“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~ Misty Copeland
This quote by iconic American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland, captures what it means to be fearless and female. Here in Southern Nevada, we see that strength, grace, and gratitude in some inspiring women paving the way for others in their respective industries.
When it comes to a business based on relationships, Jennifer Calleri knows exactly what that means.
“That’s why I love what I do. It’s all about amazing relationships. It’s why my clients keep coming back.”
Calleri or “Jenny O” as she’s better known, is the owner of Huntington Jewelers, the business she took over in 2018. A graduate gemologist, Calleri said it’s not surprising to find her sitting in the store with clients who have become close friends talking about things beyond what’s in their jewelry box.
“I was just here with the wife of the doctor who delivered all of my children,” said Calleri. “I really get to know people who come into the store and build this connection with them. And once you have that trust, they really let you into not just their circle but their jewelry box. And for some, it’s not just a box; it’s a vault in their homes! Can you imagine the level of trust you must have with somebody for that to happen?!”
“Jenny O” said when it comes to her advice for a new generation of women trying to achieve their dreams, it’s all about putting yourself out there and going for it. She said one of the proudest moments was when a young female employee she hired recently came and told her that Calleri had inspired her to go to gemology school.
“That is what it is all about. Go for what you want. Nobody is going to give anything to you if you don’t ask for it,” said Calleri. “I got into this business because I love jewelry. So, I connected myself with the right people. I put myself out there. I wanted to have my own business, and it took 20 years, but I did it because I put myself out there.”
For Debbie Banko, the CEO and Managing Partner of Link Technologies, she had no choice but to be fearless when she launched her company in her kitchen as a single mother more than 20 years ago.
“I started this business with about $9000, a fax machine, the cheapest cell phone you could buy, and two fans to keep my computer from breaking down,” laughed Banko.
Today Link Technologies is a multi-million-dollar company that connects companies and government agencies with the most talented IT professionals and services. She has built the company in a male-dominated field to be one of the most visible names in the IT services and consulting industry. As one of the leaders in this field, Banko said it comes down to always working hard for her customers.
“This is a sales organization. You close the sales by doing the work,” said Banko. “We have grown by reputation and by getting the job done. Without clients, you don’t have a business. If I don’t have great employees, I also don’t have a business. So, it’s about both.”
Banko said it when it comes to supporting other female business leaders; it’s a no-brainer. Both her daughters have worked at Link Technologies. Her business has also always been made up of at least 50 percent women employees. But when she makes her hires, Banko describes her philosophy for success this way:
“I need to hire the most qualified people. Don’t let me NOT hire them because they are women,” said Banko. “I am a big women's advocate. I hired someone who was pregnant just the other day. I have no problem with that. She was dialed in and a single mom like I was. We can’t only focus on hiring women in general but hiring the right people.”
TIMEA SZEPECI & MICHELLE BRADFORD
For realtor and mother of two, Timea Szepeci, she knows a thing or two about hiring the right people. She recently found the perfect partnership in another woman who has since become not just a colleague but a friend.
“Michelle has the best heart. When she works, it’s not just about making money, she really cares about her clients, and I am really drawn to that.”
Szepeci, a realtor and team lead at Urban Nest Realty, said she and Michelle Bradford started working together a few years ago. Szepeci, a 40 under 40 Award winner and top 1 percent agent in Las Vegas, took Bradford under her wings when she joined her team and became her mentor. Szepeci said she had a bad experience with one of her early mentors and vowed to be different for others following in her footsteps.
“I had a mentor who took advantage of me, and I never wanted to do that,” said Szepeci. “For many women or men entering this business, my best advice is to get the right mentor. It’s an investment that will pay off. To come into this business and try to do it all yourself is very challenging. You can make big mistakes, and there are a lot of sharks.”
For Bradford, she said meeting and working with Szepeci was also a blessing and a decision that changed her life.
“She has a huge heart, and I call her my angel. She calls me her angel,” said Bradford. “We work off each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well. Her strength is getting the clients and winning them over. My strength is doing the paperwork. I am very meticulous. Even though Timea has a lot more experience, she’s open to learning from me. We both don’t have egos. When we make mistakes, we apologize, and if we don’t know something, we admit it.”
Szepeci said she also has nothing but mutual respect and trust for her friend and partner, and she said as women, aside from supporting each other, take pride in who you are, especially as a mother. She recounts one story that sums up that you don’t have to discount any part of yourself to find success.
“I had my first 1-million-dollar listing, and my client said the only way you could miss this showing is if you gave birth, and that’s exactly what I did. I missed it because I was giving birth to my baby,” said Szepeci. “But three days after that, I went with my newborn to sign the listing! My client was impressed. They are still with me today. We had a personal bond because of that.”
“Chase the dream, not the competition.”
That’s been a life and work motto for Liz Werner, a Las Vegas native and owner and founder of Furniture Market. She and her husband opened the business in 2007, and it has since grown into one of the most successful luxury finishing retailers in Southern Nevada.
“We really focus on what we want our store to be and not what the other retailers are doing,” said Werner. “What I love about what I do is I get to see someone’s vision come to life. When a client walks into our store, they usually have some ideas about what they like - colors, textures, furniture styles, etc. But being able to bring all these elements together and see a look of awe and delight on a client’s face is so rewarding.”
When it comes to leading this business as a woman, she compares that to the experience her clients see when walking into her store.
“We like to think that Furniture Market provides clients with possibilities. When they walk into our showroom, they see what is possible in their home. I think the same holds true for women leaders. If you can see the possibilities, then it can happen.”
Being in the Valley for nearly 15 years, Furniture Market continues to grow with more people moving here from across the country. Werner said what she wants to show the younger generation, including her own two daughters, is that as long as you work hard and love what you do, anything is possible.
“With my children, every day I made sure they see how I own my role as a leader and owner, right alongside their father,” said Werner. “Women can make bold, wise decisions and still bring a family-like culture to an organization. Our organization is driven by women, in both staff we hire and the clients we work with. We see all the possibilities here.”