Women In Business: Leadership is a Loudoun Tradition

Loudoun’s economy has a long history of being shaped by women. The first executive director of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce was Frances Raflo, and Vinton Pickens and a band of determined garden club members helped push for many of the policies—like a prohibition on billboards—that shape the county today. Pickens chaired the county’s first Planning Commission in 1941.

And Loudoun’s increasingly diverse and vibrant economy today is no different. Women have increasingly kicked down the door to the boardroom boys’ club, and sit in important seats in businesses and nonprofits. From Sharon Virts founding one of Loudoun’s biggest business success stories at federal contractor FCi Federal, to Deborah Addo helming the county’s largest hospital at Inova Loudoun Hospital, to Jennifer Montgomery running the county’s largest hunger nonprofit at Loudoun Hunger Relief, women’s leadership in Loudoun business can be felt in everyday life across the county.

Loudoun Now reached out to some of the other women who make waves in business, nonprofit, and economic development circles to ask them about their challenges, their victories, and ask them for some of their hard-earned wisdom.


Kasia Bochenek, YMCA Loudoun

Business Director since 2008

Lives in Leesburg

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Kasia Bochenek

Bochenek: I have always been passionate about traveling to new places, learning about new cultures and meeting new people. Early in life it was beyond my financial means to explore this passion, but when I turned 18 I found a way: I passed an exam to become a certified tour manager for domestic and international travelers. Each year during my time as a university student, I spent the four months of my summer vacation organizing and conducting tours to all the countries of Eastern and Western Europe.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Bochenek: The pleasure of meeting new people and the excitement of making new friends. I am so grateful for the opportunity to form strong collaborative partnerships with wonderful individuals, organizations and local businesses that have helped me to organize major YMCA annual fundraising events, such as the popular Chocolates Galore & More and our Golf Classic. These partnerships have taught me how powerful a community can be when all of its members pull together for a united cause. The change or transformation that results from a coordinated effort by all the members of a community is much greater than that which can be achieved by individuals working in isolation.

The partnerships I am so fortunate to be involved with have resulted in significant help for families who struggle to provide quality care for their children. Working with these difficult cases inspires me and gives me more energy to deal with my own life challenges. My service to them has been very personally gratifying because I know that I have found a way to be more helpful to the community that I live in and care about.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Bochenek: Creating great, competitive programs for children and supporting the needs of many families while working within the constraints of tiny budgets and limited resources.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Bochenek: I was raised in a military family, and the rules at my house were pretty strict. Our parents held my sister and me to very high moral and ethical standards of behavior in everything we did. Now that I have the advantage of an adult perspective, I am very grateful to mom and dad for their guidance. The most important principle my mom taught me was, “No matter what kind of job you have, even if it’s cleaning toilets, you must do your very best, because you never know who is watching you.” This principle has served me well as I have traveled along the journey in my adopted country (I moved from Poland 15 years ago). As have many immigrants, I arrived in the U.S. with a few disadvantages: no family, no friends, the barest knowledge of the language and customs, and no money. And yet, with mom’s words always in my head, I have managed to challenge and overcome these obstacles, and I now enjoy some of the benefits this wonderful country offers to those who are willing to work for them. Along the way, I have turned some of my disadvantages around: I have many good friends, some of whom are like family to me—my “chosen family”—and I have a decent working knowledge of the language and customs. As for the money part, well. … I’m still working on that.


Elaine Boland, Fields of Athenry Farm

Owner and Founder since 2001

Lives in Middleburg

Elaine Boland is the owner and founder of Fields of Athenry Farms poses for a photo on her farm near Philomont. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Boland: Teaching children swim lessons in my parents’ pool in Cincinnati as a 12-year-old.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Boland: Wow, there are so many. Fields of Athenry Farm, named after the Irish ballad describing the Boland: beautiful and majestic farms near Galway Bay, Ireland, is our family-run farm. Our journey started in 2003, when one of our five daughters developed serious health issues. We found ourselves having to examine our lifestyle and food intake and began educating ourselves on the fundamentals regarding how food is raised and how that process interacts with the human body—boy, did we learn a lot! That knowledge set us on a path of focusing on “whole foods” grown the way God intended: hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, raw-milk cheeses, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, and nutrient-dense cooking. We put what we learned into practice, and created a farm philosophy of “healthy eating as the first and foremost preventative to many illnesses that are a result of a reliance on convenient and processed foods.” And as our farm grew, we went from a source of healthy foods for family and friends to a thriving farm store, and now our very own Side Saddle Café in Middleburg where clean eating is a way of life!

One of the best perks ever are the babies that I have known since in their mothers’ wombs, able to watch them grow and thrive into beautiful children and young adults because I was able to share our story and guide their families into the right path for their choices to be made in discernment of how they would go forward in food. The flip benefit is the other side of life—death—but so near and dear as it is reality. Those who have shared with me have said that their loved ones’ last meal was my bone broth. They’ve related to me how nourishing it was and how that was the only food they could get down. And most importantly, how it comforted them in their last moments. These testimonials mean the world to me.

And then there is the farming side—the birthing cycles—the land cycles. There is just so much beauty in this God-given world! I love what I do and I love the gifts of giving from our experiences that I have been able to share.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Boland: First, finding competent, hard-working employees with common sense. Second, the costs of high taxes, unending fees, workman’s comp fees. We are “truly” a small business that’s expected to pay big business fees. Our government is out of control in the fees they require in so many areas—federal, state and town taxes (they all take their cut).

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Boland: “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.” – Mother Teresa


Jennifer Brown, PeopleTactics

CEO and Founder since 2003

Successful Culture International

Co-Founder and Managing Partner since 2017

Lives in Potomac Falls

Jennifer Brown

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Brown: My first job was with Andersen Consulting (which is now Accenture). I worked in their Change Management practice and developed training and employee communications for various clients across the United States.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Brown: The best part of my job is working with my clients. I love getting to know my clients and helping those starting out as well as existing organizations undergoing significant transformation (e.g., mergers, acquisitions, market shifts and leadership changes). It’s such a privilege to help leaders and business owners establish and improve their human resources practices and create thriving cultures. All organizations need to be able to attract, hire and retain the best talent to remain competitive. And, they need a culture that helps their employees do their best work.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Brown: Not having enough hours in the day. I’m always looking for new ways to bring efficiencies to the business and better leverage myself and my incredible team—so that we are all focused on the things that will best serve our clients and grow the business.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Brown: The best advice I ever received was from my mom. She was the office manager in my dad’s real estate appraisal business. After his death (when I was 11), our world was forever changed. My mother went from working in a home-based business to commuting around the Beltway daily to her job—she was on a mission to provide for me and my sister. She always told us that you never know what will happen in life and you need to set yourself up so that you have choices. She told us to always go the extra mile, put in the effort at school and work, and show up as your best self at work and in life.


Becky Harris, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company

Founder and Chief Distiller since 2009

Lives in Purcellville

Becky Harris, Chief Distiller checks the PH on a batch of rye whiskey at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Purcellville. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Harris: My first job was working for the Agricultural Science Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Harris: My favorite part of my job is meeting our customers—both the amazing retail and hospitality professionals who sell and serve our products and introduce many people to our products and our story, and the wonderful people who buy a bottle to enjoy at home or with friends.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Harris: Our biggest business challenge in our current growth phase is balancing increasing demand for our grain-to-bottle whisky with our limited supply, and how to increase that supply while keeping authenticity and flavor as the primary concern.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Harris: When a particular plan is not working, your approach needs to pivot to find the way through the obstacles ahead. This may happen many times.


Carol Jameson, HealthWorks for Northern Virginia

CEO since 2014

Lives in Vienna

Carol Jameson

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Jameson: My very first job was working at a dry cleaners when I was 16. My first professional job, after receiving my master’s in social work, was working at Inova Fairfax Hospital with persons with HIV/AIDS.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Jameson: HealthWorks provides comprehensive health care services including medical, dental and behavioral health. Most of our patients are very low-income and have faced many barriers in accessing and utilizing health care resources. The very best part of what we do is to be able to see the difference we make in someone’s life when their health issues are identified and treated. Seeing a child begin to smile after their severe dental disease is treated, knowing an individual with many chronic illnesses is able to keep their job because they are no longer out sick so often, or watching an older adult regain their self-confidence and independence following treatment for depression—that is success for us. We feel so honored to be able to work with and provide care to the Loudoun community.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Jameson: Our most significant challenge is ensuring we have the resources to respond to community need; as the population of Loudoun continues to grow, so, too, does the number of those who need our services. We have many wonderful partners supporting our work, including county partners, other nonprofit organizations, foundations, faith communities and individuals. This support has enabled us to be responsive to the community need and we highly value our partnerships, as they make our work possible and sustainable.

LN: What was the best advice you’ve received or can give? 

Jameson: The best advice I have received from mentors along the way, and which I also give to others, is to be open and transparent, and to welcome input and ideas.


Aislin Kavaldjian , SideBar

General Manager since 2017

Lives in Reston

Aislin Kavaldjian, now general manager at SideBar, has been a leader in Loudoun’s restaurant and brewery scene.

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Kavaldjian: My first job was as a field worker and farm stand staffer at Potomac Vegetable Farms near Purcellville. I was 15 and bored and I wanted the opportunity to make a little extra cash, as well as learn about the agricultural community I lived in. I got my first taste of the food/beverage world as I learned about the dos and don’ts of organic farming, and I think the experience is a big part of who I am today.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?
Kavaldjian:
I think there are two answers to this question; the simple one and the big picture one. The simple answer: I work with some of the most talented industry professionals around (I know, everyone says that, but seriously…have you met our chefs?) and there’s something amazing about getting to eat lunch here every day. The big picture answer: It’s enormously fulfilling to apply myself to an industry traditionally dominated by male GMs with the express purpose of making it more inclusive, more accessible, and more transparent. We’re lucky to have a staff made up of phenomenal women and men who come from diverse backgrounds and bring remarkable talents to the table, and I love having the opportunity to work with and uplift those awesome people with what we do. Every single member of our staff is excited and passionate and ambitious, and it’s what makes me proud to be here.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?
Kavaldjian:
The work is never done. It’s no secret that all businesses require constant upkeep and maintenance to be successful, but I find that adage is particularly true in food/beverage. The week-to-week ordering, the staff development and retention campaigns, the seasonal nature of the business, all combine to create a remarkably tough industry to survive in long-term. The good news is that it’s like riding a bicycle—once you’ve learned how, it’s easy to hop back on. As with any small, local business, SideBar is defined by the passion of its people, and I have absolute faith that our particular “business challenge” is by no means either unique or insurmountable. We’re sticking it out!

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Kavaldjian:
The best piece of advice I’ve received has to be something my mom said to me just before I joined the SideBar project. I was dealing with what felt like at the time an enormous professional setback and couldn’t wrap my head around the abrupt turn of events. She told me two things that really stuck with me—one of them was that often what feels like a setback is actually a moment to re-focus and move forward. The second is that the only person responsible for your success is you; no one else can take credit for your abilities, projects or achievements if you are unapologetic in your efforts to grow, change and flourish. I’m determined to live up to my own high expectations.


Maggie Parker, Comstock Partners

Senior Vice President of Communications and Community Outreach since 2009

Lives in Reston

Maggie Parker

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Parker: I started work at 13 as a volunteer at a summer camp in Connecticut for mentally disabled children. We had a ball. Some days were very challenging, which was great preparation for the long years ahead.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Parker: That’s tough to answer because it is probably a toss-up between working and meeting with so many different types of people and having the opportunity to be learning new things all the time.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Parker: Creating and managing many different lines of communication, in so many varied formats.

LN: What was the best advice you’ve received or can give?

Parker: After a lot of thought, I have to say it came from both my mom and dad regularly, and that was: “Things will look better in the morning.” It is quite simple but so very true. It sings of hope, resilience and the power of a little sleep.


Colleen Shumaker, Paul Davis Restoration

Branding and Digital Marketing Strategist since 2016

Lives in Aldie

Colleen Shumaker

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Shumaker: Softball and basketball referee for the local kids’ leagues. I was 13.

 

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Shumaker: Meeting fantastic people.

 

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Shumaker: Creating an internal culture that believes and executes on the overall business development strategy.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Shumaker: Find your Fantastic. No one actually gave it to me, I just realized it one day. That in order to lead my best life and to break the stereotypical norms, I needed to find my fantastic everyday by looking at the small, underappreciated things. I even have a blog and podcast called FindingtheFantastic.com.


Monica Tressler, Sandy Spring Bank

Vice President of Commercial Services and Treasury Management

Lives in Leesburg

Monica Tressler

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?
Tressler:
Lifeguard for McLean and Great Falls clubs.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?
Tressler:
Being a longtime community banker, I most enjoy working with local business leaders to advance our community through strategic partnerships. I get great job satisfaction by helping people.  It’s my passion and what keeps me motivated.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Tressler: Balance. Balance between being the best at what I do, for the community I serve, and being the best mother and wife at home. I always strive for better balance and to make life more fluid.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Tressler:
A longtime mentor of mine once told me, “Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It resonates with me, and I always lead by it.


Vanessa Wagner, Loudoun Economic Development

Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager

Lives in Sterling

 

Vanessa Wagner

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Wagner: My first position out of college was a commission-only sales position in Buffalo, NY. Each morning the office team participated in sales training exercises and team-building. Some of the exercises felt silly or awkward at the time, but many of the techniques I learned from those trainings I still utilize to this day. Trying to sell non-essential goods in a recovering market was not easy, but that experience tested my grit and helped me learn quickly what I was made of.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Wagner: Serving my community. I never have to question if my organization’s motives or mission is valuable. My role, and that of my peers, improves the quality of the life and services to residents and businesses in Loudoun. I work for the place that I live and love.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Wagner: Managing success problems. When your organization—in my case, the community—grows, then you have to adapt and change with that growth. I am continuously reevaluating my strategic plan to align with the rapid expansion we are experiencing in Loudoun. This also means that there may be exciting new opportunities to evaluate. Staying focused on the work that will have the greatest impact can be difficult, but it’s an essential part of my role.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Wagner: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. I am going to break all of the rules when I admit that I have a hard time answering the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years?” If you work hard in your current role, take advantage of professional development/education and treat others with respect, then you will be ready for the next opportunity when it presents itself.


Waily Whang, China King Restaurant

Owner since 1989

Lives in Leesburg

Waily Whang
Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?
Wang:
Keno writer.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?
Wang:
Friendships with customers.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?
Wang:
Finding a healthy balance between work life and home life.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Wang:
Never give up!


Janell Zurschmeide, Dirt Farm Brewing

Co-owner since 2015

Lives in Bluemont

Janell Zurshmeide

Loudoun Now: What was your first job?

Zurschmeide: Village Market in Hamilton. I was 14 and made $4 an hour bagging groceries.

LN: What’s the best part of your current job?

Zurschmeide: The ability to work and raise our three children on the family farm. It’s a labor of love and lifestyle I wouldn’t trade for the world. I am lucky to be able to see my kids on and off the bus every day.

LN: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Zurschmeide: As many women do, I’m always trying to find the balance … sneak in a date night, family time and exercise. Some days I can get it all in.

LN: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Zurschmeide: My Dad taught me very young to show grace to others and especially in a time it’s not reciprocated. His lesson: “You have no idea what they have going on in their life right now.” I now tell my children the same. Be kind to others. You will feel much happier to do so.

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