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updated: 12/5/2016 11:17 AM

2016 Influential Women in Business Honorees

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Linda Alberty
Linda Alberty -
Linda E. Alberty

President and Founder, Cultivate Excellence Consulting, Lisle

As a second generation Latina American, Linda Alberty's personal and professional experiences have always tied her passion to creating meaningful change.

Her motto is, "When passion intersects with purpose, something powerful happens."

As a child, she was hit by a drunken driver and suffered from a traumatic brain injury. She became a coma-survivor and relearned all the basic skills from walking to talking. And her determination only increased as she got older.

For the last nine years, Alberty has been the drive behind Cultivate Excellence Consulting, where she guides professionals on an in-depth personal empowerment journey to find their purpose.

Community involvement is key for Alberty as she serves as the commissioner for the village of Lisle's Downtown Planning Advisory Council. She also serves on the New Skills for Youth and is a Mastermind Leader for The Latinas on the Plaza, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Latinas with their professional development.

Paula Amenta
Paula Amenta -
Paula Amenta

Community Relations Director, Elgin Community College

Paula Amenta's beliefs, career and calling are summarized in a quote by Marian Wright Edelman, an American activist for the rights of children, who said, "Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it."

After having four children, Amenta returned to her dream of getting a college degree and started taking classes at Elgin Community College. It sparked her passion for community-based education.

Once she got her degree, Amenta has served as the director of communications at both ECC and Waubonsee Community College.

ECC's service district is comprised of four districts with a population of 442,000 people plus 10,500 businesses. She works to build relationships and partnerships throughout the district.

Amenta travels annually to Zambia to volunteer at weeklong camps for orphans. She is also sponsoring a student from Zambia who is living with her and attending ECC.

Luisa Buehler
Luisa Buehler -
Luisa Buehler

President, The Hire Solution, Oakbrook Terrace

Over 30 years ago, Luisa Buehler unexpectedly lost her job in inside sales. She decided to answer an ad in the local paper as an employment counselor and it changed the course of her career.

Her career in staffing allowed her to create her own financial destiny and encouraged her entrepreneurship pursuits. She loves developing long-term relationships with clients and candidates.

Buehler joined The Hire Solution in 1981 as general manager. Then in 2002, she bought the business from the former owner.

In 2006, Buehler implemented Matchwork Method, which goes beyond the traditional screening process. The Hire Solution process now requires in-depth assessments, interviews, skills testing and experienced insight.

Buehler is involved with her community through the Boy Scouts of America, Elmhurst Chamber Board, Lisle Woman's Club and Rotary Club of Downers Grove.

She is also the author of seven mystery novels.

Kara Cermak
Kara Cermak -
Kara Cermak

President and principal, Rowell Inc., Elgin

As the daughter of the founding owner of Rowell, Kara Cermak has over 25 years of experience with the company, managing properties and overseeing day-to-day operations.

She is a leader in her industry having served on many boards, including the Illinois Chapter of the Community Associations Institute. Cermak has also been involved with Illinois' push to create manager licensing.

Cermak founded an organization called Celebrating All That is Feminine, or CATIF, to give back to women and children in her community. Over the last six years, CATIF has raised nearly $130,000 for other nonprofit organizations whose missions mirror their own.

Each year, she walks in both the Avon Breast Cancer and M-S Walks.

Cermak is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, has achieved the highest designation that one can achieve in her industry, and has raised two daughters.

Carol Gieske
Carol Gieske -
Carol Gieske

President and CEO, Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce

Carol Gieske has spent her career focusing on nonprofit development, fundraising and communications.

In her current role at the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce, she provides leadership, builds consensus, develops strong relationships with key stakeholders and ensures the chamber is relevant and impactful.

Gieske has been a community leader through her entire career. For 20 years, she provided leadership to the United Way of Elgin. During her tenure there, she raised more than $44 million dollars to help those in need.

When she served as president of the Presence St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, Gieske continued her fundraising efforts in the hospital's first capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art cancer care center and helped raise more than $11 million dollars.

Gieske has been involved with the Elgin Area Leadership Academy since its inception. She also chairs the Elgin Advisory Board to VNA Health Care and was the first female member inducted into the Elgin Noon Rotary Club.

A lifelong Elgin resident, Gieske and her husband have two sons.

Hanan Hafez
Hanan Hafez -
Hanan Hafez

President, Events with Style, Lake Zurich

When Hanan Hafez moved to the United States from Egypt when she was 19 years old, she had no idea where her life would take her.

Raising three children on her own, Hafez began her career in banking and eventually becoming vice president at Inland Bank in Lake Zurich.

She later made a career change and became the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Lake Zurich.

On the side, she began her own business, "Events with Style," a wedding and event planning company. As her children became more independent, Hafez was able to make the wedding planning her full-time job.

Hafez has always committed herself to making Lake Zurich the best it could be and volunteered much of her time, even winning a "Volunteer of the Year" award in 2009 from the community.

She also began a networking group called Business Women Connected, in order for local business women to inspire and work together.

Julie Heneghan
Julie Heneghan -
Julie Heneghan

Founder and president, The Steely Group, Oak Brook

Julie Heneghan has been an advocate for the staffing industry for nearly 30 years. Beyond just being a leader, Heneghan is considered a visionary, mentor, innovator, collaborator, coach and motivator.

She has built her career on a foundation of integrity and service, guided by personal core values of honesty and reliability.

Heneghan is an active member of the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago, Society of Talent Acquisition and Recruitment, Society for Human Resource Management, the Drug Information Association and the American Staffing Association.

Philanthropy plays an important role to Heneghan and The Steely Group. Throughout the year, they support organizations such as Red Nose Day, the March of Dimes, Girl Forward's Girl Jam, Women Employed, St. Thomas Hospice and Special Olympics Illinois.

Outside of her professional life, Heneghan enjoys spending time with family, cooking, walking and traveling to warm places.

Amy Hughes
Amy Hughes -
Amy Hughes

Managing director and market executive, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management

Amy Hughes has spent her entire career in the financial services industry. With her strong leadership style, Hughes has always believed that through hard work, determination and teamwork anything is possible.

She began her career in 1987 after graduating from the University of Minnesota. She joined LaSalle Bank in 2000, then was called upon to lead her team through two mergers first with Bank of America -- and then 13 months later with Merrill Lynch.

Hughes sits on the Choose Chicago Board and is involved with Cradles to Crayons, Future Founders, and The Chicago Network, an organization of Chicago's leading professional women.

Outside of the office, she enjoys golfing and skiing.

Suzy Kogen Friedman
Suzy Kogen Friedman -
Suzy Kogen-Friedman

President, KZF Development Inc., Northbrook

KZF Development is a well-known name on Chicago's North Shore. The home building firm has developed more than 800 high-quality single-family homes, townhouses and condos since 1987.

Suzy Kogen-Friedman has experienced an extraordinary successful career in a male dominated field. However, she was no stranger to the industry having grown up working in the family real estate and development business.

Beyond being an entrepreneur and mother, Kogen-Friedman has been a lifelong advocate for people with developmental disabilities.

When her nephew was diagnosed with autism, she partnered to create a business called Soft Clothing to create clothing that wouldn't bother special needs children. She is also an active member of Autism Speaks.

She is also involved with the Ovarian Cancer Society.

Kogen-Friedman lives with her husband and son in Northbrook.

Charlotte Neault
Charlotte Neault -
Charlotte Neault

Senior vice president, Barrington Bank & Trust Co.

Charlotte Neault has over 30 years of community banking experience spending the last two decades with Barrington Bank & Trust.

She now heads the bank's Retail Loan Portfolio of over $70 million dollars. She specializes in consumer loan documentation, processing, underwriting, audit processes and collections.

Recognized as one of the community's more active business leaders, Neault has been involved with the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce, serving two years as Chairman.

She is a founding member of Barrington Chamber's Women's Biz Net, including the ATHENA Awards to honor and recognize women who excel in their profession and give back to their community.

Neault also finds time to volunteer at local organizations such as the Barrington Area Rotary Club, Barrington Giving Day, Habitat for Humanity and American Cancer Society.

She has lived in the Barrington community for 37 years with her husband, where they raised two sons.

Gabriela Reyna
Gabriela Reyna -
Gabriela Reyna

Owner, Ponce Reyna Agency, Aurora

Gabriela Reyna's motto is, "Success is not a destination; it is a journey we must constantly pursue."

She decided to open her own insurance agency nine years ago with a mission to educate and serve the Hispanic community. She realized small business owners were in need of education on how to protect their businesses. This became her passion.

For the last four years, her agency has been a President's Council Award Honoree, which is reserved for the most esteemed Farmers Insurance agencies in the country.

Reyna is driven to help other Latinas to develop their potential as professionals. She is a board member with The Fig Factor Foundation, a nonprofit that is dedicated to giving vision and direction to young Latinas.

She has also served as a board member of the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and has become certified in the Latina Entrepreneurial Accelerated Development Program by the Women's Business Development Center.

Reyna is a native of Bogota, Columbia, and is raising three children with her husband.

Gabriela Rodil
Gabriela Rodil -
Gabriela Rodil

Owner, Gabriela Rodil LLC, Oak Park

Gabriela Rodil, known as Gabby, is a parachuting CFO, management consultant, financial coach, author and speaker.

She was born and raised in Brazil. Between now and then, she has lived in and had extended assignments in over 20 countries. She speaks fluent Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Italian and English.

Prior to launching her own firm in 2015, Rodil served as the chief financial officer for Flexan, a multinational manufacturer headquartered in Chicago, where she was in charge of implementing and managing all financial related activities worldwide.

Rodil serves on the board of directors for The Fig Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers young Latina women. She is also a contributing author to Today's Inspired Latina.

Rodil calls Oak Park home and lives with her Golden Retriever that she rescued in Mexico City.

Dee Rossi
Dee Rossi -
Dee Rossi

Vice president, CTL Global, Northlake

Dee Rossi brings an amazing level of passion, energy and commitment to excellence in everything she does.

She joined CTL Global at a pivotal time, when they were competing against giants like eBay. The company relied on Rossi's extensive industry experience to provide knowledge and value.

Rossi helped launch CTL Global onto the main stage of enterprise fulfillment solution providers. Last September, they acquired an additional 170,000 square foot space to serve more than 300 clients, including Fortune 500 companies.

Rossi grew up believing you share what you have. Civic duty has carried into her adult life. She volunteers and supports The Boys & Girls Club, The United Way, Children's Miracle Network, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and Chicagoland food pantries.

Melinda Tejada
Melinda Tejada -
Melinda Tejada

Vice president of student development, Waubonsee Community College, Sugar Grove

Melinda Tejada has been with Waubonsee Community College for almost 29 years having been promoted six times. Her sincere commitment, concern and care for the students sets her apart.

She provides leadership and oversight for a comprehensive program of student development services. Tejada has also created many programs in her tenure, such as Student Athletes Taking Responsibility and New Student Convocation.

As a single mother of two, Tejada managed to complete her doctorate while working full-time.

No matter how busy her schedule, Tejada found time to be active in her community. One colleague points out how she doesn't just "sit" on boards to build her resume, but she dives deeply into the work to create positive change.

She serves on the national board of the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities and is currently involved with the Fox Valley United Way Allocations Committee, DuPage County Quad Urban League, and the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry.

Andrea Volff
Andrea Volff -
Andrea Vollf

Partner, VK Sustainable Concepts, Schaumburg

After receiving her bachelor's degree in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Andrea Vollf moved to Florida to continue her studies in graphic design and learn English. A year later, she moved to New York City to join an advertising agency.

She has over 10 years of experience in the interior design & marketing industries with in-depth knowledge of Sustainability. She is committed to delivering environmentally responsible design solutions from concept to completion.

Vollf is fluent in both English and Portuguese. She is experienced in human resource management, strategic planning and budget development.

She is currently involved in several industry organizations such as the Climate Reality Project, the Village of Schaumburg Environmental Committee member, and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Shauna Weatherspoon
Shauna Weatherspoon -
Shauna Weatherspoon

President and CEO, Weatherspoon and Associates, Naperville

Shauna Weatherspoon is a leading expert who brings over 20 years of experience as a businesswoman and entrepreneur. She is a published author and nationally recognized speaker.

Weatherspoon has successfully expanded her own financial services company. In 2010, she trained and mentored 30 new individuals to become licensed insurance professionals, which led her to having the number one sales teams in the Midwest region that year.

In 2012, she created the Women's Information Network Program for a Fortune 500 organization that turned into a national program.

Weatherspoon is currently serves as the executive director of the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce. She is the founding member of the Women of Influence committee which raises funds to support African American students in college.

Weatherspoon is also the founder and president of Raising Our Daughters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on empowering girls and women.

Kathy Xuan
Kathy Xuan -
Kathy Xuan

CEO and founder, PARC Corp., Romeoville

Kathy Xuan was born in China and earned Master Degrees in both Beijing, China and Chicago.

In 1996, Xuan founded PARC Corp., a full service recycling facility that has earned a reputation as an industry leader in plastics recycling.

PARC is known for its diverse customer network, tutelage in recycling methods, leadership in market research and strategic planning. Xuan also focuses on promoting a more productive process for zero-landfill.

She has expanded PARC to include locations in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and China.

Xuan has always cared about her community and industry, both here and in China. She is frequently invited to speak at conferences and seminars to share her expertise.