When first-time author Maggie Sullivan, who is a contact marketing manager for a software company in her day job, conceived the idea for her book Boss Ladies of CLE, she didn’t know any of the 20 women — some fairly prominent, others not known to most people — featured in the book. There was no particular woman who inspired the book. Instead she says she felt such inspirational stories could help inspire and encourage other women to accomplish things.
“I wanted to read a book about women in Cleveland who were a success that I could learn from,” she says. “We have no shortage of books abut Cleveland and they’re awesome but there’s nothing like this. That inspired me to write it. If you look at numbers, we don’t have representation of women in leadership in Cleveland. What I want to do with this is learn from people who have found power and give readers a resource to learn how they found they found that power.”
Not knowing any of the women, she compiled a list and sent cold emails to them based on some of her own interests: entrepreneurship, music, fitness, getting more women elected to office. She says all but a handful responded favorably. She decided on 20 because “I wanted it to be big enough to be an anthology and have that broad representation of careers, but I wanted it to be short enough so I could complete it in a reasonable time.”
“We have so many women doing incredible things in Cleveland,” she says. “But ultimately I wanted to showcase a wide variety of career paths: entrepreneurs, activists, artists, elected officials, women in male-dominated fields. I wanted to capture the spectrum of ambitions that a woman in Cleveland could have.”
Indeed she’s done that. Many Clevelanders will recognize such women as Grog Shop owner Kathy Blackmon; Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart; Cleveland Flea founder Stephanie Sheldon; Erin Huber Rosen of Drink Local, Drink Tap; Dancing Wheels founder/performer Mary Verdi-Fletcher; Yellowcake’s Valerie Mayen; and co-owners of Lakewood’s Salt, Jessica Parkison and chef Jill Vedaa. Others, such as GrooveRyde co-owner Anjua Maximo, Vitamix president/CEO Jodi Berg and interdisciplinary designer Malaz Elgemiabby, will be new to most people.
Sullivan not only told their stories but also took all the photos with her phone while admitting “I am not a photographer. I believe capturing the photos this way makes the project more genuine, and embodies the endearing, scrappy spirit of Cleveland.”
She says the book has taught her several things: that success is abut taking risks, emotional and financial; about reinventing yourself as many times as necessary to bring something something new and fresh to the table; and being mission-driven, a common thread she found in all her subjects: “knowing their success is not only tied to themselves, but it’s tied to the success of their communities, their employees and their customers. Having that larger mission and purpose driving them has really helped them keep their focus. It’s a key quality of all of these women leaders.”
She cites a quote from Mary Verdi-Fletcher, who founded Dancing Wheels, the first ensemble in the U.S. to blend wheelchair and “stand-up” dancers” in its choreography, hat she says “captures the spirit and hustle of every woman in the book.”
“If I knew what it would take to do what I’m doing, I probably would have hesitated to dive into it. I work 24/7. But then again, if it’s your passion, your dream, your desire…you just need to know there’s going to be a heck of a lot of work going on behind it. You can’t be afraid of work. You can’t be afraid of speaking up. People will slam doors in your face—you can’t be afraid of being declined or people turning you down.”