From entrepreneurs and CEOs to authors and theater directors, these 10 trailblazers have carved their own paths to success.By Lisa Leigh Connors Photography by Paul Blackmore
Jitka Borowick, owner of Cleangreen
What are the challenges of starting a business on the Cape? I actually feel that Cape Cod is a great place to be an entrepreneur. There are excellent resources available for small business owners—from SCORE and the various chambers of commerce to workshops and networking organizations. Taking advantage of these has been essential to growing my business.
Why did you start a “green” cleaning business? I always knew that if I had my own business, I wanted to do something with a positive impact on my community and the world. Feeling good about what I do and knowing that we are reducing the amount of chemicals in people’s homes are important to me, and fundamental to our business model. Also, Cape Cod’s natural environment is very fragile. We need to protect it in every way we can.
When did you move to the Cape? Was it difficult overcoming language or cultural barriers? When I came to the United States from the Czech Republic in 2003, I barely spoke any English. For a long time, it was frustrating to try to understand people and to express myself—there were many days that I wanted to give up. At the same time, it motivated me to study harder.
Explain how the nonprofit group WE CAN helped you with your success? I got involved with WE CAN six years ago when I wanted to give back to the community that helped me so much, specifically by mentoring other women. I’m proud to be a part of a wonderful family of strong, inspiring women who empower themselves and each other.
Linda Markham, president of Cape Air & Nantucket Airlines
Your rise to the top is inspiring. Was there something or someone who inspired you along the way? What inspired me was being told by others that I couldn’t do it. That was the incentive for me to work harder, to acquire valuable real world experience and to prove it could be done. My mother was a great inspiration—she was a strong, independent woman. I’d like to think I inherited her tenacity and her work ethic.
What challenges did you face when you first started? The biggest challenge was trying to identify and assemble my team. It took a full year. My background in HR and organizational development helped with the process of identifying, coaching and mentoring our employees. Within the industry, there is a pilot shortage, which has proven to be a challenge for many U.S.-based airlines. Attracting new talent and providing ongoing support and training to our existing pilot group helps with curbing pilot attrition. To aid in that training process, we provide the best possible tools for real world experience. We’re most excited for the recent implementation of our Cessna 402C Level 6 Flight Simulation Training Device, which features an actual Cessna 402 cockpit shell.
Favorite destination? Every city we serve – any time I go there, it’s my favorite destination. Cape Air was born here on Cape Cod with one route (Provincetown to Boston) and three airplanes. We now have a fleet of 83 aircraft serving 44 cities and six regions across the U.S., the Caribbean and Micronesia. The people, culture and communities are all diverse and special.
What is your key to success? I always believed that if I could offer a unique perspective different than everyone in the room that I would be asked to “have a seat at the table.” I never hesitate to seek help or raise a hand to ask a question.
Naomi Turner, co-owner of Chatham Candy Manor, director of Studio 878 Trust, founding president of Chatham Orpheum Theater
Several people have said to me not much gets done in the town of Chatham without Naomi Turner. Would you agree with this? This is extremely flattering, but not really factual. Chatham is unique in the number of citizens who take a solid interest in community affairs. There was tremendous support for the Orpheum Theater throughout Chatham: the local people, the summer folks, young working families, retirees, visitors, town officials and legislative boards. It brings to mind the wonderful Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
What inspires you to give back to your community? A number of years ago, I heard a great quote from motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” Since that time, whatever talents I have, I’ve tried to use for the highest good of the community; whether it’s donating to a local charity or providing scholarships for young dancers and performing artists.
What was the inspiration for your new play “Wrinkles?” My co-creator, Wilderness Sarchild, and I began work on “Wrinkles” in January of 2007 as we both approached our 60th birthdays—with an intention to empower women, embrace and celebrate aging and stand strong, not allowing ourselves or our sisters to become invisible just because of age.
What are you most excited about for 2015? “Wrinkles” on the stage, not just on my face!
Favorite chocolate at the Candy Manor? The Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel! Buttery, yet creamy, not overly sweet, the chocolate is intense and robust with just the right snap as you bite into the shell.
Lauren Wolk, associate director, Cultural Center of Cape Cod
What changes have you implemented since you started in 2007? As a writer, I worked hard to make sure that the motto “all the arts for all of us” embraced the literary arts along with the visual and performing. Our new education wing is, in many ways, much like my third child, since its creation has been a true labor of love.
Tell me about your new book. What is it about? “Wolf Hollow” is set in 1943 on a farm in Pennsylvania. Its protagonist, Annabelle, is an 11-year-old girl who comes of age by facing serious challenges and making very difficult decisions. She learns that the world, though beautiful, can also be a dark, dangerous and unfair place—regardless of how hard she fights for justice.
I heard there was a bidding war for this novel. True? Yes. My agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, sent the manuscript out in early November. Within one week, I had seven publishers vying for it, all of them offering two-book deals. In the end, I chose Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton/Penguin/Random House. And then, soon thereafter, we went through bidding wars in other countries. I now have publishers in the U.K., Italy, Brazil, and German.
What’s ahead for 2015: Kate Sidwell at the Studio on Slough Road has offered me a solo show that will last through the spring and summer. And we’ll open the cultural center’s new education wing this year, too. I’ve been called a juggler, and I do feel like one most of the time. But there’s beauty in the whirl of color I’m standing in. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lisa Genova, neuroscientist and best-selling author
Your story is inspiring on so many levels, from self-publishing your first book, “Still Alice,” to raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. Did you expect your life would turn out this way? Not at all. I expected to be a neuroscientist doing brain research and then a professor teaching neuroscience. When I was 33, I got divorced. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for four years, and I planned to go back to work as a health-care industry strategy consultant. But then I asked myself a question that changed the course of my life: If I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? My answer, which was both exciting and terrifying—write a novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s.
What was it like to get your first book published? Total failure. No one wanted to represent this novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s. Every query letter I sent to every literary agent resulted in a “No.” So I was left with two choices—stick the book in a drawer and go back to life as a neuroscientist/consultant or self-publish.
Do you think you will ever go back to working as a research scientist? Are there some things you miss about it? I miss the intellectual rigor and the company of my fellow scientists, but I don’t miss the day-to-day life in a lab. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Most people will never read this month’s paper about Alzheimer’s disease in the Journal of Neuroscience. But they might read a novel about Alzheimer’s.
What was it like being on the movie set of “Still Alice?” Surreal, amazing, thrilling. On my first day, I met the cast—Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Shane McRae. I smiled and said, “I made all of you up, and here you are!”
Did you envision Julianne Moore playing the main character? Yes! In May 2011, I wrote these words on a page I carried in my purse: “Julianne Moore for Still Alice.” I totally manifested her!
What’s ahead for 2015: “Inside the O’Briens,” a novel about a family dealing with Huntington’s Disease, comes out in April.
Sally Deane, CEO of Outer Cape Health Services
When you were named CEO in 2010, what were some of the challenges you faced? Financial sustainability, primary care provider shortage and shaken patient/community confidence. Within three weeks, I learned that our license to operate was at stake based on a surprise inspection from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which cited many facility and equipment deficiencies. Fortunately there were core community leader supporters, including my board and skilled health services colleagues, who were willing to lend a hand with donations and technical support.
How many patients do you serve? Do you expect even more growth over the next few years? OCHS serves more than 17,000 unique patients for health care, and another larger number of unique people in what is called “enabling services,” such as our Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children. In 2009, OCHS served 10,500 patients and approximately 1,250 through these enabling programs. Our budget has grown from $6.2 million to more than $18.2 million this year, and less than 80 employees to more than 180. OCHS expects to grow by at least another 25 percent over the next three to five years. We urgently need and are planning to replace and upgrade OCHS Wellfleet and our rented OCHS Harwich Community Health Center that functions with only five exam rooms.
What would you like people to know about Outer Cape Health Services? Outer Cape Health Services is here for everyone and has a long history on the Outer Cape of providing excellent care to wealthy visitors and impoverished residents alike. We do not turn away those in need and are working to improve care and collaborate with other service organizations.
What have been your guiding principles for success over the years? Start with the patient as the center of all plans, policies and decisions. Hire and gather the best skilled and highly motivated staff to make a difference for the greater good. Savor my gratitude for the opportunity to be of service to others and to enjoy the incredible light of the Outer Cape.
Nina Schuessler, producing artistic director, Harwich Junior Theatre
What’s the best part of your job? I love seeing the excitement on the faces of our audiences and students. I adore the inter-generational mission of HJT. There is nothing more fulfilling than watching a young actor or technician make their debut or a professional designer or actor mentoring and opening up an entire world to a young person.
Is there a play or musical that you have always wanted to bring to HJT but haven’t yet? There are more than I can count. I really love bringing the work of emerging playwrights and composers to the stage. We have to invite children and young people into the world of theater. I really don’t believe in delineating theater according to age. Good theater is just good theater.
Who inspires you? My parents inspired me because they acted valiantly during World War II. My mother, Lisa, was a resistance fighter in the Red Orchestra in Berlin, and my father, David, was one of the first American soldiers to provide relief for the survivors of the Holocaust. My children, Eric and Nadia, surprise me consistently; they challenge and fill me with wonder.
What did it mean to you to win the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod a few years ago? It meant the world to me because it came at a time of heartbreak and deep grief. Conrad, my beloved husband of 35 years, had passed away following a long illness. I had been very lucky in many ways because Conrad supported my love for theater while we were raising a family. He had told me that “life was for the living” and, in a way, the award helped me to feel my life again. It was a gift that gave me the chance to think about and thank all the people who helped me along the way.
Gail O’Rourke, owner of White Wood Kitchens in Sandwich
I love your story about how you got started. You taught yourself to make furniture? When I first started, it was a messy experience. Every cut took 10 tries, every design had many mistakes. I was patient with the process, asked lots of questions, listened and learned. The desire came from the need to furnish our home. My first inspirations came from pieces found in Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware—items that were functional, yet fitting with my tastes.
Did you think this would turn into a career? I remember vividly thinking, “I love this, how can I make this work?” I was determined to find an avenue that would help me foster my interest in woodworking. When an ad came up in the local paper for a shop assistant, I applied. I got the job and that’s what helped expedite my career in woodworking.
It must feel incredibly satisfying to transform someone’s bathroom or kitchen into their dream space. What is this like for you? I absolutely love what I do and working with clients. I can hardly wait to get out of bed and get the day started. When clients come in for a remodel of a kitchen or bath, they are very frustrated with the existing space. They can’t move in it, they can’t cook in it and they find no pleasure in these spaces. Whenever I am invited into a client’s home when the project is complete, and am greeted with a warm hug and thank you, I know that I did my job.
Why did you start White Wood Kitchens? Do you still build furniture or do you focus mostly on design now? I started White Wood Kitchens because I am an entrepreneur at heart. I loved owning Hometown Woodworking, my custom furniture company. I loved being able to make my own choices and decide what was best for each client and each project. Having my own company allows me to do that. I don’t have the opportunity to build furniture or cabinetry anymore. However, I do take out my tools when I need to and my shop is a great asset to the company when we need to use it for fine-tuning a project.
Elisa Zawadzkas, criminal defense and family law attorney, Orleans
The race for 1st Barnstable District was such a close one between you and Tim Whelan in November. What did you learn from this experience? I learned so much about the people, this community, the issues, as well as about myself. Also, I now know how to run a grass-roots campaign—optimizing time, money and resources in the most effective way possible. We gave it our all, stayed positive and, in the end, just came up a little short.
Who or what inspired you to run for the Barnstable District seat? I am inspired by women, especially women my age, in leadership positions and believe there needs to be more. So I thought, “Why not?” and decided to go for it.
You said in an interview after the race that “something inside me has been sparked.” Can you elaborate? I got a taste for grass-roots leadership, felt the powerfulness of its potential and loved it. The race combined my athletic side and intellectual side, requiring work ethic and teamwork, but at the same time thoughtfulness and strategy.
Will you run again for the same seat or a different one? Public service appeals to me and I would love to run again. Which seat is most appropriate and at what time is yet to be determined.
What are some of the toughest cases you have had to work on? Child custody cases can be emotionally draining and heart-wrenching. There are no winners or easy answers. However, it is rewarding helping families get through what is sometimes the most challenging time in their lives.
Christine McCarthy, executive director of Provincetown Art Association and Museum
You are coming off an exciting 2014, celebrating the 100th anniversary of PAAM. What were some of the highlights for you? For me, personally, the collaboration with the community at large was extraordinary—and by community, I mean Cape Cod and beyond. Our collections increased by 100 significant gifts of art. We filled in some major gaps, including works by Edward Hopper, Hans Hofmann, Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, Lester Johnson, among many others.
You are so passionate about PAAM. What drives you? I have worked in nonprofit arts organizations for 25 years and, at PAAM, I have seen how an organization can give back to a community and change lives. Part of the drive is to make sure that PAAM is perceived as a leading small American art museum. Our collections hold the same artists as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
You recently talked about how you overcame skepticism when working on PAAM’s renovations. How did you overcome doubt and skepticism in the community? I surrounded myself with people who believed that PAAM deserved to have a facility that would be the stepping stone in moving us more toward achieving our mission. I am a visionary and have the ability to think outside the box. The legacy that PAAM represents is unique and worthy of the controversy.
What kinds of programs and exhibits would you like to bring to PAAM in the future? I absolutely want to continue our educational offerings—both for youth and adults. Film and music continue to be a big part of what we present. I also hope to collaborate with more museums in other parts of America—perhaps the West Coast or Midwest.