Almost every year at the Academy Awards, we hear the line: “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” While it might seem overused at times, it’s always true—because to be nominated, someone thought you did an amazing job…that you are the very best at what you do…and that you deserve special recognition.
So as we approach this month’s National Women’s Business Conference in Columbus, Ohio, where we will announce our WBO of the Year—among other individual and chapter honors—at Tuesday evening’s glamorous, roll-out-the-red-carpet Gala & Awards, we pause to celebrate and speak with the top three WBO of the Year finalists.
Meet the Finalists….
Olga Ramudo, president & CEO, Express Travel, Florida
After years of being a stay-at-home mother, Olga decided to venture into the travel business by becoming an independent contractor for a small agency. Partnering with her sister and a best friend, what started as a part-time job took them further in 1989 when they started their own business together.
Specializing in the Hispanic market and with a strong commitment to community involvement and customer service, Express Travel has become one of the top travel agencies in the nation, receiving numerous awards and recognitions, including Travel Agency of the Year from the American Society of Travel Agents; #8 Woman-Owned Business in the State of Florida; and one of the top Hispanic companies in the nation.
Olga has been a prominent tourism community leader for more than 20 years and has volunteered for leadership positions for hundreds of local events, which have resulted in millions of dollars of economic impact and new jobs for South Florida’s local and state tourism. Additionally, Olga has donated her time and experience to many organizations, serving on committees to promote bilingual education to maintain the “Gateway of the Americas” designation for South Florida.
Olga sits on the executive board of directors of the Beacon Council and the board of directors of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and CAMACOL (Latin Chamber of Commerce). Miami’s Board of County Commissioners recently appointed Olga to a third term as a board member to Dade County’s Tourism Development Council. Olga also chairs the Hispanic initiatives committee for the National Tour Association. She was invited to become a member of the International Women’s Forum and was recognized by the Red Cross with their Spectrum Entrepreneurial Award. The Coral Gables Board of County Commissioners also recently appointed Olga to their economic development board.
Carol Curran, president & CEO, Phoenix Data Corporation, Indiana
Carol has a history of growing successful, entrepreneurial businesses that are focused on technology processes and integration to streamline business operations. Prior to Phoenix Data Corporation, Carol was owner and CEO of two technology companies, ETC and Curran Data Technologies. The notable success of these companies attracted the attention of and acquisition by Anacomp and Star Technologies, respectively.
In 2001, Carol started Phoenix Data Corporation, leveraging her expertise in data image processing, IT services, applications development and database management. Realizing that the company’s technological expertise could generate significant revenues in focused industries, Carol acquired the necessary certifications for access to opportunities, including WBE, SDB and 8(a). Under Carol’s direction, the company has achieved exponential growth and numerous contracts with the State of Indiana, health care and logistics partners and the United States Department of Defense. In 2010, Phoenix began application of its new technology—particle swarm optimization—for electronic warfare and resource allocation for the U.S. Department of Defense, and commercial logistics applications. The company currently has 83 employees at job sites in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Equally involved in the community, Carol serves as vice president of NAWBO-Indianapolis, is an Advisory Board member for Enterprising Women magazine and is a board member for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Carol is an active member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Women in Defense and the National Defense Industrial Association, and has served on the National Advisory Board of Key4Women as part of KeyCorp’s focus on women in business.
Didi Discar, principal, Carling Communications, California
As principal of Carling Communications, Didi has created a company molded in her image. The creed by which the health care advertising agency does business is one of her own: It Can Be Done. No matter what her clients need, Didi and her staff are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
That motto and mission have yielded great success. Carling Communications is the largest privately held health care advertising agency in Southern California, with more than 70 employees. The agency specializes in communications within the fields of dermatology, aesthetics, ophthalmology, pain management and cardiovascular medicine. Its list of clients features some of the heavyweights of the industry, including Bausch + Lomb, Alcon, Novartis, Valeant and Merz, and it works with top brands from those clients.
Whether she’s exploring market opportunities with a client or leading a discussion among seasoned physicians, Didi poses targeted questions that elevate the level of strategic thinking and stretch the boundaries of those around her. With her persistent drive, unwavering optimism and 20 years of pharmaceutical experience, she spearheads innovative and effective strategies that powerfully impact the market. Didi’s knowledge of the industry is matched only by the quality of her deep-rooted relationships with industry representatives, key opinion leaders and clients.
Before starting Carling Communications in 2010 and moving into professional services, Didi began her health care marketing career on the client side in 1993 with Wyeth-Ayerst (now Pfizer) after earning a biomedical engineering degree from the University of Southern California. She went on to help develop and execute strategies for nearly 50 brands in the health care industry.
Hear What They Have to Say…
Q: What does the WBO of the Year honor mean to you personally?
Olga: The WBO of the Year nomination is a tremendous honor, which will create great national visibility for me and my company. For me personally, to be among the top three finalists in a great group of nominees, means the world.
Carol: To be nominated by my peers is a great honor. More importantly, to be recognized by the highly reputable NAWBO organization is most humbling. This honor is one that is not just for me, but also for the many women who have sacrificed to make a way for women entrepreneurs to be successful. Those women who have gone before me opened a path to follow.
Didi: It means that I’ve created something—from my mind, from my relationships and, originally, from my living room—that has become a thing of true value. Not just to me, but a truly valuable presence in the health care communications industry and in the local San Diego economy. It also validates that I’ve accomplished something that, just 50 years ago, a woman might not have even dreamt of achieving.
Q: What are you most proud of as a successful woman business owner?
Olga: What I am most proud of as a successful woman business owner is the fact that I can set an example and get the message out to that special woman who is thinking of starting her own business, doesn’t know how and is afraid to try. I love being able to get our story out to others, so that they can follow and understand that it IS possible.
Carol: My personal accomplishments along the way pale in comparison to the satisfaction of knowing I have been able to employ hundreds of people over many years who have become a part of my family. I watch as their families grow, graduate and achieve their own goals and gain a sense of being one big Phoenix family. My Phoenix family includes multi-generational employees. My pride in the success of my business is deeply rooted in the dedication of my Phoenix family.
Didi: I’m most proud of the group of people I’ve gathered in this company. We’ve gathered 70 talented individuals—and counting—into a single culture and a single vision, and we’ve created a place where humanity comes first. People do good work, are satisfied in their jobs and generally enjoy working with each other. I love that I built that.
Q: If you could choose the one thing that’s contributed most to your success over the years, what would it be and why?
Olga: What has contributed the most to our success has been, even though it sounds cliché, our team. We have such a dedicated group of people, some of them with us since 1989 when we started the company. Just today, it is 6:25 p.m. on a Friday and my staff is still here. The other important aspect that has been crucial to our success is the relationships that have been created through community involvement. I sit on several community boards, relationships and friendships are created and, in turn, they become your customers.
Carol: I think that the one thing that has continually contributed to my success over the years is the ability to see how people can learn from the experiences I have to offer and how my teachings can help them to excel in life and realize their own potential. Helping others write their own success stories and reach their goals is one of my goals that drives my business forward.
Didi: The one thing that’s contributed most to my success is failure. You can’t succeed without failing and knowing how to fail. Failure is the best teacher of courage. To build a company, you have to have courage. That courage can come a couple of ways. You can be naïve and bullheaded—and honestly, those people are probably headed for failure anyway—or you can have the courage that comes from having tried your hardest and fallen short. Failure gives you courage because you know it’s temporary. I know that for every 10 great steps I take, I might fail on one—and though that one hurts, I’m still plus 9, and as long as I keep trying, I’ll be able to keep things going in a positive direction.
Q: What’s the best advice another successful woman business owner has given you and how did you apply it?
Olga: The best advice I received was: Never fear. I applied that when I had no clue of what I was doing, and a huge corporation asked if we could handle their business—I replied, “Of course!” My sister and business partner said, “You said what? How in the world are we going to do that?” My reply was, “I have no clue, we need to find out.” We did find out, worked hard and were successful in fulfilling the corporation’s requirements only because we overcame fear.
Carol: My mother always said never give up, always continue, no matter how many times you fall, get back up. She was correct. You have to fall to win. As business owners, we all have fallen, and we all have gotten back up. It teaches us how to handle disappointment. Rejection builds strength, character, wisdom, consistency, commitment and courage.
Didi: “Never ascribe to malice something that can be explained by stupidity.” As a woman in business, you’re going to get a lot of boneheaded comments. You have to understand not to take those things personally. The people saying those things aren’t mean or sexist; they’re ignorant. Don’t be a victim. You can laugh it off. You have the upper hand now; they’ve revealed their ignorance, so you know where you stand, and can take their contributions with a grain of salt.
Q: How has NAWBO contributed to your business success?
Olga: NAWBO has contributed to the success of my business by recognizing the importance of women in business and bringing attention to what we all do.
Carol: NAWBO has contributed to my business success by allowing me access to a network of corporate partners and members in one place. It allows for education opportunities and availability of expansion resources, both locally and nationally, for my business. With the certifications systems rolled into NAWBO and the national ability to bid successfully on much larger jobs for women-owned businesses, we are bidding and have received large contracts with NAWBO supporting us.
Didi: The success of Carling Communications has been built on asking people to take chances. In the beginning, clients had to take a risk on a small upstart company. That’s scary. Currently and from our start, we’ve sought out the best talent in the country, and we ask them and their family to move great distances, sometimes across the country, to work with us. That’s scary. With the recognition we’ve received from national organizations like NAWBO, I have credentials and legitimacy I can point to and say, “Look, bring your business to us. Come work for us. We’ve got the respect and support of national organizations. You can trust us.”
Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO?
Olga: I am really excited about sharing time with great successful women, learning and sharing with them, as well as the great seminars that are part of the program.
Carol: This year’s National Women’s Business Conference is at crucial time in our nation’s history. The history of NAWBO shows we were founded on leading through advocacy. The conference is leveraging this and I look forward to seeing how our speakers and talented presenters motivate and share innovative ways women are and should be leading. Our chapter will have a large group of members at the conference and I am pleased to have them in attendance to learn and experience this inspiring conference. Our members represent emerging, established and growing businesses that will benefit from the conference and return ready to “lead the way” and make an impact on our state and the nation.
Didi: I’m most looking forward to meeting other women business owners. Hearing their stories. Learning about their journey, and learning from the journey, in order to help me continue on mine.
Congrats to All the WBO of the Year Nominees!
Janis Ward Adams
Susan St. Germain