Athena Award finalist: Anna Maria Larsen
At the age of 38, Anna Maria Larsen found herself at a crossroads. Her husband had just started a new business that involved a great deal of time and a huge investment. The couple had three small children, and financially, things were tough.
"I realized we needed to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, so I went from full-time mom to working woman," she said.
Her career has evolved over the years. Today, the Athena Award finalist and her husband own Larsen Consulting International, an executive search, coaching and strategic consulting firm that has worked with everything from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Larsen, who started the business in 1990, was startled when her husband left his company and suggested they work together.
"I told him, ‘Are you insane?' I mean, we had just raised our boys. Then I considered his strengths, very different from mine, and decided to give it a try."
These days, her passion is oriented more toward working with individuals. Executive search is still part of the business, but she has another focus now.
"I actually flew back and forth to get a degree (in leadership coaching) from Georgetown University," Larsen says. "I love this part of my life. I reinvented myself when I was 38, and I feel as if I have the opportunity to do it again now."
The youthful looking business owner, who says she's in the upper range of middle age, smiles broadly when she talks about her family: Les, her husband of 38 years, her three sons and "three of the best daughters-in-law anyone could ask for."
The slight lines that appear near her eyes when Larsen grins are hardly enough proof that this energetic business owner could be old enough to have seven grandchildren, whose ages range from 1 to 11. Only her precise description of each of them reveal that nobody but a doting grandmother could speak with such warmth and detail about them.
That same enthusiasm shines through when she talks about the many charitable organizations she works with.
She's a second-term member of the national board of governors of the American Red Cross.
"We help millions of people every year," Larsen says. "In these rough times, and with so many disasters, we need people to realize that we still need support. But we've learned to run the organization efficiently, and we work well with our wonderful volunteers to help with disaster relief."
She also serves on the board of trustees of the Denver Botanic Gardens, and serves as secretary.
"It's just such a wonderful place," she says. "Gardens speak to the soul. It's a place where people can be lifted. They feel better when they go there, to such a place of beauty."
Just a few of the awards and honors she's received over the years reveal her passions. She received the Denver Metro Chamber's "Vanguard Award" for her advocacy of small businesses. She was honored by the Denver Catholic Register as Italian-American Woman of the Year. And she's been honored by a Colorado chapter of the Girl Scouts.
Larsen was the founder of the Woman Business Owner Network task force of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which focused on the needs of entrepreneurial women, and she's promoted the role of women in the Catholic Church.
"My endeavors have always been with organizations that serve and lift," she says. "The Red Cross comes across in times of great need. The Girl Scouts mentor young women. Groups that gather business leaders to exchange ideas are important. And with the Catholic Church, I want to show that women of faith can lead in many areas - in for-profit and volunteer organizations. And most important, with families. I put families first, always."
It all comes down to reaching out and helping people, Larsen says.
"I work with a lot of CEOs," Larson says. "If they're burning out on their jobs, I have to help them refocus to enable them to be driven by passion rather than fear.
"And if someone reaches out to me, and I can help them rediscover who they are and recognize their strengths, I'm happy."