Skip to main content

First Females Reflect on Their Rise to the Top

Published Mar 14, 2019 by Julia McGowen

The Partnership’s 8th Annual Rise to the Top luncheon brought together nearly 700 to celebrate International Women’s Day. Rise to the Top is the Women’s Business Alliance’s (WBA) signature annual event.

This year’s luncheon featured four women who paved the way as professionals becoming first females in their fields.

  • Keynote speaker, Dr. Ruth Simmons, President, Prairie View A&M University, has achieved multiple firsts in her career. She was the first African American president at Smith College, where she started the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college. She then served as the first female president of Brown University in the position of President and Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies. This position also noted her as the first African-American president at an Ivy League institution.
  • Panelist Erin Erb, Division Vice President of Quality, HCA Houston Healthcare, was the first female incident commander for emergency operations in HCA’s Gulf Coast Division.
  • Panelist Dyan Gibbens, CEO, Trumbull Unmanned, is a trailblazer in the UAV industry, being recently named as a woman shaping the drone industry by Fortune.
  • Panelist Phyllis Saathoff, Executive Director and CEO, Port Freeport was recognized as one of the Top 10 Women in Gulf Transportation by Gulf Shipper Magazine and has more than 25 years of service in the region’s port industry.

Below are quotes from the 8th Annual Rise to the Top participants to inspire you beyond International Women’s Day.

On challenges and excellence
Dr. Simmons: “Striving to be excellent in one’s work does not always lead to immediate accolades. I learned to strive for excellence by first becoming a critic of myself, but also a critic of the hum drum, a critic of the assertion that things must remain the same, a critic of unfair policies, a critic of the obstacles put in place to bar access and preserve privilege.”

Dyan Gibbens: “Turn your setbacks into a set-up for something positive. When you’re going through a setback, it doesn’t always feel like a set-up, but if you have that mindset of ‘how can I learn from this failure, this change, that’s what aids you in triumph.”

On working together
Dr. Simmons: “It wasn’t until I understood that the burden of self-improvement and self-criticism was an obligation equal to that of trying to improve others. So I learned to listen, to be more discerning in my perceptions, to give others the benefit of the doubt; and when I was able to do this, I became less of a critic and more of a team player, able to work alongside others, able to listen to different approaches and persuade others of my point of view.”

Phyllis Saathoff: “Some things feel like they’re larger than we’re able to achieve, but just remember, we didn’t get here in our roles alone. We worked with a team of people and bringing together collective ideas and working through those challenges together is how we succeed.”

On workplace diversity
Dr. Simmons: “I applaud work environments that provide the ultimate advantage to workers, and especially to women and minorities. What do we need? Challenging work, honest assessment, insistence on improvement; because frankly, nothing is more enabling than the moment that an individual learns how to deploy their strongest personal assets to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem or to create an important innovation.”

Erin Erb: “Sometimes being a younger executive in the workplace can be a challenge, but I’m always reminded when working with my team that collectively, our unique experiences and backgrounds is what makes us strongest and moves us forward."

See Dr. Simmons full keynote address here. Hear the panel discussion here. View footage from the event's Live Stream Café here.

We invite you to get engaged with the Partnership’s business resource groups geared toward advancing and connecting Houston business women. Learn more about the Women’s Business Alliance here. Learn more about the Executive Women’s Partnership here.

Related News

COVID-19 Business Forums

Experts Lend Advice on PPP Funding and Preparing Employees to Return to the Workplace

5/8/20
Since the initial funding of the Paycheck Protection Program was made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, millions of businesses across the country have scrambled to apply for the loans that would provide much-needed funds to maintain payroll-related expenses and stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.  With funds now in the hands of business owners, and as operations begin to gradually open across Texas, many are faced with questions about the legal, tax and human resource implications that come along with the use of funds and returning employees to the workplace.  Legal, tax and human resource experts joined the Partnership’s COVID-19 Business Forum series to discuss how businesses can navigate loan compliance and HR/safety considerations for returning to work. Below are key takeaways from their discussion.  Neal Newman, Professor of Law, Texas A&M University on Legal Considerations for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Ensure your business properly qualifies: After the second injection into PPP, the SBA has been approved to fund $670 billion in loans. These loans are generally available for businesses with 500 or fewer employees, but there are other scenarios under which a small business can qualify. This includes companies with a net worth of less than $15 million or a net income of less than $5 million. While companies may meet these thresholds, you must also consider affiliation rules, which can become complex. If you are affiliated with another business, you must also calculate the number of employees and the financial aspects of that company and whether you qualify for a PPP loan is considered in the aggregate of your affiliates.    Consider key borrower certifications: PPP applications require applicants to certify three key items that Newman stresses business should pay careful attention to including, "Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support ongoing operations of the Applicant”; "The Funds will be used to retain workers and maintain payroll or make mortgage payments…” ; and "The Applicant will provide documentations verifying number of employees and payroll costs for the eight-week period following this loan." While the need for these funds may seem vital to business survival, Newman says companies should be certain that the use of PPP funds carefully meets these criteria in order to ensure funds are granted and can be forgiven.    Be prepared to come under scrutiny: Newman noted that the SBA and Treasury have threatened audits for all PPP loans greater than $2 million and are giving more scrutiny to borrower certifications and funding applications. While their term of scrutiny is not well-defined, Newman says that because of this, businesses should ask themselves if they really need this money as the additional examination may outweigh the benefits of an immediate cash injection in the long run. Newman adds that businesses receiving PPP loans should pay careful attention to documentation and keep meticulous records should the loan come under questioning down the line.  Frank Landreneau, CFO and Director, International Tax Services, PKF of Texas on Tax & Financial Considerations of PPP Loans You got a PPP loan, now what? With businesses focused on quickly paying out loan funds to employees or mortgage costs, many are not necessarily thinking through the accounting and tax implications that come along with the receipt of funds. The first step that should be taken upon receipt of a PPP loan is recording the loan amount for financial accounting and tax purposes until the loan is forgiven and should be set up with a separate account code within your general ledger to provide easy tracking of the funds. While not required, Landreneau recommends obtaining a separate bank account for the loaned funds to aid in tracking. “Retaining documentation to support all payments with PPP funds will also be paramount” when it comes time to complete a business’ taxes or when the loan is being reviewed for forgiveness. Landreneau also provided an overview of how PPP funds may be used. Click to expand Preparing for loan forgiveness: Landreneau further stressed the importance of careful documentation when discussing computation of the loan’s forgiveness. This documentation should include payroll tax fillings reported to the IRS; state income, payroll and unemployment insurance filings; payment receipts; documents verifying payments on covered mortgage obligations, payments on covered leases and payments on covered utility payments; and other documentation the SBA determines necessary. PPP loan forgiveness is available to the extent that funds were spent on qualified expenses during the eight-week period beginning, which starts on the loan funding date. Businesses that received PPP loans can apply for loan forgiveness at completion of the eight-week period and the decision should be received within 60 days of the filing. Landreneau noted that on businesses tax filings, loan forgiveness should be recorded as other income for financial statement purposes and that loan forgiveness is not taxable under the CARES Act. Before concluding, Landreneau added that PPP loans come along with many provisions with tax implications and that businesses should closely consult with the legal and tax advisors on how these provisions interact with one another.  Jeff Sorrells, Senior Human Resource Specialist, PHR, Insperity on Human Resource and Safety Matters of Reopening The workplace left 6-8 weeks ago is not the same: While places of work may look the same on the surface, Sorrells stressed that the virus is an invisible hazard that must be carefully considered in the measures taken to keep the workplace clean and employees healthy. He added that there are new chemical hazards entering the workplace in order protect from the virus. With those new measures, employers and employees are both going to need training on how to maintain new cleaning measures and protocols. “Employee compliance in adhering to cleaning and safety measures are going to be key.” Sorrells said. Sorrells recommends employers conduct a hazard assessment of their workplace, provide thorough worker training, and refer to CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace as they begin their plans for bringing workers back.    Employee relations matter more than ever: Sorrells went through several scenarios regarding how employers can address specific issues that may arise as employees return to the workplace. He stressed that first and foremost, employees should feel safe and comfortable about their return to work. He added that it is important for procedures employers are taking to ensure workplace health and safety to be overly communicated to employees, including cleaning and disinfesting measures and what their company is expecting of the employee in terms of safety compliance, such as wearing a masks and use of common areas. While planning your communication strategy for your employees, companies should reiterate that reopening will be an ongoing process that will happen in phases, and expectations of employees through each of these phases should be explained in detail and communicated regularly.   Visit the Partnership's Work Safe page for guidelines and resources to support businesses across the greater Houston region as they reopen and remain focused on the steps needed to resume work safely, sustainably and successfully. Read the Reopen Houston, a resource guide containing industry-specific best practices to aid businesses in reopening or expanded their operation and guidance for employers. 
Read More
Economic Development

Port Houston Chair Renews Call for Widening, Deepening of Ship Channel

11/21/19
Port Houston Chairman Ric Campo laid out his case for why the Houston region must invest in expanding the Houston Ship Channel in front of an audience of nearly 400 business leaders, industry stakeholders and elected officials. Campo delivered his keynote in his first-ever State of the Port address hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership on November 20.  Campo began with a quick overview of the history of Ship Channel, and explained that the concept of widening and deepening the channel isn't new. In the early 1910's, the private sector and federal government each put forward millions in funds to dredge the Ship Channel. Now, said Campo, he's making a similar request. "Today, I stand on the shoulders of giants, 10 months into my career as Chair of the Port of Houston Authority," he said. "There's a lot of great things happening going forward." The Port of Houston has been a key economic driver for the Houston region for more than a century and Houston's economic growth is driven in large part by its ability to transport goods in and out of the region. More than 17% of Houston's gross domestic product (GDP) is tied to exports. About 20% of the Lone Star state's GDP is generated through the Port of Houston. Last year, trade through the Port of Houston had nearly $340 billion in direct state economic impact and represents more than 70% of all maritime trade in Texas.  But in order to ensure our economy continues to benefit from the global marketplace, explained Campo, the Houston region must have adequate port and maritime infrastructure to keep pace with growing domestic energy production, petrochemical manufacturing and exports. Trade volume is also increasing and ships are getting wider.  "It's all about public-private partnerships. It's all about a race against economic forces," said the Port Houston chairman.  Campo said the region could have a wider and deeper channel by 2030 if the agency goes through the typical federal government process, but the need is more urgent. "We have to create a mechanism to get it done quicker," urged Campo.  Port Houston has argued it can complete the expansion project by 2024, but in order to do so, dredging must begin by 2021. The organization has called for its partners and other local leaders to ask members of Congress to authorize the project.  "Ric assumed chairmanship of Port Houston earlier this year and now, more than ever, his leadership is vital at this critical moment," said Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. "We must invest in widening and deepening the Houston Ship Channel in order to maintain Houston's position as a key global trade corridor. The project isn't without its challenges, but the reality we are facing requires that we take action in order to secure the Houston region's economic future." "This port was conquered by those who moved forward," said Campo. And now, he said, it's time to do so again.  For more on the Houston Ship Channel expansion project, click here. Learn more about the Port of Houston's trade highlights in the Partnership's 2019 Global Houston report. Learn more about the region's transportation and logistics here.    
Read More

Related Events

Education and Workforce Event

2020 Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit

Bringing together D&I, HR leaders and Talent Attraction professionals, this event explores how Houston must take a leadership role in addressing diversity, equality, inclusion and justice for our region and…

Learn More
Learn More
Executive Partners