Founder of Women Leading Kentucky to turn over the reins Jan. 1

Holloway reflects on organization's future

ctruman@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2012 

Janet Holloway has announced she will be leaving her position as head of Women Leading Kentucky on Jan. 1.

CHARLES BERTRAM — Herald-Leader

  • Bio: Janet Holloway

    Who: Co-founder and executive director of Women Leading Kentucky, a non-profit education foundation. She retires from the position Jan. 1.

    Earlier jobs: State director of Kentucky Small Business Development Center statewide network at the University of Kentucky; state director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center network at Rutgers; faculty at State University of New York at Stony Brook and dean of admission for the School of Social Work there; associate director for the Adelphi University National Training Institute; various assignments in New York theater, regional theater and community development organizations.

    Awards and honors: Public Policy Advocate Award from Lexington chapter, National Association of Women Business Owners; selected for Leadership America; finalist, Bluegrass Alliance for Women Legacy Award

    Education: Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish, Marshall University; master's in social work from State University of New York at Stony Brook; doctoral studies, all but dissertation, from Columbia University, Teacher's College

Please do not say that Janet Holloway is retiring.

The Women Leading Kentucky founder is, she said, "taking that passion into other aspects of my personal and professional life."

She thinks that word, retirement, sounds like someone is playing golf all day or sitting on the porch conversing with the birds. "Nothing wrong with either one of them," she said, "But I've got too much energy."

Holloway, who describes her age as "60 and above," said, "I'm one of those women asking the question, 'What next?'"

"Women in their 50s, 60s and beyond have more energy and are capable of doing a lot more into their 70s and even their 80s," she said.

Holloway is looking for her next big challenge. And the organization she founded, Women Leading Kentucky, is looking for her successor. Here's an edited transcript of a recent conversation with her.

Question: When are you leaving Women Leading Kentucky?

Answer: Not until Jan. 1. We will have a new executive director. Starting Jan. 1, I will be a program consultant with the organization. I'll still be around, very part-time, but really going to be advising about program and outreach for the new executive director.

Q: This has been your program. Tell me what you're proudest of, in the way the program has developed.

A: It is my heart.

I'm proud of several things. We started 13 years ago with nothing, an idea. I got a group of people together, kind of a focus group, and said, "Do you think there are needs that are not being met for women in Kentucky?" It sort of took off from there.

That's when I left the University of Kentucky (where she had been executive director of the Gatton College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and of the Kentucky Small Business Development Center Network) and ... the goals we set we've far exceeded. I'm very proud of the board we have. It's an amazing group of women — and men. ... I'm very proud of the response we got from the business community in this town, this state. The business community has really stepped up and said, "We really think this is important for women in our state, our community."

We're really proud of the programs that sell out every month, to about 140, 150 people. Our ratings are about 9.7 out of 10. It's been that way for years. The women, the men who attend are obviously getting something they really care about. They get to meet women both inside and outside their profession. So it's great networking. People find clients, board members, partners, people to do projects with or even friends. So it's not just giving a business card. It's developing a business network.

Not last is the scholarships that we provide. We have exceeded the $100,000 mark. We started in 2001. ... They're all undergraduate scholarships.

We stay in touch with these women and invite them to any of our programs for free. They know the importance of this network.

Q: What would you like to see the program become in its next phase?

A: Two things, I guess, in the future: I guess we will reach out to new markets — younger women and older women.

Young women in the sense that they — young people — need mentors. This network is a great pool of resources to mentor young people. We're going to try a partnership with the Carnegie Center to create Women Leading Kentucky tutor teams, K-12 at the Carnegie Center. Part of my new role will be to do the trial balloon with some new programs and then take a look at them with the new executive director.

And with older women, I just find a lot of women in their 50s, 60s and above, saying: "What next? I still have energy. I still have passion. I want to give back to my community." I'm going to explore that, and that may be something the new executive director will develop further.

I'm leaving this program in very good hands. I have a good board, with Jen Shah of Dean Dorton Allen Ford. I won't be on the board itself.

It's been interesting being a founder and leaving. Someone sent me an email the other day that said, "Why would you be a founder and leave? You got it going, why would you leave now?"

And I had to sit down and think about it. ... I have a passion for some other things in life, too. I've written a memoir about growing up in Sarah Ann, W.Va., up through my college days, so I'm excited about getting that published and hopefully going around and talking to people about the book, which is called Willful Child.

I'm very involved in two other boards, the Carnegie Center and the Lyric Theatre. I'm willing to do what it takes and then some for those organizations.

Q; You have worked with small businesses extensively. What mistakes do small businesses make, and what are the common characteristics that successful small businesses share?

A: One, of course, is financing. Small businesses today don't get many loans for startups. I started Women Leading Kentucky as a small business.

I left the university, and I said I want to work with women leading this program. It was my own small business. I used my credit cards, I used my retirement fund for a couple of years to get it started. So financing is always an issue for small firms.

And who wants to buy your service, your product? I think you really have to understand it's not everybody. Not everybody wants that particular book or outfit. They have to narrow that down so they have an idea of who they're trying to sell to.

For me, what's really important is to have a passion for it. It's amazing how that communicates to people — your excitement, your passion, which requires a knowledge of where you're going and what you're doing. The hours are long, the money is not great in the beginning, and you've got to be willing to work through those phases.

And today, I think research and technology are much more important than they were. Today you've really got to understand how to reach people outside your traditional marketing venues.

Q: As a Kentuckian, once Martha Layne Collins was elected governor, I thought, "Well, that's it. That's the glass ceiling." And it was an anomaly. It has to be discouraging.

A: Crit Luallen said back in May that this was one of the top priorities that Kentucky has, because there are so many talented women who can be elected and serve. Why there aren't more women, I don't know the whole answer to that.

If I look at Alison Grimes, she obviously grew up in a political family and was around it all the time. There are younger women that can learn and be more exposed to politics by being interns, staffing offices.

Q: But they have to know that such opportunities are available to them. That information has to filter to them through college career planning offices and such.

A: You know, when I started working with the University of Kentucky, I went all over the state visiting the centers that we had. I talked to a lot of women, and this was the "I want to be an entrepreneur" phase. Something I learned from them was that they don't want to tout their own successes and accomplishments.

We're taught to be modest as women, and that's especially true here in Kentucky, I think — not to brag on what you've done, but to be modest and humble and give recognition to other people. I had a speaker one time who said, "How many women in this room want to lose 20 pounds?" and everybody raised their hands. She says, "Then you have to start to blow your own horn." I thought that was wonderful, that metaphor. Start blowing your own horn and you're going to feel better about yourself, you're going to accomplish more.

I never lost the 20 pounds.

Q: What kind of person should be your replacement?

A: We've got to have a strong network, someone who is in the community who is respected, who is a collaborator in the sense of working with groups and working with an attitude of win-win.

Passion, of course. They've got to be good at negotiation. Like many non-profits, we have several in-kind sponsors. Those are negotiated handshakes. Being able to work with a board is very important.

We're not a membership organization. We're a network. People say, "What do I have to do to join?" You have to come to our meetings. If you like it, you'll come again, you'll bring a friend, you'll bring a colleague. ... We're non-partisan. That's very important.

Q: What books or authors have influenced you the most?

A: Gabriel García Márquez, I'm going to start with him. One Hundred Years of Solitude blew my mind open. The ability to create fantastical stories. I also was a Spanish major, so it has to do with that also.

Anais Nin. I don't consider her a great writer by any stretch, but here was an independent woman in the '30s, '40s, '50s, who spoke with a clear voice, and her diaries shared so much about her life. That was very exciting to me. ... I love Barbara Kingsolver. I'm reading some of her works now. ... Bobbie Ann Mason, always a favorite.

I was a big fan of Harry Caudill because growing up in Appalachia and reading what he had to say about Appalachia opened up my eyes to a bigger picture of Appalachia: outrage and a sense of place.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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