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Panel Discussion About Overcoming Obstacles Wows Our Staff

By: Susan Gorham

Members of our team listened with rapt attention as four of Maryland’s finest business leaders spoke about their paths to career success during a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership here at Gross Mendelsohn. 

Panel members included:

The program was organized by Gross Mendelsohn’s Women’s Initiative.

The paths these remarkable women took weren’t without enormous personal and professional roadblocks, sacrifices and low points. While they overcame quite different obstacles, they have one thing in common: each woman poured a huge amount of grit and perseverance into achieving their goals.

female business leaders from Maryland

L-R: Jackie Browning, Brooke Iley, Natalia Luis and Lisa Renshaw

Speaking of grit, one of our panelists even slept in her parking garage during the winter to make her business work. When Lisa Renshaw took over a failing parking garage near Baltimore’s Penn Station at age 21, she was unable to afford employees yet needed an attendant around the clock. Lisa moved into a tiny room in the garage, using a carpet remnant for a bed and a kerosene heater for warmth. After three and a half years of determination, spirit and grit — and fending off rodents and shoveling snow at 4:30am so customers could enter the garage — Penn Parking opened a second location. The rest, as they say, is history. The company has been lauded for its creativity and innovative marketing strategies in an otherwise traditional industry.

Chris Haiss, CPA, a partner in the firm’s Technology Solutions Group, reflected on the common thread that wove its way through the stories of the panelists, including Jackie Browning, who has years of diverse experience in the construction industry. “As Jackie said, strive to be the best you can be in your chosen field and be persistent.” Chris went on to share her own observation: “Accomplishments require grit. It is HARD work!”

Jackie Browning

Standing: Jackie Browning

Linda Pietras, our director of human resources, walked away from the panel discussion with a key piece of advice: “Be the best in your craft and gender doesn’t matter.” Brooke Iley, a partner at law firm Blank Rome, described how this steely mentality helped her break through barriers early on in her legal career. Brooke is a labor and employment attorney.

Brooke Iley

Brooke Iley

Marie Calabrese, a CPA in the firm’s audit and accounting practice, said Brooke’s story resonated with her. “It was inspirational to hear how Brooke was promoted to partner while seven months pregnant. It’s great to see examples of women out there who are balancing having a family while achieving career success. Sometimes, it can feel like women have to choose one or the other.”

“Stay joyful” was a simple yet powerful message that resonated with Lisa Johnson, CPA, a principal in our audit and accounting practice. Natalia Luis, chief operations officer and co-owner of M. Luis Construction Co., stressed the importance of staying joyful and centered in all aspects of life, both personal and professional. Natalia shared unbelievable stories of setback after setback as she and her sister, with whom she owns the business, struggled to keep M. Luis afloat as so many others were shutting their doors when the economy sunk a decade ago. They came out on top after many would have given up.

Gross Mendelsohn team at womens initiative panel

Members of the Gross Mendelsohn team listen to the panelists

Lisa Johnson expressed the sentiment that everyone who attended the panel discussed echoed when she said, “I was impressed with the confidence of these women as they built their careers and faced so many challenges.”

Natalie Luis Jackie Browning Lisa Renshaw Brooke Iley

L-R: Natalia Luis, Jackie Browning, Lisa Renshaw and Brooke Iley

We owe a huge thank you and bravo to these inspirational women for sharing their memorable stories.

Published June 14, 2018

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