Community Leadership Awards: Given to members of the community who have made achievements in these arenas, supporting women in business.
Jennifer Guthrie, Owner & CEO, In-Flight Crew Connections earns the Business Leader Award, presented to an established member of the business community who serves as a motivating force for both her business and for women in business.
Jennifer Guthrie runs a staffing service that provides aviation personnel, which she founded with her then-husband in 2002. Clients are corporations and wealthy individuals who turn to the firm to manage contract labor needs for pilots, mechanics, dispatchers and flight attendants for private jets. With nine employees in the Charlotte office and 300 aviation personnel, the company does business in 40 states.
In 2009, the aviation business was hit hard. Guthrie cut expenses, including laying off most of her office staff. “I survived on a wing and prayer,” she says. Rebounding in 2011, Guthrie aggressively went after new business. As new clients came on board last year, she added staff and moved the company out of her home for the first time. Revenue rose 516% from 2010.
Juggling kids and a business, Guthrie was newly divorced with three children under 6 when she took over the company. Having the business in her home was a lifesaver. “As I worked from 7 a.m. to midnight many days, I couldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been in the house.” She’d lock herself in the bathroom or bedroom when a client called. Later on, the children knew if she raised a finger while on the phone, it meant, “Be quiet — it’s a client.”
“When I was 16 and people asked me what I wanted to do, I told them I wanted to own my own business. I never lost that drive.” The 46-year-old Charlotte native has owned other small businesses, including a bridal shop and a catering/event firm.
In her spare time, she loves going to rodeos. “Work is so demanding — I need to turn it off so I can think about life and people. I also love the ocean.”
Kerry Barr O’Connor, Executive Director, Dress for Success Charlotte earns the Non-Profit Leader Award, having demonstrated a history of advancing the cause of her organization, while helping setting an example of the importance of community.
Kerry Barr O’Connor, a former newscaster, changed career directions after becoming involved with the AmeriCorp VISTA program and has since been involved in non-profit management for more than 25 years. She has worked, volunteered, and consulted for organizations in New York, Ohio and North Carolina developing nationally recognized initiatives and raising millions of dollars to move forward the missions of these organizations. With a philosophy that everyone has something to give, Kerry is most passionate about organizations that provide the tools and support needed to help people realize their potential and work towards self-sufficiency.
Kerry was named Executive Director for Dress for Success Charlotte in December 2005 and charged with re-building the organization shut down due to a lack of sustainable funding. Dress for Success Charlotte re-opened its doors to clients in after developing and implementing a business plan that called for a more diverse donor base, expanded board of directors, and new community partnerships, including a 60 member community advisory committee. In 2008, Dress for Success Charlotte, was named Rookie of the Year for Best Practices in all area of operations.
In April 2009, Dress for Success Charlotte launched a capacity building campaign to move its operations to newly renovated Boutique and Career Transformation Center. The design won the coveted “Design Is” Global Award from Shaw Contract Group and was named the 2010 “People’s Choice” with more than 400,000 votes.
Dress for Success Charlotte provides a continuum of service, including job preparedness, job acquisition, employment retention, and career advancement programs and services, to more than 900 women annually seeking employment as a means to achieve economic independence and strengthen their families. The organization was recognized by the Mayor of Charlotte for its economic and environmental impact and named the 2014 Community Waste Reduction Partner of the Year for diverting nearly 30 tons of textiles from the landfill each year. These items increase the sustainability of individuals and organizations, thus laying a foundation for a stronger community.
Kerry’s awards and recognition include Rotarian of the Year, and twice named among the Most Stylish Woman in Business by Charlotte Style Magazine. Kerry was elected to the Dress for Success Worldwide Board of Directors in January 2014. She resides in Matthews, North Carolina with her husband Tim, and daughter Devin, UNCC Class of 2014 and son Timmy, UNCC Class of 2017.
Dena Diorio, Mecklenburg County Manager, earns the Public Policy Leader Award having made a difference in her community and her state, and supporting policies that impact women business owners.
Dena Diorio reached her goal Tuesday night by a unanimous vote of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, six years after telling Harry Jones her career goal was to become a county manager.
Diorio, who became assistant county manager in May, came to Mecklenburg as finance director in 2007. Jones, fired as county manager last spring, hired Diorio to run the finance department. In a congratulatory text message Tuesday, Jones reminded Diorio of what she told him when Jones hired her six years ago.
She becomes the county’s first female manager, a point emphasized by the four women who serve on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. The 51-year-old Diorio worked in local government jobs in New York and Connecticut before coming to Mecklenburg County.
“I’ve been in public service for 25 years — I’ve always had a passion for public administration,” she said. “And as I went through my career, I always wanted to do more. My career goal has always been to be a county manager, which is one of the reasons I left the Northeast to come down to the South, where this form of government is more prevalent.”
Diorio grew up in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. She has been married for 22 years, and her husband, Robert, attended the commissioners meeting and beamed as she was introduced as county manager. The couple has no children or pets. They picked up golf when they came South. Even so, Diorio said she still struggles on the links, noting her 31-handicap.
Being the first woman to lead the county is important to Diorio.
Asked about the distinction, she said, “It’s a true honor, and I will make sure I cherish that as I do my work.”