Each year International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8, honoring the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” is this year’s theme. We celebrate the day by saluting North Shore women who own their own companies and giving them a chance to talk about the women who’ve made a difference in their own lives.
Principal at Lark Fine Foods
After 20 years in financial services, and “on a Lark,” Brooke Carroll ventured into the specialty food world. Lark Fine Foods in Essex makes a line of all-natural cookies and savory biscuits that have flavor profiles designed to appeal to mature palates (hence its tag line, “Cookies for Grown-Ups”). Its best-selling cookie, for example, is salted rosemary shortbread, a traditional buttery shortbread enhanced with a hint of rosemary and dusting of sea salt.
A woman that Carroll admires is her grandmother. “After losing her husband in 1948, she assumed control of his trucking company and raised my father and aunt who were 10 and 12 at the time. I can only imagine how difficult it was for a woman to run a trucking business in the 50s, in a perfectly tailored dress and heels no less. But she did …with grace and style,” says Carroll.
Founder of Goldthwait Advisors
Marblehead’s Virginia Buckingham broke a few glass ceilings early in her career, serving as the first woman chief of staff to two successive Massachusetts governors and as the first woman CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority. She later spent 14 years driving public policy change in support of biopharma innovation at Pfizer Inc, including the launch of its COVID-19 vaccine. In 2020, she published the Amazon number one bestseller, On My Watch, about leading Logan Airport’s response to the 9/11 attacks and the lessons the experience taught her about leadership and resilience.
She recently launched Goldthwait Advisors offering executive-level consulting on building thought leadership platforms, designing digital and traditional public affairs strategies to influence an organization’s operating environment, and advising on corporate engagement in the public square on key social and environmental issues.
The woman she admires most is her daughter, Magdelynne Lowy. “At almost 20 years old, already understands what it took me three decades to learn – who she is, what she wants and how to achieve it, all with grace, insight and relentless determination,” says Buckingham.
Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Creator and Founder of SchoolHabits
Katie Azevedo, M.Ed. has been an educator for over 16 years, with expertise in learning disabilities, ADHD, executive functions, and SAT/ACT test prep. Through private, one-on-one coaching and online tutorials at SchoolHabits.com, Her Topsfield-based business teaches students and professionals strategies to learn and work better. She is also the creator of the Executive Function Journal, a 90-day journal that targets and builds core executive functions.
The woman Azevedo most admires is her mother, Nancy Marquis. “She was an educator in every sense of the word, and she exposed me early to the magic of education in all forms. Today, I teach students how to learn, thanks to my mother who taught me that learning itself was a superpower,” says Azevedo.
Founder and CEO of New Leaf Speaker Management
Before establishing New Leaf, Amy Gray of Marblehead spent nearly a decade as a global conference producer, which involved hiring hundreds of high-profile speakers. Discouraged by the transactional and condescending manner demonstrated by many agents representing sought-after authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and innovators, Gray created a new model. New Leaf found its niche by providing effective representation that generates high fees while conducting business with an emphasis on honesty, transparency, and kindness.
Gray admires Sara Blakely, the founder of SPANX and a self-made billionaire. She notes that after selling a major stake in SPANX in October 2021, Blakely gave each of her 750 employees $10,000 cash and two first-class plane tickets to anywhere in the world they wished to go. “She strikes me as the epitome of incredibly powerful and deeply good. She runs her company based on intuition, empathy, kindness, and vulnerability – which is truly unique. She believes supporting women is her calling and she has done so throughout her company’s dramatic rise,” says Gray.
Chef and owner of Nightshade Noodle Bar
Rachel Miller describes herself as a southern transplant with Moroccan Jewish heritage from a very blended extended family. “I’m from a culturally diverse neighborhood. I was exposed to a range of foods and experiences at a young age that inspired me to pursue a career in hospitality,” says Miller. Nightshade Noodle Bar is a French and Vietnamese-inspired seafood restaurant in downtown Lynn, featuring tasting menus, chic jungle vibes, tropical cocktails, and natural wines.
The woman Miller admires is her partner, Alexandra Caruso, who is the general manager and beverage director at Nightshade. “She’s an incredible leader who fine-tunes our service at every opportunity, conducts wine classes daily to keep us engaged, and so much more that is under-appreciated and lesser-known of front-of-house in our industry. She’s the real star here and I love working alongside her in the atmosphere she creates for the team and our guests each day,” says Miller.
Amy Pocsik and Melissa Gilbo
Founders of Women’s Business League
The Women’s Business League, founded by North Shore moms and corporate refugees Amy Pocsik and Melissa Gilbo – residents of West Newbury and Georgetown, respectively – is a community aimed at helping women connect, grow and prosper. The core of their mission, they say, is kindness and community, values that drive the connections created amongst their members. Pocsik and Gilbo, have created a community for female entrepreneurs and businesswomen to come together, share resources, and promote their businesses.
The women they admire most are their moms. “My mom showed me what it means to love with your whole heart. She taught me the power of kindness and the importance of compassion. Her example of caring for others fueled my passion to do the same,” says Pocsik. “Strength is a gift my mom passed down to me,” adds Gilbo. “She taught me that it’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it. Persevering during challenges and never giving up.”
Owner and CEO of Harbor Sweets
Phyllis LeBlanc began working at Salem’s Harbor Sweets as a chocolate dipper while in college. What started as a part-time job grew into her life’s work when she bought the company from the founder in 1998.
The woman LeBlanc sees as highly inspirational and influential is her mother. While both her parents worked while she was growing, her father’s job required him to be away seven days a week, 14-plus hours a day, so her mother was often left to raise the four children. “Not only did my mother work to support our family, but she thrived in a male-dominated business. For 35 years, she built and ran a very successful real estate company where she was respected and respectful of all people. All while cooking us breakfast every morning before school and having family dinners every night, sometimes at 10 p.m. if necessary. Now that I own my own business I have no idea how she managed to do all she did,” says LeBlanc.
Founder of Pirouette
Lorenzo-Hervé of Marblehead devised the idea for Pirouette when she noticed the market gap for movement-friendly, classic dresses made in the USA using the highest-quality fabrics available. Growing up in Miami, Lorenzo-Hervé developed an aesthetic favoring feminine, curve-flattering silhouettes, so she developed Pirouette as a size-inclusive brand. Friends and colleagues helped her along the way by trying on every iteration of the initial collection.
Lorenzo-Hervé’s grandmother had a major positive impact on her despite her difficult childhood in Cuba and struggle to restart her life in the United States after losing everything to the dictatorship. “She sacrificed her days working to provide my dad and uncle with the education she never had the chance to pursue, committed to ensuring a better life for them, and in turn us, her grandchildren. Her closet-full of fabrics and kitchen-side Singer sewing machine introduced me to the world of tailored clothing, and countering scarcity with creativity, leading me to imagine one day a life in fashion,” says Lorenzo-Hervé.
Founder of Pam Older Designs
Pam Older, who both lives and works in Newburyport, learned the lost art of hammering chain links, soldering, and polishing jewelry at a jewelry shop in Coconut Grove, Florida. She launched Pam Older Designs in 2003 which features a collection of feminine and organic jewelry.
The woman she admires the most is Nina Link at Children’s Television Studio, the publisher for all of CTW’s publishing enterprises (at the time included Sesame Street electric company and 321 contact magazines). “I met Nina when I was interviewing for their production manager position. Nina seemed very formal and reserved but quite impressive but I didn’t quite have a good read on her. I knew one thing for certain I bombed the interview. To my complete surprise, I got the job. She was the first woman boss I had had in my short career. The surprise ending of the story is that I was the first person that Nina had ever interviewed for a management position and she was more nervous than I was. We remain friends now more years than I want to reveal,” says Older.