Power & passion

Call them power women with a purpose.

This year’s Athena Award finalists are high-ranking professionals who care about their communities – and help other women achieve success.

On the following pages we profile Athena winner Caz Matthews, president of the WellPoint Foundation; and finalists Jill Tietjen, president and CEO of engineering consulting firm Technically Speaking; Sharon Linhart, managing partner of Linhart Public Relations; Cathy Hart, vice president of corporate services for Xcel Energy; and Tensie Homan, managing partner of  accounting firm KPMG’s Denver office.

“The caliber of women leaders who were nominated for this prestigious award made it extremely difficult to select the Athena finalists and recipient,” said Donna Evans, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. “At the same time it is gratifying to recognize Colorado’s outstanding women leaders.”




Photography by Todd Nakashima

From Caz Matthews’ loft on Market Street, you can see the southeast wall of Coors Field. You can also read the clock on that wall: Matthews times her workout to it when she uses the treadmill tucked by the street-view window.

“I watch the clock and trust me, I watch it,” Matthews says with a laugh.

It’s that down-to-earth attitude that carries through Matthews’ work as president of the WellPoint Foundation, the charitable arm of WellPoint Inc., one of the nation’s largest insurers. Matthews took the helm of the foundation in 2006 after 18 years with Anthem Inc., which merged with WellPoint Health Networks in 2004.

Matthews, 49, is best known for taking over Anthem-owned Blue Cross Blue Shield in Colorado in 1999 and steering it back to profitability and respectability over the next five years. After that, she spent nearly two years spearheading a similar turnaround at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia before returning to Colorado.

Now, this year’s Athena Award winner gets to spend her time directing grants for one of the country’s largest corporate foundations. In 2009, the WellPoint Foundation will distribute more than $20 million to support health-care initiatives.
On this day in late March, Matthews was running late because of a tour at Ridge View Academy, a charter school near Aurora she visited to consider whether the foundation might support it. But whether that happens, no time was wasted.
“If it’s not in your giving mission … you can often think of other organizations or corporations or other persons that might be able to help, or you’ve heard of certain programs that they might tap into or apply for,” Matthews says. “In Denver in particular, it’s a very small community.”

Matthews has entrenched herself in that community, working with a variety of nonprofit, business and civic groups. And the downtown loft she bought five years ago – a contemporary space decorated with modern artwork — offers a meeting place for those efforts, holding up to 150 people.

“I bought it deliberately to be a space that would lend itself to events — community events, charity events, as well as political fundraisers because I wanted to be somebody who made whatever small contribution I could make to the community,” she says.

It’s that sense of connectedness that has led Matthews to make Colorado her home. A native of England, she has lived in the United States since she was 22, and first moved to Denver in 1999.

Her parents divorced when she was young, and she grew up in a “double Brady Bunch” household composed of a brother, a sister and five step-sisters. She shuttled between her mother’s home in England and her father’s home in Washington, D.C.

She once owned a farm in England, but she gave that up for a Colorado ranch in the mountains, where she keeps horses. When WellPoint sent her to Georgia in 2004, she knew she would return to Colorado as soon as she could. She made it back in 20 months.

“I was palpably homesick when I was out of Colorado. I loved Atlanta – Georgia is a fabulous state – but I didn’t feel rooted or centered,” she says. “And when I came back here it was like standing on firm ground again.”

On a recent night, about 50 people gathered at Matthews’ loft to hear about Project C.U.R.E.’s latest mission to Cuba to deliver surplus medical supplies. Matthews participated in the January trip so she could witness the Centennial group’s work firsthand.

“I love the work that Project C.U.R.E. does,” she says. “They’re a very high-grade organization, very well thought out, very efficiently run, with a great business model — which is take equipment and medical supplies that can no longer be used in the United States — and package them in a way that can be useful to underserved communities around the world.”
As she directs funding decisions in a tough economic environment, Matthews is looking for that kind of business sense in the organizations the WellPoint Foundation supports, including initiatives aimed at reducing the ranks of the uninsured. Three years ago, the foundation and its corporate parent committed to spend $30 million toward such programs.

Matthews transitioned from overseeing 3,000 workers in Georgia to helming a staff of six spread across the country in WellPoint’s various markets.

“I’m fortunate in that every single one of my staff loves their job because every single person on my staff is in the business of giving money away to deserving organizations,” she says.


In her role as an executive at WellPoint, Matthews faced more trying circumstances. Newly divorced just two days before arriving in Colorado, she knew no one in town as she adjusted to her new surroundings and took on the task of fixing a company with serious problems.

“The challenges when I first came to Colorado were pretty significant within our own company. We had previously held the No. 1 market share position and had been a viable flourishing organization,” she says.

But Blue Cross Blue Shield had slipped to No. 3 and had lost about $200 million in the preceding four years. Its market share was eroding, its profit base was gone, morale was low and the company was losing employees.

“Employees will primarily stay with an organization that is financially viable. It’s the No. 1 satisfaction rater for any given employee. And so when the company wasn’t doing very well it prompted our associates to leave,” she says. The Price Waterhouse and Freddie Mac veteran, who began her career as an accountant, used the disciplines she had learned to apply some quick triage. What her management team needed was better data to measure performance.

“We didn’t know what our game plan was, what the business objectives were,” she says. “So we spent a long time in the early part of the time I was there developing business plans and creating metrics for success for every single department in the organization so that we had a comprehensive score card that I looked at daily.”

Anthem wasn’t the only one keeping a scorecard on the company’s performance. Matthews took leadership of a company that had a bad reputation for keeping up with medical claims. Early in Matthews’ tenure, the woman who several years later would nominate her for the Athena Award gave it to her straight up.

Hospital operator Exempla Healthcare was having significant problems with its claim payments by Anthem, says Debbie Welle-Powell, vice president of payer strategies and legislative affairs for Exempla.

“Our CEO and I went to meet with her,” Welle-Powell says. “We were sitting in this meeting, and I basically said, ‘You get an F for claims payment,’ and I thought this person would get really upset. Her response to her desire to improve that grade was noticeable. She really cared what we thought.”

A couple of years later, when a reporter called Welle-Powell to see if Exempla’s relationship with Anthem had approved, Welle-Powell gave the company a B+. She viewed the change as “a shot in the arm” for Anthem, which had made major improvements to its administrative systems.

Welle-Powell has been friends with Matthews ever since and calls her a “rock star in the community.” Her 22-year-old daughter, Ashlee Powell, worked for Matthews for several months as an assistant.

“One day she came home and said, ‘Mom, Caz has taught me about the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up.’ Nothing more needed to be said,” Welle-Powell says. “Caz connects to all women of all ages, all races and backgrounds. She is a champion and a consummate role model for so many of us.”

Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way and former CEO of the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross, says Matthews encouraged her to apply for the United Way job.

“It was Caz who said, ‘You need to look at this opportunity. This is an organization I believe in. You should look at this because I know of your passion,’” Benero says. “She’s wonderful at connecting people’s passions.”

To inspire more women to give at the United Way’s highest funding level, Matthews offered to match each one who pledged $5,000.

“She is one of the most generous women that I know … and she has a tremendous vision for what this community can be,” Benero says. “It’s been an honor to be her friend over the past five years.”


Shortly after she arrived at Anthem, Matthews decided the company would increase its “involuntary attrition rate” – the number of people who were fired rather than left of their own choice — by 10 percent. Her managers weren’t thrilled about making that goal public within the company.

“And I said, ‘Well, this message is for the 90 percent that we want to keep — because the 90 percent know who the 10 percent are — people who are not carrying their weight, who are not committed,’” Matthews says.                         

As Anthem cut that 10 percent, it was able to retain more of the workers it wanted to keep. And the greater good prevailed, Matthews says.      

“At the end of the year we regained the No. 1 market share position. We went from a $50 million loss to a $6 1/2 million gain,” Matthews says.

Among Matthews’ goals was to boost morale – she stressed to her leadership team that hers would be the only divorce among them in the coming year. And to give employees a greater sense of community, Anthem launched a major employee giving campaign for Mile High United Way.

“We got our giving up from about 6 percent to the high 40s in the first year … and established a whole series of volunteer programs and helped build pride in our company that way,” she says.

The company would ultimately win United Way’s “Spirit of Hope” for three years and the organization’s top honor, the “Champion of Hope” award, in 2002 and 2003.

“It was the only award that I ever got in a business or a personal context that made me cry,” Matthews says.

Matthews has served on Mile High United Way’s board of trustees as well as numerous other nonprofit, civic and business boards. She credits such work for many of the opportunities that later came her way, including her current board positions at Denver-based Qwest Communications and Dallas-based Perot Systems.

“The advice I would give to young women today would be to become involved in any active vehicle that can help you hone your skills,” she says. “You can get involved in volunteer opportunities, on boards, on committees to boards, civic organizations, charitable organizations.

“You learn best practices from these amazing persons who serve on boards or who work for these nonprofits,” she says. “And you can take those best practices and those skills and go back and apply them in your own day-to-day opportunity.”

Opportunities abound for women because corporate and nonprofit boards realize they need them, Matthews says.

“Women are sought after actively to make their contributions, to have their voices heard, as the wealth in this country has shifted to a much higher percentage of women making the active financial decisions,” Matthews says. “There is clear data to suggest that boards that have a nice diversity mix as it relates to men and women have a much higher performance track record.”

Matthews also has found that Denver in particular is a good place for professional women.

“The opportunity for women is significant, certainly more than when I lived in Atlanta or Washington, D.C.,” she says. “And the women here are willing to help you.”     
— Mike Cote

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Looking back, Jill Tietjen compares her life to a snowball: Her experiences have unexpectedly, yet wonderfully collected into who she is today. This path, she says, began to take shape 20 years ago, when she agreed to judge a Society of Women Engineers essay contest.

Tietjen, president and CEO of Technically Speaking, her engineering consulting firm, has dedicated much of her life to mentoring young women and girls and advocating for them to be exposed to and pursue math, engineering and science careers. She has successfully nominated 17 women into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, more than anyone else. She is co-author of five books including last year’s, “Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America” (2008, Collins).

“She’s an awesome role model for everyone,” says Rae Ann Dougherty, a fellow engineer, who nominated Tietjen for the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce Athena Award. “She’s always there to help other people … and she’s always coming from a place of service.”

While Dougherty has never directly worked with Tietjen, their worlds have often intertwined because of their involvement in Denver’s Girl Scouts Mile Hi Council and the Society of Women Engineers, among other professional and volunteer affiliations.  

“Both Jill and I started in a day when people asked, ‘Are you the secretary?’ and you’d have to say, ‘No, I’m the project manager, would you like to talk to me?’ Dougherty said. “Because I work with so many young women and older girls, I know it’s still hard out there.”

Tietjen came by her affinity for engineering naturally: Her father was a NASA engineer, both of her brothers were trained as engineers and her sister is a research scientist. But when she enrolled at the University of Virginia, hers was only the third class to admit women. She joined the Society of Women Engineers in 1979, “and I got to encourage women like me to consider engineering as a career,” Tietjen said.

Her first job out of college at Duke Power Co. led her to specialize in generation planning for electric utilities and become an expert witness in her field, testifying nationally and before regulatory commissions in support of her clients’ work. She established her own consulting firm and, for more than 20 years, she has offered her opinions and technical expertise for technical reports, peer-reviewed papers and professional articles on everything from power pooling to the challenge of developing more renewable energy resources. 

But it was her work with the Society of Women Engineers sixth grade essay contest that exposed her to the fact that few people, including her, could name a significant woman scientist outside of Marie Curie. She and a friend began researching the topic and compiling fact sheets on women innovators for students to choose from for their essays.

At about the same time, Tietjen learned about the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the U.S. equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She had just been elected to the Society of Women Engineers national board of directors.

She went on to successfully nominate Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, for the honor. She accepted the award for the 84-year-old Hopper in the White House Rose Garden, where it was presented by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

She subsequently — and successfully -— nominated Hopper in 1994 for induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Tietjen has been at every induction since. This year, three inductees will result from her nominations. “Girls need more role models,” Tietjen said. “And it became my mission to get more women in the Hall.”  Her books feature more than 850 amazing historical women, Tietjen said. “I’m floored by the women who aren’t in it yet,” she said.

Of her many achievements, Tietjen said these inductions are among her proudest. As she looks back on her life, Tietjen said, “It all fits together.”  She has also established scholarships supporting women in technology careers through the Society of Women Engineers and at the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Colorado, where she served as director of the Women in Engineering Program for more than three years. 
The scholarships, she said, “have been very exciting and satisfying to me. I know I’m impacting lives.”
—  Mary Butler

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Although Linhart Public Relations is one of the largest pubic relations firms in the Rocky Mountain Region, Managing Partner Sharon Linhart feels grateful on a daily basis for the business’ success.

Chosen as an Athena Award finalist this year by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Linhart stresses that the success of her business is not solely due to her own efforts. She attributes the prosperity of her firm to “the three P’s,” which she deems people, passion and profit.

“We have a special culture that helps to attract and retain exceptionally talented people who share our values,” Linhart said.

Kelly Burke, a former worker on the public relations team, nominated Linhart for the award.  Burke thinks of Linhart as an inspiration and was honored to have her as a mentor when she was the youngest in the office.

 “Sharon’s been such a great role model to me and my career. She’s done such a great job running her business,” Burke said.

In addition to being inspired by other entrepreneurs, Linhart names her business partners Paul Raab, Carri Clemens and Kelly Janhumen as her role models.

“They put their faith in me and in each other and are willing to make sacrifices for the success of our firm,” she said.
Linhart also recognizes her husband, Jerry, and her parents as inspirations because they taught her the importance of determination, hard work and ethics.

“I’m truly blessed. No one could get to where I am on his or her own,” she said. “I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my husband. He’s solid and my biggest cheerleader.”

Linhart considers her 13-year-old firm to still be a teenager. Long-term clients include big names like Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Chipotle. Linhart is excited to have new clients Southwest Airlines and Colorado Technical University join their family. One of her aspirations is to see Linhart Public Relations become the No. 1 independent communications firm in the country.

Linhart says the 20-person company is having a good year so far and is on track to meet its projections following a strong first quarter. She’s “cautiously optimistic” about the future.

Even with the current economic environment, Linhart is optimistic; she finds the challenges of the recession almost motivational. She says it has helped the firm become more aggressive about pursuing their business, serving clients and keeping clients satisfied.

“Even in this economic environment, with our business know-how, we can help businesses grow and thrive,” Linhart said. “And that is very gratifying to me.”

Linhart loves the diversity of challenges faced in her field. She says the morphing media landscape keeps her on her feet and allows her to learn about new businesses and ideas.

“It is an incredibly dynamic time with the seismic changes in the media and in business, and it demands that I stay abreast of new technology and communication tactics to continue to provide the best service to our clients,” Linhart said.

Although she wasn’t born in Colorado, Linhart considers herself a native. She grew up in Greeley and loves the Colorado mountains. In her limited free time, she likes to exercise, walk, hike and play outdoors. She and her husband also enjoy traveling, entertaining in their home and raising koi, Japanese carp.

“It’s kind of an odd thing, but it’s really a lot of fun. Our home has an Asian flair to it, and we have water ponds with koi,” Linhart said. “Our home is a sanctuary for two crazy cats and a lot of koi.”

Passion for community involvement was also a key ingredient to the firm’s success, Linhart said. Her favorite organizations include Junior Achievement–Rocky Mountain Inc., the Denver Metro Chamber Foundation and the Colorado Forum.

Lindhart hopes to continue her community involvement and possibly take a greater leadership role in her profession.
Some advice she has for creating a successful business is to be brave, honest and hard-working. And it’s important to trust your instincts and employ the golden rule, she said.

“I know it’s not rocket science, but it’s important,” she said. “It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and learn from them.”
— Patricia Kaowthumrong

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Cathy Hart’s list of job duties stretches as long as your arm. She is Xcel Energy’s vice president of corporate services with responsibility for aviation services, corporate communications, property services, shareholder services and the Xcel Energy Foundation.

Meanwhile, her record of community participation and outreach is equally impressive, including involvement with the Mile High United Way, the Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance and many more.
So how has this 2009 Athena Award finalist managed to take up so many responsibilities and remain effective in all of them?

Her secret: balance. “For me it’s a balance of the things that I love to do at work and the things that I love to do in the community,” Hart said. “It can be hard for women to learn how to prioritize and balance family and work.”

The trend in the U.S. over the past many decades has been toward evermore women leaving the home and entering the business world, she said. But, at the same time, these women – most often – still are responsible for the majority of household duties and familial obligations.

This means that women can face a different and, perhaps, more complicated set of obstacles than men when struggling to succeed in their careers, she said.

But as simple as the words “prioritization” and “balance” sound as keys to success, these skills don’t come easily, she said. They’re not traits that we just carry with us in our genes.

“I think that everyone needs a mentor and someone to turn to when looking for guidance,” Hart said.

Mentoring, apprenticeship, leadership and one-on-one education are the real tools for building success – allowing an individual to not only become economically healthy, but healthy mothers, sisters, friends and community members, Hart said.

“I had very strong parents,” she said. “My mother never left the home. She was very much a World War II era mother. And I think she supported my work so much because she had always wanted to do it herself.”

At least part of Hart’s success can be attributed to her parents helping her keep her eyes fixed on her goals and what makes her happy, she said.

Today, one of the activities that keeps Hart happy is philanthropy or community outreach.

“It sounds silly to say that I just like giving back, but I really do,” she said. “But I’m getting back, too. It gives my life balance.

“I know that I, personally, owe something back to the community,” Hart said. “We all do.”

In addition to her involvement in nearly a dozen different outreach and aid organizations – including the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and Xcel’s Women’s Interest Network – Hart has also made a commitment to mentor a number of younger women who find themselves juggling their personal goals and keys to happiness over the past few decades.

“Cathy has helped me stay accountable to my goals and to stay on track,” said Kim DeVigil, a corporate spokeswoman with Molson Coors who has maintained a friendship with her mentor and former coworker for about the last 20 years. “She’s really been invaluable in asking the hard questions and continuing to help me achieve my goals.

“Her efforts don’t just stop at work, they extend to everything,” DeVigil said. “She’s really an incredible person.”

Patrice Blaeser, a current apprentice of Hart’s at Xcel Energy, said that her mentor consistently encourages her to reach out of her comfort zone and take conscious steps to achieve success in all facets of life. Learning from another woman who has fought through many of the same obstacles she currently faces has helped Blaeser to realize that the business world doesn’t have to be about cutthroat individualism.

“Cathy has convinced me that corporate America doesn’t have to be bad. It just depends on the people around you,” Blaeser said.
— Dan Ray

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Growing up as the daughter of an accountant in Houston, Tensie Homan never believed that being a woman would be an obstacle to pursuing a career in accounting.

“My father was an assistant controller his entire career. He was certainly one of my biggest mentors in my life and certainly helped me understand what the opportunities were,” says Homan, who last year at the age of 39 became the first woman to be named managing partner in the more than 100-year history of KPMG’s Denver office.

“We never talked about my being a female being a challenge,” Homan says. “That wasn’t part of how I was raised. I was pretty much told I could do anything I wanted to and that I put my mind to.”

Now she’s in a position to assure other women, both in her office and on college campuses, that there is ample opportunity for them to develop into leaders in the field. After graduating from Texas A&M, Homan began her professional career in the Fort Worth office of KPMG in 1990. She left in 1997 to become vice president of finance at Kevco, a publicly held manufacturing and distribution company. She returned to KPMG two years later, joining the Transaction Services practice in the Silicon Valley office.

Transferring to the Denver office in 2004, Homan established a local Transaction Services practice and became a member of the office’s operating committee. Since that time, the transaction-services practice has gained market leadership in the Denver area and serves large and mid-sized companies in the area and across the country.

KPMG, a worldwide tax, audit and advisory firm, leads all the “big four” accounting firms in percentage of women partners – about 19 percent nationwide, and Homan says the Denver office’s percentage is consistent with that. Of the roughly 400 people in the KPMG Denver office, more than half are women.

Homan is involved with KPMG’s recruitment of accounting graduates and says, “Almost half of our new hires are females coming out of college. I do think it’s important for women who are looking at a career choice to see that it’s a very open and very significant opportunity for women to grow into leadership in accounting. We have a lot of flexible arrangements. Firms understand that when half of your work force coming out of college is female, that it (flexibility) is a benefit to retain those people to grow into leadership positions.”

Homan was nominated for the Athena Award by Brett Hanselman, an audit partner in KPMG’s Denver office. Hanselman heads up the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW) organization in the Denver office, a group whose goal is to increase retention and promotion of women in the office and across the firm. Obviously, Homan is an apt role model.

“It’s a very challenging profession, and I think it’s very important for young women to see other women in positions of leadership,” Hanselman says. “What Tensie brings to our office is a real passion about what she does. Her willingness to share her knowledge, her experience, her contacts and the relationships she has are really putting not only women but our entire office in a position to succeed and grow.” 

Part of Homan’s passion includes the community as she oversees her office’s Involve program, a project undertaken in each KPMG office nationwide that provides more than $200,000 a year to local charities, including Junior Achievement, Race for the Cure and Family Volunteer Day. She also works with KPMG’s Family for Literacy, which donates books to schools.

Who knows, some of those book recipients might grow up to become KPMG employees, perhaps even partners in the firm.

“I think what’s most important at this time is that we retain our top talent and that we’re focused on quality work and that we continue to build relationships in the business community,” Homan says. “That’s what we’re focused on right now.” 
— Mike Taylor

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