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Long Island Women at the Helm: CEO's Share Their Road to Success

October 22, 2015

On October 22, 2015, the Center for International Financial Services and Markets, Frank G. Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University the Financial Women’s Association (“FWA”), and corporate supporter JPMorgan Chase & Co. jointly sponsored a forum to highlight Long Island Women at the Helm.

The event brought together three successful Long Island entrepreneurs from diverse businesses: Susan Axelrod, Chairwoman and Founder, Love and Quiches; Esther Fortunoff, Founder and President of Fortunoff’s Jewelry, and Betty Heiman, Founder and CEO of Transparent Health Group. The women participated in a panel moderated by Michele Tabak, Private Banker at JPMorgan Chase & Co.. Despite the differences in the businesses each woman founded, a number of common elements emerged during the evening: first, each Founder credited her family and support network for helping to balance her work and career – a key issue faced by women advancing in business and industry. Further, each panelist attributed some of their business success to the passion they have for their work. However, as Susan Axelrod pointed out, “you must also do it for the money.” All three women agreed that they would “do it again” regardless of challenges they faced. Betty and Susan talked about the importance of family and friends during the nascent stages of their career as much of the fundraising was initially supported by their families and friends to fund their ventures as start-ups.

Some key highlights from our speakers:

Susan Axelrod told the audience how her culinary skills and passion for cooking led to the development of Love and Quiches, a mid-size wholesale and retail food producer and distributor. Love and Quiches employs over 200 employees on Long Island. Susan stated her employees viewed her as a “boss”, not as a woman, and that she viewed her employees as assets to her company. Lately, she has turned the business over to other members of her family; her son is CEO and her daughter is the Head of Human Resources while Susan devotes more time to her second passion – traveling.  Susan emphasized the importance of “loving what you do,” as a key requirement for moving ahead in the industry.

Esther Fortunoff described the development of the Fortunoff family business, and the risks of the jewelry business, including price risk in the commodity and gem markets. She discussed her international business trips to purchase gems, and being the only female buyer among male gem-dealers. Her in-depth knowledge of the industry, her business acumen, and her desire to interact with customers have led her to establish both on-line and brick and mortar venues for her products. Esther also spoke of her active participation in the Long Island community as another focus of her energy.

Betty Heiman of Transparent Health Group conceived the idea for her business when, as the owner of a radiology business, she realized that the uninsured/underinsured patients were charged the highest rates for services, while each insurance company offered a lower fee for the same service. Betty asked “Why?” and advised the audience to do the same, no matter what issues they encounter. When Betty asked, “Why?” she founded a firm that provides the underinsured and uninsured with access to affordable healthcare by pre-negotiating fees with healthcare providers who subscribe to her service. Over 7,000 individuals now participate in Betty’s Health Care group and she envisions the Transparent Health Group becoming a lobby for the uninsured and underinsured.

The lively Q&A session that followed the 40 minute panel discussion was indicative of the enthusiasm generated by the panel. The evening concluded with final remarks from FWA member Lena Bakis, Senior Manager at Ernst and Young’s Financial Accounting Advisory Services.


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