Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Women leaders in Florida

Molly Solomon
Executive producer/senior vice president of production
Golf Channel


An avid golfer, Molly Solomon found her ideal job as executive producer and a senior vice president at the Golf Channel. From a sprawling campus in Orlando, Solomon oversees all aspects of production on the Golf Channel, including tournament coverage, news, original productions and operations.

“I spend a lot of time in the TV control room, in the studio and in conference rooms. Right now I’m looking ahead and planning for rest of the year.” One continuing challenge is weather: Earlier this year, she had to keep close tabs on the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which had frequent rain delays. “That’s the ups and downs of an outdoor sport,” she says.

Solomon anticipates a busy 2016: In addition to the challenge of 24-hour programming, the Golf Channel in July will air the Open Championship in Scotland, with about 100 hours of live programming. In August, men’s and women’s golf returns to the Summer Olympics in Rio for the first time since 1904. Solomon says she will bring her experience as the coordinating producer for NBC Olympics to the Golf Channel’s coverage.

Solomon began her NBC career in 1990 and was one of two Olympic researchers for NBC’s Emmy Award-winning coverage of the Barcelona Games in 1992. She worked at NBC Sports for 22 years and was involved in every facet of production and planning for numerous Olympic Games.

“What makes Olympic coverage special is the storytelling. We made you care about the athletes. We’ve done that in golf, too. We do that with every tournament,” Solomon says.

Solomon became the first woman to serve as executive producer for a national sports network when she came to the Golf Channel in 2012. Under her leadership, in 2015, the channel matched its highest-rated year since it started 21 years ago — even without Tiger Woods playing.


Shelley Broader
President/CEO Chico’s FAS Fort Myers

‘Stay Nimble and Agile’

Shelley Broader, who took over as president and CEO of Chico’s in December 2015, knows there is work to be done to entice customers to spend more money online and at Chico’s 1,517 stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“It’s an important time in retail,” says Broader. “The digital and the physical are coming together.”

Broader, who says she loves to shop, has moved quickly to improve operating efficiencies for Chico’s brands — which include Chico’s, White House Black Market and Soma. Among her goals, she wants to strengthen the position of each brand and sharpen financial principles.

“I surround myself with talented people and make sure they function like a Cabinet rather than a House of Representatives. The executive committee isn’t just there to represent their individual areas of the business; they’re there to help me run a business and increase stakeholder value,” she has said.

Broader’s retail experience should help her at the $2.6-billion public company. She most recently headed Walmart’s Canada, Europe, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa region and before that was president and CEO of Walmart Canada. She also had been president and CEO of Michaels and spent 17 years at Delhaize Group, where she led the rebranding of Kash n’ Karry as Sweetbay in the Tampa region.

Because of her global expertise, she has been a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa in 2014. “My global experience provides a great springboard for understanding different viewpoints and valuing them,” she says.

Even with a grasp of global buying habits, it’s difficult to know where the retail industry is headed, says Broader, 51. She sees three main trends: Mobile shopping is here to stay; personalization of brand communication and offers will be critical; successful retailers will combine physical locations and online shopping to target customers. “It’s an exciting time. I just need to make sure we stay nimble and agile,” she says.

By putting each brand in charge of its own marketing and digital commerce, Broader believes women will get the customer experience they seek and the merchandise they want.

In recent years, Chico’s has been seen as a chain for older professional women. It struggled to connect with younger shoppers. As sales slumped, Chico’s was rumored as a buyout target. Last month, the Chico’s brand unveiled a campaign aimed at luring 40 and older shoppers with the concept of ageless style.


Amy McGeorge

Headhunting, Coaching

During nearly 20 years as an executive at Citigroup, Hewitt and a global software company, Amy McGeorge oversaw the hiring of more than 10,000 people. Convinced there was a better way to hire, the Jacksonville businesswoman created Peoplr to help companies hire workers at all levels for a flat fee and a better match to their specifications. “We deliver candidates for less than half of what a traditional firm charges,” she says.

Her edge is proprietary technology that helps employers get clear on what they want in a new employee. “It’s about asking the right questions,” McGeorge says, adding that her corporate background has helped. “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have that background. It helps me understand where a CEO is in that lifecycle and what kind of person they need.”

While McGeorge is the majority owner of Peoplr, she has two minority partners, Terry Walton and Robyn Wassman. “We’re in the early-stage, fast-growth mode,” McGeorge says.

In addition to Peoplr, Mc- George also founded ePropelr, a website for job seekers and career changers that uses tech tools to help them find their strengths, interests and goals and come up with strategies to get access to companies where they most want to work. “I’m blending the two things I enjoy — headhunting and career coaching,” McGeorge says. “My passion is helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.”


Mindy Grossman
HSNi (Home Shopping Network)
St. Petersburg

Tenure with the company: 10 years

Responsibilities: Oversees a $4-billion direct-to-consumer retail portfolio that includes HSN and the Cornerstone portfolio of home and family lifestyle brands.

Known for: Taking the company public in 2008, turning HSN into a lifestyle network and pioneering innovations such as Shop by Remote, HSN Arcade and HSN Live, and forming partnerships with high-profile brands like Disney.

Quote: “I believe that the reason that I really understand our consumer is I AM her,” she told CNN. (Grossman once received a letter from herself for being one of the best customers at HSN.)


Dana Kilborne
Florida Bank of Commerce

Knowing the Terrain

As the president and CEO of Florida Bank of Commerce, an Orlando-based community bank with seven offices throughout Brevard, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, Dana Kilborne knows that one banking relationship with a small businessperson leads to another.

Her bank has merged, expanded and grown its total assets to about $300 million. In May, it was announced that Sunshine Bancorp, the holding company of Sunshine Bank, would acquire FBC Bancorp, the parent company of Florida Bank of Commerce in a deal valued at $40 million.

The transaction will give the merged entity 18 locations across Florida. When the deal closes in September, Kilborne will become co-president and chief banking officer and hold a seat on the board of Sunshine Bancorp and Sunshine bank. Her shareholders will have a 35% ownership. “This strategic partnership will allow us to build a dominant community bank in central Florida,” she says.

Kilborne says Florida’s banking industry is going through a period of consolidation that should benefit the community bank model. “It is a more expensive proposition to run a bank purely from the regulatory and cost of compliance perspective, but the economy is improving and companies are cautiously expanding.”

Kilborne started her career with larger banks in south Florida and worked her way into executive positions with smaller banks in Florida in the mid-1990s. When the central Florida bank she founded, Prime Bank, merged with Florida Bank of Commerce in 2010, she stayed on as CEO. Kilborne says small-business owners find the community bank model compelling because when they are looking for a loan or a home mortgage, they want a banker who knows the local business terrain.

Kilborne is also at the halfway point of a three-year stint as a director of the Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In this role, she reports on central Florida business conditions, helping to formulate and shape monetary policy at a federal level.


Lisa Lutoff-Perlo
Celebrity Cruises

‘We Foresee Great Growth’

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo envisioned herself more as head of sales than as the first female CEO of a cruise line at a publicly traded company. But a top executive at Royal Caribbean saw her potential. “If I could tell my younger self something, I would say, ‘don’t limit what you want to be,’” says Lutoff-Perlo.

The 31-year travel industry veteran became president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises in December 2014, after serving as the executive vice president of operations for Royal Caribbean International, which owns Celebrity, and as Celebrity Cruises’ senior vice president of hotel operations and Royal Caribbean International’s associate vice president of product marketing.

Since becoming CEO, Lutoff-Perlo has focused on staying ahead of trends in the cruise industry and offering more high-end perks for suite guests.

Celebrity, the world’s seventh-largest cruise line, now has four more passenger ships on order that are scheduled to join its fleet of 12 by 2022. In March, Celebrity acquired a Galapagos tour operator and added two smaller vessels that will allow it to offer new cruises to the destination.

“We foresee great growth in our business, partly because we are looking at ways to do business differently,” Lutoff-Perlo says.

While her industry is male-dominated, Lutoff-Perlo says she sees benefits from being an anomaly: ”Sometimes, it’s an advantage to be a woman, and you have to use it in every way you can.” In a move that grabbed headlines, Lutoff- Perlo appointed Kate McCue, the first American woman sea captain, who took the helm of the Celebrity Summit last year.

I have a job that truly is 24/7 because I am responsible for a fleet of ships that travel around the world and operate 365 days of the year, around the clock. If the team needs me, I am there.”


Elizabeth Smith
Bloomin’ Brands

Tenure with the company: Seven years

Responsibilities: Overseeing growth strategy for casual and fine-dining brands, including Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Known for: Revitalizing the company’s core brands and investing heavily in new digital platforms such as tablets and mobile payments.

Quote: “This is an $80-billion, highly fragmented category. The winners put the customer at the center and relentlessly change. The losers ... are stuck and continue to do what they’ve always done. At my previous jobs, I was known for keeping a wall of shame, which acknowledged every single idea I was involved with that bombed. I would show people my failures, and yet I’m still standing here,” she told CNN.


Suffolk Construction
Pompano Beach
A Team of Builders

Women hold fewer than 3% of the millions of jobs in the U.S. construction industry. At the construction site of Brightline’s MiamiCentral Station, however, 40% of general contractor Suffolk Construction’s project management team is female. When complete, MiamiCentral will be the southernmost stop for the Brightline express passenger rail service that will run from Orlando to Miami in less than three hours. It is scheduled to be finished by mid-2017.

Some of the women grew up watching their fathers in the industry, while others discovered a love for construction in college. One of the key female managers on site is Jessica Chen, originally from Lima, Peru. Chen has a degree in architectural technology from Florida International University and is a project executive at MiamiCentral Station, serving as the client’s contact. She manages a team that maintains the budget and schedule; administers all contractual requirements, agreements and purchase orders; keeps records of meetings and shop drawing logs; manages risk; and collaborates with the owner and project team members.

Chen says the position requires making difficult decisions. “You want to make things collaborative, but sometimes you have to be that person that says “do this!” she says.

Chen believes women bring a special perspective to construction work — a “collaborative, nurturing and caring” approach that “is important in an industry where collaboration is so vital.”

Other women on Suffolk’s team include Elizabeth Lamborghini, senior project manager; Tiara Rubio, assistant project manager; Jackie Rivera, assistant project manager; Kristen McLachlan, marketing specialist; Angie Gonzalez, BIM/ VDC (virtual design) manager; and Barbara Garriz, senior project administrator.

Rubio says the most challenging aspect of building MiamiCentral Station is the size and span of the project, which covers five blocks. “We have design components that are unique. There are things you learn as you go. This will be the only project that I will actually get to come back and experience every day which is special.”

Florida ranked No.1 in the nation for the growth of women-owned businesses, according to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. The Miami metropolitan area led the state in growth and ranked No.3 in the nation for the number of women-owned firms. The vast majority of those businesses have no employees, the study found.

23 and Falling

In June, Fortune reported that there were 23 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, down one from the previous year’s tally of 24. Since then, that number has slipped to 22 — and will soon dip even lower. There were 51 women CEOs in the Fortune 1000, with three in Florida.

Among the S&P 500, a list that overlaps but is not identical to the Fortune 500, 21 companies are headed by women, down from 25 in 2014, according to a December report from S&P Capital IQ.