Business Entrepreneur SEEN People Profiles

2017 Top 10 Michigan Business Women

March 23, 2017

By Amy Gill 

The National Association of Women Business Owners Greater Detroit Chapter has named their Top 10 Michigan Business Women. These women will be recognized on Thursday, March 23rd at 6:30 pm at Laurel Manor in Livonia.

Paula Tutman, Emmy Award Winning Broadcast Journalist & Local 4 Reporter will be the EmCee for the evening, with keynote speaker Linda Mitchell, Senior Director of Microsoft’s Partner Evangelism Team. The VIP-Receoption begins at 5:30pm, with the awards dinner from 6:30pm – 9:30pm – tickets are still available and can be purchased online at www.nawbogdc.com.

Though from different backgrounds and locations, all of the recipients are incredibly hard working, motivated and inspiring. Their stories are worth knowing, so I’ve compiled their bios to give you just a glimpse at what these women are capable of!

Read on to discover more about these innovative women in business:

Up-and-Coming Award– Gwen Jimmere, CEO & Founder, Naturalicious

2017 Top 10 Michigan Business Women

From the Naturalicious About page:

We got our start when our founder and CEO, Gwen Jimmere, found herself on the brink of becoming an unemployed single mom, after suddenly getting laid off while going through a grueling divorce. To generate income, she decided to start selling the products she made in her kitchen that when combined, miraculously cut her wash and style time down from 5 hours to a mere 30 minutes!

The astonishingly simple 3 step process was enough to do the work of 12 products she had collecting dust underneath her sink. Taking the marketing skills she honed from her swanky corporate job as a Global Digital Marketing Director at Ford Motor Company, Gwen started Naturalicious and never looked back.

We’ve since become one of the nation’s fastest growing hair care companies and Gwen proudly rocks her spot in history as the first African American woman to hold a patent for a natural hair care product. Everybody loves Naturalicious and rounds of applause have come through from the good folks at The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Black Enterprise, Essence, Fast Company, and Buzzfeed, just to name a few.

The best part about Naturalicious is that Gwen’s six-year-old son Caiden gets to help his mom call the shots at our headquarters, serving as the CCO (Chief Candy Curator). Together they make sure each order is sent out with a sweet surprise and our customers literally eat it up!

Giving Spirit Award– Nicole Blackmon, sole proprietor, Strategic Image Consulting

After gaining a university level education Nicole went into the fields of Customer Service and Administrative support where she worked for such companies as Blue Care Network and Ford Component Sales, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. Due to working with high level Executives, Sales Directors, Vice Presidents, CFO’s and Presidents, she realized that she needed to enhance her communication and leadership skills so she became a member of Toastmasters International. It didn’t take long before she was moving up the ranks. She received the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader awards and was nominated and elected President of her Toastmasters club. After serving in that capacity, she was nominated and elected to serve as Area Governor of 4 clubs in the District by serving as the liaison between the district level and local level. Nicole provided strategies to increase membership and to ensure that each club maintained a positive status within such a large international organization. Nicole is considered an advanced toastmaster and is working toward the High Performance Leader which will allow her to attain the highest level within Toastmasters, the Distinguished Toastmaster Award (DTM).

Nicole realized that her education, employment, and leadership experience were vital keys needed for today’s youth and had a passion and a desire to bring forth a program that would help middle school and high school students. Hence, Strategic Image Consulting, LLC was birthed with the purpose of working with the youth by enhancing and perfecting their speaking, presentation, and leadership skills necessary to become effective communicators and leaders of today and for our future.

Nicole has volunteered her time by working in the Farmington Public School District training students at Harrison High School as well as North Farmington High School. She is also contracted with the Neighborhood Legal Services of Michigan working with their Financial Literacy Program in various Detroit Public Schools preparing elementary, middle and high school students to participate in speech contests.

Nicole has a strong desire to see the youth become strong communicators and leaders and is dedicating her time, talent and skills to make sure they become the best in the world.


Rainmaker Award– Patricia Shall, president, Creative Benefits & Insurance Solutions

Patricia Shall established Creative Benefits & Insurance Solutions (CBIS), a commercial insurance agency while she was 6 1/2 months pregnant and the sole breadwinner with a 4 year old at home. Today she owns and manages her insurance agency, CBIS, with 24 employees and $50,000,000 in annual premiums but she also owns a web based baby clothing company and has significant investments in both residential and commercial real estate.

Patricia started her insurance agency (CBIS) with just herself and a part time employee, but quickly built the agency through 100% organic growth from $0 to $50,000,000 in annual premiums. CBIS continues to thrive through reputation and a solid delivery of focused customer service. Patricia built a boutique type of insurance agency to cater to client’s specific needs. Some of her clients include City of Detroit, RGIS, Trion Solutions and Grace Centers of Hope. While her focus is in the United States, but she often crosses the border to assist her customers that also work in other countries. But international sales are no stranger to Patricia because her baby clothes company sells to customers around the globe.


Warrior Award– Anistia Phiaria Thomas, Phiaria Insurance Group

Anistia Phiaria currently serves as President Emeritus of the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Black Chamber of Commerce (of the U.S. Black Chambers underneath the White House Administration) empowering small business owners to succeed within the community. As Founding President, making history as running the first African American Chamber of Commerce in Washtenaw County (one that was primarily Klu Klux Klan dominated), surfacing 3200 Black Owned businesses under her stewardship has merged major partnerships with business resources to the entrepreneurial community. Anistia also served as Advisory Board Member: Alzheimer’s Association: African American Initiative and Advisory Board Director: Budgeting & Economic Development, Washtenaw County: My Brother’s Keeper under the Obama Administration.

Anistia serves as the Detroit Chair of Walker’s Legacy- a national business collective for Women of Color, with over 20,000 in membership, 20 chapters nationally, and 6 countries. Partnered with the White House, the initiative is to provide a generational wealth platform for entrepreneurs and professionals. Anistia and the Detroit Chapter has launched several programs for Detroit since it’s May 2016 inception, including its Power25 Women Leaders, Single Mothers of Color initiative with the WL Kellogg Foundation, FoodPreneurs Series, Online Accelerator Prospectus Program, Detroit Business Revenue and Profit Events, partnership with the Women of Color Entrepreneurial Circle (MBCC), a University Cohort launched at Michigan State University, with 5 additional MI Universities scheduled to launch in 2017, international editorial opportunities for Detroit businesswomen, an upcoming incubator program for Detroit Women of Color, and partnership with Google on leadership/skill building for entrepreneurs and professionals.


Innovation Award– Jennifer Randall, co-founder and president, Maestro LLC

Jennifer graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor’s degree in education and worked as a middle school teacher for four years before making a career change out of education and into the corporate world. From 2000 – 2007, she worked for Johnson & Johnson in sales, sales management, and sales training. Jen left her cushy corporate job in 2007 to start Maestro eLearning, a company that designs and develops software to make sales teams more productive. Her first role was working as the VP of Sales which, in the beginning, involved making cold calls from her home office. Jen now serves as president of the company drawing on her diverse and successful background in teaching, sales, sales management and sales training. Maestro currently occupies a 5,200 square foot office in Kalamazoo, MI.

In Jen’s “spare” time, she serves as a Board Member for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and has taken on a huge passion project called Lamb Of God which is a community Easter oratorio that draws 200 community members from over 50 churches. This has been a huge project and has taken place over the last three Easter seasons. Jen is married to Sean, her husband of 20 years, and is the proud mom to two boys, Reid and Mackenzie.


Pinnacle Award– Judith Kucway, CEO, Motor City Stamping

Judith Ann Kucway (Judy) began Motor City Stamping, Inc. (the company) in the late 1960’s producing simple washers for GM.  The company operated out of a portion of a 5,000 square foot building in Sterling Heights, Michigan.  Production equipment consisted of a few small presses.

By 1982 the company had outgrown its current facility, and moved to a 25,000 square foot building in Harrison Township, Michigan.  The product line expanded to include in-house welding and complex stampings.  Through Judy’s leadership and vision, the company became a preferred GM supplier.  By 1987, additional manufacturing space and equipment were needed.  So the company moved to its current campus in Chesterfield Township, Michigan.

The company expanded its production line to include complex welding and assembly. This, along with expanding her customer base, led to further expansion of facilities and equipment in 1993 and 1998.  Additional facilities were acquired in 2015 and 2016.

Judy’s leadership has allowed the company to adjust to the changes in the automotive industry over the years.  She has shown great strength and leadership as a woman business owner.  At the beginning, she had to compete in a male dominated industry.  By delivering good quality product at competitive pricing, the company became a supplier.  Judy took the time to develop trusting relationships as the Director of Sales.  Her leadership in the business world led to her serving as a Director of other businesses, as well as on the Diversity Board at GM.  Her company is certified to ISO/TS 16949, ISO 14001-04, and has been certified by the Women Business Enterprise National Council since 2004.

Judy is married and has four children.  Along with her husband, two are actively involved with the company.  She supports several charities and is a founder and board member of Austin Catholic High School.


Diversity Champion Award– Rita Brown, national director, Project: Accelerate!  

PROJECT:Accelerate! is a grass roots advocate for powering women’s careers, opportunities and options as they consider and grow in the construction, engineering, trades and design industries.

Rita Brown, a seasoned construction professional conceived and sparked the first Project Accelerate. Designed to be modular and interactive with information delivered on a number of levels to the participants, Project Accelerate is by design a fast-track opportunity to sample options, reinforce experience and expose strengths.

It was with assistance and buy in from the building industry that this program has evolved with every subsequent cohort.


Philanthropic Award– Marseille Allen, president, The Warriors Trust Fund

Marseille Allen is a legislative liaison for the United Auto Workers Local 6000 and serves as the president of the Warriors Trust Fund, a nonprofit she established to assist combat veterans under active felony supervision in the criminal justice system. Marseille received BAs in Sociology and African Studies from Wellesley College, and an MA in Sociology from Wayne State University.

After graduating from Wellesley College in 2001, Marseille served as the assistant to the Majority General Counsel for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (H.E.L.P) Committee under the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Subsequent to 9/11, Marseille followed her immediate supervisor to the Center for Community Change, and then later relocated to Korea to teach English. Upon her return to the U.S., she served as a truancy officer until joining the Michigan Department of Corrections in November of 2006.

In 2013, while supervising U.S. Military Veterans on felony probation, Marseille co-founded the Oakland County Combat Veterans Treatment Court, one of two combat-only courts in the country. When promoted to a non-supervisory role within the Department, Marseille founded the Warriors Trust Fund which has established relationships with UPS, Uber and other local businesses to better support military veterans.

Marseille continues to use her skills to empower communities. In response to the Flint Water Crisis, she established the GoFundMe campaign, WaterForFlint-WFF. The campaign raised more than $60,000 ($10,000 was awarded by GoFundfMe after a week-long fundraising competition) for the purchase of water. Her efforts received national and international recognition, including from Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton and Governor Rick Snyder. Additionally, Marseille and her team distributed 2.1 million baby wipes donated to her campaign from Huggies.

Marseille is a member of the Boards of Directors for the Veterans Support Foundation and Pretty Hearts, and serves on the Fund Development Committee for the Shelter of Flint.


Red-Tape Buster Award– Anne Mervenne, president, Mervenne & Company

Anne is the President of both her consulting firm and Voyage to Morocco and responsible for both strategy and execution for both companies. As a Co-Director for the MPLP program, Anne works with her colleague, Steve Tobocman, to set the direction for the program such as its curriculum, selection process and fundraising and development plans.

At the national level, Anne was entrusted by the International Republican Institute to execute critical leadership training programs for women in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. Within our state, Anne has stewarded and led the Michigan Political Leadership Program for almost 20 years for Michigan State University. Within our local community, Anne was asked by then Chair, James B. Nicholson, in 2013 to serve as a member of the Executive Committee and as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation which raises funds to support the Detroit Police and Fire Departments.  The Foundation raises money through events such as the “Women in Blue” event which recognizes women first responders. Funds from that event are used to support the Sex Crimes Unit and the Child Abuse Unit.

The body of Anne’s work – as a political trainer of women, at home and abroad and in her other leadership roles – was recognized in 2013 when she was nominated by IWF Chair Anne Doyle and received the “Wonder Woman  Award” from the Women Officials’ Network Foundation along with IWF Members, the late Patricia Hill Burnett, Carolyn Cassin, and Nancy Philippart.

Anne was appointed by Gov. John Engler to serve on the MI Humanities Council and by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to serve on the Board of Directors of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation. Anne currently serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which raises money for the Detroit Police and Fire Departments; the Board of Trustees of the Citizens Research Council, a nonpartisan research organization; and the Center for MI Steering Committee, an organization committed to citizen engagement in Michigan government and politics.


Words of Wisdom Award– Dr. Vanessa E. P. Ghant, senior associate, Person 2 Person Associates

Dr. Ghant is a community lecturer and tutor.  For the past 17 years she has worked with indigent domestic violence victims many of her clients have Substance Abuse and criminal background issues.  Person 2 Person Associates provides presenters /workshop trainers on behalf of nonprofit and for profit organizations.  She developed a successful, methodology.  Through her company, Person 2 Person Associates, Dr. Ghant has been successful at making a serious impact on her clientele.  Religious intervention coupled with vocational training achieved an enormously change in the lives of her clients.  Through coaching, counseling and teaching, the respondents learned how to reshape their lives.

Dr. Ghant received a Proclamation during Women History month March 8, 2012, from President Barack Obama.  Also, she received the Satellite Chair award in 2011, and the “Spirit of Detroit Award” by the City Council of Detroit, MI. December 16, 2010.

Dr. Ghant received the “Giving Spirit Award” from the Governor Office of the state of Michigan in 2006. In addition, she received the NAWBO, Greater Detroit Chapter “Giving Spirit Award, as one of the Top Ten Michigan Business Women Owners in 2006.  She was also awarded the “2004 Community Outreach Award”.


2017 Top 10 Michigan Women in BusinessGreater Good Award– Carey Pachla, president, Fast Switch, Ltd

Since joining Fast Switch, Ltd. in 2003, Carey Pachla has directed business development, client management, recruitment and operations at the information technology consulting organization. Fast Switch provides IT and engineering resource and staffing solutions, executive search expertise, contract-to-hire programs and consulting services.

With a career spanning over 24 years in business development and executive management in the information technology and logistics sectors, Pachla’s business philosophy of offering an adaptive and accessible approach internally and externally is serving Fast Switch’s valued clients and valued team members well. Fast Switch has experienced growth year over year since inception. Fast Switch operates in over half the states in the U.S. and is poised to reach $95 million in revenue in 2016.

Pachla has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University and a Masters of Business Administration from Wayne State University.

As an active member of the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT) for over 13 years, Pachla is committed to exposing girls to information technology careers, providing scholarship opportunities to young women and increasing career development for women in IT. She currently serves on the MCWT board as president and sits on GreenPath’s board of trustees. Additionally, Pachla and Fast Switch, Ltd. support numerous IT intern programs such as their partnership with Focus Hope that is building a strategic community outreach program.

About NAWBO 

The Greater Detroit chapter of NAWBO is the premier business resource for women business owners in Southeast Michigan. NAWBO was founded in 1975 and has over 5,000 members in 60 chapters across the United States. NAWBO Greater Detroit’s membership includes the finest women entrepreneurs in the area, sharing their experience and empowering each other through NAWBO membership. Their companies include emerging enterprises, sole proprietorships and longstanding companies with multi-million dollar revenue. For more information, visit: https://nawbogdc.org/index.php.






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