Valdosta Daily Times

October 21, 2012

Women in charge . . . and they mean business.

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Women have come a long way from being pigeon holed into positions that require cooking, cleaning and care giving. Being a stay-at-home mom is now a decision of empowerment rather than a requirement. Women who decide to work full-time no longer are forced into clerical or secretarial positions. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 51.4 percent of managerial, professional and related positions were held by women, not men. In short, women are in charge and they mean business.

In celebration of October being Women in Business month, the Times sought out a few of Valdosta's finest female leaders. Terri Lupo, Suzanne Tanner and Cheryl Oliver are all in different realms of business, all have different stories, but all share the title of being outstanding women in business.

Terri Lupo is the vice president of the South Region for Georgia Power and has been working with the company for 32 years. As the VP, Lupo oversees 28 offices throughout Valdosta, Bainbridge, Albany, Tifton and Waycross.

"It's the largest territory in the state for Georgia Power," said Lupo.

In charge of approximately 190 employees, Lupo is pretty high up the food chain.

"I report directly to the executive vice president of customer service and operations and he reports to the president of Georgia Power," said Lupo.

In the state, there are only seven others who hold her same position. Out of those seven, four of them are women.

"Georgia Power has been very progressive in their diversity efforts and making sure that our team reflects the diversity of our customer base," said Lupo.

In what was once a largely male populated profession, Georgia Power employs a vast amount of women. Lupo's own family is quite exemplary of the company's profession. As a fourth generation Georgia Power employee, Lupo has followed in the footsteps of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

However, Lupo did not get to be in her position on her gender or company pedigree. She received her bachelor's degree from Columbus State University, her Master's in Business Administration from Mercer University and attended a program for management development at Harvard.

While she is second in line to the top, she worked her way up from the bottom.

"I started in a position called residential marketing representative," said Lupo. "In that position, I was responsible for promoting the Good Cents program."

Lupo helped customers make energy efficient purchases and decisions.

From there, Lupo moved up to customer service supervisor, where she was over an entire local office.

"From there I went to my first manager job," said Lupo. "I was over two offices."

Lupo then went to become an area manager in Gainesville, to a region manager in Rome and finally to her current position as a VP where she has been for seven years.

"I worked my way up step -by- step," said Lupo. "Each time the responsibility got bigger, and bigger, and bigger."

Lupo gives credit to the women that came before her that blazed trails in the industry and overcame obstacles. However, Lupo has been quite fortunate.

"I have received tremendous support," said Lupo. "Since Georgia Power has predominantly in the past been male dominated . . . there actually were a few female managers that were before me that probably had more obstacles."

Lupo is an example for how hard work and determination can lead you to the top, not just for all women, but in particular, for her 15-year-old daughter Amanda.

"She sees that she can accomplish anything she wants," said Lupo.

Lupo is a great example of the modern woman in the work place who started a career, waited later in life to have a child and now has that perfect balance between family and work.

"It's been good in helping [Amanda] understand that you have to be flexible and yet you have to have goals and figure out in life's hectic schedule how to meet and obtain those goals," said Lupo.

Suzanna Tanner

As principal of Westside Elementary School in Lowndes County, Tanner's secret is simple.

"Every female administrator has a pair of flats hidden under their desk," said Tanner as she laughed.

As a principal, Tanner wears many hats. Aside from being in charge of 55 employees and 875 children, Tanner also fixes doors by finding that little rubber piece that goes at the bottom of the stopper, gives permission to a group of third grade boys who want to leave the lunch table to get bananas, and amongst that, still has to find time to attend meetings with superintendent Wes Taylor at the central office.

To put it simply, Tanner rarely finds time to sit in her office and "administrate". She's an all- hands- on- deck sort of administrator and has been for her 12 years in administration and 22 total years in education.

At Hahira Elementary School, Tanner was a teacher for ten years and served as vice principal for three years before coming off maternity leave and returning as principal where she stayed for eight years.

"I came off maternity leave as a new principal and it was really hard," said Tanner.

It was that experience that helped Tanner learn the value of balance.

"I learned that you can't be everything to everyone all the time," said Tanner.

As a teacher before having a baby, Tanner used to work late and take work home with her. Now as a working mother, she has learned when to go home and be home.

"I had to use my time differently," said Tanner.

Now daughter Victoria is 8, and Tanner has executed a near perfect balancing act that incorporates her other secret . . . multi-tasking.

"Women are usually really good at multi-tasking," said Tanner.

Tanner is of several female administrators in the area. Especially throughout the Lowndes County and Valdosta City School systems, it has become quite the norm.

"Years ago, you saw the majority of administrators were male," said Tanner.

That is simply not the case anymore.

"Now you see a lot more people who are coming up from the classroom," said Tanner.

Which is smart. When you think about it, who better to be in charge of an entire school of students and teachers than a previous teacher? This is something the Lowndes School system has recognized and embraced with a program called Aspiring Leaders.

Aspiring Leaders identifies teachers who show leadership qualities and helps train them for those sort of roles.

As a female administrator, Tanner is a role model not only for her daughter, but for other young teachers coming up in the system. No longer are women in education confined to the classroom and Lowndes County more than offers opportunity to those who wish to spread their wings.

While being an administrator certainly has its advantages, it's not just a title, according to Tanner, it comes with real responsibility that takes real work and real dedication.

"I learned that everyone is watching me," said Tanner.

Tanner's philosophy: Don’t ask others to do what you aren't willing to do yourself.

"I'm not too good to do anything." said Tanner. "I try to do the best that I can and be honest and walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

Cheryl Oliver

As the executive director of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, Oliver is a role model in demonstrating that you can be a woman in charge and a woman of substance.

Oliver grew up in Quitman as the oldest of three children. She was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Georgia's theater program, but chose (with guidance from her parents) to stay close to home and attend Valdosta State College (now Valdosta State University).

After a year and a half of college, Oliver married and moved to Tallahassee, Fla. where she worked for the government for nine years and started a family with two children.

Oliver then moved back to South Georgia and began working at a job that would eventually lead to more than 20 years as editor of the employee magazine for Packaging Corporation of America.

"I was shocked to experience being widowed in 1997," said Oliver. "I soon decided that I needed a job with substance."

She is now married to husband Jack Oliver.

At the time she was widowed, Oliver said she felt that God orchestrated her path towards Kids' Chance, a small educational scholarship non-profit headquartered in Valdosta.

"I was named executive director in 1999 and continued in that position until the Kids' Chance Board of Directors decided, with my full support, to move the headquarters to Atlanta," said Oliver.

With the choice of letting the organization she loved go or move to Atlanta, Oliver decided to leave the non -profit.

"I said: Atlanta's a nice place to visit, but I don't want to live there," said Oliver.

Oliver was later approached by the Turner Center to apply for the position of interim director.

"After a lot of prayerful consideration, I applied, was hired as interim director in March 2008 and then was offered the permanent position three months later," said Oliver.

Four years later, Oliver continues to work in a facility and a job that she loves.

Oliver's choices and decisions throughout her life are a reflection of the empowerment embracing traditional roles for women and leading a successful work life.

"Because strong women, including my mother and sister and other mentors, have always been a part of my life, I never really felt that being female imposed limitations on my options," said Oliver.

According to Oliver, she "came of age" in the mid-1960's when America was in the throes of huge social change.

"When the feminist movement was making the everyday news and bras were being burned," said Oliver.

Though Oliver grew up in a small town, through books and her love of reading them, she knew that there was a world outside the traditional roles for women.

While Oliver points out that women still earn 70 percent less than men in comparable jobs in corporate America, women continue to make tremendous strides and are constantly demonstrating the ability to propel society toward a better existence.

"Why does there have to be a power struggle between the sexes?" Oliver asked. "Maybe if we'd concentrate more on improving the state of humanity, instead of fighting over who's doing the better job, we'd move things along."

Oliver's advice for young women: she quotes Mark Twain.

"The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why," wrote Twain.

According to Oliver, try to identify and focus on your primary areas of interest and then map out, as far as possible, the path to achieving your goals — short term and long term.

"Even if you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, as I am, you still need to zero in on a general purpose in life," said Oliver.

Oliver is a great example that in all realms of business, happiness and success can be achieved.

Aside from surrounding herself with great and caring people at the art center, Oliver center's her life around God.

"Maintain a connection to God and make it real," said Oliver. "Nurturing that relationship will help keep all others healthy."