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20 Women We Admire


Posted on May 30


Terri Taylor-Solorio

President and Chief Executive Officer, California Travel Industry Association

If Terri Taylor-Solorio had her way, you’d put down this magazine right now and book yourself a trip somewhere in California. Or you’d call your friends and relatives and tell them to do the same. After all, as she points out to political and business leaders each year, “Tourism generates more than $75 billion in direct travel spending as well as $4.7 billion in direct state and local tax revenues for the Golden State.Â&emdash; Wait, there’s more. “As California’s fourth largest employer, tourism supports just under 1 million jobs."

Don’t mistake Taylor-Solorio for your average booster. She’s actually an extraordinary booster. In the past 17 years, she’s made herself one of the travel industry’s more familiar figures and has become a dependable business partner to the state’s visitor bureaus. She’s been a meeting planner, worked for statewide associations and, as its president and CEO, has helped make the California Travel Industry Association the voice of the state’s tourism business.

Sometimes, her own voice can get lost in the clamor. “The hospitality industry has a good many opportunities for women and minorities but the paths to get there are not always the same as those for men,Â&emdash; she says. “Even now I recognize that if I’m working on a project with other CEOs who are male, when I’m the only woman in the group, often I’m expected to work on the administrative functions or to keep track of the details while my counterparts view the big picture.'

Planning a trip? Taylor-Solorio is high on the River City. “I feel as though Sacramento not only offers great opportunities for a professional life, but as a community offers those who live here the opportunity to grow with the city,Â&emdash; she says. “This region is rich with history, yet full of vision for the future. Sacramento has a fantastic mixture of old and new.Â&emdash; So jump right out of that chair and stay home, immediately"

Kristene Smith

Chief Executive Officer, Kristene Smith Enterprises

Kristene Smith launched her business only eight years ago, but it’s already grown two subsidiaries: Kristene Smith Public Relations and Kristene Smith’s MarketingWithStyle.net. Her PR firm has developed community involvement and other programs for the Sacramento fire and police departments, the FBI and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, among others. She calls her new endeavor, MarketingWithStyle.net, which will include a namesake book next year, “the culmination of the passionsÂ&emdash; she enjoys, including interior design, entertaining, fashion, business development and marketing.

A mother of two, Smith is a former member of the Sacramento Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Minority Business, and serves as an adviser to the $12 million Irvine Foundation CORAL Initiative, which focuses on after-school programming for children.

Although she has no intention of resting on her laurels, she does note the importance of resting. “I would say that learning how to take personal time and relax has been a major accomplishment for me,Â&emdash; she says. “I would not trade that for anything.Â&emdash; She says that business owners “must find a balance in order to be both personally and professionally successful. Regular workouts are important, too."

Smith, a popular speaker and seminar leader, offers what may be a sneak preview of her book when asked how she would counsel young businesswomen about their careers and lives. “Learn to strike that balance,Â&emdash; she says, “and carry yourself with personal and professional style. If you want success, go after it rather than talking about wanting it.Â&emdash; And by all means, she advises, “Put the kids to bed by 8 p.m., no matter what!Â&emdash; Sounds like a good title for her next book.

Nicolette Bautista

Chief Executive Officer, Women Escaping A Violent Environment

Although Nicolette Bautista’s task was colossal, the goal was simple: save the 25-year-old WEAVE, one of the region’s most highly prized but then-discombobulated social service agencies. Restructure, reorganize and refresh its image. Oh, and while you’re at it, establish a new base of donors and get back the ones who, weary of throwing money to the group, threw up their hands.

It took her two years—though her first fiscal success, saving the organization $250,000, came within her first 60 days on the job. During the next 18 months, WEAVE’s donated income rose by 200 percent. Meanwhile, she took a hard look at the workplace and realized that some of WEAVE’s best employees were performing tasks for which they were the least qualified. She shuffled assignments. Employee morale improved. Hers, too.

“Before joining WEAVE, I held an unwavering certainty that no experience would or could be more challenging than succeeding, and surviving, as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa,Â&emdash; she says. “Turning around WEAVE punctured this cherished view. This is now the place where I feel I can and will have the biggest impact."

While Bautista did spend three difficult but rewarding years in the Peace Corps, she had been well prepared for its life of cultural shock and daily uncertainty by her previous job: working as a congressional intern in Washington, D.C. By the time she joined WEAVE, she had those experiences—as well as four years as executive director of Safe & Sound, a three-year, $13 million public-private foundation dedicated to reducing violent crime in Milwaukee—to draw from.

“In business, government, politics and life, the only thing that never changes is that everything changes,Â&emdash; says Bautista, who holds an MBA from the University of Wisconsin. “As a leader, your most important task is to develop resilient employees who can survive and thrive through change."

She seems to follow that philosophy herself. When asked to share an adage that keeps her going, she says, “You can lose battles and still win the war.Â&emdash; Especially if Bautista is on your side.

Norma Saenz, Dora Saenz and Sonia Chaidez

Owners, Three Sisters and Tres Hermanas

When the Saenz sisters left their home state of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1988, they took their mother, one husband—all the sisters are married now—and a healthy dose of business acumen, much of it learned from having helped their family run a successful farm equipment business.

They settled in Sacramento, living together at first. The sisters found work as waitresses (in different restaurants), paid close attention to each business’s operation, saved their money and invested in real estate. Then, just eight years ago, “We decided we didn’t want to work for anyone else and decided to just go for it,Â&emdash; says Sonia (Saenz) Chaidez, the youngest sister.

“We put all of our money together and bought our first restaurant,Â&emdash; says Norma Saenz, the eldest. With just $10,000, they opened Tres Hermanas at 24th and K streets in midtown Sacramento.

"We did all the cooking and everything else ourselves,Â&emdash; says Dora Saenz, the middle sister.

"We were naIve," says Norma. "We didn’t know you’re not supposed to open a restaurant with only that much money."

"But all of the equipment was already there," says Dora.

"So we figured, well, if it doesn’t work out . . . Â&emdash; begins Sonia.

" . . . we'll just get other jobs and only have lost $10,000," concludes Norma.

By now you’ve guessed that a three-way chat with the three Saenz sisters sounds a little like the overlapping dialogue in a Robert Altman movie. What adds to the fun is that even though they’re business partners—both Tres Hermanas and the identically named (in English) Three Sisters restaurant in East Sacramento are hugely successful—they remain best friends. They accomplish this, says Sonia, bursting into a laugh, “by working different shifts."

The three sisters have two brothers: Sergio (an artist who’s studying to become a college professor) and Jésus, who also works with them. As for their husbands:

"They're completely supportive,Â&emdash; says Sonia.

"They take care of the children when we can’t be there," says Norma.

"They help us out a lot," says Dora.

"And they're investors in our businesses," says Norma.

The sisters are planning to open a third restaurant in 2005, this one in Lodi. Norma says she’s also been approached about franchising the eatery on the East Coast. “We’d make sure they used our family recipes," says Sonia.

"Our food is authentic," says Sonia.

"If you do'’t want authentic Mexican food, then go to Taco Bell," says Dora.

The sisters offer two recipes for success in the restaurant business. Norma says, “Don’t go into this because you want to be the big boss and tell everyone else what to do but not do any of the work yourself."

Adds Dora: "And don’t forget to thank all the people who come to your restaurant. Our customers have been very loyal to us."

"Because it’s very simple: no customers, no restaurant,Â&emdash; Sonia summarizes.

Patricia A. Fong Kushida

President/Chief Executive Officer, Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce

Although she gave up her career in retail some years ago (she was an award-winning buyer for Federated Department Stores), Pat Fong Kushida still understands customers and merchandise. It’s just that these days, her customers are the owners of Asian businesses throughout the Sacramento and surrounding region, and the products she’s pushing are economic growth and cultural acceptance.

"As president/CEO of an ethnic chamber of commerce, I am invited to sit on many boards and committees in this region," she says. “I am usually one of two minority women at the table. What that means is, I have to try that much harder and be that much smarter than my white male counterparts in order to be taken seriously.

“What I offer,Â&emdash; she continues, “and what I have to contribute, is a different point of view, from the perspective of the Asian Pacific Islander community. This is a community that has its own unique challenges and opportunities, and unless there are differing voices when regional dialogue happens, whole communities will not be represented."

Fong Kushida recently saw her community efforts recognized when she was appointed unanimously to serve out the remaining term of Sacramento City Unified School District trustee (and board president) Rob King Fong, who was elected to the Sacramento City Council. “I was born and raised in Sacramento, and am a product of Sacramento public schools," she says.

Today, she and her husband, Victor, who co-own Kushida TV, Audio and Video Services, which has been in the family for 50 years, are raising a 6-year-old Sacramento student of their own, whom they adopted in 1998. “My husband and I had spent several years trying to conceive by natural and artificial means, to no avail" she says. “We made the decision to adopt internationally—and when Sydney was brought to us in China, it was the proudest, happiest moment in our lives.Â&emdash; A seasoned retailer might even call it priceless.

Hortense Simmons, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus, English and Ethnic Studies, California State University, Sacramento

By the time you read this, Fulbright Scholar Hortense Simmons, Ph.D., will be in Mykolayiv, Ukraine, teaching African-American literature. For her, it’s much more than a teaching assignment. “In this post-9/11 era in the United States,Â&emdash; she had told the Fulbright committee when she applied for the honor, “citizens’ phobias and suspicions of those different from them are a sad reality. As a cultural ambassador to Ukraine, I am confident I will ably represent our country’s capacity for compassion and understanding beyond geographical and cultural boundaries."

Trust Simmons to get the job done. A Sac State professor for the past 26 years, she’s taken occasional breaks to teach in campus settings as exotic as Greece and Malaysia, and as freeway-close as UC Davis. “I am one for whom the vicarious experience doesn’t work,Â&emdash; she says. “I have to go there to know there, to paraphrase a passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s landmark novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Very early in my career, I knew I would have to venture beyond my provincial community, literally and figuratively.Â&emdash; She says that her journey began with her decision to attend Howard University—even as an 18-year-old, “I realized the importance of Washington, D.C.Â&emdash; It was a gutsy move. Simmons turned down scholarships “at three colleges closer to homeÂ&emdash; and took out a loan to complete her education. "Being the first in my family to attend college—I had five siblings then—I realized I would have no financial help from home," she says.

But, oh, the rewards! “My classmates hailed from cities, towns and villages throughout the U.S., Africa and the Caribbean,Â&emdash; she says. “My professors were brilliant, inspiring African-Americans and immigrants from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, for whom employment opportunities in white universities were not possible.Â&emdash; They became more than teachers or mentors, Simmons says. “They were my inspirational windows to the world!Â&emdash;

Right this minute, one of her students is probably figuring out how to say the same thing about Simmons. In Ukrainian.


For the rest of this story pick up a copy of Sacramento Magazine's October issue.