WJA’s ‘Women in the Know’ Conference Has Record Attendance for its Speaker Lineup

The icy weather conditions in New York City on March 16 did not stop more than 250 women–the highest attendance to date–from attending the fourth annual “Women in the Know” Conference, held at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The congenial atmosphere inside drew professional women–and a few men–from across the U.S., representing all areas of the jewelry and related industries, said Conference Chair Fran Pennella, director of sales and marketing for Rotenier, Ltd. A roster of high profile, motivating speakers focused on developing leadership skills, networking, luxury marketing, public speaking, and Internet strategies.

In addition to the program, networking with women from all aspects for the industry was an important motivation for women to take a day out of the office to attend the event. “I love the affirmation that comes with spending time with the women of WJA who have become my friends and mentors over the years,” said Gena Alulis, CEO of Superfit and president of the WJA Mid-Atlantic Chapter.

 The 2007 Conference was sponsored by Collectors Universe companies: Gemological Certification & Assurance Lab and American Gemological Laboratories, and Platinum Guild International.  

Judith Ripka, the opening keynoter attributed her success to passion, persistence, and performance. “Being persistent and surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging friends, and associates can catapult your business into the big time,” said Ripka, who started her business with a $1,000 loan from a friend in 1973. 

In 1986, she redesigned a friend’s pearl necklace and added a gold toggle. Word of mouth led to orders, creating a buzz and a signature style that transformed her business. 

With financial help from her second husband, Ripka opened her first store in Manhasset, N.Y., in 1993, taking out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times that read: “Bring us your pearls.”

She now employs more than 120 people, including 105 women, her husband and two of her sons. When it comes to hiring, she advised, “trust your instincts.” She added, “Passion for creating jewelry can also take your business a long way,” she added. “Even if it had not become my business, I would still design jewelry. I’ve sketched two days a week religiously for 34 years.”

Author Carole Hyatt led a workshop on “How Smart Leaders Deliver Results.” Two to four million people voluntarily change jobs every year,” said Hyatt, who has been writing and lecturing about career topics for over 30 years. “All work today is in flux. People stay an average of 3.6 years at the same job.” She discussed building a business relationship network and encouraged attendees to make a list of who they really need to know in the industry. “You can get to anyone thru three people,” she said. 

Greg Furman, president of Furman Communications and the Luxury Market Council, emphasized that the luxury arena will continue to grow. Consumers want defining experiences–from travel to spas–as well as products that are really beautifully made, he said. The issue for marketers will be how to engage this diverse audience and find out more about them. “The best marketers see marketing as an investment, using their sales people as strategic partners and segmenting out their ‘best customers,’” whom Furman defines as the 2.9 million in the U.S. with liquid portfolios of $1 million or more.

Breakout sessions offered five speakers:

Renee Palmer, president of Pink Rat, a New York City-based web design and consulting firm that focuses on small and medium-sized businesses, spoke about the importance of a website and how to maximize Internet visibility.

Linda Zimmer, business and professional coach with over 30 years of experience working with the jewelry and other luxury industries, talked about “The Journey of Reinvention.”

Larry Sharpe, president of the Neo-Sage Institute, offered a presentation about effective networking.

Beth Schoenfeldt, president of Ladies Who Launch, a national women’s business group that provides support to women starting new business ventures, provided tips on making the transition.

Erica Keller, senior trainer for Media Training Worldwide, a media and presentation training firm, entertained and enlightened the attendees with the mistakes and speaking secrets of some of the world’s most famous leaders. 

A “Women of Excellence” panel, featuring WJA Awards for Excellence past winners, was moderated by Lynn Ramsey, president of Lynn Ramsey Public Relations.  The panel comprised Julianne Jaffe, vice president, J.J. Marco; Candy Udell, president, London Jewelers; Chris Correia, president, the Chris Correia Collection; Tania Riddell, accessories editor, Modern Bride; and Diane Mattioli, sales director, luxury goods, Conde Nast Media Group. The group shared their inspiring success stories, including the many challenges they faced in juggling the demands of work and personal life.  

The “Women in the Know” Conference concluded with the “Shining Stars Awards.”  WJA asked each of its chapters to choose a dedicated member who has contributed to the success of the chapter.  The recipients, who won a trip to the conference, each spoke with great enthusiasm and often emotion about the contribution the organization has made to their personal and professional growth.  This year’s “Shining Stars” were:

• Vanessa Kuykendall, assistant sales manager, Tiffany & Company, Pacific Northwest Chapter;
• Maria Piano, vice president, operations, Shreve & Company, Northern California Chapter;
• Wendy Pratt, founder, Pratt Public Relations, Los Angeles Chapter;
• Ruth Batson, CEO, American Gem Society, Rocky Mountain Chapter:
• Jeanie Hord-Bellows, owner, I Dream of Jewelry, Southwest Chapter
• Ruth Thuston, buyer, Circa, Inc., Midwest Chapter;
• Deborah Yonick, freelance contractor, Mid-Atlantic Chapter;
• Terry Ianuale, president, TMI Enterprises, Metropolitan Chapter
• Lorraine Garvey, managing director, Thomas Sabo-USA, New England Chapter;
• Kate Donovan, manager, The Collector Fine Jewelry, and Dana Meyer, marketing manager, GIA, San Diego Chapter