South Carolina female CEOs and entrepreneurs were interviewed on stage by S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette in a casual conversation to discuss their roles, passion and drive during the Inspiring Women Leaders Luncheon in conjunction with the SC Biz News North Charleston Business Expo.
Evette — a female executive herself who founded payroll, human resources and benefits services accounting firm Quality Business Solutions Inc. — welcomed Barbara Melvin, CEO of the S.C. Ports Authority and the first woman to lead a top 10 U.S. operating container port; Paula “Pixie” Dezzutti, owner of Local Choice Spirits and Striped Pig Distillery in Charleston and CEO of Columbia-based Sycamore BioPharma; and Lou Kennedy, owner and CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, which will add a plant to make Nitrile gloves in the next few weeks.
The luncheon took place Tuesday during the North Charleston Business Expo at the Charleston Area Convention Center.
The female executives, including Evette, credited their drive with an early childhood mentality fostered by their parents that they could do anything they wanted to do if they worked hard, regardless of gender.
Each highlighted the need to train young girls in STEM and business careers for the future workforce.
Dezzutti, who has nine children, started her first job when she was 9 years old, sitting in on an Avon product meeting to sell the beauty products.
“I had to drag my mother down to the Marriott and listen to a presentation to become an Avon (product salesperson). It gave me skills to talk to people and fiscal responsibility,” Dezzutti said. “I didn’t have any limits placed on me to define any boundaries and so I just thought you could do whatever you want to do.”
Melvin said seeds of success were planted in her from a young age also.
“It started with a strong dad who told me I could do anything I wanted to do, including play football and even then, the limiting factor there was not gender, it was size. He said I could do anything I wanted and supported every moment of that,” Melvin said.
Previously the port’s chief operating officer, Melvin was tapped for the CEO position from outgoing CEO Jim Newsome, who mentored her and helped develop her skills.
“Having somebody who doesn’t just offer lip service, but sponsors you and really takes the time to develop you … I had that advantage in Jim and hope I can do that for someone one day,” Melvin said.
Those sentiments also came from Tremaine Moore, founder and owner of Naturally Geechee, natural hair and skin products. Moore was named Entrepreneur of the Year by The Small Business Development Center at the luncheon and dedicated her award to two mentors.
“My father always told me to keep going and never stop. My brand ambassador had also always been supportive,” Moore said. While both have since passed away, Moore said, “Now I have two angels supporting and rooting for me.”
Starting girls early learning STEM subjects, business and logistics was a topic among the female executives.
“We’ve got to get earlier in the grade level and education system and try to inspire children to pick jobs like supply chain, microbiology, chemistry or cybersecurity and tell them about what we have to offer earlier than past generations,” Kennedy said. “I think most parents and most children don’t understand that manufacturing is not like the turn-of-the-century manufacturing or even from the 1950s and 1960s; we have cool buildings with hip robotics and we’re more like a tech firm.”
Kennedy said Nephron Pharmaceuticals hired a person specifically to arrange school field trips to the plant in West Columbia to inspire the next generation.
“We’ve had 40-50 field trips since she started, kids of all ages — little kids, older kids — and we built a glass viewing corridor, a showcase, to make it student friendly.”
Kennedy said valuable degrees are in supply chain, including shipping, logistics, purchasing and banking and she touted the state’s higher education institutions with offering quality business programs.
Melvin said the ports is also taking steps to encourage younger kids to learn about logistics and supply chain careers.
“How to get young people excited about supply chain? Have them understand that when they hit ‘enter’ on a computer, the good does not come through the internet cable; that box was not born in the back of an Amazon van,” Melvin said, laughing. “It came from a ship to a terminal to a truck, maybe even rail. You’ve got to take the time to explain that this is a chain, and a lot of great people are involved in it.”
Evette said visibility of women leaders will help turn out more female leaders in the future.
“It’s important to have young girls see what we’re doing because — although it wasn’t that way in my household — maybe not every household tells them every day, ‘Do what you want to do and work really hard at it and be really good at it,’” Evette said. “I tell the governor all the time, ‘If you want to get something done, you’ve got to find a busy woman, because we can get anything done.’”