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Clayton businesswomen network, shine during luncheon

By Maria José Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Women -- and some men -- from an array of businesses and organizations gathered Thursday for the third year of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "Women in Business Council Spotlight Luncheon," which was held at the Holiday Inn and Suites, 638 Highway 138 West, in Stockbridge.

There was plenty of networking, laughter and sharing of advice. And many took advantage of the supportive atmosphere to advertise their businesses.

The event featured four "exemplary" Clayton County businesswomen, who served as panelists, including: Veronica Elie, Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's 2009 Business Woman of the Year; Iris Jessie, Riverdale City Manager; Krystal Pate, President and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Crescent Personnel; and Bonnie Wilson, Vice president of Sutherland's Foodservice, Inc.

"I thought it was a really good program, to be able to interface and interact with women in business," said Tita Stewart, associate vice president for marketing, for AMERIGROUP.

The four panelists shared some of the pivotal moments in their lives and offered their insight on how to achieve success in today's business world.

"When you are doing positive things in the community, and your children see that you gave back, that has a lot of value," said Veronica Elie to the approximately 100 attendees in the audience.

According to Elie, being involved with the boards of directors of numerous community organizations, such as the Clayton County Fund of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Keep Clayton County Beautiful, and the Clayton County Rotary Club, has made her more keenly aware of what factors are affecting life in Clayton County, and what actions need to be taken to address them.

She said that as she has been confronted with a community problem or situation that needed addressing, she has asked herself the same question: "If not you, who? If not now, when?"

That question, she said, has helped her to move forward to, either help others, or do what she could, personally, to better her community.

Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie told of her desire to become a federal bureaucrat, at a very young age. Though money was an obstacle at the time, she never doubted herself upon graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., or when attending graduate school at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Ind., where she received a master's degree in public administration.

"You really have to have these goals, write the goals down, and you'll have to balance them ... because time passes by so quickly," she said.

Krystal Pate, president and CEO of Southern Crescent Personnel, an employment agency in Jonesboro, was the third panelist to speak. She said her mother would work overnight, cleaning bathrooms, to help the family, until Pate's business, Southern Crescent Personnel, developed in 1992.

"Every morning, I tell my recruiters, 'Aren't you proud that you put XYZ to work today?'" she added.

For Pate, what is most important, when an individual owns a small business, is understanding and managing finances. "Understand how it works, and most importantly, cash flow," she told her audience.

Bonnie Wilson, vice present of Sutherland's Foodservice, Inc., was the final panelist,

and according to her, she was practically born into her family's business. Sutherland's Foodservice was founded by her father, Andrew Sutherland, in 1947. The company eventually developed into a full-line, food wholesaler and distributor.

"An obstacle about being in a family business," she said, "[is that] it is hard, sometimes, to be taken seriously. When your father is your boss, he sees you as his daughter."

Wilson said one must have integrity, enthusiasm, a desire to learn, a positive attitude, and must go beyond what is expected in the workplace, in order to become an ideal leader.

"We had some great business leaders on the program today," said State Sen. Gail Buckner (D-Morrow). "They are well-grounded professionals and understand the importance of being involved in the community.

"There were some universal things that each speaker had, and it all boiled down into integrity, commitment to family and the community," said Buckner. "The business is important, but those things are the foundation that supports everything else."

According to Yulonda Beauford, president and chief executive officer of the Clayton Chamber, the luncheon is one of her favorite events, among those sponsored by the Chamber's Women in Business Council each year.

"It rejuvenates you, and lets you know that you are not in it alone, and what we face as businesswomen," said Beauford. "We wanted to show that there are numerous talented and successful business women in Clayton County. With these luncheons, we always showcase various industries, because we want to highlight the various women involved in the Clayton County community. They are typically women in male-dominated industries. It has been part of our theme for the past three years."

According to Crystal Black, director of member services for the Chamber, the "Women in Business Council Spotlight Luncheon" has grown as an event since its inception three years ago.

"The reputation has grown, and people are coming from outside of the county," she said. "People leave the luncheon with a positive impression of the businesses and the county. It just feels very rewarding to know that something that had started off as an idea ... that it's [now] something beneficial for all."