We continue our series on Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) members who are making strides in prominent leadership roles within our community. In this issue, we are spotlighting several influential women in the field of finance. We asked for their insight on how they got to where they are today, what their advice would be to others and how the League has empowered them to achieve their goals. Here’s what they had to say.

 

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Photo by: Jessica Bachmann

Jennifer Bernard
Partner, Corcoran & Bernard CPAs

My parents were great examples of the kind of work ethic and teamwork it takes to succeed in all aspects of life. When I was young, my mother went back to college at night to get a degree in accounting while working full time at KPMG. My dad, also working full time, assumed roles not traditionally assigned to a husband and father. He cooked dinner, reviewed homework and cleaned the house so my mom could be supported in her successes at work and school. Seeing how much they worked together and sacrificed so my sister and I could thrive has always been the catalyst for my desire to succeed. I hope to be this kind of example to my children.

No matter the industry, it’s important to find meaning in your work. When I first started a career in tax accounting, I did not know what my meaning was. As my career and professional relationships evolved, I learned that if I do my job right, I can be a part of the growing economic ecosystem of New Orleans. The greatest joy I derive from my work is seeing a client reach their goals. If I can listen carefully to their needs and help them grow their economic footprint and overcome obstacles that impede growth, then I can impact the very place where I live. I want New Orleans to be a vibrant community with opportunities for all its children to secure meaningful work. To be a part of that aspect of our community is both humbling and invigorating, but most of all, it is meaningful to me. It drives me every day.

The Junior League has been instrumental in my success for several reasons. My financial work within JLNO has sharpened my focus on why my job is meaningful and enhanced my professional acumen. But I will forever be grateful for the inspirational leaders I had the good fortune to join at the Board table. In January, I started a new CPA firm with a fellow JLNO member. I know I would have never had the confidence to take this professional leap had it not been for the encouragement and support of these women. A true leader sees the potential of the people they lead before they even see it in themselves.

I am so grateful to have been surrounded by true leaders who allowed me to embark on this incredible new professional journey.

 

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Photo by Emily Ceravolo, Ceravolo Photography

Coleena Zimet
Senior Loan Officer, NOLA Lending Group

Where I am today is a direct result of open mindedness, persistence, sweat equity and trailblazing. I am from a small town in Mississippi with few examples of the ambitions I have. I did not anticipate home financing to be the avenue I would take, but I jumped at the opportunity. This business requires a lot of man hours, including nights and weekends, for ultimate success, especially when you’re just starting out.

This industry is rooted in personal relationships for growth and stability. To me, this means never missing an opportunity to foster a new or existing relationship, be it personal or professional. I made Senior Loan Officer and Presidents Club member five years into my employment through consistency in my work ethic, an amazing support staff and solution-driven upper management. Additionally, JLNO contributed to my success in finance by giving me a platform to meet likeminded women in my community, training opportunities to be better-rounded and unique networking opportunities.

Never shut a door before it even opens. Allow yourself to take an opportunity you didn’t think you wanted. Strive to be like the leaders you admire in your industry. What are they doing that you are not doing? Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

 

Ashley Merlin © 2015.
Photo by: Ashley Merlin Photography

Michelle Huck
VP, Finance/Controller, LUCID, LLC

I grew up in Destrehan. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics & History from Loyola University New Orleans and a Master’s in Accounting from the University of New Orleans. I’m a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) and CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner). I’ve always enjoyed logic, reason and numbers, so accounting was an ideal field for me to end up in. I started my career in public accounting at Ernst & Young before moving on to Bourgeois Bennett, Peoples Health, Liskow & Lewis and now LUCID.

I’ve always had a strong internal drive to succeed. I love a good challenge and always want to be growing and learning something new. My experience at LUCID, a market research software platform based in downtown New Orleans, has been perfect for this. For the last five years, I’ve led the global accounting team at LUCID through a tremendous period of growth. During my tenure, we’ve grown from 75 employees in one country to almost 500 employees in eight countries. During that time, I also had two children, Sterling (son, age 4), and Minerva (daughter, age 6 months). The support of my husband, Jordan, and my family has been essential to my success.

Understanding your personal values and trusting your gut are the keys to unlocking your goals. If your inner voice seems off, that’s an indication you need to change course. Make time for personal reflection. It can be helpful to look at the big picture, especially when making big decisions.

My time in the Junior League of New Orleans has been instrumental to my success. I had the opportunity to sit on two consecutive Boards of Directors as Assistant Treasurer and Treasurer. For me, having the opportunity to serve with such talented women highlighted all that is possible when we join forces for good. During my time as an active member of the Junior League of New Orleans, I have developed friendships I will always cherish. My JLNO experience helped propel me professionally as well, as my last two jobs came through JLNO contacts that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.