425 Women to Watch 2018

The tapestry of our workforce was built on women who were dedicated to moving the needle forward and making America stronger and more adaptable for the next generation. Our Women to Watch — a restaurant entrepreneur, styling coach, radio host, telecommunications powerhouse, and leadership developer — are grounded as change-makers who weren’t satisfied with the status quo. Their ripple effect will foster more leaders for years to come, and on April 4, they will take the stage at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue to share their stories at our third annual 425 Women to Watch live event. Buy tickets at 425magazine.com.

Photos by Brooke Clark.

 


 

Kim Peterson

Owner of Uniquely Savvy

A phoenix from the ashes, the personal stylist and life coach overcame years of domestic violence. Now, her story is an emblem of love, hope, and freedom.

Women to Watch Kim Peterson

The bold, red wall in Kim Peterson’s kitchen was a testament to how far she’d come. After separating from her abusive ex-husband, she said she added deadbolts to the Kirkland townhouse they had shared, jury-rigged the doors and windows with plies of wood, and left the rooms bare and white — an unconscious side effect of being controlled: He didn’t want her putting holes in the walls. Red was the first bloom of color she reintroduced into her life and was evidence of her healing.

For years after her divorce, she was a pale shade of her current self, having spent most of her life in a state of numbness from a series of abusive relationships stemming from feelings of abandonment and unworthiness as a black and Asian adopted child in a white family that broke up when she was young. At age 6, she suddenly became an only child when her adopted dad took two of her siblings. Her adopted mom claimed her, moving them into condemned housing in Federal Way, and was doing her best to better their situation.

“My self-esteem plummeted; my identity became very fragmented; and my lifelong stories were, I’m unlovable, I’m unworthy, and I’m just not enough,” she said. “I was given up once as an infant, but my dad and siblings took off without me, too. When you have that, and when you’re not old enough to process those emotions, it plays a number on you.”

Arguably, that period was one of the first dominos that tipped over and rippled throughout actions and decisions that impacted her until she was about 35 years old. Every few years, another trauma occurred that reinforced those feelings, she said — a sexual assault at age 12; a college relationship riddled with domestic violence; and eventually, her then-husband, who abused and drained the life from her.

But Peterson had always found solace as a teenager sifting through racks of clothing at thrift stores. When she felt confident in how she looked, it transformed how people treated her, and she wanted to help others feel the same. Peterson also had a religious awakening after stumbling upon Psalms chapter 139:14-16. The text, a message of being “fearfully and wonderfully made,” inspired the moniker of her style consulting business, Uniquely Savvy. She graduated from Central Washington University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in fashion and management and a minor in business. But she bookmarked her dreams of running her own styling business and instead opted to work in a corporate setting until she was married in 1997. The violence started almost right away, she said, but it took years for her to break away physically and legally.

“All it takes is one person. It just takes one person to stop and pause for you and believe in you.”

In 2000, while sleeping on the floor of a friend’s vacant house, she decided the fear of remaining homeless was greater than the fear of starting her business. During that period, she was also drudging through painful criminal hearings against her then-husband and was in the midst of divorcing him. As she was trying to re-form the fractured pieces of herself, she sought incremental support from the domestic violence nonprofit LifeWire, a therapist, and a life coach.

“With this therapist, I never had someone so boldly say to me, ‘You know what, Kim? You’re at a crossroads in your life, and if you don’t choose to take those family origin boxes off the shelf and get after the healing work, you’re going to continue in the same direction,’” she said.

The outcome of that advice — dealing with the origins of her pain — led her to today. Eleven years ago, she reconnected with a college sweetheart, Kelly Peterson, who’s been one of the few witnesses to her phoenix-like rise from the ashes. They’ve been married five years now.

Peterson has an effervescence and humble self-assurance that makes her feel like a safe person to confide in. And many do. She works with the area’s emerging leaders and top executives to help them enhance their whole selves and further drive their success.

“All it takes is one person,” she said. “It just takes one person to stop and pause for you and believe in you. I’m so grateful for those few people who have literally stopped and paused for me. It’s why I can turn around and do what I do. I feel like I’ve been ushered into a new freedom.”

Favorite Photo in Your Home:

The one of my husband, Kelly and I on our wedding day on the beach in Maui.

Currently Reading:

When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson

Finding Time for Yourself:

I make it happen. I just calendar it in. I value my self-care because I know I can only bring my best to others from which I have for myself.

Guilty Pleasure:

Sometimes I get hooked on The Bachelor or Bachelorette.

Early Thrift Store Finds:

One was this velvet burgundy, tailored blazer. I remember I wore it with these leggings that were black and white and had this swirly-like pattern. It was just so cute.

 

 

Ally Svenson

Co-Founder of MOD Pizza

Ally Svenson and her husband have built something much more than a pizza empire; they’ve built a platform to employ those who need it most.

Women to Watch Ally SvensonThis is not a pizza place” is inscribed in secret little spots at MOD Pizza stores around the country.

Of course, it really is a restaurant, but Ally and Scott Svenson weren’t and still aren’t interested in creating just another pizza joint. America has enough of them, Ally quipped during our interview in a cozy little room at their headquarters in Bellevue. When the Svensons created MOD Pizza in 2008 at the beginning of the recession, their vision was to feed families and give jobs to people who had trouble finding work otherwise.

The pair initially landed on pizza because they were looking for a fast, casual restaurant their whole family would enjoy that wasn’t too heavy on the greasy, caloric intake. Ally and Scott lived in London for 11 years and escaped to Italy as often as possible to consume a slice of “thin, cheap, yummy” street pizza, she said. It wasn’t unusual over there to order a simple, individual pizza, but in the United States, that model wasn’t prevalent. So they came up with their fast, made-to-order, thin-crust pizza that’s one price no matter the number of toppings and dubbed it “simple food for complex times.”

After launching their first experimental MOD Pizza in Seattle, the concept blew up.

“Scott and I sat down and said, ‘What will be required of us to move forward with this and build it?’” Svenson said. “It will take a lot of resources, time, money. It will take a lot out of us, and at the time we had four (growing) boys. We had some very serious conversations. If we’re going to invest in the next decade-plus in building this business that is so worthy of building and has such great potential, what will it take to justify that investment?”

The answer was its employees. MOD has become famous for its “second chance” employee model, hiring people who may have a record, struggle with addiction, or have fallen on hard times. If the employees feel safe and taken care of at work, then they’ll take care of the customers and the business will take care of itself, she said.

Their passionate belief in “enlightened capitalism” has paid off. Forbes recently recognized MOD Pizza as the fastest growing restaurant chain in the country, with more than 320 stores in 27 states. But the Svensons don’t really care about those numbers.

“The fact that she was given something, and she paid it forward and gave it away, that’s pretty awesome.”

She gets teary-eyed when recounting stories of her “MOD Squad” team members who have evolved dramatically during their time with the company and have become more like family. One example made its way to Svenson’s inbox from a customer who witnessed an employee in Bellevue make a meal for a homeless man who came in and dug through the trash looking for food. The customer put $20 in her tip jar, and the employee loaded it on to a gift card and went down the street to give it to the man after he’d left with his pizza.

“This customer that emailed us about it said her only regret was that her entire family wasn’t there to witness it,” Svenson said, wiping her eyes with a tissue. “It’s one thing to make him a meal. She could have stopped there, and it would have been a beautiful moment and the customer still would have been impressed. The fact that she was given something, and she paid it forward and gave it away, that’s pretty awesome.”

If for whatever reason they couldn’t make pizza anymore, Svenson said, they’d build something else, so long as they could continue raising people up and giving them an opportunity to succeed.

Currently Reading:

I’m always reading several things at a time. It always takes me a week to get through the Sunday New York Times, and I always have a book going.

When Feeling Stuck or Frustrated:

I take a deep breath and look at the people around me, and then everything makes sense, and I MOD on.

Guilty Pleasure:

I eat cookies every day.

Last Mistake:

There are slip-ups every day. The only other very regular regret that hits me hard is if I rush through a moment with a loved one.

Favorite Pizza Toppings:

Our Lucy Sunshine with extra dollops of red sauce.

 

 

Brooke Fox

Radio Co-Host

In an era of filtered personas, radio-show host Brooke Fox feels like a proverbial breath of fresh air.

Women to Watch Brooke FoxBrooke Fox feels like a fast friend, which is likely why she has such a fan following on MOViN 92.5’s Brooke and Jubal in The Morning. Her light-hearted, jocular quips and pleading advice are a welcome comedic break for many adults hustling kids to school or dashing to work. And what makes the show so addicting is its hilarity and authenticity. Fox is quick to dismiss the notion of being a “radio personality.” On and off the air, followers are getting the real her, in all of its unfiltered glory.

Radio consultants often try to prescribe certain roles to co-hosts — “he’s the funny one, she’s the mom, he’s the single guy” — but that doesn’t work, she said. Nobody is just one thing.

“So, yeah, I can be the mom, and I can be the reasonable one, but I can also be the person who was in a sorority and had a really freakin’ good time in her 20s, you know?” she said. “I can be both of those things, and that’s OK. I think that’s a little different from other radio shows where they say, ‘No. Stick to your character because then people know who you are.’”

Fox said being in a male-dominated industry was frustrating during her early years in radio. After being laid off in Portland, she shopped around a pitch to create a female-led morning show similar to one she was part of in Spokane. Before she found someone who believed in her and the idea, she fielded comments like, “Women aren’t funny,” “You don’t need to be the funny one,” or “Women don’t like hearing other women’s voices.”

“I mean, it was frustrating,” she said. “Anytime you’re told you can’t do something because of a reason that’s completely out of your control is frustrating. … But that time was really crucial to who I am.”

For the most part, Fox said, she’s been lucky with employers embracing who she is and viewing it as an asset to the show.

“They know, no matter what’s going on, they can get in their car in the morning with their kid, and they can both laugh no matter what type of fight they’re in.”

Fox and Jubal Flagg launched their morning show in 2011 with comedian Jose Bolanos joining them shortly after. Their audience widened a couple years ago, when they became syndicated. Now that the show is reaching a wider audience, the internet trolls have also become louder on the trio’s social media and text board. Radio is one of the few forms of media listeners can interact in real-time with the hosts. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Fox said, those messages are encouraging.

“What I love hearing is when we have moms with teenagers, and they’re not getting along with their kid, and this gives them the one space where they both can share a common interest,” she said. “They know, no matter what’s going on, they can get in their car in the morning with their kid, and they can both laugh no matter what type of fight they’re in.”

But then there are the ruthless commentators. It’s silly, she said, but those are often the messages she remembers most. Sometimes it’s hurtful, but she’s gotten to a point in her life and career where she can shrug it off.

As the mom of two young kids, she takes fans through the highs and lows of being a full-time working mom — from having to breast-pump in the office to sweet afternoon snuggles with her babies. For the most part, her work schedule has been a blessing, but when her son was still an infant, the 5 a.m. call-time was brutal.

“The sleep stuff legit makes me feel like I’m losing my mind,” she said. “The sleep-deprivation stage felt horrendous, but now, I’m just so fortunate. I get to be home at 2 o’clock. Sometimes it’s exhausting, and I just want a half hour to myself, which I think every mom feels. But I feel fortunate to be a full-time working mom and spend that much time with my kids.”

For anyone who feels like they’re still trying to figure it all out, Fox said, she’s right there with you. She isn’t sure where her career might take her. For the time being, she’s exhaling and just enjoying the ride.

“I think this community, in terms of the Puget Sound, has been awesome,” she said. “I think they like to laugh, and I think they’re all really funny and really smart. If anyone tells them otherwise, they should kick them in the shins. It’s just been a great place to do radio.”

Favorite Art in Your Home:

My grandfather was a magician, and I have some of his old magic posters from the 1930s.

When Feeling Stuck or Frustrated:

Scream. No, (just kidding). I think exercise and yoga have helped me through a lot of tough times. I also call my mom and cry.

Guilty Pleasure:

I sleep with stuffed animals. It’s a Glow Worm and a Pound Puppy, and I’ve had them since I was 2. Right now, they’re on the dresser because my husband is really anti-stuffed animal, which I think is an atrocity.

Finding Time for Yourself:

I don’t really know. Last night I stayed up for a half hour and read a book, but then I missed out on sleep and am a little tired today. So, you sacrifice sleep? Is that the wrong answer? I think that’s what you have to do.

Favorite Artist on the Radio:

I’m really digging Khalid right now (his entire album is amazing), and I love the Bruno Mars and Cardi B jam “Finesse.”

 

 

Amy Lynch

Regional Vice President of Comcast

The Comcast executive went from marketing technology products to leading entire regions and is dedicated to encouraging more women to enter the tech sphere.

Women to Watch Amy LynchLesson No. 1: Create your own opportunities.

When Amy Lynch was a young college student about to graduate, she interned in the finance department of Cox Communications, a privately owned technology company in Atlanta. She and a fellow male intern were both working late nights, but she noticed he was getting all the extra-curricular assignments. She built up the courage to ask her supervisor whether her work was up to par, and why he was getting more opportunities.

“He looked me squarely in the face, and he’s in a suit and tie, and he leans in to me and said, ‘Because he asked, and he’s made it part of his development plan,’” she recalled. ‘What’s your development plan? What do you want?’

The conversation was a pivotal moment early in her career that she’s carried with her as an important lesson. Lynch, the Comcast Vice President for the Washington Region, headquartered in Lynnwood, has worked her way up through the company for the last 14 years, starting as director of sales and marketing in San Francisco. Some may think her career has been extraordinary, but really, it’s been extra ordinary, she contends.

After her internship at Cox Communications, she was hired on with the company in the marketing department and later worked for an internet solutions provider that was instrumental in bringing internet to people’s homes. It was a devastating blow when the company’s assets were sold off and the company closed its doors during the dot-com era. But that’s when lesson No. 2 appeared: “Beginnings are scary, endings are sad, and it’s the middle that matters” — words of wisdom from Lynch’s mother.

Lynch’s work with Comcast began in 2003, and she spent nearly five years in sales and marketing, but her passion was technology.

“I love how it improves people’s lives, how it makes things easier, how it allows people to communicate with each other and connect with each other in a way that we’ve never had before,” she said. “The world is becoming so flat and so much smaller, and technology is allowing us to do that. I want to be part of delivering that to people.”

“Beginnings are scary, endings are sad, and it’s the middle that matters.”

So she took a slight pay cut and change of title and moved to Colorado to be the general manager of operations for the mountain systems. After a few years, she worked her way up to become the area vice president of operations in Colorado. Sometimes you have to take a little step back to move forward, she said.

“I got to learn engineering. I got to learn construction. I got to learn network design. I got to lead people still. I consider experience and learning another form of payment,” she said. “It’s something I firmly believe in, and it’s something I don’t think people do enough, which is rounding out their cube in order to continue their career.”

As she’s evolved with Comcast, Lynch has made it part of her legacy to encourage and lift up the people around her, especially women. She created and helped teach a technical operations boot camp in California, and she and her team are in the midst of designing something similar in Washington. She and her husband, Kevin Sweeney, have also created a fund that will help support tech and engineering education programs for girls and women, and she’s quick to jot down any other outlets people suggest.

Community outreach and support are a major pillar in Lynch’s professional career, and her leadership style is to encourage and mentor those around her.

“I’m here because of the sponsors, teachers, the mentors, and to be quite honest, the amazing teams I’ve had to lead along the way,” she said. “They’ve all made me look good.”

Her aim is to do the same for others.

Currently Reading:

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil and A Crack in Creation Gene Editing by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg.

Finding Time for Yourself:

I live by my calendar, so most things are scheduled, including some fun!

Favorite TV Show:

My husband is a movie buff, so I tend to watch more movies than shows. (But I love) Game of Thrones.

When Feeling Stuck or Frustrated:

Phone a friend or mentor to solicit ideas and feedback.

Guilty Pleasure:

I spend money on travel. I love to meet new people and learn about other cultures.

 

 

Claire Durrell

Founder of Lead

A self-described gym rat and college athlete melded her love of exercise and leadership development to create an innovative program for teens and women.

Women to Watch Claire DurrellAfter attending a leadership development retreat at her former consulting company, Claire Durrell had this aha moment. The presentation topic centered on initiating a challenging conversation, and she tested it out on her daughters at home.

“A little light bulb went off in my head,” she said. “How neat would it be to take some of these concepts around giving and receiving feedback and make it into a workshop that would be beneficial to a middle-school-aged group of girls?”

Many young women enter the workforce and are trying to refine their networking, conflict-resolution, and time-management skills, and think: “This would have been really helpful when I was growing up,” she said. So Durrell left her corporate job as a consultant and developed LEAD (Ladies Elite Athletic Development) — a leadership development program rooted in strength training, which they call “mind-muscle conditioning,” and leadership development — with college friend Teanna Blees. The two tapped the minds of local Fortune 500 executives, parents, and coaches, and sifted through a plethora of Gen-X-specific research to learn which leadership skills would most benefit teenage girls. Together they built out a 12-month program to help girls and women expand their psychological grit, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and resiliency. After months of research and development, they piloted LEAD on a group of seventh-grade girl who were part of Durrell’s daughters’ soccer team.

Each session begins with a preworkout question, like what qualities are you best known for? Then, they do a 35-minute high-intensity workout and come back to their LEAD discussion room within the gym — outfitted with neutral-toned pillows and a fluffy rug — to discuss the concept.

“The endorphins were flowing, and the girls were completely jazzed about sharing,” she said. “Now, if you tried to have the same kind of discussion, and that type of leadership development cold turkey — or say, at an executive retreat — it’s a much different dynamic. So, we started to push a little harder with our topics.”

Many of the girls in the LEADteens program have participated in athletics, but the program is designed for all young women. Initially, parents thought it was exclusive to top athletes, but Durrell said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“This is a leadership development program,” she said. “Girls are building out their brand as they’re going through the program. Yes, they’re getting physically stronger, but they’re learning key leadership characteristics.”

“Your kid is going to come out much more confident and their self-awareness is going to be heightened, and they’ll tap into emotions they didn’t know were there.”

Last fall, LEAD launched a women’s version, LEADw. Durrell also has plans to offer university-level sessions, and hopes to launch a maternity program down the line. All of the LEAD gym sessions are women-only, but there is also a series of gender-neutral leadership development workshops called TALKSHOPS within local high schools.

The twice-weekly LEAD sessions are a respite for women and teens to have thoughtful discussions about things that are important to them. In our daily lives, it can be difficult to get past small talk, she said, and really dive into topics like vulnerability, standing up for what’s right, and how to refine professionally applauded skills.

“Teanna and I go to countless women’s cocktails,” she said. “But there’s so many of those. So many ‘Women’s … fill in the blank.’ The challenge is you never have a frequent cadence with those, so you can never come back and see what happened to the opportunity you were talking about. Whereas with LEAD, not only do you get to see us, but you can’t escape us.”

One of the best comments Durrell has heard so far was from one of the program’s participants, a high-school junior, who said, “This is now my sport.” It can be hard to market LEAD to parents who may be reluctant to sign their child up for one more activity — they want some kind of visible improvement.

“Your kid is going to come out much more confident and their self-awareness is going to be heightened, and they’ll tap into emotions they didn’t know were there,” she said. “Their communication with you is going to be better. You’ll probably have better conversations at the dinner table.”

Guilty Pleasure:

I’ll down like 10 cans of LaCroix a day. I love Lucky Charms marshmallows. I love any sugary cereal. Sometimes I’ll get it for my kids, but if it’s in the house, I’ll eat it.

Something You Wish You’d Known Growing Up:

Branding. I really wish someone would have helped me uncover the unique traits that were already there before I started reading up on what traits I needed to be successful.

Currently Reading:

How Women Decide by Therese Huston

Favorite Photo in Your Home:

My husband and I — we had twins five years ago — sitting in front of two empty cribs, looking at each other. You know, in that moment, you can see the joy mixed with complete terror.

When Feeling Stuck or Frustrated:

I’ll usually do some set of weights to get my endorphins going. I also have a power song, and it’s usually the song of the week or the song of the month. Usually I’ll pick it because it reminds me of something positive, so it’ll immediately bring me out of that funk.

 

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