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Meet Westchester’s Class of 2020 Women in Business

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Emily Saltzman, Catherine Cioffi, and Joan McDonald of the Office of County Executive George Latimer

18 women helping Westchester move forward

This year’s honorees represent a diverse cross-section of Westchester’s business community, but they all have one thing in common: They rose to great heights to keep their organizations on track during the most turbulent of times.

By Gale Ritterhoff and Tom Schreck  •  Photography by Ken Gabrielsen

Photo courtesy of The Abbey Inn & Spa

Location: The newly opened The Abbey Inn & Spa is a boutique hotel and spa located within the converted St. Marys convent in Peekskill.It features 42 guest rooms; Apropos, a Hudson Valley farm-to-table restaurant and bar; a luxurious spa; and distinctive meeting and event facilities.

Joan McDonald  •  Catherine Cioffi  •  Emily Saltzman
Dr. Meera Garcia  •  Josephine Bertrams  •  Alicia Grande
Sue Norton  •  Bettye H. Perkins, EdD  •  Ellen Sledge
Susan Monaco  •  Julie Switzer  •  Louise Weadock
Dr. Karen Murray  •  Joanne Wright  •  Alina Baum, PhD
Leigh Ann McMahon  •  Stephanie Weston  •  Charlotte Ostman


 

Joan McDonald, Emily Saltzman, and Catherine Cioffi

Editor’s Award for transformative achievement

Joan McDonald

Catherine Cioffi

Emily Saltzman

Director of Operations, Director of Communications, and Deputy Director of Operations, respectively
Office of County Executive George Latimer

When the pandemic hit, it hit Westchester hard. It was literally a life-and-death issue that called upon the county executive’s office to do far more than just a 9-to-5 job. It demanded an efficient and effective response, both timely and comprehensive. Helping lead the charge were three key women on County Executive George Latimer’s senior staff. “The pandemic had no defined end, and that changed the strategy for approaching it,” explains Joan McDonald, director of operations for the county.

McDonald’s team — which includes Emily Saltzman, deputy director of operations — and communications director Catherine Cioffi and her team — approached the needs of the county during the pandemic with systemic precision. Part of the county’s response to the pandemic was a relentless commitment to communication. Cioffi knew it was important to get out consistent and accurate messaging about the virus any way the office could. It meant using all forms of media and any other technology that could carry the information to the public. “I was motivated by what I saw happening in our county. It was a matter of keeping a public focus and working for everyone’s well-being,” Cioffi says of the hectic pace and hefty responsibilities.

McDonald, Cioffi, and Saltzman worked together, but they also took individual responsibility for actions and had to trust in one another’s abilities. And when unprecedented problems arose, the county executive’s office evaluated the issue and took action. “We used what I think could be called a measured and educated style of improvisation,” McDonald says.

For Saltzman, keeping up with the pace of the pandemic meant drawing on experience and following the developments on a micro level. “It is very, very important to share information with all of the commissioners every day,” she says. “It acts as a system of checks and balances; it was something I learned during my experience with Hurricane Sandy.”

The pace was exhausting, and McDonald, Cioffi, and Saltzman made plenty of personal sacrifices in their efforts to keep the county as safe as possible while fostering calm. The experience “made us see what’s truly important,” notes Saltzman. “We’re grateful to be part of a team that could help.”

Dr. Meera Garcia

Executive Division Chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology
NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital

Regional Director of Women’s Health Services
NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley 

Assistant Professor
Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons

A graduate of Duke University Medical School and an award-winning resident at Emory University Hospital, Dr. Meera Garcia now holds several impressive titles, including division chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital. And while she is certainly adept at today’s most cutting-edge medical treatments, her focus is equally on preventive health for women. “Of course, I welcome every advance in modern medicine and keep up with my skills,” she explains, “but I believe in keeping women healthy so that they won’t need such treatments.” Through a holistic, wellness-focused approach, every person should be able to “feel better, hurt less, and understand more,” she explains. This philosophy is perfectly incorporated in the new, state-of-the-art maternity center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, which Garcia helped design. She placed an emphasis on comfort and calm for mother and baby, with tubs in every delivery room for pain management, spacious, family-friendly birthing suites, cozy post-partum rooms, and soothing natural light in the nursery to complement the level 2 NICU and fully equipped ORs on-site. In addition to treating patients, Garcia is busy teaching, active in community outreach, and advocating women’s health in Albany. “I love all facets of my job,” she explains. “I can focus on the whole human being, the whole community. The best part is having this kaleidoscope of responsibilities — different places where I can learn and grow and be an agent for change.”

Josephine Bertrams

Executive SVP, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer
HEINEKEN USA

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential male business than the beer industry. Yet that is exactly where Josephine Bertrams excels. Originally from Amsterdam, the international communications veteran began her Heineken journey in the Netherlands, in 2014, managing internal and external communications, brand PR, and serving as a company spokesperson. With a stop along the way at Heineken’s worldwide HQ, as the company’s global corporate communications manager, she has since risen to become Heineken USA’s senior vice president and chief corporate affairs officer. Bertrams manages a team of eight and oversees the communications of the company’s core brands, Heineken (including the new alcohol-free Heineken 0.0), Dos Equis, Tecate, Red Stripe, and Amstel Light. Bertrams also oversees internal and distributor communications, the sustainability agenda, and government affairs for Heineken USA. “The Heineken brand is known for its sense of humor in its campaigns,” Bertrams notes. “Last year, we marketed 31 packs of Heineken 0.0 to go along with the [Dry] January movement, so folks could have a beer every day of the month, without alcohol. This year, after [the peak of] the pandemic, many of our campaigns had to be altered. We did find  a new and fun way to help preserve summer gatherings while maintaining a safe social distance by introducing the Dos Equis six-foot social-distancing cooler. It sold out almost immediately.” Bertrams, who is a member of the Heineken USA Women’s Leadership Forum, downplays the importance of her sex in the business and says Heineken is different than the rest of the industry when it comes to women: “I’ve always been myself, and though the beer industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field, I never felt the need to act like one of the guys.”

Alicia Grande

Entrepreneur CEO & Founder
Grande Cosmetics

“Bigger. Better. Grande.” is a tagline for Alicia Grande’s Valhalla-based cosmetics company, and it certainly applies to her business approach. Starting with one product in 2008, Grande has grown her firm significantly, now offering 40 SKUs, employing 47 people, and inking deals with retail beauty giants Sephora and Ulta Cosmetics. Grande Cosmetics, whose hair, lip, brow, and lash products are also available online, has seen 40% growth annually for the past three years, she says. The first product in the line and current bestseller, GrandeLASH-MD, started with a serum Grande discovered to help boost her own thinning lashes. Deciding to bring the product to market, Grande took baby steps: She sold very limited numbers of the serum to salons, spas, and makeup artists. Beauty providers quickly fell in love with the product, spreading the word to their clients. Sales have continued to grow, she says, even during the pandemic, which has taken its toll on many sectors of the beauty industry. She adds that her award-winning products have become more valuable to her customers, as many of them aren’t easily able to go to salons for services such as lash extensions, lip injections, and brow microblading. “They are looking for alternatives to enhance their features at home,” Grande explains. Grateful for her success, Grande prioritizes giving back, especially now; her company has donated more than $250,000 to Feeding America.

Sue Norton

Executive Vice President of Global Citizenship
PepsiCo Inc. 

Vice President
PepsiCo Foundation

In her 26-year career at PepsiCo, Sue Norton has worked at developing solutions that help communities address the issues of food insecurity, safe-water access, and women’s economic advancement. Since 2012, Norton has served as the vice president of global citizenship for the Purchase-based food-and-beverage giant, as well as vice president of the company’s philanthropic arm, the PepsiCo Foundation. In her roles, Norton says she seeks to harness the expertise and passion of PepsiCo’s more than 250,000 employees to create positive, enduring change in Westchester — and in communities around the world. The foundation provides grants to community nonprofits, invests in startup funding in breakthrough social enterprises, builds cross-industry alliances to solve systemic issues, and catalyzes funding from like-minded organizations to enable the scaling of social-impact investments. Norton is also the chairman of the board of Feeding Westchester, the Elmsford-based organization charged with tackling local hunger issues, and she had a front-row seat to the organization’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak: “There was no blueprint for how to handle this,” Norton says of the unprecedented need brought on by the pandemic. Between March and August, Feeding Westchester distributed nearly 13 million pounds of food, a 126% increase over the previous year, without traditional food-distribution channels available. In addition to its local ties, Norton explains, the foundation provides grants across the globe. “When COVID hit, our foundation shifted into high gear to be able to provide communities all over the world with nutritious meals and other essential goods. It was immensely satisfying for me both personally and professionally to be a part of that effort.”

Bettye H. Perkins, EdD

Nonprofit • Founder & CEO
Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers

Some 50% of students across America today are students of color, and yet, only 15% of teachers are from diverse backgrounds, says educator Bettye H. Perkins, EdD. Thanks to that disparity, young people could attend “13 years of school and never have a teacher of color,” Perkins says. Acknowledging this “huge gap,” Perkins decided to do something about it. In 1995, she founded Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers (TSTT), a White Plains-based nonprofit organization that runs programs in high schools to encourage and prepare students for careers in teaching. Perkins got the idea for TSTT when she left the corporate world to “pursue a higher calling” and, as part of her master’s program at Pace University, worked on a project to encourage more teachers of color to join the Ossining School District. Today, TSTT works with high school students via teachers and guidance counselors in Westchester (and other locations in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia) who volunteer to mentor select students to facilitate their entering college to study education. Upon successful completion of the rigorous TSTT program, economically challenged students are eligible to receive at least half of their tuition paid at one of 23 partner colleges. While the TSTT program directly benefits its participants, the program also stands “to increase economic prosperity overall,” Perkins explains. “The teachers who emerge from the program will be educating our future workers.” Right now, TSTT has some 1,100 students in the pipeline and has produced more than 250 teachers who are working today, Perkins notes. 

Ellen Sledge

Entrepreneur • Founder & CEO
Penny Lick Ice Cream Company

After studying under famed chefs, including Jacques Torres, at the French Culinary Institute, working in some of New York City’s top restaurants, and spending several years as a stay-at-home mom, Ellen Sledge felt the pull of entrepreneurship. She started Penny Lick Ice Cream Company, a premium, locally sourced, nut-free ice cream brand in 2013 in her Hastings-on-Hudson kitchen, taking a business leap against the established retail brands. It was a move that not only demanded her advanced culinary training but also a sharp business sense to make a small startup work in today’s food industry.

Though the move was one that required an acceptance of risk, she views it differently. “I moved so slowly that I didn’t really see it as a risk,”  Sledge says. “I took one step at a time, from a cart at a farmers’ market to several carts, to a storefront and now on to a factory. When you’re a pastry chef,” adds Sledge, whose sales have grown 20% each year since 2015, “you learn to be precise with your recipes, and this was very much like that.”

When COVID hit, Sledge was challenged with tightening up operations, changing vendors, and  strategic sourcing of ingredients to reduce costs. She pivoted by partnering with local restaurants and caterers, started a local ice-cream delivery service, and launched an ice-cream-of-the-month club. Though the pandemic disrupted her retail-sales streak, she notes that during the same period, her wholesale business has grown.

Susan Monaco

Executive • Chief Revenue Officer
CareMount Medical

In her 20-year medical-finance career at CareMount Medical, Susan Monaco has excelled in roles centered on billing, accounts receivable, and business services. Today, as the medical group’s chief revenue officer, Monaco focuses on the financial strategic planning for her organization, which represents 650,000 patients. A daunting responsibility by any standard — even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the virus hit, healthcare went virtual, with many CareMount staff moving from offices to work-from-home situations, resulting in a seismic shift of the entire billing landscape to a far more complex process. CareMount needed some of its patients transitioned to a virtual-visit platform, while doctors and staff needed to be trained on the platform and billing and coding needed to happen virtually. Fortunately, solving massive problems is how Monaco is wired. “I’ve always had the ability to break things down and simplify them when others have gotten overwhelmed,” she says. “I love the process. I feel better just making a step forward and breaking a problem down into chunks.” Onboarding those 650,000 patients and all providers to the virtual-visit platform and stabilizing the billing, coding, and workforce issues would normally have been a three- to six-month project. Monaco and the teams at CareMount got it done in two weeks. “It was tremendous,” Monaco says of the effort, which required “working seven days a week to get things done and watching all the doctors, nurses, and support staff come together, working toward the same goal.”

Julie Switzer

Executive • Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel
WMCHealth

After graduating from Columbia University and working as a nurse in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, Julie Switzer chose to go back to Columbia and put herself through law school. Combining her expertise in both medicine and law, she began practicing law in the health sector, rising through the ranks at both private firms and medical institutions, such as NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, before joining the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) in 2007 as executive VP and general counsel. Once there, Switzer navigated a number of major acquisitions that helped create the now comprehensive WMCHealth, including the MidHudson Regional Hospital (formerly St. Francis Hospital) and the Bon Secours Charity Health System in Rockland and Orange counties. Today, WMCHealth includes 10 hospitals on eight campuses, employs some 12,000 people and generates $2.4 billion in annual revenue. Switzer also oversees the wide variety of legal concerns that will arise in the management of such a vast institution, such as corporate matters, contracts, real estate, litigation, regulatory issues, labor and employment, medico-legal issues, and managed care. Switzer’s calm and confident demeanor, vital to a well-run ICU, has translated perfectly to the world of healthcare law: “I have a clear understanding of the world of hospitals. I connect with medical personnel, and I understand the clinical issues,” Switzer explains of her success. “After all, I was a nurse first.”

Louise Weadock

Entrepreneur • CEO & Chief Nursing Officer
ACCESS Nursing Services

Louise Weadock began to prepare for COVID-19 in February. She is the founder of ACCESS Nursing Services, which she started 35 years ago and has grown into an available workforce of some 45,000 clinicians. The firm, she says, is “ready to provide nurses and technicians for every care setting — hospitals, schools, corporations, long-term-care facilities.” Weadock knew “that a big wave was coming” after watching the coronavirus numbers grow exponentially, but thanks to her experience and education, she quickly pivoted her company to battle the virus. Among other things, she recruited and trained an additional 2,000 nurses from all over the country, forming what she called a COVID Care Force in March. Through her efforts, thousands of nurses were deployed to hospitals, nursing homes, and testing sites in some of New York’s hardest-hit areas. Her teams were able “to march in and take over,” she says, performing necessary triage, admitting, testing, and treatments. Rounding up 1,500 new caregivers in less than three weeks, Weadock grew her staff to some 3,800 nurses at the height of the crisis.

Now that efforts are focused on mitigating the pandemic, Weadock has pivoted once again, forming a CovidClear service. Her teams help schools, corporations, institutions, and businesses devise and implement plans to keep the virus at bay, helping to save both lives and livelihoods. “Where I think I’ve made a difference is in creating a nursing corps with a New York attitude,” Weadock says. “Our teams are enthusiastic; we know what to do and are ready to hit every setting.”

Dr. Karen Murray

Executive • Associate Dean of Admissions
New York Medical College School of Medicine

Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology
New York Medical College

Doctors obviously play a critical role in our society (never more so than this year). This is a reality Dr. Karen Murray has kept top of mind throughout her career. A practicing physician, Murray has also has dedicated herself to ensuring that the next generation of doctors is a diverse, talented, and caring group. As both a professor and lead admissions officer for New York Medical College School of Medicine, Murray advises all involved in the admissions process to feel personally invested in these future physicians. “Can you see this individual being your doctor in 10 or 15 years, because this might be the person taking care of you,” she asks her interviewers. Murray also believes that diverse communities should see themselves reflected in their healthcare providers and has worked hard to increase the number of underrepresented minority students (URMs) attending the medical school. Through her leadership, the percentage of URMs at the medical school has increased from 8% to 20% in the last few years. Her efforts in this area include diversifying the admissions committees and spearheading implicit-bias training for staff, which will be implemented as soon as possible. She and her team have also partnered with URM medical students from the Student National Medical Association on a day-in-the-life-of-a-medical-student program. They invite students from local colleges to attend, where they are exposed to current URM medical students in the setting of the medical school, in an effort to make medical students from all walks of life more visible to the community. “We’re showing them we’re here, and you can make it, as well. There’s room for you!” says Murray.

Joanne Wright

Executive • Vice President, Enterprise Operations & Services
IBM

During her 25 years with IBM, Joanne Wright has garnered an impressive list of awards and accolades. In 2019, she earned the Stevie Women in Business Award for Female Executive of the Year, and she has been named to Fortune’s list of the Most Powerful Women Next Gen multiple times. Starting out at IBM as a trainee buyer in the personal computing division, Wright is now in charge of making sure the computer giant is humming along smoothly, with a focus on transforming IBM’s operations and real estate, fostering innovation, and supporting a global workforce of thousands. Not surprisingly, her approach takes advantage of IBM’s technological advances, such as artificial intelligence (yes, Watson), to drive productivity. Wright also values real emotional intelligence when managing people — a skill that has become vital during the coronavirus pandemic. Wright has taken the lead in helping the company stay on track throughout the outbreak, while prioritizing employee well-being. In addition to incorporating strict health protocols, her department is also keeping close tabs on “how our teams how are feeling,” she says. “We want to know how they are coping in this dynamic world, being an IBMer, and perhaps being responsible for children’s schooling or looking after parents or family members who may be impacted by this virus,” she explains. “We are making sure to truly active-listen, to make sure that we are aligned with what they need from us.”

Alina Baum, PhD

Executive • Senior Staff Scientist, Infectious Diseases
Regeneron

In January 2020, as the coronavirus was sweeping across China and threatening to spread worldwide, Regeneron’s infectious disease team heard the news and quickly rallied to begin work on a potential life-saving treatment. In a matter of months, they emerged with an investigational drug candidate for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 — the very treatment later given to President Trump. Leading the charge for the early discovery efforts was Alina Baum, senior staff scientist for infectious diseases at Regeneron, who brought the early research and discovery teams together to make it happen. With a PhD in molecular biology from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and post-doctorate work at Rockefeller University, Baum joined Regeneron in 2015 and now manages a team of 12 scientists, 10 of whom are women. With what is at stake, it has been crucial that her group function cohesively. “It is really important that everyone is in this together. I made a point of saying that to the team — I believe working in a unit allows the program to succeed,” she says, adding that she sees the bond of being together as important to the process. From January through April, the work was relentless, and Baum marvels at the team’s sheer resilience. “You learn you can do things that seem somewhat impossible. People have an amazing ability to get things done,” she notes.

Leigh Anne McMahon

Executive • Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services & Chief Nursing Officer
White Plains Hospital

“I was always a good nurse, but I wanted to be able to do more,” says Leigh Anne McMahon. Having worked her way up to the position of senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at White Plains Hospital, it’s safe to say that she has achieved that goal. With two master’s degrees and a doctorate in nursing practice, she now oversees 800 nurses, who tend to thousands of patients each year. Always a problem-solver, McMahon worked as a clinical nurse for 15 years, and once she made the decision to move into management, quickly ascended to the role of CNO. “While I hated to leave the bedside,” she explains, “I wanted the opportunity to impact patient care on a larger scale.” She focused on applying the principles of change management, which allow for quick and fluid improvements. These skills became critical when COVID-19 hit, she adds. Prioritizing both staff safety and patient care, McMahon quickly worked with teams at WPH to create negative pressure rooms, train nurses in new skills, and procure life-saving PPE. At one point during the crisis, the 16-bed ICU at WPH was transformed to accommodate up to 82 critical patients, McMahon explains. “I couldn’t be more proud of everyone in this hospital and of healthcare in general,” McMahon says, adding that the difficult moments were “just more inspiration — there’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we focus on the care that our community deserves.”

Stephanie Weston

Executive • VP, Retail Market Manager
The Westchester Bank

Stephanie Weston joined The Westchester Bank in 2016 as vice president, retail market manager, and immediately knew she wanted to do things a little differently. In her 30-plus years in the industry, she’s held senior roles at People’s United Bank and Bank of New York Mellon, received awards for deposit growth and investments, and been recognized for her community involvement and philanthropic efforts. For her, banking is less about numbers and more about person-to-person interaction, so she set out to create a customer-outreach initiative at The Westchester Bank, as well as a structured sales-and-service program. “I sought to execute our model of ‘Banking Made Personal.’ It was about connecting with people, one customer at a time,” Weston says. Instead of making sales calls, she explains, “First, we acted on feel-good calls, checking in, wishing them Happy Birthday and things like that.” Early on, she had few metrics to measure her success, but the results have included double-digit growth over the course of about 18 months and an increase in new referrals. The personal approach is natural for Weston. “It is what I’ve always done,” she says. “If you’re not reaching out to your people, someone else will. When you lose your existing accounts, you’re always chasing your tail. In the banking world, focusing on the person is unusual, and I believe that’s why clients follow me.” She has also established a financial literacy program to help people navigate today’s banking challenges and to teach the county’s future leaders sound money management.

Charlotte Ostman

Nonprofit • CEO
The Mental HealthAssociation of Westchester

While nonprofit executives have spent the year strategizing their survival, Charlotte Ostman, CEO of The Mental Health Association of Westchester (MHA), has faced a different challenge: rapid growth. The White Plains-based organization’s annual budget has grown from $18 million to almost $30 million in just three years. But a mental health agency’s success is not measured in dollars and cents. Critical to mental healthcare is reach and accessibility, and MHA has nearly doubled its number of clinics, increased satellite locations and school-based programs, and made the move to telehealth — before the advent of the pandemic. Being ahead of the game with its capacity for virtual visits, plus the development of electronic health records and patient portals, has improved access for the people MHA supports and has made their experiences efficient, less intrusive, and respectful, says Ostman, who came to MHA in 2015 as the chief strategy officer before taking over the CEO spot in 2017. Ostman maintains a strong belief in MHA’s holistic approach to treating mental health. “I believe you can’t separate things like addiction and mental health or, for that matter, physical and mental wellness. We set out to create an agency that can treat the whole person,” she says. Though regulatory agencies rarely let a program do all of those things under one roof, Ostman didn’t let that stop her. “People who know me know that I like a challenge,” she explains. Today, MHA treats mental health and addiction and coordinates physical healthcare, as well.