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Posted: May 01, 2010

Spirit of Athena

Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce honors women who mix business acumen, community service and leadership

Mike Taylor

Leadership inspires, especially when it comes from someone who is not content to simply achieve success but yearns to share her experience and wisdom. This year's Athena Award finalists exemplify the kind of passion that extends from the professional to the personal to help other women reach their potential.

On the following pages we profile Athena winner Paula Herzmark, executive director of the Denver Health Foundation; and finalists Heidi Crum, founder of 10 til 2 - The Part-Time Placement Service; Jill Tietjen, president and CEO of Technically Speaking LLC; Anna Maria Larsen, managing partner of the executive search and coaching firm Larsen Consulting International; and Robin Heller, executive vice president of Western Union.

The winner and finalists were honored by the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce at a gala reception on April 29 in Denver.

"As in previous years, this year's nominees were truly exceptional. It is wonderful to see the difference these exceptional women are making in their communities and businesses," said Donna Evans, president and chief executive officer 
of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce. 
"I congratulate all of the finalists and look forward to 
honoring them for their outstanding contributions 
to our society."

And the winner is...

Athena_Paula_Herzmark_2.jpg

Paula Herzmark

Paula Herzmark says knowing she has the opportunity to give back is what gets her up in the morning and keeps her going during the day, and that's a valuable mindset considering the giving she inspires on behalf of Denver's public safety-net hospital system.

"I am energized by making a difference," says Herzmark, executive director of the Denver Health Foundation, the fundraising arm for Denver Health. The hospital and its programs delivered more than $360 million in uncompensated care last year and treat about one in four Denverites.

What's also evident is Herzmark's commitment to Denver, the place she's called home since 1970 when she moved immediately after finishing graduate school at the University of Texas. She's been a force in business, government or community service - sometimes all three - ever since.

"I love it here," says this year's Athena Award winner. "Colorado is the only place to live."

Born in Honolulu, Herzmark grew up in El Paso, Texas, the oldest of three girls whose father was an astrophysicist, the chief scientist at White Sands Missile Range. Her experiences since her arrival in Denver have been a mix of entrepreneurism, government involvement and community service, experiences she draws upon today.

She served on former Gov. Richard Lamm's cabinet from 1977 to 1982, developed two cable companies - Solar Satellite Communications, which she took public in 1984, and Prime Time Cable Corp., which she started in 1984 and sold in 1990.

"I had a wonderful opportunity to learn how the private sector works and to be able to then carry on those lessons into the nonprofit world, where my heart really is," she says.

That initial foray into the nonprofit world was the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center, where Herzmark served as CEO from 1992 to 2004. During that time, she also chaired the board of directors for the Denver Health and Hospital Authority as it transitioned from the auspices of city government (as Denver General Hospital) to an independent authority.

"The idea was to be able to give Denver Health the flexibility it would need to survive in a very different environment than we had been in to that point," Herzmark says of the hospital's transition in the late '90s. "We have gone basically from about 2,500 (hospital) employees to 5,300. Almost 40 percent of Denver's children get their care at Denver Health or in part of our system.

"We believe this wouldn't have been possible, that the financial model would not have been sustainable, as a function of city government," she says. "We needed the flexibility to be able to go out into bond markets and borrow money to continue to grow the organization so that we could serve the community. It's made a tremendous difference in our ability to do that and our ability to care for Denverites."

Dr. Patricia Gabow, CEO of Denver Health, describes the role of the Denver Health Foundation as "both friend-raising and fundraising for Denver Health, and to position Denver Health to be a place where people think of for philanthropy."

The philanthropic aspect is particularly challenging not only because of the current adverse economic climate but because, as Gabow points out, until 1997 the hospital was a city government entity. "And people don't view city government as a prime target for their philanthropic efforts," Gabow says.

That's changing under Herzmark, 62, who became executive director of the foundation in 2004. Last year the foundation raised $11 million for the hospital and its programs while either creating new campaigns or growing existing ones to serve the dual purpose of raising funds and increasing awareness. The foundation also completed two endowments and launched seven new endowment campaigns.

Under Herzmark, the foundation has doubled revenue and attendance at its annual black-tie gala; more than tripled its donor base; and created a new board for young professionals to support the work of the foundation.

"We've been starting from scratch in the last 12 years to build a component of philanthropy and raise the idea of Denver Health in the public's eye as a place where they might want their philanthropy to land," says Herzmark, who was appointed to the Denver Water Board in May 2009. "I do feel good about what we've accomplished so far, but we've got a long way to go."

Gabow says Herzmark brings a breadth of experience and skills to the foundation that would be hard to replicate: her years in the community, knowledge of governmental processes and perspective, her experience running businesses and past role as CEO of a major not-for-profit entity.

"I think she's rather unique in her background," the Denver Health CEO says. "You stack up those four characteristics, you have a pretty unique set of skills."

Denver Health is celebrating its 150th year in 2010, and Herzmark says, "I see a terrific future for us in terms of continuing to grow and serve the community."

From her vantage point, that starts with helping people understand the critical role Denver Health serves in the community.

"Denver Health is more than just a hospital," she says. "It's also eight community health centers in our most underserved neighborhoods; it's 12 school-based clinics in some of our most underserved schools; it's the public health department; it's a poison and drug center; it's 911 for our paramedics service. There are a number of roles that Denver Health plays in the community I'm not sure everyone is even aware of. But the result is that we're able to serve this community in a way that most communities don't have access to."
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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