For Mother’s Day: Loving Moms Who Were Strong Women And Mentors In Leadership

By Stan Linhorst
Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several leaders in the Syracuse business community share how their mothers’ love, support and tenacity inspired and shaped lives.

Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Never underestimate the influence that mothers have in shaping lives, careers and leadership.

For instance, Marc Viggiano rose to CEO of Saab Sensis. He credits his mother, Jacqueline Desimone, this way: “She taught me about the power of ideas and how well-thought-out and well-expressed ideas move people to action.”

Emad Rahim, of Syracuse, was born in a concentration camp in the killing fields of Cambodia where his father was executed and an older brother died of starvation. “The ones that were fortunate enough to escape ended up in refugee camps in Thailand,” Rahim said. “My mother (Sony Kong) strapped me on her back and escaped with some other people. They walked through the jungle for days to find the refugee camp.” Rahim earned a doctorate and has excelled as an author, professor and college dean.

Suntrana Allen, an Army veteran and entrepreneur on Syracuse’s North Side, says she was born when her mom, Linda Potier, was in 11th grade, an unmarried mother who had to start work in a factory. “Years later, my mom got her high school diploma and continued her education,” Allen said. “She taught me how to be ambitious, how to keep going, how not to let anything interrupt your life. Just because you hit a roadblock doesn’t mean you quit.”

Pamela Puri, founder of tech4kidz, says her mother, Shashi, was a rock of the house: “She instilled values, which I hope to pass on to my kids. Education was a high priority. Respectfulness. Humbleness.”

For Mother’s Day, here are excerpts from some CNY Conversations describing how mothers’ love, support and tenacity inspired and shaped lives.

Lesson in kindness
Yvonne Annese LoRe is co-owner and chairwoman of Annese & Associates Inc., which specializes in integrated technology solutions. Her mother, Dominica, was an immigrant from Ukraine:

She had a horrible, horrible upbringing. (Because of World War II.) She was hit by shrapnel, from a bomb. She and her older sister were in a field. My mom was 8 years old, and my aunt was 13 or 14.

German soldiers took them to a hospital. My grandfather thought his daughters had died. My mother and my aunt thought the rest of the family was killed in the bombing. My mother and aunt were moved from the hospital just before it was blown up.

They ended up in an orphanage in Germany. After the war, they were sponsored by Catholic Charities to come to the United States where they lived in orphanages and a foster home.

Question: How has that history influenced you now as a business leader?

A: I’m not a wallower.

It’s a horrible thing my mother lived through. No one should have to live through it. But, to see her life today — she is such a strong person. We always had enough to share, and my mother made our house Grand Central Station. We had to bring home every kid from every poor family at St. Francis.

Sometimes, I would say (exasperated): Really mom? We have to bring her home?

She would say (forcefully): You WILL bring her home. This was a girl who doesn’t have a mother, and she’s taking care of everything, the baking, the cooking.

My mother would wash her hair and put it in a tight French braid so the kids didn’t pick on her. We grew up never thinking we were better than anyone. There was no differentiating haves and haves not.

She taught responsibility

Drake Harrison is director of OCC’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program. His mother, Audrey Breaux, and father had divorced:

At one point, my mother worked her day job, worked her night job and went to school, all at the same time. She was an incredible woman.

My mother graduated high school when she had turned 16.

My mother was kind of like a magnet. People liked her for two reasons. One, her honesty. She could be brutally honest, but she also knew how to talk to people and what to say and when to say it. Second, leadership. My mother definitely didn’t follow; she definitely led.

She became a management analyst working for the federal government. She had three engineers and a technical writer on her team. She was their leader, the person who put the whole thing together and would write the report.

At home, she was the same. I learned to be responsible.

Gram was the rock

Dr. Bob Corona is chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at Upstate Medical University and is vice president of innovation and business development. His parents were teachers in Oneida, and his grandparents Eddie and Fifi Stewart were immigrants who founded Eddie’s Restaurant in Sylvan Beach. The restaurant is still in the family, and Corona remembers his grandparents’ influence.

We lived in an apartment over the storage facility for my grandparents’ restaurant, Eddie’s Restaurant.

That’s where I grew up. I had the beach, and Eddie’s and the midway.

My grandfather started three businesses by the time he was 18. He called my grandmother Tarz. When I was older, I asked him: Why do you call gram Tarz?

He said: She’s my Tarzan. She’s my rock.

They had this very modest home across the street from the restaurant. After my grandmother would put in her 18-hour day, she’d come back and sit in her chair in her living room with her picture window and looking out, she’d say: Is there still a line over there?
She’d say: Go over and ask so and so for an ice cream cone. I want to see how they’re scooping it out.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were teaching me the precision needed to make the ice cream cones — quality control and that stuff.

She would be there early in the morning, and he would close up at night. They taught me how to count money when I was little and I learned my math from that. They were a huge influence on me.

Building confidence

Scott Deming is an international speaker, trainer, consultant and author based in Syracuse. He remembers the encouragement of his mother, Doris.

If you ever felt like you couldn’t do something or you weren’t worthy of something, she was there to let you know you were the best. You knew it was biased, that it was mom.

But at the same time, if I did have a hard time at school or at work, my mom always had that ability to let me know: Don’t you ever give up, because you know you’re going to be the best at it. And I’m not saying that because I’m your mom. I’m saying that because I know you better than you know yourself.

She was a confidence builder.

Resilience from tragedy

Ryan Novak is the entrepreneur who developed the Chocolate Pizza Co. into a national brand. He was in middle school when his mother, Cynthia, died.

Aug. 10, 1998. My mother was driving home from work, eight months pregnant, hit by a man high on drugs who ran a stop sign and killed her instantly right there.

I was 9. It shattered our world. My dad and I learned we can get through anything together.
After hearing that news about the crash, neither one of us wanted to get in a car and drive home. We just started walking home in pouring rain, absolutely devastated. And I said: I’m gonna make her proud. I’m gonna make sure she knows that I’m gonna do the best I can for her and that I’m not gonna let this define me. I’m going to be successful because I’m not going to be defined by the tragedy.

Lots of people have tragedy, and they falter, and that’s the end of them. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.

A lasting impression

Linda Dickerson Hartsock is executive director at the Blackstone Launchpad at Syracuse University Libraries, nurturing and mentoring entrepreneurs.

Her mother, Viola Silvestre, was the daughter of an immigrant family, growing up at a time when women had few choices.

My mom was selected to be part of the New York State Business Competition in 1939, when she was in high school. That happened at the Hotel Syracuse. It was an experience that she took with her through her life, until she died a few years ago.

They selected promising high school students. I don’t know what high school business classes looked like, but it was unusual for a young woman to be selected. For her it was a great thing because she had never left where she grew up. She grew up in the Beacon-Wappingers area which is where our families came to when they came from Italy.

The experience at that age and at that era for a woman to be part of that was unusual. It left a lasting impression. Think about how new and grand the Hotel Syracuse would have been then, and how it would have looked to a young woman from a poor immigrant family that struggled through the Depression.

I admire and respect her for the grace and dignity that she brought to her life and the way she raised her daughters and instilled those values in her grandsons.

Mom taught trust in the team

Wiley Cerilli is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Good Uncle. As we talked about entrepreneurship, he recalled what his mother, Jane, also an entrepreneur who inspired him to be one, taught him.

Be totally OK with being scared. If you read business publications, you get this false sense that entrepreneurs seem to have and the story that they had everything right.

My mom gave me a great piece of advice. She said: You know, Wiley, growing up you thought we had all the answers when you were like 8 or 9 years old. The reality is, I was in my mid-30s and as a parent we had no idea what we were doing. Most parents don’t have any idea what they’re doing. But you looked up to us and said: They have all the answers. Right? There’s this pressure you can put on yourself to have all the answers.

It’s OK if we don’t have all the answers. Be comfortable with knowing: I trust this team. We’ll figure stuff out along the way.

It seems like these CEOs have all the answers all the time. They don’t. You’re supposed to scared. Just be comfortable not knowing all the answers. Be comfortable being scared. I’m scared, I’m worried that I’m wrong all the time. So being comfortable with that will create less noise around you and allows you to make decisions and make decisions faster and in a smart way.

That’s what my mom taught me.

The first business
Carlos Suarez came up with an app and website that connects people who need something hauled with someone who can haul it. He remembers how his mother, Judy, financed his first business.

In middle school one day, I went to the grocery store with my mom. They had Lemonhead candies in the bulk food area. They were 20 for $1 — five cents apiece. I asked my mom for a dollar. I grabbed 20.

Then I went to school, and I sold them for 10 cents apiece. Every time, we went to the grocery store I’d buy more. I kept selling them. I saved up $700 doing that in middle school.

In hindsight, selling Lemonheads was my first business.

Mom taught value of work

Wills Mahoney was shoveling his mother’s driveway when inspiration struck for his Plowz & Mowz business. But, his mother, Kathy, had greater impacts.

My mom, who works for me now, shaped me. She was a single mother, divorced. My father’s now deceased. She’s just a really strong woman. We didn’t have a ton of money, but she made every opportunity for my brother and my twin sister.

She showed up at every game. She made us work for everything we wanted. If I wanted a car, I had to pay for it. If I needed insurance, I had to pay for it. I might not have liked it at the time, but it set good values and made me a stronger person.

She has my back on a lot of things. I know with her, 100 percent, I’ll get a truthful honest answer.

I wasn’t the easiest kid growing up, and she kept me on the straight and narrow path. I owe her a lot for that.

The value of love

Torrence Boone, vice president of global agency sales and services at Google, remembers how hard his mother, Jean, worked.

I grew up in Baltimore, in the inner city. It was a humble beginning, not without difficulties. I was born to a single mom. I had an absent father. My mother worked very hard at multiple jobs. It was a context of struggle growing up.

My mother was a nurse’s aide. Despite working tirelessly, she was always supportive, the source of stability and a great sounding board. Despite a challenging set of circumstances, she always had a positive and uplifting outlook on life. She imparted that to my brother and me. That’s been incredibly valuable.

She set the example of hard work, tenacity and perseverance. My brother and I internalized the importance of hard work, focus, tenacity and perseverance.

Even though from a material perspective it was a difficult time, there was lots of love.

Love can compensate for a lot.

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