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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nation's top women leaders gathering here

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Renée Amoore

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The 3rd annual International Women's Leadership Conference

Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Sheraton Waikiki hotel, Hawaii Ballroom

$175; $150 government delegates; $99 student


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Three years ago, Melissa Pavlicek was working toward becoming a partner at a law firm as a new mommy.

Then she went to the inaugural International Women's Leadership Conference.

It changed her life.

"I really didn't even think it was for me," said Pavlicek, now 43, with two children. "I didn't have any interest in going. It was going to take two whole days out of my life, and I thought, 'No way.' "

At the two-day conference, she was inspired by women who found success in their passions, often juggling careers and motherhood to make it work.

A few months later, she quit her job to start Hawaii Public Policy Advocates, a state and local legislative advocacy firm. Then, her husband, attorney Stephen Teves, quit his job and joined her.

Going to the conference "was definitely the thing that made me actually take action on an idea I had had for a long time," said Pavlicek, who's been volunteering there ever since. "It was something I had always wanted to do. If I didn't go to the conference, I wouldn't have had the courage and confidence to actually make the leap."

The third annual International Women's Leadership Conference, hosted by Gov. Linda Lingle, is being held Tuesday at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel.

The conference features such notable speakers as Karen P. Hughes, undersecretary for diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. State Department; Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress; and Constance Lau, president and chief executive of both Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. and American Savings Bank.

Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Johnetta B. Cole will address the conference via videotaped messages.

But it's not just the distinguished guests who can inspire.

"There is something special and unique being in a room full of women, many of whom have children," Pavlicek said. "They can understand and be supportive."

Pavlicek was particularly encouraged by motivational speaker and business owner Renée Amoore, who will be speaking at the conference for the third time.

"I want women to walk away knowing that they can do anything they want to do," said Amoore in a phone interview from Beijing, where she spoke at the 3rd International Forum of Women Presidents in Higher Education. "It doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey, and sometimes it's an uphill journey. But it's all about who you surround yourself with."

Amoore believes that great things can happen when women get together to talk and network.

"We don't get to do this enough," she said. "We have to be a little selfish, to take care of ourselves first. If we don't do that, how can we do what we want to do?"

Pavlicek doesn't regret her decision to leave the law firm to run her own business. In fact, she found that she actually has more time to spend with her family and to pursue other interests including volunteering as vice president of the Legal Aid Society, chairwoman of the Aloha Tower Development Corp. and diversity chairwoman of the Hawaii State Bar Association.

"Other women have told me that it's very courageous and inspiring to think that you could actually follow your dreams," Pavlicek said. "I don't think it was courageous at all. I just needed a little push to make me see what I wanted to do all along. ... Once you follow your dreams, that's not the courageous thing. It's the liberating thing."

• • •


  • Karen P. Hughes: As undersecretary for diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department, Hughes oversees three bureaus and participates in foreign-policy development. Previously, she was counselor to President Bush and managed the White House offices of Communications, Media Affairs and Speechwriting, and was press secretary before famously stepping down in April 2002 to spend more time with her family in Texas. She's the author of "Ten Minutes from Normal," the story of her experiences working for Bush, and she helped write the president's autobiography, "A Charge to Keep."

  • Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, Coast Guard: She is the first woman to head Coast Guard District 14, which includes Hawai'i, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. Previously, she was director of reserve training in Washington, D.C., responsible for developing policies to recruit, train, allocate and support more than 12,000 Coast Guard Ready Reservists. This mother of two has earned two Legions of Merit, a Meritorious Service Medal, six Coast Guard Commendation Medals, a Coast Guard Achievement Medal, and the Commandant's Letter of Commendation.

  • Zainab Al-Suwaij: The executive director of the American Islamic Congress, Al-Suwaij is a native of Basra, Iraq, and a survivor of the failed 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. (She bears a scar on her face to prove it.) After fleeing Iraq, she finished her studies in the U.S. and works as a teaching fellow in Arabic at Yale University. She is active in numerous peace-building projects in Iraq and successfully lobbied the former Iraqi Governing Council to establish a constitutional minimum requirement of 25 percent women's participation in the new Iraqi parliament and government. She founded the American Islamic Congress soon after 9/11, with the goal of promoting moderation and tolerance within and outside the Islamic community.

  • Izumi Kobayashi: Now president of Merrill Lynch Japan Securities Co., Kobayashi started with the company in 1985. In 2001, she became the first woman and first Japanese president of Merrill Lynch Japan Securities. By fiscal year 2003, Merrill had become the most profitable foreign brokerage firm in Japan, bringing in nearly $130 million in profit. For 2004, it announced even better earnings: $172 million. Before joining Merrill, Kobayashi worked as an "office lady" for a chemical company in Japan, serving tea and making photocopies.

  • Constance Lau: In May, Lau was named president and chief executive of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., the state's largest company by sales. She also is president and CEO of HEI's subsidiary, American Savings Bank. A mother of three, Lau is also president of the Hawaii Bankers Association and a trustee of Kamehameha Schools. (She's a 1970 honors graduate of Punahou School.) U.S. Banker magazine ranked her 11th nationally on its list of the 25 most powerful women in banking in 2004 and 2005.

  • Vivian Aiona: Like her husband, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, she's dedicated to the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. She's actively involved in the Friends of Washington Place and Salvation Army. A mother of four and avid UH football fan, Aiona retired from Air Canada after 25 years of service to help her husband with his 2002 election campaign.

  • Gov. Grace Padaca: In 2004, Padaca broke the 30-year political rule of the Dy family in Isabela, the Philippines' second-largest province, when she became governor. Many attribute her success to her support from the Roman Catholic church and her fame as a local radio commentator for 14 years. During her childhood, she suffered from polio, which has forced her to walk with crutches.

  • Amelou Benitez Reyes: In addition to serving as president of Philippine Women's University, Reyes is a lifelong member and now president of the National Council for Women of the Philippines. She earned a double cum laude at the university — a bachelor of arts in psychology and a bachelor of science in guidance and counseling. She received a doctoral degree in development education from Stanford University.

  • Renée Amoore: In her third year speaking at the conference, Amoore is the founder and president of The Amoore Group Inc., an economic development, healthcare and management-consulting firm. In addition to being a motivational speaker, she is a longtime advocate of clinically appropriate and cost-effective alternatives to expensive healthcare. This mother of one was named in 2002 by President Bush to the National African American Museum Historical Committee, which worked to create a national museum of African American history in Washington, D.C.

  • Paige Hemmis: Best known for her role as a designer on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the self-taught Hemmis is president and CEO of Tuff Chix Inc., a line of books, tools, work wear and accessories for women. She is writing her first book, "The Tuff Chix Guide to Easy Home Improvement," due in September. In her spare time, she builds houses for Habitat for Humanity and participates in Keep America Beautiful's "Great American Cleanup."

    Source: International Women's Leadership Conference Hawai'i

    Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.