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Industry Showcase: Women in Business

Meet some of Louisville’s leaders in their industries whose expertise is creating positive change in our community

 

By Liz Bingham

 

The July Issue of The Voice is an edition when we get to celebrate the women movers and shakers in our community and learn about what makes them tick. We had the opportunity to speak with five local ladies to hear their stories, get the inside scoop on each of their industries and how they got their start to success. 

Samara Davis.

Samara Davis,
Black Bourbon Society and Diversity Distilled

With over four years of diversity and inclusion advocacy plus 15 years of event planning experience, Davis knows exactly what it takes to create unique one-of-a-kind experiences for diverse audiences. Her work leaves your palate and your conscience wanting more, with a greater appreciation for bourbon and passion for inclusion, within the spirits industry!

Ever the advocate for all things balanced, Davis founded Black Bourbon Society in 2016 upon realizing that there was a lack of diversity towards people of color within the bourbon community. Through her work with Black Bourbon Society, she has partnered with and featured several brands including Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Four Roses. Most recently, Black Bourbon Society’s Maker’s Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2 was named Best Bourbon and Best American Whiskey overall at the 12th annual International Whisky Competition, bringing in two first place gold medals – the competition’s highest category honor. Davis has coordinated exclusive events, curated dinner pairings and private whiskey tastings in markets such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. She also organizes exclusive trips to Kentucky and hosts an annual bourbon conference, Bourbon Boule, every year in New Orleans for her 20k+ Black Bourbon Society members and followers.

Named one of Wine Enthusiasts Top 40 Under 40 and featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Black Enterprise and more; Davis often shares her expertise as an Executive Bourbon Steward by hosting tasting seminars, judging spirits competitions and much more. As a diversity and inclusion consultant, she works with executives and entrepreneurs to understand and strengthen their relationship with consumers of color and to develop and refine their brand’s marketing strategy. In addition to her work with Black Bourbon Society, Davis is also the Founding Executive Director of Diversity Distilled, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with brands in the spirits industry to identify and address their diversity and inclusion needs within the workforce. She speaks to organizations and has spoken on several panels on issues regarding race and DE&I in the spirits industry.

Although she has accomplished much in her career, Davis’s favorite role is simply being “Mommy” to her two children, Alva and Rex. She is married to her business partner and Bonded In Bourbon co-host, Armond Davis. With a true love for the inclusive culture that bourbon naturally brings, Davis is taking the industry by storm and inspiring much-needed change within it, one glass at a time.

How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it?

I have been in this industry for five years. I came to this industry as a consumer who saw a need for more diversity and inclusion in the workspace. I started planning bourbon-sponsored events for my personal network. Excitement quickly grew and turned itself into a budding bourbon society with over 22,000 members from all over the country.
We still plan events but now we also curate exclusive trips to Louisville and an annual conference, Bourbon Boule, which is every Labor Day Weekend in September.

What do you love most about your job?

I love that I get to create my career as I go. There’s no blueprint for what I am doing and no one to ask for permission to do it. I wake up every morning and figure out how I want to make an impact in this industry and just do it!

What makes your workplace unique?

My workplace is unique because it’s wherever I am. I could be flying across the country to sign bottles or produce an event for some of our 22,000 members from across the country. I could be filming content for our social media channels, or at home with my family working on the couch in my pajamas. No day is the same. But I love the variety and every moment that each opportunity brings. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that my job is actually a successful and fun career!

What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career?

Through Black Bourbon Society, I hope to continue to create large-scale activations and marketing campaigns geared towards consumers of color. Through my non-profit, Diversity Distilled, I hope to become more of a resource to the brands assisting them with solving their diversity and inclusion challenges. Overall, I hope the work that I am doing will create a more inclusive industry and that the leadership and trendsetters in this industry look more like what America is today.

What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?

Just do it! There is so much opportunity to create your own path in the spirits industry. If you have an idea and you’re passionate about it, go for it! We need you at the table. 

Ashley Davis Sigman.

Ashley Davis Sigman,
Davis Jewelers

As Vice President of Louisville’s largest fine jeweler, Ashley Davis Sigman serves alongside her father, Hank Davis. She has grown up around the family business her entire life. After graduating from Indiana University Bloomington with a degree in communications and a studio art minor, she envisioned herself working in the hospitality industry. As fate would have it, the family business had a need for customer service which led her to return in a more formalized role. Over the years, she has held many positions in the business – inventory, buyer, sales and custom designer. 

Davis Sigman has been instrumental in the growth of the business including adding luxury jewelry brands such as David Yurman, Marco Bicego and Robert Coin as well as the development of the in-house watch service department. 

Along with senior buying responsibilities and her custom design, she now oversees a team of 25 full-time employees in the single store location. Additionally, Davis Sigman is involved in the community supporting many charitable events and non-profit organizations and is currently serving on the New Albany Floyd County Education Foundation.

How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it?

Unofficially, my entire life! I was born into the jewelry industry and, as a teenager, I would assist during the busy holiday season by answering the phone, gift wrapping, processing transactions and selling too. My love for business blossomed and has grown with each passing year. However, officially, I just celebrated my 17th year.

What do you love most about your job? 

It’s hard to pick my favorite part since I juggle so many roles; from the hand-selecting of jewelry, to designing one-of-a-kind custom creations, to creating “Brand Ambassadors” through the strong established relationships that I have made. My goal is always to become a client’s “personal jeweler.”

What makes your workplace unique? 

We get to be at the onset of one of the most exciting times in a couple’s lives! We get the pleasure of building relationships with our clients that in turn become life-long friends. 

What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career?

As the business transitions from one generation to the next, I strive to maintain and grow the enterprise that has already been established and to remain Louisville’s largest fine jeweler. 

I do this by never letting moss grow underneath my feet, finding new opportunities in this industry, being a life-long learner and always discovering the latest trends. 

What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?

I would certainly recommend this industry to others.  If you are seeking a career that is fun, engaging, ever-changing and where you can have a positive impact in people’s lives, then the jewelry industry is it!

Kelley Dearing Smith.

Kelley Dearing Smith,
Louisville Water Company

Kelley Dearing Smith’s career revolves around out-of-the-box thinking and telling a story. Dearing Smith is Louisville Water Company’s vice president of communications and marketing. In her career at Louisville Water, Dearing Smith has developed strategic partnerships and communication efforts that build Louisville Water’s brand and highlight the value of something most people take for granted, high-quality and reliable drinking water.  

Dearing Smith is a member of the company’s executive leadership team and directs internal and external communications and content marketing, brand development, education and outreach, government relations and economic development.  

Dearing Smith has authored a book highlighting Louisville Water’s history and oversaw the development of the “WaterWorks Museum” at the company’s 1860 original pumping station.  

Prior to Louisville Water, Dearing Smith worked in television news. She is the incoming chair of the American Water Works Association’s Public Affairs Council and frequently speaks to utilities and businesses on best practices for branding and communication. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from Eastern Kentucky University.  

Dearing Smith lives in Louisville with her husband Doug and daughters Katie and Kortney.

How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it?

I joined the company 22 years ago in 1999 after working in television news. I discovered the job by a phone call to an acquaintance who worked at Louisville Water when I had a question about a story. I learned there was a new communications job at Louisville Water and I should consider it. 

At the time, I was in management at a local television station and I had always said “whenever someone else fed my child breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was time to find a new path.” In early 1999, my husband and I had an 18-month old and a nanny who should have just lived with us. I took a leap of faith, interviewed and got the job. You could say I “drank the water” because I’m still here! 

This summer, I’ll chair a national public affairs council for the water industry. I’m proud that several years ago our company added the VP role for communications; it’s a huge testament to the emphasis we place on building the brand and being transparent, visible and consistent in how we listen and communicate. 

Now, my two daughters have grown up around Louisville Water and are often our best brand ambassadors. I’ve been able to have the career that’s so important to me but also have that balance for my life with my husband and daughters. 

What do you love most about your job?

I love the people and the product. I’m curious by nature and I love to tell stories, and who knew there were so many great stories with water and Louisville Water! I use my journalism skills daily; it guides my decision making and my stance that Louisville Water “tells stories – we don’t issue statements.” My team is laser-focused on highlighting something most take for granted, a high-quality and reliable supply of drinking water. Through education and outreach, content marketing, brand journalism, economic development and community relations, we’re building a community that values water. Louisville Water is the only water utility to trademark its tap water. In Louisville, the water is so good it’s called Louisville Pure Tap™.  We have fun with the water; through events, social media, in schools, or a visit to the WaterWorks Museum. There are so many stories to tell. 

With my peers on the executive team, I love the diversity of thought that happens when you bring engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers and a communicator to the table. Often, I represent the customer’s voice and I think my peers would say I’m always asking what’s the story with an initiative and why should our customers care. 

What makes your workplace unique?

Louisville Water has a unique connection to every place in Louisville. Not many businesses can say that. Louisville Water is not just a utility, we’re an essential employer, an anchor in this community for public health and quality of life. Our blend of field crews, office staff, scientists and engineers builds our unique workplace culture. During the pandemic, we balanced taking care of those employees whose jobs could not be remote but also quickly sending home nearly 200 employees to work. Now, coming out of the pandemic, we’re reshaping how our company looks. I expect this will be a several-year journey.

We’re also a company with a trademarked product, Louisville Pure Tap™, a National Historic Landmark with the Louisville Water Tower and a favorite community walking spot with the Crescent Hill Reservoir. We may be the only drinking water utility with a bourbon page on its website too – more than a dozen distillers use our recipe to make their award-winning Kentucky bourbon.  

What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career?

I never want to stop listening and learning. Over the next few years, Louisville Water is focused on the customer experience by transforming how our customers interact with us and how they learn about our product and delivery. A big part of the project is listening to our customers and making sure we deliver on our brand promise. 

During the pandemic, my wow moment was how quickly thousands of people fell behind in paying their Louisville Water bill and that sparked an idea to reshape the affordability conversation which is also tied to the equity and inclusion issues we’re facing in Louisville and across the United States. I want to be a change agent in this effort. 

What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?

Working in the water industry is not just working for a utility, it’s a career where you can truly say your job impacts the health and vibrancy of your town. Louisville Water is grounded in science and engineering, but there are also journalists, accountants, HR professionals, business analysts, customer service reps, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, computer programmers and marketing professionals who make it possible for Louisville Pure Tap™ to flow from our faucets. 

Dawn Marshall.

Dawn Marshall,
KTC Construction

Dawn Marshall is the director of operations for KTC Construction. Marshall has worked with the company for over 13 years, helping support its growth from a small remodeling company to one of Louisville’s premier construction companies. As the director of operations, she manages all aspects of the business but still enjoys working directly with clients, architects and designers on their projects. 

Early on, Marshall saw the need to speak to clients in their language. She contributed significantly to changing the way KTC presents proposals and blueprints in a way that takes out the intimidating language and helps clients easily understand them. Many KTC clients have never remodeled or built a house, and most are women. Marshall has found that having a woman to discuss their questions and concerns has been helpful in opening communication flow, leading to better project results and happier clients. 

Born into a military family, traveling is one of Marshall’s greatest passions. She and her husband, Phil, have traveled extensively throughout the country and internationally. Travel has allowed her to meet people from all over the world, learn how they live and about architecture. 

Dawn and Phil moved to Louisville in 1994, live in the Highlands in a wonderful old fixer upper near Cherokee Park, have a beloved beagle named Arthel and both enjoy working with the KTC  team.

How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it? 

I started working with KTC in 2008. I met Kiel [Thomson] through my husband who was a subcontractor for KTC. I had been in the mortgage business for years and things started crumbling in 2008. Kiel was looking for a bookkeeper at the same time I wanted to leave mortgage origination.

What do you love most about your job? 

We typically work on older homes that have lots of character and charm. Each new project we do is completely different from the previous project. There are always quirks to work out, which keeps things interesting. It seems that the most interesting houses are owned by the most interesting people and I love getting to know our clients and connecting with them.

What makes your workplace unique?

Kiel and I tell every person we interview that they can create their own position. They can run the company if they want! We encourage people to find their niche, learn new things about the construction business and help the company grow in different ways. I always tell my story of starting in a part-time accounting position and becoming the director of operations in a fairly quick time frame.

What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career? 

Specifically for KTC, I’m trying to implement new processes that will help our projects move seamlessly from development to design to construction, giving our project managers the tools and support they need so that the client is not only happy with the finished product but also with the process. 

What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?

Now is the time to start! There are many opportunities in the construction business – from designing to drafting, bookkeeping to carpentry – it’s endless. Young people starting out can find apprenticeship positions or trade schools where they can begin to learn a trade that will become a well-paid career without going into the debt that a typical university or four-year college requires. 

Jana Flowers.

Janna Flowers,
Clique Boutique

Janna Flowers is an impact entrepreneur solving problems in the beauty industry.  She is the founder and CEO of Clique Beauty Boutique, a multi-location spa with its own skincare brand that ships nationwide.  She is a Dallas native but has called Louisville her home for 15 years. In her spare time, you will find her spending time with her family and restaurant hopping around town.

How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it?

I have been in the beauty industry for more than 20 years, which is more than half my life.  I started working part-time for an international beauty brand and fell in love with everything about it. Seeing guests leave with a smile and coming back to visit with me again was a tremendous experience.

What do you love most about your job?

I wear multiple hats both personally and professionally. One of the things that I enjoy most is mentoring young women and seeing them reach their true potential. I still consult with our guests to find the best services and products for their day-to-day needs. I also love being a creative voice for the look and feel of the brand, which has changed dramatically over the past few years.

What makes your workplace unique?

First, I’m extremely proud of our company. We provide a clear path and plan for our team to reach their goals, and we encourage each team member to think big. Secondly, we look to utilize the team’s natural skill sets to better position them and our brand. Our goal is to find their special niche where they are most likely to succeed.

What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career?

We want to continue down the path of taking the guesswork out of skincare. No more buying things you don’t need from big box retailers! When you see your esthetician on a monthly basis, it gives you peace of mind that they are suggesting the right products for you. We find that women on a consistent regimen, guided by their esthetician, have better long-term results.

What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?

Call us! We will happily set up a time and introduce you to some of our staff members. We love sitting down with women that are interested in our industry and giving them a behind-the-scenes look into our clique. You can meet with a manager and esthetician and get any and all questions answered that you might have.