From left: Brenau Alumni Association Endowed Speaker Qing Cao, Dean of The Women's College Debra Dobkins, Colloquium Keynote Speaker Kim Powell and Women's College Coalition President Michele Ozumba. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
From left: Brenau Alumni Association Endowed Speaker Qing Cao, Dean of The Women's College Debra Dobkins, Colloquium Keynote Speaker Kim Powell and Women's College Coalition President Michele Ozumba (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Women’s Leadership Colloquium features three guest speakers and one good witch

Mar. 19, 2019
Kristen Bowman
Kim Powell, Michele Ozumba and Qing Cao laugh during the Q&A portion of Women's Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Kim Powell, Michele Ozumba and Qing Cao laugh during the Q&A portion of Women’s Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Three remarkable women shared their stories of professional and personal success with hundreds of guests on Friday, March 15, at the Hosch Theatre at the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts at Brenau University.

The Women’s Leadership Colloquium, hosted by The Women’s College of Brenau University, brought together Kim Powell, bestselling author and researcher at leadership advisory firm ghSMART, Qing Cao, a 2011 graduate of The Women’s College working in Global Product Innovations at UPS, and Michele Ozumba, president of the Women’s College Coalition, to share their stories, advice and insights.

Powell co-wrote the acclaimed New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, The CEO Next Door, which has been listed on several “must-read” lists of 2018, such as Inc’s “6 Great Business Books to Read in 2018” and Bloomberg’s “10 Books This Year That are Worth Your Time.” She has also been featured in outlets like MarketWatch, Chief Executive, Nasdaq Live, entrepreneur.com and others.

Debra Dobkins, dean of the Women’s College and emcee for the colloquium, said she found the theme for this year’s event from an epigraph in Powell’s bestseller.

"Glinda," or Brenau acting major Rachel Finazzo, glides across the stage during Women's Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“Glinda,” or Brenau acting major Rachel Finazzo, glides across the stage during Women’s Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“You had the power all along, my dear,” read Dobkins to a smattering of laughter and applause. “Does that sound familiar to anybody? Yes, that’s Glinda’s line from The Wizard of Oz. I read this and thought, ‘What perfect sense that makes.’ We all have the power within us, but we’re all in different places on the journey to know, own and exercise that power.”

At one point in the event, the crowd was surprised by a guest appearance by “Glinda” — junior acting major Rachel Finazzo, who was dressed in full Glinda the Good Witch costume and reminded the audience “you had the power all along.”

Powell also co-leads The CEO Genome Project, which is an extensive research and client practice supporting CEOs and executives on the path to CEO. On Friday, she shared some of the myths and patterns she’s discovered through her research regarding executive leadership, such as the idea that pedigree matters or that great leaders must be “wildly charismatic” extroverts.

“When Debra asked me to speak a little over a year ago, I was really excited because you all are the group that can help change the face of what leadership looks like in 20, 30, maybe 40 years,” Powell said. “And we have a lot of educators here who are changing the face of what leadership looks like. … My hope is we can change the rate of women in leadership positions.”

Cao, the Alumni Association Endowed Guest Speaker, leads the customer-facing emerging technology product development at UPS, working with teams across multiple states of the U.S. and several countries in Asia. She shared her story of being raised in China under the one-child policy by parents who knew true struggle.

Guests mingle during the intermission at Women's Leadership Colloquium in the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts lobby. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Guests mingle during the intermission at Women’s Leadership Colloquium in the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts lobby. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“My parents came from extremely poor backgrounds,” Cao said. “To afford the tuition costs for the elementary school in my mother’s village, she had to follow behind herds of goats every morning in order to pick up their droppings and turn them into the principal as a substitute for payment. The droppings were used to fertilize the fields in her village.”

Thus Cao’s parents were determined to give their daughter better opportunities, and she excelled throughout her rigorous education. She attended a military-style boarding high school, where the entire campus would wake each morning to run a 3K, then begin approximately 12 hours of study six days a week. When the time for college came, Cao said she found it “much easier.”

She started at a university in China then transferred as a study-abroad student to Brenau, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. After a few years working in apparel product development and sourcing, she earned her MBA at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Reflecting back on my life, I didn’t fully grasp what was happening to me in those moments,” Cao said. “Now looking back, every moment paved a path to where I am today and where I want to be in the future.”

Emmie Howard, Brenau alumna and founder of clothing brand Southern Proper, gets a hug from Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women's College. Howard gave out Southern Proper t-shirts to all the attendees at Women's Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Emmie Howard, Brenau alumna and founder of clothing brand Southern Proper, gets a hug from Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College. Howard gave out Southern Proper t-shirts to all the attendees at Women’s Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 15. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Ozumba, meanwhile, brought global perspective and experience shaped by a distinguished career in nonprofit and academic leadership, strategic initiatives, and women-led philanthropy. She, too, shared her stories of growing up in a poor home — in her case, as one of 10 children.

“No one had money,” she said, “but they had heart and determination.”

Prior to joining the coalition, she was president and CEO of Women’s Funding Network and CEO of Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential. Unlike the other two speakers, she hasn’t worked in the corporate sector and instead has spent her career among fellow female leaders.

“I’m excited by where we’re seeing women emerge and ascend into various leadership capacities, whether it’s in public service or the corporate sector,” she said. “I think as we’re under this avalanche of bad news that we steel ourselves against every day, we really are compelled to think a little deeper about what our individual contributions can be to create some space so those whose lives we touch every day to be a little better.”

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