They’re movers, they’re shakers, they’re big decision makers. Meet the leading ladies behind some of Sacramento’s best and brightest businesses.
Chef and owner, Blackbird Kitchen & Bar
Much of your career as a chef has been in San Francisco. How did that influence Blackbird? I worked at Bar Crudo for many years, so some of the style comes from there, especially the raw bar. I also wanted to bring in some of Nopa, which was in my old neighborhood. It’s simple, and they nail it every time. I learned how to run things as a corporation when I worked at Absinthe Brasserie.
What kind of leader are you in the kitchen? My grandfather was the CEO and founder of USA Today, and I have a lot of other executives in my family. So leadership is in my genetics. My nickname in the kitchen is Bullets, because I go around “shooting” people and saying, “Bang, bang!” That can be a positive thing or a negative thing. If someone screws up, I’ll let them know how to fix it for next time and say, “Bang, bang!” Or if we really killed it, which is more often, we’ll also say, “Bang, bang!”
How do you handle an unhappy diner? Sugar and booze.
What’s the best compliment you’ve gotten lately? When people eat our smoked clam chowder, I hear, “This is the best chowder I’ve ever had in my life!” I think I’m going to bottle that magic up and put it on shelves. Captain Blackbird’s Smoked Clam Chowder. That will probably be my next business.
Executive Vice President, e.Republic
What is e.Republic? My sons and husband still sometimes ask, “What is it exactly that you do?” Everything we do is focused on innovation in state and local government and education. We have many influential magazines distributed across the country, we put on about 200 conferences a year, and we have research divisions and web properties.
How does e.Republic affect Sacramentans? One example: California wanted to have the best state website in the country. So we came in and gave them a bunch of advice. Now, the average Joe can go online and take driver’s training with YouTube videos, pay a parking ticket or get a birth or marriage certificate, all from the convenience of your home— at 10 o’clock at night.
Where does your work take you? I go to a lot of state capitols to speak at conferences about what will drive them toward a better government or education. Recently, I was on what I call “unglamorous travel.” I went to Lincoln, Neb.; Bismarck, N.D.; Lansing, Mich.; and Jefferson City, Mo.
Do you ever get to go on “glamorous travel”? We did an event at the White House last year, and it was just so cool. I got a tour of the West Wing at 9:30 at night when everyone was gone and texted my husband from the Oval Office.
Where is technology in education headed? The next 10 years are going to be wild. Textbooks are going to be obsolete. With tablets and other technology coming out, all that information is going to be at [students’] fingertips.
What is it really like to work with government types? Government gets a bad rap from traditional media. For me, they are unsung heroes. A lot of them actually have an altruistic idea that they are really serving— and they do.
Would you ever run for office? I’d love to, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have time. A lot of my friends are elected officials, so I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through them.
Vice president, Straine Dental Consulting
You and your husband, Kerry, started Straine Dental Consulting 20 years ago with no dental background. How did you get into it? Kerry had a tax and accounting practice with a few dentist clients. He started looking at why they were spending money on consulting, and I started doing research for him. Kerry eventually created a very innovative tool in the ’90s called the Straine Management System—a standardized system with a set of processes, procedures, best practices and operating policies for dental offices. It’s amazing what we’ve created from scratch.
What is it like to work with your husband? There is really no distinction between our marriage and our business. We live, breathe and love our business as much as we live, breathe and love each other. We had no idea we would work together when we met and married nine months later! But we were just so crazy about each other that we wanted to be with each other all the time. Our business is our baby.
In addition to consulting on the business side, you hold management trainings. What advice do you give when it comes to firing someone? We believe that people behave badly for one of three reasons: They don’t know any better, they are overextended or they have bad values. We don’t recommend termination, because employees are human beings first. It’s important for business owners to recognize when it’s the environment that is creating the adverse reaction—not the person.
Where do you find information and inspiration for your trainings? I read The Wall Street Journal every day, and I subscribe to Harvard Business Review. I also read Scientific American, because there is so much science behind behavior, the mind and performance.
Sandra Kirschenmann Associate
vice provost, Drexel University’s Center for Graduate Studies
Describe the role of a provost. There are two lines of authority in a university: one is the president’s, and one is the provost’s. The president is responsible for all the external relationships, fundraising, strategic planning, marketing, etc. That leaves all of the operations and academic affairs for the provost. So it’s kind of like being the COO—managing the day-to-day.
You were with the Los Rios Community College District for 32 years. What was your first order of business when you went to Drexel? To balance the budget. I told them I would do it in two years—and if I didn’t, they could let me go. I’ve only been there six months, but at the fiscal year close, I think I’m going to be in the black.
You’ve also had some amazing culinary experience. Do tell. [While] teaching nutrition at American River College, I ran their restaurant—and had a ball doing it. Because of that, I was able to go to culinary school in Paris at La Varenne. I was also the only teacher they let into the Beringer School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards.
Is there anything you still want to learn? I want to be fluent in French. I also want to understand the physics of the universe better. I don’t know how I’m going to do that—that’s going to be after the French thing.
President and CEO, Visit California
How do you describe your job? I usually describe the organization as a marketing commodity board promoting tourism to California. If that elicits a blank stare, I then follow up with a clarifying comment like, “We produce the commercials featuring celebrities like Rob Lowe and Betty White.”
People must ask you for suggestions about what to do and see in Sacramento all the time. What are your go-to answers? What isn’t there to love about Sacramento? There are abundant experiences, like downtown, the river, Old Sacramento, Capitol Park, the zoo, incredible art galleries and restaurants— all of which are centrally positioned to experience world-class wine tasting and the great outdoors. The possibilities are endless.
What’s your travel schedule like? Any favorite destinations? We have two offices on two coasts with two sets of staff—and 12 international offices that I travel to frequently. So my favorite place to be is home.
How would you describe the California “brand”? I always say, “It’s the guy in the Armani suit and flip-flops, carrying a surfboard in one hand and a briefcase in the other.” Isn’t that a snapshot of the lifestyle we’d all like to emulate?
Can you share some travel tips you’ve learned? I have to go native here. Check out Visit California’s travel app for the iPad. I use it all the time—it’s like a virtual experience.
You recently became the chair-elect and interim CEO of Brand USA. How will you balance that with your California tourism job? It’s said that two heads are better than one, but I feel that two jobs are better than one! I’m fully vested in the success of both organizations, so my commitment to Brand USA really complements my role with Visit California. Brand USA is working to promote the United States as a premier international travel destination, which only gives the Golden State more visibility as the best travel destination in the country.
Publisher and president, The Sacramento Bee
You’ve had quite the career in publishing. What do you love most about the printed newspaper? Every day I find myself reading a news story that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, because I wouldn’t have known to look for it. I often tear out seasonal recipes from our food section and, since I’m the shopper in the family, I’m always scouring the ads for deals from local businesses. For the record, since we have about 1 million people who read us in print every week, I’m not the only one who loves print!
What are the most exciting things about digital publishing? Publishing in a digital format has allowed The Bee to expand its audience beyond the traditional geographic borders. Right now, we have large audiences in Los Angeles and San Francisco who follow us for our coverage of the state Capitol and the San Francisco 49ers.
What’s a fun fact about The Sacramento Bee that most don’t know? At the request of Eleanor McClatchy, Walt Disney drew The Bee’s mascot, Scoopy, in exchange for a donation of $1,500 to the Army Relief Fund. He first appeared on Sept. 4, 1943, which means he will be 70 next year, and he remains a treasured part of The Bee family.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give young women entering the professional world? I’d give them the same advice as I’d give anyone early in their career: Select your boss carefully. I’ve seen people make bad professional decisions based on money, hours and perks, forgetting that who you work for matters as much as or more than all of those things combined. At the beginning of your career, you really want to work for someone who will invest in you—ideally someone who will define their own success by making you a success.
President, Principal Funds Distributor Inc.
How did you get into finance? My father, who is a farmer in Iowa, is one of the reasons I got into the financial services industry. He would give us Christmas gifts in the form of bushels of corn or beans. He did it to teach us the value of what he was doing on a day-to-day basis and to watch the markets. He let us kids decide when and where we wanted to sell them. That started when I was 12 years old. About six months after college, I started working for Principal Funds as an actuary.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in the 23 years you’ve been at Principal? When I was chief operating officer of the Principal Funds business unit in Des Moines, we wanted to grow. We decided we were either going to acquire something or build something. I did a ton of analysis around that and was involved in lots of discussions for nine months. It was a really great feeling when I signed and completed the acquisition of Washington Mutual Funds. That’s also when they asked me to move out here. It was a huge decision and a great opportunity for me.
How do you balance your job with spending time with your husband and two kids? I try to keep my travels within one week, once a month. I also try to get my work and travels done during the week, so on the weekends, I can really unplug myself and spend good quality time with my husband and children.
Do you have a signature phrase at the office? With people that I work with closely, I will often end a note with “It’s a great day to be alive.” I got that from my dad, too.
President and CEO, Nor-Cal Beverages
Tell me about a time you really made something happen. In March of 2007, we sold our franchise operations (Dr Pepper, RC Cola, Squirt, etc.), which is what started our family business in 1937. So I had to start going out and doing cold calls. I went out to New York and met with AriZona Iced Tea, and in April of 2007, we signed with them as one of their main manufacturers on the West Coast.
How do you define your family’s business philosophy? We treat all employees as family. The bottom line is, we see each other probably more than we see our own family members. So we better enjoy what we do and whom we work with.
Does that make it hard to discipline your team? It’s my philosophy that nobody wants to make a mistake. We work with people over and over again—until there is no other choice. They know we have their back.
Many don’t know that Nor-Cal Beverages makes Go Girl energy drink. What was your first Go Girl experience? It was in a glass bottle, and it tasted terrible. But I loved the name and thought it could really go somewhere. So we started throwing ideas out and brought in a flavor house to come up with a new taste. We launched it in a sexy can, and it started doing really well—in just three weeks.
Do you have a lot of people trying to pitch new beverages? We get a lot of calls. Right now, we are full and can’t take on new customers. It’s a great problem to have, but it’s really hard for me.
What is your beverage of choice? Go Girl, of course! I drink one every afternoon.