Hail to the Chiefs
Take the lead of these South Bay members of the Women Presidents’ Organization. They mean business.
- Written byAmber Klinck
It’s immediately clear how collectively influential the six South Bay members of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) are to one another, and how their shared experiences help evolve their businesses. A nonprofit organization founded in 1997 by Dr. Marsha Firestone, WPO brings together entrepreneurial women looking to take their businesses to greater heights through the wisdom and support of their peers. Internationally, WPO member businesses generate $24 million in average annual revenue and $1.9 billion in aggregate total revenue, employing in the aggregate 9,264 people.
“It’s about members taking part in professionally-facilitated peer learning groups, conducted in a proprietary roundtable format, to accelerate the growth of their businesses,” explains Vicki Unger, Senior Vice President – Investments of The Kopitz Unger Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC. As the chair of two WPO chapters, a business owner, wife and mother of three, Vicki—like all her fellow members—possesses a unique blend of capability and tenacity … a powerful combination that enables these women to do it all and do it well.
“I’m always amazed how resilient women are,” says Vicki, adding that the members of her WPO chapters “are women who have a big impact on the economy in California.”
“It’s fun … hiring people, creating jobs. It’s a really fun thing to do,” explains Nancy Rohman, cofounder, president and chief financial officer of 3PL Central. With 44 employees, Nancy runs a software company based in Manhattan Beach specializing in cloud-based warehouse management.
When asked what drew the two-year member to WPO, Nancy explains, “I like business, and I’m a big supporter of women.” As a business owner and mother of three, however, finding the time to commit to WPO was a challenge, but it’s been worth it.
“When you’re running a company, you’ve often got your head down, working on your own thing. But when you step out and sit around a table of 19 other business owners with different perspectives, it’s rich and it’s interesting. It gives you a little bit more clarity.”
“The women are smart, accomplished, incredible. We’re all very different. We are in non-competing industries and we are willing and able to share our experiences to help each other achieve greater success,” explains Jill Albert, president of Direct Results. As a member of WPO for more than four years, Jill has found camaraderie with her fellow members.
“When you’re alone running a business, it’s different than when you work for a company with all of your colleagues. There is a tremendous amount of alliance in working with these women from WPO.”
Ironically, WPO membership was not initially in Jill’s plan. “I went in kicking and screaming. I’m very independent. I’m not what I would consider a joiner, but it’s been fantastic.”
Olivia Roth, owner and chief financial officer of Max Industries, Inc., however, was actively looking for the right organization. “I didn’t want to join a networking group, that’s not what I was looking for. I was really looking to find an organization whose members are successful entrepreneurial women, like myself, running their own companies and sharing their business expertise and experience.”
With only four months as a WPO member, Olivia is the newbie of the group, but her experience with WPO has already proved incredibly rewarding. “I have learned so much during the time that I’ve been a WPO member, and I’ve implemented many of those concepts. We exchange ideas and encourage and mentor one another. I feel empowered.”
For Sheryl Rooker, president of PeopleWare Staffing, it comes down to perspective. “We’re all entrepreneurs entrenched in our day-to-day minutia. helps us see the bigger picture.”
After eight years of working for someone else, and with the urging of her husband and PeopleWare co-owner, Sheryl started her own business in 1993 in the staffing industry. “I always knew that I wanted to work; I knew that about myself.”
But it’s what she takes away from her WPO peers that has kept her a member for more than four years. “There’s a lot of wisdom, everyone is in different points of their careers, and we have some really great people in our group.”
Those great people include South Bay local and five-year WPO member and president of De Forest Search Partners, Jill De Forest. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Jill opened her first employment agency, Sawyer & Associates Personnel Service, when she was 26. Within five years the company grew into a $6.5 million business with four offices and 65 employees.
As a wife and mother of three, Jill responds to whether or not she maintains a work/life balance with, “Work and family gives my life balance”—a sentiment that seems befitting of anyone balancing his or her personal and professional lives … which Jill is. Her company is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Through WPO, each of these incredible women has been able to access one another as resources for guidance and inspiration in a confidential, non-competitive environment.
They’ve been able to learn from each other’s experiences and talk openly about navigating through professional obstacles with women who understand the challenges that come with owning their own business.
In Vicki Unger’s words, “This is part of my continuing education.” And it’s priceless.