Leading Ladies

There is no shortage of amazing Eastside business women who have fascinating and inspirational stories to share. We gathered a small group of some leading ladies to find out how they reached their goals, find balance in their busy lives and what motivates them. Here’s what we learned.

Dawn Trudeau: The Game Changer. Part Owner of the Seattle Storm 

As a young girl growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, prior to Title IX, a 1972 legislative ruling that requires gender equality in school programs, Dawn Trudeau didn’t have the opportunity to play sports. When she grew up there weren’t a lot of female or minority executives in the software industry where she worked in the 1980s through the 1990s, either. These are some of the instances in her past that have propelled her to blaze trails for others.

“I have dedicated myself to creating those types of opportunities for people who have traditionally been shut out,” Trudeau, who now lives in Carnation, said. “I want to blow open the doors and help everyone believe that they can have a big dream and pursue it.”

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is 15-years-old and the Storm have been in Seattle for 11 years. In 2008, Trudeau and two other business women bought the Storm in an effort to keep the team in Seattle. The team plays in Key Arena and in 2010 the Storm won the WNBA Championship. “We are the first all-women ownership group to win a national championship of any professional team sport,” Trudeau said.

Still, women’s basketball in Seattle and beyond gets nowhere near the attention the men’s game does. “In our industry we constantly battle the perception that because it is women’s sports it isn’t exciting,” Trudeau said. “The average WNBA player gets paid roughly 1 percent of what NBA players make. For the top players in the league, it is closer to .004 percent. Nationwide data indicates that women make up 38 to 42 percent of all sport and physical activity participants. Yet research indicates that sportswomen receive approximately 6 to 8 percent of the total sports coverage. Just recently when Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga set the all-time NCAA record for both men’s and women’s basketball players with over 2000 points and over 1000 assists, it got marginal coverage.”

Still, the gender discrepancies do not dissuade Trudeau. Not a lot does. She looks up to other women such as Oprah Winfrey because “she started with nothing and made herself into a powerhouse of a business woman. She did that while maintaining her values and her integrity,” Trudeau said.

She has faced challenges of her own. “I don’t have a college degree and in most of my career I’ve been competing with people with Ivy League educations,” Trudeau said. “I’ve had to continually self-educate and that has been a tremendous asset because it has taught me that I can learn anything I put my mind to. It has allowed me to take risks I might not otherwise have had the confidence to take on.”

Her advice to others is simple – don’t be afraid to fail.

“You will only accomplish something if you try, and you learn from each attempt. Women tend to want to be perfect and that is a limiting point of view because of course, no one can be,” she said. “Take risks and don’t restrict your dreams to what you are sure you can do. Attempt hard things because even if it doesn’t turn out the way you planned, you still open up your world to new possibilities and opportunities and develop new skills along the way.”

A favorite quote Trudeau repeats to herself daily is by Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

“I truly believe that,” Trudeau said. “And it has held true in my life.”

Stacie Lill & Kathy Johanson: The Opportunists O Wines Winery Woodinville

In case you need a good reason to drink more wine, here’s one: The “O” in O Wines stands for “opportunity” because 100 percent of the net proceeds support educational scholarships for low-income, high-potential kids. So far, Stacy Lill and Kathy Johanson’s O Wines of Woodinville profits have funded 34 scholarships since 2006.

In addition to owning and operating O Wines, Johanson of Bellevue teaches part-time in Seattle as an adjunct professor at City University in the master of science program in the school of management. Lill, of Woodinville, has been involved with DeLille Cellars for the past 10 years helping her husband Greg Lill, a co-founder of DeLille, sell and market those wines. Before that, she had 20 years of corporate sales and marketing experience working for various companies such as KIRO Newsradio, Qwest Communications and Ernst & Young.

Philanthropy has always been important to both women, and wine seemed like a vehicle to create an opportunity to give back.

“Education is the foundation for our world, and I wanted to give others the opportunity to share in that and contribute to our community and world in a greater way,” Lill said.

Johanson added, “We all have children in our lives in some way, whether they are our kids, nieces, nephews, friends’ kids – my advice is for each of you to talk with kids about the importance of education,” she said. “Encourage kids to go to school and gain knowledge as it will set them free to do whatever they dream of.”

Even though the wine business is made up mostly of men, the ladies have felt fortunate that their fresh perspective in the industry, especially since their business is based on a charitable component, has been so well-received.

“We feel truly blessed,” Johanson said. “Our way of giving back to our industry is by setting up a scholarship at Washington State University in the Enology and Viticulture program. We continue to contribute to the program every month and are very excited for the day we have enough money to fund a scholarship for a deserving individual at WSU.”

Currently, the biggest struggle O Wines faces is a common one – the economy. “The economy has definitely slowed most businesses – wine is no different. We have tried to overcome this by re-engineering our strategy for getting out to more and new consumers. We’re working harder to get the word out about our wines’ charitable component,” Johanson said. “If folks know we are donating our profits to charity they will be much more likely to choose our wine.” They don’t have the employees or the deep pockets for marketing like some of the bigger brands. But that’s OK. They just take the cues from their scholarship recipients and keep moving forward. “These young people have such determination and drive despite the challenges and adversity they have faced. It makes me want to do more for them and for our community,” Lill said.

Christine Chen: The Tech-Savvy Communicator Owns Chen Communications Redmond and Kirkland

Christine Chen Velazquez of Redmond was born with business communication skills in her blood. She earned her first quarter shining her dad’s shoes when she was about 6 years old. The next day she wanted something valuable in return – customer feedback. “Did anyone say your shoes are really shiny,” she asked?

She studied mass media at U.C. Berkeley – that was when live broadcast was the fastest way to spread information and it intrigued her. She had several reporting and anchoring jobs and was mentored by the likes of Connie Chung and John Blackstone. She moved to Seattle for a reporter-anchor position and worked reporting and anchoring for Q-13 Fox News. She was happy to be closer to her family, who are a two-hour flight away in San Francisco. But as the news industry began to change thanks to the Internet, her theoretical media background began to reignite her interest.

“I was drawn repeatedly to new forms of information dissemination through tech-enabled media,” the two time Emmy award-winner said. “In 2006, I converted my knowledge of messaging, media, branding and information dissemination into Chen Communications, simultaneously bridging the transition by launching a business show on local PBS called ‘About The Money.’ Today, still choosing what works for my family and me, Chen Communications remains boutique, interesting and solidly fun.”
Current clients include Pirq, a consumer mobile application start-up, law firm Stafford Frey Cooper, Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure and Microsoft Interactive Entertainment. She also hosts the Microsoft tech solutions web series and exclusive events for the CEO, CIO, CMO audience.

She enjoys the flexibility of owning her own business because it allows her to do other things, like yoga. She recently earned her yoga teaching training certification and teaches classes in Seattle and on the Eastside. “I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been and live a relatively low-stress life,” she said.

She’s also active in her community. As president of the board of directors for the Asian Counseling Referral Services, the largest pan-Asian social services agency in Washington state, she has hosted the group’s “Walk for Rice” fundraiser to benefit one of the most-used food banks in the greater-Seattle area. She also helped spearhead a grassroots campaign to encourage the King County Council not to do away with a bus route in an underserved, multicultural neighborhood that needed it. She has won numerous awards for her personal and professional achievements and has recently been nominated for the prestigious Verizon Asian Pacific Heritage “Advocate Award.” That ceremony is in May.

Even with all of her own success, Chen Velazquez still looks to her father for advice. He came to the U.S. in 1962 by boat with $60 in his pocket and a wife and a child waiting for him to return with enough money to bring them over, too. He worked three jobs and did bring them to the States.

“Simultaneously, he earned his MBA from the University of San Francisco and eventually ascended through the ranks to become the first Asian senior vice president of Bank of America,” she said.

“Today, I still ask him for business advice and try to walk humbly in his footsteps.”

Peggy Reasy & Daughters Jaquelynn, Jesse and Jamie: Blonde Ambition Owns and Operates Sorelles Salon and Spa

In Italian, Sorella means sister – a fitting name for Sorella Salon & Spa that boasts three Eastside locations and is ran by sisters Jamie Reasy Khalili, Jessie Reasy Hagen and Jacquelynn Reasy Woodward and mom Peggy Reasy.

They opened their first salon in 2002 in Redmond Ridge and a handful of years later one in Kirkland and another in Issaquah Highlands. All three shops were built by dad Chuck Reasy and the sharp business skills of the women who know how to build a brand that exudes beauty, sophistication and good ol’ girl power.

Recently, the Sorella ladies and some members of their teams took their styling skills to Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, where they styled models in Gwen Stefani’s LAMB show and to the Oribe Backstage show in Las Vegas. “Being a part of Paris Fashion Week is truly an honor,” Jamie said. “But it doesn’t really hit you until you see the photos of your work on posters, magazines or on videos rolling in stores. You know you’re just a small part of it, but it does make you feel accomplished, and mostly grateful.”

They also enjoy working with local charities including Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Runway Show for Leukemia, Product Runway and events that benefit schools and women in need. Another highlight is making brides feel their best on their special day.

“We have strived to present a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere as well as delivering high technical skill, friendly service and professionalism,” Jacquelynn said. “We have created and built Sorella on the foundation of family and believe that it is the most important part of our life.”
In a span of 10½ months, all three sisters got married and in the last 2½ years since those weddings, the family has welcomed five babies – Cyrus, Logan, Soleil, Estelle and Kellen. Balancing their work and career lives has been challenging, but having each other makes it better. “We have been through so many things since we began this journey: weddings, children and life in general. All of which keeps us grounded and connected to our guests and faith,” Peggy said.

“It’s not often everyone in the family finds a career they can all be passionate about – but the Reasys did. “It was such a perfect fit for each of us. We all believe it was divinely inspired,”Jacquelynn said.

Angela Dennison: The Funny Girl Owns Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland

Angela Dennison’s advice to other young ladies in search of happiness is “marry rich.” She owns Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland with her husband, Dave, and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, her advice was a joke.

Dennison was born and raised in Kirkland and like a lot of stories, this one begins when girl meets boy – he produced comedy shows in a hotel bar in Bellevue and she came along to watch. That’s when she fell in love with the boy, and the comedy business. “A whole new world opened up for me,” she said. “I never thought about the life of a comic or a comedy club for that matter. I would start to see repeat customers and the fun environment of the little bar.  I could see how this was a memorable night for the guests.” The hotel was being closed to make room for a freeway and the dream of owning their own place was always on their mind.

They took a class about SBA loans, toured buildings to lease and spent months writing a detailed business plan. They relied on mentors like her father-in-law. “He taught me to ask questions,” she said. In September 2006, they toured an empty Godfather’s Pizza joint in Kirkland and they could see their vision for a future comedy club come into focus before their eyes. It had plenty of parking, a wide-open floor plan, built-in restrooms and a kitchen. “From that moment forward, my life changed,” she said. “We opened the doors in June 2007 and have not looked back.”

If you’ve ever been to a live comedy show, you probably have noticed the people who grace the stage either have to be really gutsy, crazy or both. It’s Dennison’s job as a host to warm up the crowd and introduce the acts the crowd came to see – her job might be one of the toughest. Recently she went on stage and told a quick joke about how instead of a muffin top she had more of a tiered cake thing happening. “A woman in the front row just looked at me and shook her head like what I was saying was just, well, sad,” Dennison said. “I thought it was funny.” While this might have been a mortifying experience to many, Dennison is plucky – and she isn’t shy.

“I think in the world of comedy, it’s a man’s world. There are very few female comics … A lot of people (men and women) don’t think women are funny. (They think) there’s going to be a bunch of tampon and PMS jokes and man bashing. I think the industry is changing and we are seeing a fan base that supports women, but it has been a long process,” she said.

She loves her career, working side-by-side with her husband and bringing smiles to the Eastside one comic at a time. They have had a lot of big names in the business grace their stage.
“There have been so many magical nights. I can stand in the back of the kitchen – the furthest point from the stage on a night when we are full – and I feel the energy from the showroom,” she said.
“From that spot you can’t hear the comic or the jokes. What you hear is the audience response – laughter!”

Now for the serious stuff – Dennison really does have advice for others who are hoping to reach their dreams. “I think three things have been key for me,” she said. “Listen to your inner voice, know your audience and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Dr. Debora Adams: Task Master Owns Kirkland Chiropractic and Tangerine Collection, a loungewear company

Dr. Deborah Adams of Kirkland has it all. A family, a successful chiropractic practice that includes a roster of professional athletes, a busy social life – she can often be seen at philanthropic events. And if that wasn’t enough to frazzle her, she started Tangerine Collection, a loungewear company, with her childhood friend. Their comfortable and sexy cotton creations are at Saks Fifth Avenue and boutiques. When she’s not treating patients in her clinic, she might be found checking out fabric samples, on the set of a photo shoot or watching a model strut down the catwalk in Tangerine’s latest looks.

Through the storm of busyness that is her life, the fresh-faced 40-something always seems to have a firm handle on it all. As her fingers tap, tap, tap her smartphone, she looks polished, professional and calm. People ask her how she balances it all. Her answer’s simple. She doesn’t bother trying.
“It’s not about balance; it’s about priorities,” she said. “I focus on what’s really important to me: taking care of my family, my clinic team and giving back to the community.” She puts her full attention to the task at hand and moves on to the next. After she works hard, she makes time to play hard, too. This is no dull Jane.

But the long journey to where she is now had its challenges. When she was 15 living in California, she was involved in a major car accident. Facing a painful back surgery, a family friend suggested chiropractic treatment as an alternative. “My success as a chiropractor stems from a real belief in what I do,” she said. “My back healed and I never needed the surgery – and I became passionate about chiropractic.”

After many successful years of practice in California, she relocated to the Seattle area and built a new practice in Kirkland from the ground up. “I overcame the challenge because I had faith and I wasn’t afraid to work hard to make it happen,” Adams said. “I kept my focus. In keeping with my answer to the ‘balance’ question, my clinic was my priority and I was dedicated to its success.

“In the first few years of building my practice I didn’t have time for much else,” she added. Her state-of-the-art practice has grown to employ an additional nine doctors. It took about a decade to build. And then she decided to tackle her next challenge – build a loungewear line with her childhood friend.

The Tangerine Collection is an innovative underwear line that is made from super-soft cotton. Comfort and fit collide with style and sophistication with every panty, bra, tank top, robe and more they design. There’s a fit for every woman’s shape, style and mood.

Probably the biggest difference between Adams and many others is that she really loves her work. Also a help is that her husband is one of her biggest supporters and a mentor. “It may sound cliché, but I find so much reward in making a difference for people: treating my patients, providing a rewarding place for my employees to work, creating a quality product I’m proud of.”

Her advice to other women is to not be afraid to pursue their passions. “Think outside of the box. I’m a chiropractor gone apparel designer. It’s certainly not a natural next step in my career, but it’s something I always wanted to do.”

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