Money & Career
Leading Ladies in Business
11/1/2019 11:00:00 AM
Leading Ladies

"Leadership goes beyond a job title and a respectable annual salary; it is determined by the impact one makes on the lives of others,” says Abbie Myers, Administrative Loan Assistant with First National Bank DeRidder and nominator of one of this year’s Leading Ladies in Business. 


Indeed, our 2019 Leading Ladies have collectively impacted the lives of countless people, through their professions, families, and their community volunteer efforts. They work hard and set the bar high on the measure of success. This year’s list of Leading Ladies work in a wide variety of occupations – banking and finance, healthcare, law, marketing, petro-chemical industry, and non-profit. Read on for inspiration and advice from these exceptional women.



Denise Rau, CFP™

Owner, Rau Financial Group


When Denise Rau entered the financial field, women were few and far between in the industry. In 2005, after 20 years of working her way up to the top levels of management at several financial institutions, Rau decided to form her own company, and Rau Financial Group opened its doors. 


Denise is originally from Lake Charles and received her undergraduate degree from Tulane University and an MBA from the University of Texas. She is a Certified Financial Planner and holds a variety of other certifications and licenses for insurance and securities.  


As President of Rau Financial, Denise combines her love for community and passion for helping others through financial planning. Her approach to wealth management includes "putting your money where your heart is,” a concept she finds successful in helping clients pursue and prioritize what they value most. "It’s very rewarding to help people find peace about their financial security.  My heart convinces me daily that my work enhances the lives of my clients. That is all the reward I need,” she said. 

Denise loves the teaching aspect of her profession. "I love to learn, and I love to teach. Being a financial advisor requires an ongoing commitment to both, so I love it. 

 

Community involvement is an important part of Denise’s life. She volunteers for a number of organizations, including the Junior League of Lake Charles, McNeese State University, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, while also serving on various boards, such as the Chamber SWLA, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees and the Chennault International Airport Authority Board of Commissioners.


Rau Financial Group has grown steadily since its beginning, and Denise credits this to hard work and positive outlook. "I simply commit every day to strive for the best version of myself, and the success takes care of itself.” 

 

Inspirational Woman: All women who exhibit exceptional courage inspire me. The Bible’s Queen Esther springs to mind. I also greatly admire Helen Keller, who said, "Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” I like women who just go for it!

 

On Finding Balance: There is no easy answer. Any effort to "balance” requires intense focus on what is most important from moment to moment, year to year. A life coach once taught me a powerful strategy to stay true to myself when making tough choices. She said to view myself as a 95-year-old woman looking back on my life, and ask myself which decision I would regret most. That strategy really centers your perspective, and I constantly fall back on it.  


Best Advice: Find your own special gifts and do whatever it takes to fully develop those gifts. Be a lifelong learner and be willing to work as hard as you must to be your best you.


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Kristy Como Armand

Co-owner, Healthy Image Marketing


Kristy Como Armand majored in Mass Communications, first at LSU and then McNeese, and took graduate level courses in public relations/advertising from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe. She began her career as a marketing assistant at the Monroe mall. Later, she returned to SWLA to work as a communications assistant at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, eventually becoming Marketing Director. "I had a great team and we grew our department beyond what you’d expect of a marketing department.” While there, Kristy started doing consulting work for several medical groups and was hired as their Marketing Director, planting the seeds for her own business. 


In 2002, Kristy partnered with a colleague and laid the foundation for Healthy Image Marketing. "I kept my other job and worked on this new business in the evenings and at lunch. We didn’t have an office for several years, but worked out of our homes. We weren’t sure if this would grow, but it did. In 2006, I started working full time at Healthy Image. It’s been non-stop growth ever since.” 


Kristy attributes her success to being a people-pleaser. "I always wanted to make my parents proud, my teachers proud, my coaches proud, and now I work hard to ensure my clients are happy. My employees also motivate me. My decisions affect them as well and I want them to succeed. But my greatest motivation is my children. Even though they are now adults, they still watch me. I taught them to work hard for what you want and help others when you can. I strive to be their example for how to celebrate accomplishments, handle challenges and failures, all with grace, humility, dignity, and perseverance.”


Kristy is currently Chamber SWLA chair-elect and served on the Chamber board for several years. She participates in SWLA Women’s Business Network and SWLA PROS. In 2018, she completed LED CEO Roundtable; 2014, McNeese State University Notable Alumnus; 2013, Chamber Women’s Business Leader. Healthy Image Marketing has won numerous awards, including 2016 Small Business of the Week during National Women's Small Business Month by the U.S. Congress, and 2013 U.S. Chamber Top 100 Small Business of the Year.


Inspirational Woman: My second grade teacher opened my world when she allowed me to read "big” books. I read biographies of famous American women. I’m inspired by women every day. I believe you become what you surround yourself with. I try to surround myself with people who possess the qualities I aspire to.


On finding balance: I’m not sure I always did, but I sure tried. My children always knew they came first. I was fortunate to have jobs that allowed flexibility for my children. I also had a great support system in my parents, who helped me so much. The key is to focus on what matters most to you and then do the best you can without being too hard on yourself.


Best advice: Be flexible. A job that may not be your dream job could lead you to your dream job. Never stop learning – boredom will show in your work. Work hard and volunteer for extra jobs, charitable events, etc. You’ll get noticed by your bosses and meet people with similar interests.



Karen Drewett

Loan Officer, First National Bank DeRidder


Karen Drewett has over 30 years of experience in the banking field. She earned an accounting degree from McNeese State University, earned her CPA, and has worked for several banking institutions – large and small, local and national – in various roles over the years, as well as a short stint as a controller/business manager. She started her career in the back office doing accounting, auditing, and compliance, and since has worked as both a credit and lending officer. "I am currently at FNBD, a community bank, where we can give personal service to all our clients. I can lend to them personally and for their business needs. We have a team approach—one team, one mission. My profession allows me to do a variety of things and that is the main part I enjoy about banking. I have the opportunity to form relationships with my clients. I enjoy helping them with personal and business needs, whether it is helping them start their small business and watching it grow or helping them send their children I have watched grown up to college. Banking is forever changing, and I love change and the challenges change brings. I also love learning new things and this profession allows me to do that. In the community banking profession, we help people proceed and that truly drives me to excel and exceed in my position.”


Karen has volunteered for an extensive list of community organizations in a variety of capacities over the years, be it member, board member, chair, regent, or president – Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Foundation, Kiwanis, United Way, Deaf Action Council, Rotary Club, Catholic Daughters of America, the Louisiana Women’s Commission, the Junior League of Lake Charles, and the Lake Charles Symphony, not to mention professional organizations. Currently, she serves on the finance council of the Diocese of Lake Charles, the finance council for St. Margaret Catholic School, the board of the Calcasieu Community Clinic, and the board of the Memorial Medical Group for Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.


Inspirational Woman: Marie Curie was a brilliant female scientist and the first woman to win the Noble Prize in both physics and chemistry. Rosa Parks is my second historical figure that I look up to. Her simple act of courage changed history for women forever and I truly look up to her for that.


On finding balance: Everyone handles this balance differently. I personally believe that you and your spouse share the load. It is never 50/50 and some days it is 80/20. It is definitely not easy and takes two people to make this work.


Best advice: My advice is to network and meet other people and get out of your comfort zone. Join diverse organizations and volunteer so you can learn and grow from diverse groups. Stay educated and be willing to learn new things in order to be successful.


Nicole Moncrief

Human Resources Manager, Sasol North America



Nicole was the first in her family to attend college. She earned an undergraduate degree from UL Monroe in Social Work with a minor in Sociology and then a master’s degree from Grambling State University in Human Resources. Over the past two decades, she has worked in various human resources positions at several local organizations, including CHRISTUS Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital, Player’s Casino, the City of Lake Charles, Harrah’s Casino, Home Depot, and Sowela Technical Community College. Currently, she serves as Human Resources Manager for Sasol North America. "I enjoy assisting employees with career development and career planning, providing them with the tools they need to succeed. It is rewarding to see individuals thrive and realize their professional purpose. My passion for helping employees has led me to areas across the state where I facilitate workshops that help individuals develop strategic career plans with attainable goals.”


Nicole says she is intrinsically motivated to be the best she can be. "I operate according to a high set of standards and consider myself blessed to have the drive and energy to fulfill my commitments. Overall, my goal is to set a positive example for the youth of our area, inspiring them to do their best for the greater good of our community.”


Nicole is a 2016 "Leadership Louisiana” graduate, a 2018 "Emerge Louisiana” graduate, and the recipient of the "2018 Top Ladies of Distinction Award” for her community service. She’s a founder of the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District Neighborhood Alliance and founder/director of What Works (a 501c3 organization), a board member at Christian Baptist Church and Lake Charles Education Collaboration, LLC (a 501c3 organization), and an Ambassador for the Black Heritage Gallery of Southwest Louisiana.


Inspirational Woman: I draw my inspiration from my mother, the late LouAnna Guillory Jean. My mother, a single mom with a tenth-grade education, taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and she stressed the importance of faith. She instilled in me the desire and drive to pursue higher education, and she always stressed the importance of financial management. Her wisdom guides me to this day, and her legacy of helping the less fortunate lives on in my work.


On finding Balance: Finding balance between one’s work life and personal life is difficult – I see it every day in my profession. For me, remaining focused on what is most important is key. I believe in working hard, but also value and understand the importance of devoting time for prayer, travel, and enjoying family.

 

Best advice: I am a firm believer in life-long learning. To stay relevant in your chosen profession, you must commit to expanding your knowledge base by learning new techniques and staying abreast of new trends. I also believe it is vital for women to encourage and help other women in the workplace excel and realize their full potential through mentoring. We must lift each other up and serve as a resource for future generations of female leaders.


Jennifer Spees

Residential Mortgage Loan Originator


Jennifer Spees works for Louisiana Mortgage Associates (LMA) as a Residential Mortgage Loan Originator. She says she "fell ass backwards” into mortgage lending. "It was a complete accident and there was no way anyone would have ever intended this to happen. I should be the poster girl for unintentional 10.0 landings and the ‘you can do anything you want to do’ movement.”


Jennifer first experienced real estate with her parents, who attended "every open house, every weekend.” But she was never good at math, and never imagined she’d work in real estate. She attended McNeese State University and studied education briefly but says she "mostly majored in ADPi.” She soon realized college wasn’t her "thing” but she’s proof that one need not always have letters after one’s name to be successful.

She started working with Lake Charles Realty doing property management. A few years later, she took a position as an administrative assistant with Hibernia Bank, a fulltime job with benefits and a 401k. "I stayed with Hibernia for eight years learning everything possible about the mortgage lending process, guidelines, and paperwork.” Through that last year at Hibernia, she thought of making a change. Though it seemed "crazy” at the time to leave a secure job at a big company for a small locally owned business, Keith Wimberly with LMA convinced her to join their staff. "A few months after I left the bank, Hibernia and Capital One merged and they closed the local mortgage departments.”

Jennifer has been LMA’s Top Producing Loan Officer in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2018! She describes her profession as fun and incredibly challenging. "I still love going to work every day. I absolutely love helping people buy their own home. Especially those who thought for some reason or another that they couldn’t!”


Jennifer has served on boards and been involved with numerous organizations in Southwest Louisiana, including the Louisiana Mortgage Cares Foundation, a 501C3 that her company started in 2009. "Since then, we have given thousands of dollars in gifts and food to families less fortunate at Christmas.”


Inspirational Woman: Currently, my most inspiring female role model is Lizzo. Watch one of her live performances. It is like church for those who need to hear her message of self-acceptance and survival.


On finding balance: My son is 20 years old. But I remember waking up in the mornings when he was an infant and praying that he didn’t have a fever so that he could go to daycare and I could go to work. He experienced ear infections and three sets of tubes. I had only been at Hibernia six months when I found out I was pregnant. So I didn’t have much sick time. Just telling this story still gives me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

Best advice: Do what you want to do. If someone says you can’t or shouldn’t . . .even more of a reason to do it! 


Erin Davison

Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana


Erin Davison’s resume reads like a typical person who wants to help people, change the world, and is open to a wide variety of career experiences. She earned a BS degree in Sociology and a minor in Social Work from Lamar University in 1996. Since then, she’s been employed as a behavioral health caseworker, training and grant coordinator, nurse recruiter, morning radio co-host, and fitness instructor (CliffNotes version). Erin currently serves as the Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana (BBBS). "I always wanted to work in nonprofit management, where my love of business and mission work would meld together,” she says. "I love researching, finding out what makes people unique and how social systems work in different environments.”


In 2013, Erin earned her Master’s in Business Administration in order to advance her career in the non-profit sector. Her diverse experience led her to her role at BBBS. "It combines my love of business and feeds my entrepreneurial spirit, as well as my desire to give back to the community.”


Through her role at BBBS, Erin realizes that what she does everyday changes the trajectory of a child’s future. "We see in real time the positive impact our mentors make on the youth we serve. We strive to provide exemplary customer service and we’re good stewards of our mission with the youth we serve, and the dollars invested into our mission from our community partners. The ultimate reward is seeing a Little’s smile when he or she is matched with their Big Brother or Big Sister!”


Being a middle child, Erin says striving to succeed is in her DNA. "I am tasked with the responsibility to uphold the integrity of our mentoring mission, accountable to our funders, families who entrust their Littles in our mentors care, schools who rely on our mentors to provide educational assistance, my staff and board who rely on me to be better and do better each day.  Sometimes it is overwhelming, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and God placed me here for a reason.” 


Erin has earned several awards and recognitions for her contributions to the business community and is a member of several professional organizations. In addition to her challenging career, she is also an active volunteer, serving with Kiwanis, board member with Imperial Calcasieu Society for Human Resources Management (ICSHRM), Arts and Humanities Council, and others.


Inspirational Woman: Michelle Obama is an example of a modern-day woman with career/family/hopes and dreams, heartache and a strong spirit. Regardless of political beliefs (I am a Republican), I admire her spirit and grace.  


On finding balance: Balance, what is that?! I have a committed husband who is a true partner. I work long hours sometimes, with events and meetings. My husband cooks, cleans, does yard work, and helps keep the house decent. Plus, he doesn’t mind when I often bring work home. Find a partner who truly shares life.  


Best advice: Learn everything you can about everything you can. Even if isn’t your direct job, shadow and ask questions. A more diverse, well-rounded employee is an asset.  



Dr. Melissa LeBrun

President/CEO and co-owner of Executive Medical Clinic


Dr. Melissa LeBrun is in the business of healthcare. She started her career in healthcare at age 15 as an admissions clerk in an Emergency Department. "I knew at an early age that I wanted to help others and be involved in the medical field in some capacity.”


Melissa obtained a BS degree in Biological Sciences from LSU, a nursing degree from Our Lady of the Lake College/Tulane Hospital, a Master’s in Nursing from Loyola, and eventually her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pa. "I’ve always gravitated towards leadership roles,” she says. "I was Lead Nurse Practitioner at CHRISTUS Lake Area for over five years in the Emergency Department and then transitioned into starting my own family practice. I currently co-own of Executive Medical Clinic of Lake Charles with Mary Dahlen, FNP-C and Jessica Sonnier, MD. My main goal for this business was to develop a Family Practice where patients were given the attention and preventative measures they need to better their health. Then I developed a family practice membership plan where patients with high deductible plans or no insurance could access healthcare and be managed appropriately. I also own Medication Management where I develop medication plans for patients and have board-certified nurses who attend to all medication needs of patients within a home setting.” 

Melissa is also an Assistant Professor at Loyola University and a visiting lecturer at McNeese in their Nurse Practitioner Graduate program. And she is recently an author of a children’s book about a child who sees a nurse practitioner for an injury, inspired by her twins, Caleb and Isabella. "We are donating a portion of book profits to local childhood medical charities.”


Melissa has been recognized by numerous honor and collegiate societies, has won several awards, and is a member of numerous professional associations. 


Inspirational Woman: Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, has authored over 15 books. Her ambition and drive for business is phenomenal. She’s been named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential Women. She is also a mother and that is what inspires me the most. 


On finding balance: Women often feel guilty about work while being a mother. I try to find a good balance at home by completing my work while my kids are at school and when they go to bed at night, and devote my time to them when they’re home. I want to be an example for my children and show them that hard work does pay off. I have worked for everything I have achieved, and I want my children to find joy in that as well. My family always comes first.


Best advice: Never give up. Take risks because without risk, we can’t achieve great things. Value integrity and honesty and build your business that way. A little quote that I love: "Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.” -Simon Sinek



Ashley Foret Dees

Immigration Law


Ashley discovered a love for the Spanish language and culture during her high school Spanish classes. At Vanderbilt University, she doubled majored in English Creative Writing and Spanish Literature. After college, she spent a gap year in Madrid, Spain to further her immersion, then attended LSU Law School. An interest in immigration law stemmed from her experiences. "People can come to us in dire situations and it’s very rewarding to help them build a better life for themselves. Not every case has a happy ending, but it is still rewarding to help guide someone to understand the immigration legal reality in which they live. We also assist employers in hiring foreign national workers and seeing those businesses and their foreign employees thrive is extremely rewarding and it’s beneficial to the Louisiana economy, as well.”


Ashley is passionate about educating the public on what immigration law entails. "Many Americans do not understand the challenges of immigration law and how that law is applied. They may be compassionate with an immigrant they know, yet they’re unable to have compassion for the entire immigration population. Giving people that knowledge on how to support the immigrant population in our country while helping my clients drives me to excel.”


Ashley has been recognized as a top attorney in her field and currently serves on a national committee for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She founded the Louisiana State Bar Association’s immigration law section to help grow the practice of immigration law within our state. In the community, she supports the Literacy Council and is member of the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society. Currently, she’s renovating a 100+ year old building in downtown Lake Charles. Her firm takes on a degree of free and pro-bono legal work, particularly detained clients seeking asylum, and of course, that is volunteer effort as well!


Inspirational Woman: Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to be at the top of the list considering the paths she paved for women in business and women in law.


On finding balance: It’s difficult to find daily balance as a working mom. Some days I’m a great boss and other days I’m a great mom. It’s important to be honest with yourself, your partner, and family about when and where you need help – being in a balanced and equal partnership at home has helped me tremendously. It’s also been critical to my life to have friends and colleagues who share similar ideals. I seek advice from those women often.


Best advice: Fight hard if you are in a male-dominated profession and don’t let the cynics say you cannot succeed. As the boss, I can be pretty flexible on my work hours (which include early mornings and late nights!) For example, I attend a workout class in the middle of the day. Once, early on in my career, someone asked me, "Do you ever work,” when she saw me exercising around 11:00 a.m., and I thought, she would never have said that to a man golfing during the day. Now I brush comments off and keep moving forward. Don’t let the world’s prejudices get you down!


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