Executive Interviews

After eight years on the road as a technology consultant with Accenture, I decided to take a management position with Chicago Public Schools in 2008.  Being in my home city everyday made it apparent that I had developed very few personal and professional relationships in Chicago.  A valued mentor recommended that I expand my network and actively engage people on a deeper level. This interview series is the result of that exercise in self-development.  In this part of my personal and professional journey, I will share the stories of the insightful, inspiring, talented and accomplished Chicagoans I meet along the way.

Be sure to follow my blog via email so that you receive updates on new interviews and articles.


Dorri McWhorterDorri and I crossed paths at several events over the past few years.  We became more acquainted once I joined the Associates Board of YWCA Chicago.  Two years into my Board membership, she was appointed their new CEO. Needless to say, I was excited to hear the great news. Dorri always impressed me as a woman of great intellect, passion and courage.

I was very interested in Dorri’s transition from a Partner with the Crowe Horwath accounting firm to CEO of YWCA Chicago, a non-profit social services organization. We sat down one day this past summer to chat about her experience.

Read Dorri’s Interview


jeri linasJeri Linas, Executive Director of Teen Living Programs since January 2010, is continuing a long career in the social service and philanthropic communities. Previously, Jeri served as a founder and Executive Director of Rainbow House, a social service and shelter agency serving battered women and their families in Chicago, for 17 years; and then as the Assistant Director of the Chicago Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence for 10 years. Most recently, Jeri served as NCA Cares Program Director for the National Cosmetology Association, developing member activities and driving fundraising efforts in support of NCA’s three primary community service campaigns: CUT IT OUT/Salons Against Domestic Violence Fund; Look Good …Feel Better (supporting cancer patients); and the NCA Disaster Relief Fund. Born in Ireland, Ms. Linas completed her teaching certification in England, where she taught prior to moving to the United States. She completed her bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  Jeri says, “I became a leader by doing, by watching and learning from my peers and mentors.”  There’s a quote from Margaret Mead which perfectly embodies her belief in personal accountability:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Read Jeri’s Interview


contessagibson_smlI started blogging for the Chicago Defender earlier this year.  My latest article is an interview with startup entrepreneur and diversity and inclusion professional Contessa Gibson

Contessa is a native of Chicago and works as a national account executive with the Professional Diversity Network where she oversees Diversity and Inclusion corporate sales within 13 Midwestern states, helping corporations diversify their talent pipelines.  I first met Contessa when I joined the YWCA Chicago’s Future Leaders Council where she was also a member. She granted me an in-depth interview that was published on my blog last year.  I was excited when she agreed to provide a 2013 update. Here are some insights into the personal and professional sides of Contessa Gibson.

Read the Interview on Chicago Defender


Headshotedited 3Jason Gilmore is Manager of Foundation & Government Grants for Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago where the majority of his time is divided between identifying and prioritizing activities to engage donors, managing and engaging with a portfolio of donors, and guiding cultivation and solicitation strategies for donors.  Jason previously served as Chief Compliance Officer & Academic Grant Writer for Covenant House Academies in Detroit.   In addition to being actively involved in the Association for Fundraising Professionals Chicago Chapter where he recently completed a fellowship, Jason is seeking to volunteer with a well-established and effective mentoring program geared towards young black men.  His own uncle provided a vigilant and well structured guidance which helped him become the man he is today. All young men should be as fortunate.

Read Jason’s Interview


Dave Watkins is the former Chief Financial Officer of Chicago Public Schools.  He was appointed to that position in October 2011.  He previously served as Chief Financial Officer at H. D. Smith, directing all financial functions of the company including the annual financial plan, internal and external financial reporting, forecasts and tax planning. He has more than 35 years of financial management expertise within the retail and consumer products, business technology, travel and accounting industries, in both publicly and privately held companies.  Before joining H. D. Smith, Dave served as Managing Director for MorganFranklin and Chief Operating Officer of the European Operations of Maritz Incorporated, a global provider of performance improvement, travel and market research services. Headquartered in London, Dave led Maritz through a reorganization of the company’s European operation returning the division to profitably. Prior to his role in Europe, he was Chief Operating and Financial Officer and, for a brief period, acting Chief Executive Officer for Maritz Travel Company.  Prior to working in industry, Dave spent more than 20 years in public accounting at KPMG.

Read Dave’s Interview


Brandon is Managing Director of Teach for America’s recruitment and selection team and Chief of Staff to the Executive Vice President .  I met Brandon Sammut at a Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting for the Young Non-Profit Professionals Network in Chicago.  He was one of many dynamic and interesting individuals in this group and the first that I have interviewed for my executive interview series.  Brandon has lived in cities from coast to coast and now calls Chicago home.   His belief in equitable access to resources and opportunities (especially education) comes across strongly in this interview.  For Brandon, “leadership is about the three C’s:  courage, candor, and care. I try to put my words and deeds through that filter every day. Am I acting courageously? Am I being honest with myself and others? Am I exhibiting care in all that I say and do?”

Read Brandon’s Interview


Contessa Gibson is a Virtual Sales Executive with SmithBucklin where she advocates and drive revenues for her client organizations in their respective industries–a very unique role.  Although she is based in Chicago, Contessa has international clients and often travels to their annual events that she helps to organize.  In addition to her day job, Contessa is launching her own technology venture which will deliver smart matching of customer apparel targeted to the under-served extended sizes market.  She gives generously of her time and resources to support diversity and non-profit initiatives which support empowerment and the positive development of self-esteem.  In her experience, “Exposure to positive, empowered women as a youth has paid invaluable dividends that words cannot communicate.”

Read Contessa’s Interview

devin blackburn:  authentic style and personal branding

Devin Blackburn is a Tax Attorney with PricewaterhouseCoopers specializing in Federal Tax Controversy.  Devin started her career in Kansas City Missouri at an extremely conservative law firm.  She has continued to grow in her career and in her personal and professional brands.  Not only is she a highly sought after tax attorney on the rise at PwC, but she is one of the most stylish women I know.

Last November, I convinced Devin to share some of her thoughts on style and the experiences which helped define her own brand.  As we all know, perception often becomes reality and can have a great impact on your career. As she was once told by an executive, “You can’t sit in on a $5 million deal and look like $5 dollars.”

Read Devin’s Interview

gerald pauling: the personal and the professional

In the first of a series of articles spotlighting high-profile and influential executives in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to get an hour with Mr. Gerald Pauling of Chicago, Illinois.  Originally, from Winston Salem, North Carolina, Gerald is a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, whose law practice focuses on employment litigation and labor-management relations.  In keeping with his strong commitment to stewardship, his community work focuses on improving diversity and the quality of life for those who are disadvantaged.

Gerald is the Executive Board Chair of Teen Living Programs where I am also a Board Member.  He is highly regarded as a practitioner and leader within the legal community.  He has been featured in Diversity & The Bar magazine as a “Cutting Edge Labor and Employment Practitioner.”  He was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Diverse Executive & Emerging Leaders Under 50” by Diversity MBA Magazine.

Read Gerald’s interview


Dr. John P. Koval is a sociologist with special interests in work, immigration, inequality, and globalization. Koval received his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and worked on poverty and delinquency programs in Oregon before joining the Sociology faculty at Notre Dame and later, chairing the Department of Sociology at DePaul. Presently he is a Senior Research fellow at DePaul’s Egan Urban Center and at the  Institute for Latinos Studies at the University of Notre Dame and a former Director of Research at the Institute.  He has authored and coauthored several books and research reports for the Institute for Latino Studies including Latinos in Chicago: Reflections of an American Landscape, Editor, “Latinos and Neo-Regionalism in Metropolitan Chicago” (Co-author with L. Bennett and C. Spirou) in Latinos in Chicago: Reflections of and American Landscape,“Mexican Women in Chicago,” with Allert Brown-Gort and Timothy Ready, and “In Search of Economic Parity: The Mexican Labor Force in Chicago.”  He recently edited and wrote several chapters for The New Chicago: A Social and Cultural Analysis (Temple University Press, 2006), a book dealing with urban change and globalization in Chicago within the past quarter century.

Peter Godard is an experienced education policy professional who currently serves the Illinois State Board of Education as Chief Performance Officer.  In this role, he is responsible for developing technology tools, data stores and analytic capacity to aid policy makers and stakeholders in improving education statewide.  His previous experience includes seven years with the Chicago Public Schools and several years at the Center for Education and Human Services at SRI International in Menlo Park, California.  He received aB.A. in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing graduate education at DePaul University’s School for New Learning. As a volunteer, he serves on the Board of the Chicago Justice Project and as amentor for the Year-Up program and the University of Chicago Public Interest Program.  He has received training as an anti-racist ally and is interested in fostering full inclusion of low-income communities, communities of color and the LGBTQ community in the policy-making process.

A native of the California, Margaret currently works as Project Coordinator for Sub-Saharan Africa with the Global Fund for Women. In this role, she devotes her time to a major learning initiative with 22 grantees based in Burkina Faso, Kenya and Uganda who are working on projects at the intersection of sustainable agriculture and women’s rights. This role draws on her experience in program & budget management; monitoring, evaluation and research initiatives and working with diverse groups of organizations and consultants around the globe. Prior to joining Global Fund for Women, she served as the Program Manager for the Africa and Asia region at Opportunity International, a non-profit organization supporting microfinance institutions in over 20 countries around the world. Margaret earned her master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago and B.A. in global studies from UC Santa Barbara, where she also studied abroad her junior year in Toulouse, France, and has been traveling ever since.   Other locations include Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic (Prague), Italy, Scotland, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia.

Maria Peel is a Corporate Sales Trainer for RCN’s Chicago office. Most recently, Maria was a independent Training and Development Manager,  as well as the Leadership Development Specialist at Comcast/Chicago, designing, developing and delivering leadership development programs to over 750 company leaders in the Chicagoland market. Maria began her telecom career as a data entry operator for AT&T (Illinois Bell) in Chicago and worked her way up to the Senior Training Manager/Special Events/Program Manager. Maria holds a BS in Business Management from National Louis University, an MBA certificate in Corporate Communications from Loyola University a Project Management Certificate from DeVry University and she is currently working on her MBA at Saint Xavier University.

Holly Katko established U-Connect, Inc. in 2000 as a women-owned small business in the City of Chicago.  The company’s strong focus – to create programs that will help all people get to the next level in their lives – has optimized the company’s core value and mission which is “Service Above Self”.

U-Connect customizes business training and entrepreneurship services for companies across the nation.  The company also consults businesses on health and life insurance needs.  “It’s always been her mission to provide people that one pearl of wisdom they did not have prior to working with me and her company.” says Ms. Katko. She is also a well-known keynote speaker, corporate trainer and expert on entrepreneurship.   She has just published her first book Entrepreneur YOU – soon to be released in January of 2012.  Holly is also the recipient of several  prestigious awards recognizing outstanding women who give of their time and talent to their work, their communities, and their world and other women owned businesses.


2 replies


  1. Does your team trust you? | Sherry Clayton Works
  2. Jason Gilmore: “Turning on the Juice” | The Chicago Defender

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