A group of sailboats with women in business on board sailing in the water.

Women, distinguishing themselves and reaping rewards in business – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, contributing writer

Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.” –  Hillary Clinton

The setting – The Elms on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, exquisitely impressive by any definition. The Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) collaborated with the Preservation Society of Newport to host Chamber events at some of the city’s most famous mansions. On March 23, The Elms was the setting for the GNCC awards, presented to four women deemed outstanding in their fields. The Chamber initiated these awards in 2021, to honor women who have distinguished themselves in “community involvement, industry impact, and professional success.” The event is held every March to honor Women’s History Month. It was quite an evening with beautiful hors d’oeuvres, freely flowing wine, and great networking.

Among the luminaries in the audience were Pam Hyland, former CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southern New England, Trudy Coxe, President of the Newport Preservation Society, and a few former directors from major companies with a presence on Aquidneck Island. The crowd was friendly, and willing to reach out and connect, a rarity in some networking events. The glass of wine presented at the door by the wait staff set the tone and helped break down barriers. The organizers wanted to make sure everyone would experience an enjoyable and productive occasion.

After a brief introduction by Erin Donovan-Boyle, President and CEO of the Chamber, the dynamic awardees took the stage. The format was a panel with an MC coordinating the questions. The most striking part of the discussion was when the women spoke about how they began their forays into entrepreneurship. One, Lynne Tungett, Publisher/Editor of Newport This Week told her story about beginning as a new college graduate with a BA in English. This subject is currently one of the humanities majors in danger of possible elimination from many university curricula. Her story was of particular interest to me since I was also an English major, and had trepidation about what I could do with that degree.

Lynne didn’t want to teach, so she took an unpaid internship at the Newport Daily News. After almost a year, the publisher approached her and offered her the job as a permanent employee. Eventually, she was assigned to a special section centering around Newport happenings and she jumped at the chance. When the paper decided to discontinue that section, she chose to go out on her own and founded the print and digital news platform, Newport This Week independently.  What impressed me about her narrative was that she created a niche for herself where none existed before. She was unafraid, determined, and made the platform a success. She freely admitted she knew little about photography, advertising, or writing, but made this fledgling local news outlet successful, nevertheless.

Another inspiring story came from Brenda Brock, the founder of Farmaesthetics, the organic luxury beauty line. Brenda was named “Green Style & Design 100: The People & Ideas Behind Today’s Most Influential Green Design” in beauty by Time Magazine and named by Luxury Spafinder as “The Purist” and one of the “Five Entrepreneurs at the Forefront of the Natural Beauty Revolution”.

Before she reached such heights, Brenda was a farm girl from Texas who decided to plant organic herbs and flowers in her own garden in Rhode Island. She concocted her herbal lotions and creams in her kitchen based on her family’s traditional recipes and sold them locally at a farm stand in rural areas. In a matter of just a few years, Brenda’s products became world famous, from farm stand to leading the luxury organic cosmetic category. Now, her products are used in luxury spas and retailers all over the world. I was particularly struck by her unassuming demeanor; she is a mogul now after all. She promoted the idea that her success is inexorably linked to her love of her traditions, passed down through generations and her love for the earth.

What was so impressive was both women started their careers from scratch, and through the love of their work, became very successful. Lynne created an informative guide for everyone in the area, and Brenda started a modest summer project which grew into a major brand. These ladies were driven by leaning into their innate talent and they learned how to leverage it. They both adore their work, and are so modest, they still wake up pinching themselves for joy each day. They both mentioned their success couldn’t have been possible without support from others. As we know by now, no one can achieve such accomplishments alone.

The GNCC also honors women with its annual Businesswomen’s Luncheon at Marble House, the home of Alva Vanderbilt, an ardent women’s rights advocate. Similarly, in the month of March, every year, women are celebrated and feted for their distinctive achievements. With these two annual events, women truly matter. Our voices are heard, and our desires are heeded with well thought-out, well-planned events that make us proud to be female. If only all local women’s events were as constructive as these.

“I know society says you should be a certain way, but I think [you should] stop and look at what is your natural way of being who you are.” — Ari Horie, founder, Women’s StartUp Lab

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.