which includes a Social Innovation Fund research project that tests care coordination models across southeast Michigan. The investment also supports six early learning centers that impact the lives of more than 4,000 caregivers and families in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties.

Although it’s an important component, access to education isn’t the United Way’s sole focus. Its efforts also target economic prosperity and health, including early childhood, transportation, utilities, housing, and food insecurity.

For example, one of its flagship programs, Meet Up and Eat Up, was expected to serve breakfast and lunch on summer weekdays to children up to 18 years old at more than 700 locations. But, Driver Hudson says, “The need is bigger, to be honest with you.”

That need is highlighted by the United Way of Michigan’s report entitled “ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in Michigan: A Financial Hardship Study,” which determined that 43 percent of Michigan households struggle to afford the basic necessities of life, including housing, child care, food, technology, health care, and transportation. And the problem is getting worse, not better. “It was 40 percent a few years ago,” Driver Hudson says.

Since the organization’s recent move to the Fisher Building in New Center, Driver Hudson has been working on a strategic plan, which is the result of nearly a year of formal and informal conversations with people in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties. So far, two new volunteer options have been implemented: Seasons of Caring tailors volunteer opportunities to the seasons, while Alumni United focuses on retirees. Other volunteer options include a community impact panel and a health care advisory council.

— Ilene Wolff

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Lisa Kocsis-LeCureux

Vice President of Customer Service Strategy and Operations | Comcast, Detroit | Employees: 200,000 | Revenue: $94B

Lisa Kocsis-Lecureux
Above: Lisa Kocsis-Lecureux. Primary Stars:
April Wagner is an artist and owner of Epiphany Studios, a hot glass studio and gallery in Pontiac. She and her team create one-of-a-kind sculptures, lighting, and custom awards, and gifts that are contemporary and colorful. The works include three-story chandeliers and atrium sculptures to decanters and paperweights. Wagner is a Michigan native who attended Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. and graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit with a BFA in glass. Her company is a certified woman-owned business. epiphanyglass.com

During college, Lisa Kocsis-LeCureux (KOH-sis LA-cure) says she accepted a job in the cable industry strictly for the free HBO. In all seriousness, she’s turned that 1990 decision into a nearly 30-year career, the last 18 years of which she’s spent at Comcast. She’s now a vice president for the Heartland region — Michigan,
Kentucky, Indiana, and parts of Illinois — overseeing operations and customer
service strategy.

Along the way, she’s been involved in several major advancements. They include the fiber network buildout at the new Little Caesars Arena, the 2018 acquisition of Highland Park’s cable system from another operator, a higher-tiered internet speed rollout across Michigan that required an upgraded network and equipment, and participation in Project Green Light with the city of Detroit.

Project Green Light, a first-of-its-kind partnership, is a program designed to improve safety, promote revitalization, and reduce crime in businesses such as gas stations, restaurants, and stores, partly through the use of networked cameras that stream video to the Detroit Police Department’s Real-Time Crime Center.

Business participation had been lagging since the program’s launch in January 2016, but after Comcast joined the effort and offered a lease option for the use of high-resolution camera monitors, it’s grown to include more than 555 customers, along with 312 new accounts, according to figures provided by the cable company.

“The city was limited to providing a ‘purchase only’ option, which meant that business owners were confronted with high upfront costs to purchase the minimum four security cameras required by the program,” according to a recent case study. “This initial investment was a roadblock that prevented many interested parties from signing up.”

Comcast already had a program that was a suitable tie-in — Smart Office Video Surveillance — that offered the option to lease its equipment.

Management at Comcast may have had Kocsis-LeCureux’s successes in mind when they recently assigned her to lead the company’s regional efforts in its No. 1 priority: improving customer service. As part of the effort, she plans to transform the culture of the company to exceed customer expectations.

What management saw was someone who engenders trust and is an effective change leader who cultivates relationships among the cable provider’s leadership, customers, vendors, and employees, Kocsis-LeCureux says. “I’m not in a silo,” she says.

As part of the effort to boost customer service, Kocsis-LeCureux is looking for feedback from employees and peers, and using metrics such as the Net Promotor Score to gauge consumer sentiment. The NPS measures customers’ willingness to recommend a company’s products or services to others as a proxy for overall satisfaction and loyalty.

Already, as a result of customer feedback through the scoring process, customers can:

• Set Wi-Fi usage time alerts for multiple family members.

• Change a billing date.

• Sign up for text message alerts as service outages are restored.

• Move service from one address to another more easily.

• Have more flexibility in creating  a custom bundle of services.

• Offer more loyalty discounts and promotion end dates on bills.

Kocsis-LeCureux gives credit for her success to her ability to work in engineering, a male-dominated field rife with technical jargon. “I’ve been told I have a good way of being able to deliver a message in a simplified manner,” she says.

Does she have any advice for women who work largely with men? “Be authentic and be yourself,” Kocsis-LeCureux says.

— Ilene Wolff

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Nancy Tellem

Executive Chairwoman, Chief Media Officer | Eko, Tel Aviv, and New York | Executive Director, Office of the CEO | MGM Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Nancy Tellem
Above: Nancy Tellem. View Finder: Detroit-based artist Ellen Rutt makes bold, mixed-media paintings, site-specific installations, murals, and wearables. Her abstract vocabulary of layered shapes and primary colors is applied to a variety of media to facilitate a conversation between materials and movement, places, and process. Rutt graduated with a BFA from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design and has shown work at MOCAD, The Detroit Institute of Arts, and Inner State Gallery. Her painted murals have been shown in Detroit, New York, Chicago, Canada, and France, among others. ellenrutt.com

Nancy Tellem was instrumental in helping create some of the biggest shows on television, including “Friends” and “ER.” During a multifaceted career working with several different studios and TV networks, she contributed to the success of hit shows like “Perfect Strangers,” “CSI,” “Survivor,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Full House,” among many others.

In 2015, when her husband, Arn Tellem, a legendary sports agent, joined the front office of Palace Sports and Entertainment in Auburn Hills, Nancy found herself traveling to Detroit from their home in the Los Angeles area. Looking for an opportunity to contribute to the city’s comeback, she acquired a historic manor in Midtown, north of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“The move to Detroit from L.A. has been an amazing experience for my husband and I,” she says. “As I spent more time here, I looked in the Detroit area to acquire something and turn it into a community-based experience.

“Since I bought the house, I’ve become more focused on what to do with it. My intention is to put together or entice a women’s group (to come) here. There are different groups around the country that we could (encourage) to establish a chapter here, or it could be an organic experience. I’d like to have a place where women could meet and network, share ideas, and mentor young women. There’s a need and a desire for this, and it would be a wonderful opportunity.”

Tellem says renovation work on the manor at 110 E. Ferry Street has started, and she expects that the project will be completed by next spring.

A lawyer, Tellem says she was fascinated by the entertainment industry while growing up in Danville, a small town in the San Ramon Valley southeast of San Francisco. After earning a degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, she worked in private practice for four years.

“I remember spending a good deal of time working on the Howard Hughes lawsuit after he passed away,” she says. “We had to figure out where his will was, and where his residence was. (Knowing) where he resided would help determine how things progressed. There were maternal and paternal heirs, which also determined what people might have received from the will.

“Those two sides actually came together, which helped bring things to a close. There were a lot of people saying they were adopted sons and daughters, and an actress claimed she was married to Hughes, which didn’t turn out to be true. Eventually everything was settled and the estate was divided. It was pretty amazing to see the brilliance of Hughes and the craziness of his later life. He had an impact on so many industries.”

Tellem then moved into the entertainment industry, where she worked for Merv Griffin on “Wheel of Fortune.” She quickly became a legal expert who also offered business and financial advice for numerous shows, including what she calls the “evening soap operas” like “Falcon Crest” and “Dallas.”

Today, Tellem helps oversee Eko (formerly Interlude), a technology company that offers interactive content to help drive sales for clients like Walmart Inc. At MGM, she provides strategic advice on optimizing digital and streaming content from traditional and new film productions and distribution channels.

“One of my biggest challenges was transitioning from my legal and business background into the creative world,” Tellem says. “There’s no guidebook. Like any transition, you have to have an open mind and learn everything you can. And ask a lot of questions.”

— R.J. King

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Olga Alavanou

Vice President, Global Sales and Program Management | Lear Corp., Southfield | Revenue: $29.9B | Employees: 169,000

Olga Alavanou
Above: Olga Alavanou Vase Series: Vineta Chugh is a designer who works in a variety of materials. With a conceptual approach, Chugh tries to develop forms that are inspired by the body and the struggles of self-image, but are based only on subjective associations that stimulate the viewer to make new individual connections. Her artworks are intertwined with personal experiences and combined with craft that open unique spaces of imagination for the viewer. She has created objects, texts, and images in which the insecurities associated with the mental image of the body are questioned. Her artworks are a direct response to a body-conscious environment.
vinetachugh.com

Olga Alavanou says that when she jumped to Lear Corp. in Southfield from Yazaki North America in Canton Township in April, “It was time to make a change for my professional growth.” It’s something she’s been successful doing since she arrived in metro Detroit from Greece as an 18-year-old.

At Yazaki, Alavanou advanced steadily up the corporate ladder, climbing from a sales manager to executive vice president of the company’s U.S. OEM business during a nearly 20-year run. During that time, she also served as Yazaki’s sales director for its General Motors business, and was head of program management for the Ford business unit, vice president of purchasing and logistics, and vice president of supply chain management for the Americas.

Working with the Ford business unit of Yazaki “gave me an opportunity to work with manufacturing, which is important in our business,” Alavanou says. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to diversify my experience.”

On a related front, Alavanou also navigated the Japanese corporate business culture. Not only is it very different than that fostered in America, but 20 years ago it wasn’t typically open to professional women.

“I think it was important to me to, first of all, demonstrate that I was able to work very hard,” Alavanou says, explaining how she proved herself to her Japanese co-workers. “That was a way to gain their trust. Working hard is extremely important in that type of environment. It’s very important to demonstrate that you can do the job equally as well anybody else. That’s definitely what helped me.

“Also, my willingness to take different assignments helped. I never said no to any assignment that came my way. Some of them were more challenging than others, (and) some of them might have made me uncomfortable because they weren’t in my background, but I (took) them and tried to do them very well.

“I think it’s important not to think of yourself as a female in this environment,” she adds. “Just think of yourself as one of the people there to do the job. I never, ever, considered myself a female in a male-dominated industry. I always just saw myself as one of the group. One of the team.”

Alavanou’s professional growth started as a student at Detroit’s Wayne State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. From there, she spent six years as a product development engineer at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, where she worked on audio systems. While at Ford, Alavanou earned an MBA from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

From Ford, she went to the automotive division of Alcoa to work as a sales engineer. It was at Alcoa that Alavanou met the mentor who would support her throughout her career, Colleen Haley, who’s currently group vice president of operations at Parker Hannifin.

“She was my boss at one point, then later my peer,” Alavanou says. “I trusted her. She provided me with very good advice, (along with) honest and direct feedback. Then the roles would reverse from time to time, which is something we still enjoy to this day. She’s very important to me.

“We would bounce things off each other. She would give me feedback on how she felt I did in particular situations. I trusted her so much that I was always open to receive that feedback. She gave career advice, but mostly it was specific. I don’t believe in mentorship that’s general or generic. I believe in helping with very specific issues.”

Before joining Yazaki, Alavanou spent a short time as a sales engineer for United Technologies Corp.

Her recent move to Lear was inspired by what she calls the company’s “laser focus on products.”

“What really attracted me to Lear was their vision for the future, their technology, their amazing leadership, and very strong workforce,” she says. “I sort of knew that before I came here, and now I’m positive. What I admire most is their dedication to the business.”

— Tim Keenan

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Special thanks to Rob Onnes of 333 Midland for hosting the photo shoot at The Annex Gallery in Highland Park, and to Stephanie-Blair Watts (baddieblair.com), whose exhibition was on display. Overall, 333 Midland is a large industrial site that includes a historic factory that was once home to the Lewis Stamping Plant. The structure offers extensive space to artists and sculptors who wish to create large-scale works. The Annex Gallery is an artist-run showcase of the Detroit and Highland Park communities including emerging and established artists. Also, thank you to the eight female artists whose pieces were paired with the honorees. Information for each artist can be found on the pages where their respective pieces appear. For more information about the gallery, visit 333midland.com. 

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