By Maria-Jose Subiria
For several seconds, anticipation filled the room of about 300 businesswomen, eager to hear the name of the woman who would be recognized as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's 2010 Business Woman of the Year.
Finally, Veronica Elie, last year's winner of the distinction, announced her successor: Karen Sullivan, president of Paragon Systems, Inc.
"I just want to say, this is the most humbling experience I've been through," said Sullivan, addressing her peers, Thursday, during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's Women in Business Council Fifth Annual Luncheon.
"This award is theirs [the employees]," she said. "I just have to thank you all so much."
Sullivan said that since 1971, Jonesboro is where she has lived, and operated her successful business. In 2007, it was named by the chamber as Small Business of the Year. Her full-service company employs 24 people, she said, and sells and installs security systems, burglary alarms, home theater systems, and high definition (HD) monitors and projection systems.
"We have our own 24-hour monitoring facility" of residential security, commercial security and fire systems, she added.
Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said Sullivan represented the criteria judges were looking for in the 2010 Business Woman of the Year.
"Her longevity in the community, her active participation in various community programs, her passion for the development of women and children," all contributed to her selection, Beauford said.
Sullivan said her involvement in the community has led her to hold positions in various non-profit organizations. She has been an executive board member of Rainbow House, Inc., for the past 12 years, she said. In addition, she said she served a term as president of the board of directors for Arts Clayton, has assisted Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., by sponsoring, and volunteering with the non-profit organization that oversees Stately Oaks Plantation.
"I think it is important when you live in a place, to make sure that you can help sponsor the quality-of-life functions, so everyone can enjoy them," said Sullivan.
Beauford said Sullivan has been involved in the chamber's Women in Business Council since it began in 2006, and serves as a mentor to others.
Sullivan also continues to support the development of women within her company, by providing them with opportunities for growth and promotion, Beauford said.
Another highlight of the luncheon was guest speaker, Andrea Nierenberg, founder and president of The Nierenberg Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm.
Nierenberg, an author and networking expert, has written a variety of books, according to the chamber, that include: "Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck and Career" and "Million Dollar Networking: The Sure Way to Find, Grow and Keep Your Business."
During her speech, Nierenberg touted the importance of networking in a person's career, or business-building efforts. She told the audience that the key ingredients in successful networking are cultivating and nurturing relationships; listening to, and trusting, others; being an advocate, and realizing that opportunity is everywhere.
"Every time you meet someone, you give first," said Nierenberg. "You give, you learn and you reconnect through time."