FOUNDING MEMBER, NEW YORK CITY TAXI WORKERS ALLIANCE
Bhairavi Desai first realized the power of labor organizing by watching her mother.
“My mom was a union member when I was a kid,” she said. “I would see the difference when she worked in a factory with a union versus a factory with no union.”
Those early memories inspired Desai to begin organizing for New York taxi drivers 17 years ago when she helped set up the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. When Desai first started, she would often clock in 70-hour weeks, spending time with drivers all over the city and at both airports.
“Everything I learned about this industry I learned through the drivers,” she said.
Desai is a uniquely independent figure as a female organizer in an industry popularated largely by men. Being of Asian descent often helps her to connect to the workers, many of whom are first-generation immigrants.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance aims to give a voice to
the drivers in a business that has traditionally been dominated by the economic and political influence of fleet owners.
“For years, I remember we couldn’t go to a monthly Taxi & Limousine public hearing without a threat of being kicked out,” Desai recalled. “On the city level, [fleet owners] pay lobbyists in one month retainer fees what we pay staff in a year.”
After years of dealing with what Desai perceives as tone-deaf Taxi & Limousine commissioners, drivers
are now recognized as people who belong at the negotiating table thanks in part to Desai’s efforts. In addition, two years ago the TLC granted the first raise to go entirely to a driver’s income, and created a health and disability fund. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance was chosen to administer that fund; now Desai is just waiting on the mayor’s office to send over the paperwork.
“It’s really historic,” Desai said. “It’s the first time that independent taxi drivers anywhere in the country will have benefits on the job. And it’s among the very first times for independent contractors in any industry to have benefits of this nature.”
PRESIDENT, PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FEDERATION
Susan Kent has been president of the Pubic Employees Federation for only two years, but she has been working in public service for nearly 35 years.
“Things are constantly moving for me,” Kent said. “That’s just the spirit that I inherited from my family: that you never stop trying to improve yourself, and you never forget that you were put here for a reason.”
After many years of working at the state Department of Education, Kent became involved in the agency’s Labor-Management Committee, and was soon nominated to chair it. A year later the local union president retired and Kent took his place, and in doing so doing became responsible for 1,000 union members in Albany and 2,000 statewide.
Unhappy with the concessions the previous PEF administration had made in contract negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Kent ran for president of the statewide union in 2012.
“We took a very hard line on the need to have a negotiating team in place that was not going to be one that was going to be bullied, as the last team was, or one that was not going to really be negatively impacted by threats,” she said.
Kent speaks openly about the paradigm shift between old union organizing, and the need for new, more specific rhetoric that highlights what the union members do for society.
“That has been a huge challenge for this union, to show people that moving to these kind of service-driven campaigns is really going to be better in the long run ... for the stability of the individual workers as well.”
But Kent always keeps an eye on the bigger picture.
“You cannot just be interested in what is going on in your particular union. You have to be involved in what is going on with other unions, the labor movement in general and public policy,” she said. “The horrific factory fires that happened in Bangladesh this past fall just really go to show why we have to be so concerned about what all these trade agreements are doing, and what is happening in terms of the lack of safety for those workers now.”
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NYS NURSES ASSOCIATION
With so much of the healthcare discussion in New York City currently focused on keeping public hospitals open, Jill Furillo’s career experience is particularly well suited to the moment.
As a former emergency room nurse at Brookdale Hospital in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Furillo witnessed firsthand the ripple effect of hospital closures, when a nearby hospital shut down, driving an influx of patients her way.
“We started to get the onslaught of patients coming over to Brookdale Hospital, where they just didn’t have the staff,” Furillo said. “That sparked me into activity in that hospital as an activist in the nursing room, but also on our bargaining team.”
Furillo’s star really began to rise when she took a job as the government relations director of the California Nurses Association. Furillo worked tirelessly on an eight-year campaign and helped shepherd the nation’s first ever nurse-to-patient ratio bill through the California state Legislature in 1999. Her work in California caught the eye of the New York State Nurses Association, which hired her as its executive director in November of 2012.
At NYSNA, Furillo’s membership has become engaged politically, endorsing candidates for the first time during the 2013 election cycle in New York City—a move she believes helped plant the seed in the minds
of elected officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio to become more active in the fight to save hospitals. Furillo has also mobilized her members to fight for better access to quality patient care, winning an important battle when
the State University of New York, which operates Brooklyn’s Long Island Community Hospital, agreed to solicit proposals to keep a functional inpatient medical facility on campus.
“We have incredible unity with other unions,” Furillo said. “We’ve united with other unions like never before to protect care for our patients, and as a result we feel that we’ve been able to stop the epidemic of hospital cuts and closures. And that’s the first step in trying to end the healthcare disparities that are hurting our patients.”
VICE PRESIDENT, NYSUT
It is all too appropriate that Kathleen Donahue’s first taste of advocacy work came when she was an elementary school student. “I was in fifth grade, and I didn’t like where they put the new mirror in the school girl’s bathroom, so I wrote a letter to the principal on behalf of all the girls and we got them to move it,” recalled Donahue.
Donahue’s passion for education led her into teaching, where she became involved in her school’s union. For 24 years she was the president of her local, as well as the Monroe County Federation of Teachers. From there she went on to become the vice president of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), an organization of more than 600,00 current and retired employees from schools, colleges and healthcare facilities.
“In terms of what we do and who we represent and what the climate is currently, this is a critical time to be in labor and involved in a union,” Donahue said.
Donahue works mostly with different constituency groups, from retirees to school healthcare professionals, and provides a voice for them back at NYSUT headquarters.
“I was a teacher myself for over 30 years,” she said. “I did elementary and secondary, and I was an adjunct at SUNY Brockport. So when they discuss with me issues of concern or what they want as an agenda item moving forward, I have a frame of reference that is quite realistic.”
In her position at NYSUT Donahue has done a little bit of everything, including advocating for secure retirements, getting school- related professionals recognized and representing the organization at international conferences.
The job does come with perks, with her personal favorite being the ability to travel all over the state.
“To see and meet so many different people from so many walks of life, and be able to find ways that we can work together—the world really becomes much, much smaller than we ever thought it could be.”
VP FOR ACADEMIC HIGH SCHOOLS, UFT
Janella Hinds was having a gut- check moment. She was working for a nonprofit in Harlem, helping with youth in the community, but the organization was struggling financially. Her father, a career-tech teacher at a local high school, gave her a challenge: She should become a teacher, he told her. She would still be working with youth, but the job would provide more stability and opportunities.
Recalling her own youth when her father would tell her stories of the students in his classroom—and remembering how invested he was in their success—Hinds took his suggestion and became a high school social studies teacher.
From her earliest years in the classroom, Hinds was active in the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), volunteering for its political action department, working in the grievance department and helping get teachers certified in the licensing department. Like her father, she became a chapter leader (a title known as “building representative” in his day).
In 2004 she stepped away from teaching and the UFT, taking a job at the New York State AFL-CIO. In 2006 she returned to the UFT, taking on a second job.
After almost nine years away from teaching, Hinds also recently stepped back in to the classroom, a space she said she missed.
With positions at both the UFT and Labor Council, she is now juggling a great deal of responsibility—but the one period of high school social studies she teaches provides her with the perspective she needs to continue advocating for teachers and students.
“Being in the classroom, connecting with students and being a part of a school community gives me the perspective of the [UFT] members,” Hinds said. “I am always grounded in what is actually happening in their schools with their students while I am here sitting at a desk with all of my colleagues.”
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RED HOOK INITIATIVE
Jill Eisenhard never intended to become an agent of change in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In 2002 she was a health educator training women with the hope that they would pass along the knowledge she imparted to them to their families, friends and neighbors.
The program, which was supposed to last only a year, caught on, and within a few years she had broken away from the hospital and established her own nonprofit.
“It almost happened and I didn’t realize it,” Eisenhard said with a laugh. “It’s not like it happened to me. There was plenty of work that went into it. But it was never my intention or something I was trying to build from day one.”
Today the Red Hook Initiative continues to empower community members by giving them the tools to teach their peers, but it has also widened its scope to address a broader range of social issues.
“Originally it was a women’s health program, but as people started to walk in the door with different needs we recognized you can’t actually impact health without also looking at the other social [factors].”
Superstorm Sandy, which hit in the organization’s tenth year, had a devastating impact on Red Hook. Fortunately, 10 years of training people to identify problems and looking for the skills needed to solve them paid off, Eisenard said. Red Hook Initiative, whose facility was not damaged in the storm, became a hub for the community. Despite being victims of the storm, the youth who worked there used their newfound problem-solving skills to do everything from getting doctors to come out from NYU to checking on homebound residents to organizing a phone charging line.
Twelve years in Eisenhard is starting to see her work come full circle with teens returning postgraduation to pay it forward. That enthusiasm, she said, is what keeps her going.
“To be able to watch young people grow up and to watch a community change is such a privilege,” said Eisenhard.
Deborah Lynn Williams
CEO, YWCA, WESTERN NEW YORK
Deborah Lynn Williams’
career has not gone exactly
the way she expected. She graduated with a master’s degree
in the sciences, aiming for a future in molecular biology research and academia.
“I had this grand plan: I was going to teach biology in some small New England college somewhere with a dog and bad sweaters,” Williams said.
However, after several years of working as a researcher, she started volunteering for her neighbor, a local Buffalo assemblyman.
“After about six weeks, he had offered me a job,” Williams remembered. “Of course, everybody I know said, ‘That is the worst idea ever, don’t take that job, you’re a scientist.’ ... But there was something about that opportunity that appealed to me.” That job, her introduction to
politics, turned out to be blessing in disguise, and Williams used it as a launching pad—eventually landing with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, working as his Western New York regional director.
Eventually Williams decided it was time to move on, and her career took another unexpected turn when she accepted the position of CEO of the YWCA of Western New York, an organization she took over in particularly troubled times. “The economy collapsed rightas I was starting ... the United Way funding that we had had for two decades was cut by $200,000 with 17 days notice, and then the bleeding kept going,” Williams said.
She spent the first two-plus years doing damage control. Despite the organization’s money problems, Williams knew some programs had to be saved: youth and domestic violence initiatives, as well as leadership opportunities and job access for women. Thankfully, the YWCA began to turn the corner about two years ago.
“We’ve done some key staff changes, and we’ve developed a stronger funding model,” Williams said.
As the steward of a 144-year-old institution, Williams seems to have hit her stride. “They’ve gone through the financial crisis of the Depression and two world wars,” Williams noted. “The organization has been through a lot of things, and this is my time.”
BOARD SECRETARY, NYCHA
Vilma Huertas remembers spending summer days on Delancey Street on the Lower East Side when she was a little girl. While most 8-year-olds were playing or selling lemonade, Huertas was registering people to vote. Her earliest memory is of riding in a car with her father encouraging people to come out and vote over a loudspeaker mounted on top of the car.
“My parents came from Puerto Rico. They were very poor, but they had a commitment to service,” she said, adding that for her, public service has “definitely been a lifelong commitment.”
Huertas always knew she wanted to go into law. After graduating from an all-girls Catholic school in New York, she attended Fordham University and then went on to get her J.D. from Queens College in 1989. While in law school she found the time to work legal internships at the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, as well as to volunteer at Henry Street Settlement, where her mother had worked for more than 40 years. At Henry Street Huertas taught adult basic education and counseled minority youth on education, college and possible career paths.
After college she went on to work as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, and for a nonprofit organization offering housing services, where Huertas spearheaded a merchants’ association. She next served as a chief of staff in the New York State Assembly.
After three years Huertas left the state arena to join the New York City Housing Authority as legislative liaison, working closely with the City Council. She rose to become the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, before moving into her current position.
As the corporate secretary to the board of NYCHA Huertas works with tenants deemed incompetent who are facing administrative proceedings.
“Sometimes it can seem challenging,” she said. “But the rewards outweigh that. It’s very gratifying when you can help someone solve an issue, especially as it pertains to their home.”
PRESIDENT, METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
Emily Rafferty grew up just blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She and her five siblings would occasionally visit the exhibits, though young Emily had no idea when she was strolling through the halls of
one of the most famous and beloved museums in the world that she would one day be its president.
In her mid-20s Rafferty was committed to working for VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps. Following a serendipitous meeting, however, she took a fundraising job in the development department of the museum she explored as a child. It was in this position that Rafferty first saw great opportunities for the museum’s growth.
Much has changed in the 38 years since Rafferty fell in to that first job at the Met. The museum now welcomes roughly six million visitors a year, triple its attendance when Rafferty started. The building’s square footage has doubled, and its budget has more than doubled as well.
In 2004 Rafferty was named the museum’s first female president, replacing David McKinney.
After spending a decade at the helm of the Met and four decades as an employee of the institution, Rafferty says she has no plans any time soon to step away from the place that has been such an integral part of her life.
“I live, breathe, believe and am committed to the mission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I can recite it in my sleep. That is why I stayed here all these years,” she said.
Though she walks past hundreds of classic works each day as a matter of course, Rafferty still makes sure to take notice of the exhibits, often coming in early to work or staying late. She heeds the advice given her long ago by an assistant: Stop before a different work of art every day and contemplate it.
“We are all running on skateboards over here,” Rafferty said. “But you can’t help [but] stop and never be jaded.”
DEAN, MACAULAY COLLEGE OF CUNY
Dr. Ann Kirschner might be the only person with both “Victorian literature lecturer” and “National Football League employee” on her re?sume?.
“I seem to be one of those people who is always drawn to the new,” Kirschner said. “Learning about new industries, new technologies, new forms of education has always been my great joy.”
Kirschner launched the NFL’s first website, but was lured back into education when she created Fathom, an “interactive knowledge network” she ran at Columbia for almost three years. Eventually she started to hear about a new CUNY school called the Honors College, which stoked her enthusiasm for the city’s public university system and led her to take a job there.
“I met some students and I fell in love,” Kirschner said. “I’m a New York City public school graduate, lifelong New Yorker, and the feeling of CUNY’s place in New York City and the opportunity to change lives through education was a mission I couldn’t resist.”
She was appointed dean of the Macaulay Honors College 13 years ago. The school’s goal is to attract well-prepared students ready to take on challenging work, and “to match their challenge and ambition with the right opportunities.” A hallmark of Macaulay—and one might say of Kirschner herself—is an emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach.
“It’s all about how you break down barriers between disciplines,” she said. “That’s how we do it in the real world.”
Macaulay currently boasts a Rhodes scholar, a champion Quidditch team and an award-winning a cappella group.
Kirschner’s mother, a Holocaust survivor whose education stopped in the sixth grade, considered education of paramount importance, and made it a family priority when Ann was growing up.
“I identify with these kids,” Kirschner said of her Macaulay students. “About 60 percent of our students are immigrants or children of immigrants, so this is the American dream of reshaping life through education, and I think my own background has given me a tremendous appreciation for what we do.”
PRESIDENT AND CEO, MAIMONIDES MEDICAL CENTER
When Pamela Brier was an undergraduate at Berkeley in the 1960s, she learned some early lessons from the Free Speech Movement that have served her well ever since.
“People need to participate in the discussions that affect their lives,” Brier said.
After briefly working at RAND, she got her master’s degree in public health from UCLA, where as a new mother she agitated for the administration to set up an early child-care center.
Brier moved to New York in 1976, and eventually got a job in the city health department just as former mayor Ed Koch was entering office.
“They put me in the reimbursement office, a field about which I knew nothing,” Brier said. “Only in government do these great things happen. I was almost the only woman and surely the only non-accountant.”
When she noticed that hospitals did not fully understand the importance of the statistics they were required to collect, Brier set about designing an educational curriculum for them.
After 15 years working at the Health and Hospitals Corporation, Brier was asked to run Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. She introduced herself to every single employee, got the hospital more involved in the community, and created a day-care center for children with AIDS.
Brier would later go on to work at Bellevue hospital in Manhattan before becoming CEO of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. She recalls walking through Maimonides’ halls, thinking that Bellevue seemed friendly by comparison, “which, believe me, is saying something.”
Eighteen years later Maimonides feels like a different place, in part due to her leadership.
“You are never done trying to engage people and getting them to work together regardless of title, salary, or education level,” Brier said. “You cannot convince me that the housekeeper who mops the patient’s floor doesn’t know a lot about what’s going on with that patient. And if there’s an issue and the staff wants to make something better, at Maimonides, that housekeeper ... participates in trying to figure out solutions to do a better job.”
MANAGER, NEW YORK GRANTS
Heidi Springer usually shows up when a business is in the middle of a major change—be it in the process of handing power from one generation to the next, finding a new building or generally looking for new opportunities to survive and grow.
“I love working with smaller companies that are multigenerational,” Springer said. “Grandfather started the business, and now it’s the grandkids’ responsibility to make sure they carry out the vision. And there’s a lot of pressure for people like that.”
Springer has made a career out of helping New York businesses succeed. She spent 13 years at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where one of her personal highlights was helping to develop the FRESH program, bringing supermarkets into food-desert neighborhoods that otherwise didn’t have access to fresh meat and vegetables.
“This was a way to bring some of that knowledge and expertise to aid the development of neighborhoods that generally don’t get a lot of investment,” Springer said.
In September Springer started working for the New York Grant Company, a private consulting firm. In this capacity she helps companies find new markets, and guides them through various incentives that might be available to them.
“A lot of my successes here have been helping deliver information that I’ve learned at the city level as far as how incentives are viewed, what types of projects the city wants to see and to a lesser degree what the state is looking for,” she said.
Finding real estate remains a daunting necessity for many businesses in a city where so many previously industrial neighborhoods have been converted for housing, and retail operations have priced businesses out of areas, she noted.
For someone who has spent years learning the intricacies of tax relief and incentives that business might be eligible for, the biggest challenge remains getting information out to businesses. Despite such obstacles, Springer keeps a positive spirit.
“Persevere and get out there, and there will be a positive outcome,” she said. “And that’s something I take to work with me every day.”
VICE PRESIDENT, ROYAL BANK OF CANADA
If a clockmaker is interested in how things tick, consider Lindsey Boylan a clockmaker for government.
Boylan, the vice president of municipal finance client strategy for RBC Capital Markets, has had an interest in what makes governments work since she was a high school intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
A political prodigy, so to speak, at the same time she was interning Boylan also sat at the helm of a state marketing organization, in which capacity she lobbied federal lawmakers.
From there, her interest in government’s ticking blossomed.
“Part of having had that experience at such a young age made me really want to learn about the management side of things, which is what I find so compelling about New York City and what municipalities have to do,” she said.
Trying to find a way to make New Orleans work after Hurricane Katrina didn’t hamper her passion, either. The storm happened during Boylan’s senior year at Wellesley College, spurring a debate about how to make sure that a municipality rebuilds in a fair and equitable way after a disaster. That dialogue led her to the question of how to make cities work for their people, she said.
Having previously worked as an executive for such public-private partnerships as the Bryant Park Corporation, 34th Street Partnership and the Chelsea Improvement Company, Boylan has found in RBC insight into the tax-exempt financing market that cities and municipalities take advantage of to fund their public works projects, she said. That type of funding source is something she believes will continue to be of interest to policy makers and municipal leaders for some time to come.
While RBC is a good place for her at this point in her career, Boylan said, she has aspirations to get closer to the inner mechanisms of government.
“I’d love someday to be involved in government,” she said. “And I love New York City, so I would love to be involved with governmental management with the city or the state.”
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CITIBANK / CHAIR, BROOKLYN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
When she was 8 years old, Denise Arbesu passed out from malnourishment on the streets of Montreal.
Her family, political refugees from Cuba, had just moved from Indonesia, where her father was the Cuban ambassador. “This was before things like social services or socialized medicine were available there,” she said of Montreal. “My dad hadn’t been given the permits to work
yet, and we ran out of money very quickly.”
Young Denise was revived and helped home by a stranger, a doctor who became a family friend—and whose selfless generosity would
help shape Arbesu’s commitment to community service. With the family subsisting on bread, cheese and coffee, Arbesu’s parents were mortified when the stranger returned the following day with food and clothing. He told them, “I don’t want money. I’m doing this because I want you to do this for someone else when you can.”
That philosophy has guided Arbesu’s life. “There are always going to be people who are better off than you, and people who are worse off than you, and so I always try to do as much as I can,” she said. “I’ve always felt a pull to community service.”
Arbesu excelled in school and attended Concordia University before moving to New York in the early 1980s. Today she is a senior executive at Citibank, helping entrepreneurs secure financing. She is the first woman and Latina to chair the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, where she has been a passionate member for almost 20 years.
Arbesu is also a prolific and effective fundraiser—netting more than $40,000 for the American Cancer Society at her own wedding— and is active on several community boards. In 2013 the state Legislature named her Brooklyn’s Woman of Distinction.
This year Arbesu is returning to Indonesia for the first time.
“It’s always been a wish of mine to go back,” she said. “Of course, you can never replicate the past, but the point is that it was a part of me and led me to be the person that I am today.”
VP OF GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS & PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GOOGLE
Ellen West has done it all. Her secret? She didn’t plan on any of it.
The daughter of a New York City police officer, West grew up on Long Island, then moved to Florida with her family. She returned to the Northeast to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania before getting her J.D. from Stanford Law School.
After beginning her career in investment banking with Goldman Sachs, she made the first of several life-shaping professional moves.
“I really wanted to do something in public service; I got that bug during law school,” she said.
Heading to Boston, West worked developing course material for a newly developed program in business ethics at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. In the late 1980s West began volunteering at the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, eventually leaving Harvard to run the AIDS group’s financial housing and legal services program. After several years West moved with her husband to Moscow, where she took a job with United Way providing technical support for NGOs, nonprofits and economic development projects.
“That’s where I got really motivated by what business can do to have an impact on social issues,” she said.
West’s next move was to London, where she joined Charities Aid Foundation, which advises large companies on philanthropy. From that role she transitioned to corporate citizenship.
Ultimately West accepted a job building a communications team at Google. Today she looks for ways to support the development of New York’s technology sector, coordinates community outreach and has helped expand the company’s communications operaration in Latin America and Canada.
Her experience has taught her a valuable lesson: “Don’t try and plot out your career in advance. I think you can miss out on opportunities,” West said. ”Things that may, at first, look like a lateral move—if they’re interesting, if they give you a lot of responsibility, if they give you the chance to work with really smart and motivated people—can provide you with ways to stretch and grow that you may not have anticipated.”
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
Irene Baker’s approach to life is that there is nothing you can’t accomplish.
“You need to own your fabulousness,” Baker said enthusiastically, before laughing. “Don’t quote that.”
Baker ought to know what she’s talking about. She is the woman who directed the creation and operation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, an enormous undertaking that is transforming the way that New York State accomplishes its economic goals.
Baker graduated first in her class from the night program at St. John’s University School of Law, something she set out to do from the first day of class. She went on to positions as a law clerk, litigation associate and chief of staff to the CEO of a large multinational firm.
“It’s funny, because all of my background is Queens,” Baker said. “Tom Manton is from Queens, Judge [Joseph] McLaughlin [was] from Queens and Andrew Cuomo is from Queens.”
Baker joined Cuomo’s staff when he was still attorney general, serving as his executive counsel. Applying for a job running his labor bureau, she instead wound up running his day-to-day operations and helping determine and execute the priorities of his office. When he became governor, Baker followed him into the administration.
“It was a very interesting time to have a front seat to state politics in New York,” she said. Most of all she enjoyed the ability to directly address issues people had, and to help them find solutions.
Under Cuomo, Baker served simultaneously as director of the Regional Economic Development Councils and as the director of cabinet affairs.
Now she serves as a top executive for Madison Square Garden, a job she clearly also loves.
“It’s a fabulous organization,” Baker said. “We have tremendous community outreach through the Knicks and the Rangers and the Rockettes, through our Garden of Dreams Foundation. The commitment that this company makes to community is very important to me... It’s really kind of my thing.”
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS MANAGER, ENTERGY
Joanne Fernandez’s guiding professional philosophy comes from a poem she read in her early days as a freshman at Brooklyn Technical High School: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “To Laugh Often and Much.”
“I always remembered a couple of lines ... it defined what success is,” Fernandez said. “He spoke about being able to laugh often and win the respect of intelligent people, and the appreciation of an honest critic ... and to leave the world a bit better.”
For the past eight years Fernandez has directed and managed the day-to-day legislative political activity and community affairs for Entergy in Albany and Westchester County. She is also involved in the company’s long-term charitable contributions and communications.
“I pride myself on being involved... not only with the company’s development and strategies but also communicating [those] to our external stakeholders, our customers and our community,” she said.
Before beginning work at Entergy in 2006, Fernandez was a legislative assistant in the New York State Legislature, first working for the Assembly majority and then in the New York State Senate. While working for the Legislature, Fernandez was proud to have played a role in drawing up legislation that would help the children of individuals who died on American Airlines Flight 597, which crashed in Queens on its way to the Dominican Republic, to attend CUNY on scholarship. She later became the director for legislative affairs for then Gov. George Pataki.
Though she worked many years in partisan politics, Fernandez strongly values those with diverse views and interests.
“I pride myself in having friends of various political philosophies and persuasions, and I always learn something by having them in my life in terms of [bringing] a different perspective on things,” Fernandez said.
This approach speaks to the heart of her career-long goal to engage in meaningful dialogue.
“Being able to have the opportunity to have a conversation and provide information in an open mind and setting is both a challenge and an opportunity.”
PRESIDENT & CEO, NEW YORK PUBLIC RADIO
At the heart of Laura Walker’s job as the longtime president and CEO of New York Public Radio is a difficult and unusual ask.
“In a way our business model is that people pay for something they get for free, and that’s a really high bar,” said Walker. “If they’re going to pay for something they get for free—in other words, become members when they don’t have to—they’re paying because they care deeply about it, so every day you think of that person and have to create something that is so compelling and so unique and so high quality that it will pass that bar.”
The approximately 11.5 million listeners who tune in to WNYC monthly to absorb programs like The Brian Lehrer Show, The Leonard Lopate Show and newer favorites like Radiolab and Freakonomics Radio certainly would not dispute that Walker has succeeded in this endeavor. In addition to overseeing the creation of hours of fascinating content daily, she has significantly expanded the company, acquiring the classical music station WQXR in 2009 and that same year opening New York Public Radio’s state- of-the-art headquarters, which includes the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.
The next frontier for Walker, who began her career as a journalist and producer for National Public Radio, is ushering her beloved medium to the vanguard of the digital age. With its new app WNYC is catering to listeners who increasingly tune in exclusively via their mobile devices by using technology to personalize their radio experience. “It’s stage one of a very interesting experiment in how you aggregate and curate audio in the mobile environment,” Walker explained.
Though times have changed, 18 years after Walker took the helm at WNYC the position has lost none of its luster: “I honestly come home and say I have the best job in New York.”
ANCHOR, PIX 11 MORNING NEWS
If you watch PIX 11 Morning News, you already know the show’s co-host, Sukanya Krishnan.
“Morning television is very intimate,” Krishnan explained. “People know about me, my life, my parents, my culture, my children. It’s just an intimate, intimate place to be, and WPIX has offered me a home and a place where I can do that. They’re very proud I am who I am, and they don’t hold me back.”
After 14 years on Channel 11 and 20 years in total on the air, Krishnan has legions of devoted fans in the New York metropolitan area. She is particularly appreciated by a growing population not generally well represented on local television: Born in Madras, India, and raised on Staten Island, Krishnan is the first South Asian-American anchor of a morning news show in the nation’s No. 1 media market—a distinction of great personal importance to her.
“It’s meant everything to me,” said Krishnan. “I think the media industry as a whole has a lot to learn in terms of diversity, and I think they definitely have to make bigger strides in representing the South Asian community. They are nowhere near where they should be in reflecting the population that they serve, especially in this area.”
While waking up every weekday morning at 2:30 a.m. to go to work might sound like an intolerable grind to many people, Krishnan savors the excitement of living and breathing history as it unfolds each day. And though she has won three Emmy awards, one for her coverage as a live reporter of 9/11, she also immensely enjoys that her job on Morning News is not just to inform but also to entertain.
“You have to be a three-dimensional person, and that works to my wheelhouse,” said Krishnan. “I’m a journalist, but I don’t define myself just by that. I think that television lends itself to being completely in color, and I am definitely in living color and all the different colors of the rainbow. And I do not make apologies for who I am.”
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, WNET
Inspired by her mother’s love of reading and literature, Sally Garner knew in high school that she wanted to be a writer. The first in her family to go to college, she eventually followed her passion and pursued a career in journalism.
“I just did it,” Garner said. “It must have been in my nature.”
Garner started out in local TV, and later became a reporter and producer. Success in the beginning came down to three things: “curiosity, a willingness to work long hours and some really great veteran journalists who were willing to share their experience.”
After working for KNXT-TV (now KCBS) she became a reporter at public tv station KCET and later a producer for CBS News and then the CBS Evening News. Moving to WNET, the parent company of New York’s public television’s THIRTEEN and Long Island’s WLIW21, she wrote and produced for WorldFocus, and was later a senior producer at NJTV News. She also wrote and produced the documentary Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center. Two years ago, she was asked to be the Executive Producer for a new program, MetroFocus. It started as a monthly program, and became a weekly one.
“We have a very small team, so I do a lot of hands-on work, but I also have the opportunity to work with journalists and multimedia producers and help them as they learn about the business,” Garner said.
Living in New York means access to anyone and everyone.
“I work with our host [Rafael Pi Roman], and together we come up with interviews and segments and people we want to talk to from journalists to scientists to academics … all kinds of great people,” she said.
Garner said that no two executive producers are alike, but they have one thing in common: They need a sense of humor.
“The challenge is to get the very best quality interviews and stories on the program every week, with limited resources,” she said. “Every newsroom faces that right now.”
Garner observes that journalism has changed radically since her entry into the business, but “it’s never changed its editorial perspective. Everyone gets up every day and tries to do the best they can to find the truth and ask the hard questions.”
BROOKLYN REPORTER, TIME WARNER CABLE NEWS NY1
Jeanine Ramirez sometimes feels like a one-woman news bureau. And she loves it.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Ramirez has close ties to the community she covers for Time Warner Cable News NY1. She says Brooklynites are used to seeing her standing in front of an unmanned camera reporting local news.
“I just travel around the boroughs with this camera, and I shoot all my own stuff, and I really like the independence,” she said. “I know my community really well, and I know where the stories are.”
In addition to covering all of Brooklyn, Ramirez is the lead reporter on many Latino issues for NY1. Besides reporting around New York City, she traveled to the Dominican Republic to report on hurricane damage, to Cuba tocoverNewYorkentrepreneurs’ attempts to find a new market on the communist island, and to Puerto Rico in 2001 following protests and the arrests of New York legislators.
After getting her degree in communications from Fordham University, Ramirez went to work at Channel 11 WPIX-TV. It was there
she decided she really wanted to be a reporter. At the recommendation of a friend, Ramirez took a job in Texas to gain the experience she knew she would need to be on the air in a larger market like New York. “I was covering cook-offs and rodeos, but I was ... learning every day,” she said.
She eventually returned to NY1 as its Brooklyn reporter, pairing her connections in the community with the experienceshehadgainedinTexas. During her time with the station, Ramirez has made a name for herself covering everything from natural disasters and politics to education and human interest stories.
“I stood on the boardwalk for Superstorm Sandy in Coney Island and had to escape. I covered 9/11,” she said. “And those things stand out. But just this past week I covered a man who turned 112! He just walked right into his own party, and I had a whole conversation with him. I’m still amazed.”
EXECUTIVE EDITOR, NEWSDAY
Deborah Henley is not a native New Yorker, but New Yorkers are lucky to have her here.
Raised in Virginia, Henley knew from a young age that she wanted to go into journalism. In high school she wrote for her community paper. Studying at the College of William and Mary, she decided to major in government.
“I thought that would be a good background,” she said. “A good area to understand to go into journalism.”
Since graduating Henley has worked for newspapers in Virginia, Delaware and Kentucky, as well as New York State.
“I enjoy being a part of organizations that provide strong local coverage,” she said. “That’s what I looked for in the places I went.” Henley has worked for Newsday, where she is now executive editor, in three separate tours of duty.
In 1992 Henley was a member of a New York Newsday team that won a Pulitzer for coverage of the 1991 Union Square subway crash. When New York Newsday closed in 1995, she spent some time at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and then worked as executive editor of The News Journal in Delaware before returning to Newsday in 2004. In 2008 Henley was again honored as a Pulitzer finalist for the paper’s coverage of accidents occurring at Long Island Rail Road stations.
“We went through records. We talked to people. We searched through data. And we burned up a lot of shoe leather to tell a good, important local story,” she said.
Henley is passionate about the importance of strong local journalism and the role of journalists as community watchdogs. Executive editor of a paper that has 19 Pulitzers and been a finalist for 18 more, she commends her staff for producing the kind of journalism she believes is so fundamental.
“There’s nothing we can’t aspire to,” she said. “If you look around at the people that City & State and others have honored in our field, there are lots of amazing role models.”
PRESIDENT, THE AFTER-SCHOOL CORPORATION
After-school care may be getting more press coverage thanks to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education proposal, but Lucy Friedman has been talking about it for years. In 1989 Friedman led a study group under Mayor David Dinkins that resulted in the creation of Beacon Schools. Almost 10 years later Friedman founded The After-School Corporation, which aimed to build a citywide system of after-school programs for all students.
Friedman got her first taste of helping children at her first job as a teen at Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side. She saw the change arts, music and sports brought to the kids who didn’t have access to them otherwise, and decided all kids should have the same opportunity. It wasn’t until several years later as a Peace Corps volunteer that she realized helping children reach their full potential would be her life’s work.
While working in the Dominican Republic, Friedman once again saw how much more kids could learn if they had an environment that included extracurricular activities.
“I think traditional learning is really important, but I also saw the value of kids having exposure to lots of different kinds of activities and being in a nurturing environment,” she said.
She is excited that de Blasio is pushing for more after-school programs, Friedman said, especially since funding has been scaled back through years of budget cuts. As the ideas she helped pioneer begin to take shape, her focus will be on maintaining quality programs, she said.
After seeing her own four children, now grown, struggle to stick with less than comprehensive after-school programs, Friedman wants to spare today’s parents the same problem, with programs that not only teach but are engage students’ interest.
“I saw, through my own kids, that voice and choice was very important,” Friedman said. “We have certainly taken that lesson into our work in developing after-school programs.”
PRESIDENT AND CEO, NEW YORK CITY POLICE FOUNDATION
Susan Birnbaum never encountered anti-Semitism until she left her hometown of Great Neck on Long Island. But when she did, it drove her to her first job out of college with the philanthropic United Jewish Appeal Federation.
“It really inspired me to start my career in the Jewish community,” she said. “But after many years, I really wanted to bring those skills to a much broader community.”
During her time at UJA, Birnbaum managed solicitations and coordinated fundraising events. She raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the organization before leaving to manage the Columbia College Fund, which grew by 90 percent in 10 years. At Columbia Birnbaum also managed the Fund’s annual budget, planned the annual leadership conference, coordinated a large staff, and collaborated with deans and administrators.
“Growing up, my parents really taught me that we were fortunate and it was important to help others,” Birnbaum said. “That was something that was really instilled in my upbringing.”
After leaving Columbia, Birnbaum went to work for the New York City Police Foundation.
“I had my experience with UJA in social services, and then in higher education, and now I’ve moved into public safety, where it’s the public-private partnership that’s really very exciting for me,” she said.
As president and CEO, she oversees all tactical and strategic activities, works closely with the NYPD commissioner, cultivates donors, builds the board of trustees, develops policy, garners support for NYPD programs and manages staff.
“The importance of public safety in a post-9/11 world was something that I was really drawn to,” she said. “Being able to get the word out to New Yorkers about the importance of supporting public safety and not taking that for granted. Being able to raise money to support the priorities of NYPD, the best police department in the world.”
It is the people, she said, who ultimately inspire the work she does. “To help people be charitable, to help them think about how they can help,” she said, “I think that is probably my very favorite part of what I do.”
PRESIDENT, NEW YORK COMMUNITY TRUST
Lorie Slutsky has had the kind of uninterrupted job tenure most people can only dream about. As president of the New York Community Trust since 1990, Slutsky got her start at the organization as a grants officer in 1978, and became executive vice president in 1987. She credits her initial success to a strong liberal arts education at Colgate University “coupled with the analytical skills I got in graduate school.”
As New York City’s charitable endowment, the New York Community Trust provides early risk capital for a range of projects and services. A private organization, it funds issues ranging from community gardens to feeding the hungry to jobs training.
“It is really interesting work in a city like New York with a rich and diversified nonprofit sector that provides hundreds of millions of dollars of contracted services to the city and state,” Slutsky said.
Since the beginning of Slutsky’s presidency in 1990, New York Community Trust has grown from $400 million in assets to $2.4 billion by the end of last year. In 2012 the trust made grants totaling $136 million to more than 2,000 charitable funds.
Slutsky describes herself as “demanding but fair.” As president she manages three primary areas: fundraising, investments, and grant making.
“I approach my job by hiring and training the best talent and then supporting them in their tasks,” she said. “It also requires that I spend a good deal of time with donors, prospective donors, nonprofit executives and government officials to let them know about and understand the work we do.”
In addition to hiring the best talent, the job requires identifying good proposals, a “passion for New York and New Yorkers,” and explaining why a strong community foundation “is essential for a strong community,” Slutsky said.
“If I succeed at that, the hallmark of my tenure will be a strong, well-endowed community foundation that is at the heart of making New York a better place for all New Yorkers to live and work.”