Inspiring Women to Lead Meet, CEO Advisor, Executive Coach & Consultant Heatherann Antonacci
Q: When you graduated from high school, did you have an idea, where your career path would take you?
HA: At a very young age I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school and I was sure that was the reason for my career choice. What I learned much later in life was that I had natural leadership skills and that is what teachers really are-they are leaders. So, I made a commitment to hone my leadership skills and use them in a way that would help others achieve their goals. I am still committed to be an inspiring and thoughtful leader and I have been blessed to have the opportunity to use these skills in the world of higher education and now in my current role as the Chair of a CEO Peer Group.
Q: Can you share with our audience, some of your experience as an executive in higher education?
HA: I earned all three of my college degrees as a single mother of two children so I understand and can certainly relate to the challenges that women face trying to balance work and family obligations then you throw school into the mix and Wow!
I did have an amazing support system that made it possible and when I started my career in higher education that was something that I found many women didn’t have. I was so impressed with the young women that came to the university and what they were willing to sacrifice in order to provide a better life for themselves and their children. They would hear my story and tell me that I inspired them, but the reality was that they inspired me, and they made me a better version of myself just by being around them.
So, for over fifteen years I had the good fortune of working with adult students and integrating myself into their journey knowing that I was contributing to their success. Not only their educational and professional success but their personal success as human beings. When they graduated, they had acquired the technical skills that they needed to succeed in their profession but more importantly they had developed a stronger character, one that was defined by compassion, integrity and a desire to pay it forward. Watching the students transition from feelings of insecurity and uncertainty to self-confidence and acceptance was one of my greatest joys as a university campus president.
Q: Tell us about the work you did as the President of the Herzing University-Winter Park campus.
HA: I led a team of faculty, directors and administrators that believed in equal access to opportunity for all. We were aligned in our vision to provide a learning environment that focused on professionalism, respect, integrity, caring and engagement. In my time as president I worked with my team to grow the Florida campus by 192% in student population and 1100% in annual revenue. The growth can be attributed to my belief that a great leader is focused on effective communication, vision and accountability.
Q: Your currently President of the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando. For those in our audience, not familiar with the organization, can you tell us about the work they do and your duties as President?
HA: I am so honored to be serving as the current president. The friendships and professional relationships that have been built over the years continue to grow and we are attracting a younger group of women who get the opportunity to learn from seasoned female business leaders and bring their own fresh ideas to the organization. We have a strong bench of successful women to ensure the legacy continues and I am excited for the future growth of the organization and its members.
OUR MISSION: Women's Executive Council unites professional women by creating opportunities to recognize and inspire women leaders and students to serve our Central Florida community.
The Women's Executive Council (WEC) was formed in 1972 in order to involve the executive and professional women working in the downtown Orlando area with the Downtown Orlando Partnership (formerly the Orlando Central Business District or OCBD).
WEC members joined various committees of OCBD and along with the city of Orlando, they worked with a local architectural firm in updating and beautifying Downtown. WEC members orchestrated the construction of mini-parks in downtown Orlando, planted trees along Orange Avenue and Jackson Street and painted the trash cans lining the sidewalks of the Downtown area.
Our organization's first annual "Women's Achievement Awards" was held in 1972 and continues today as we honor outstanding women in Arts, Business, Community Service, Education, Government, Technology, Communications/Media and Emerging Achiever. Our "Woman of the Year Award" is coveted by many outstanding women. We expanded the program in 1987 to include the awarding of college scholarships to deserving women in the Central Florida community. Our fundraising efforts now generate enough income to provide over 40 scholarships annually.
Profits from our charitable efforts and direct donations fund our scholarship awards through our 501(c)(3) Women's Executive Council Scholarship & Endowment Fund, Inc., and provide scholarships for women attending Valencia College, University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Seminole State College of Florida, Herzing University and Florida Institute of Technology. Our scholarships have been the turning point in the many lives that we have embraced and encouraged for their personal growth, self-improvement and professional development.
Since our inception, the Women's Executive Council has awarded over $350,000 to women and local non-profit organizations in Central Florida.
Q: Tells us about your role as a Vistage Chair?
HA: In my role as the Chair of a CEO Peer Group I have the privilege of being surrounded each month by a group of business leaders who raise each other to levels of success that could only have been imagined prior to joining the group. The members share current business challenges and at times, very personal challenges in a supportive and confidential environment. Every member holds each other accountable to take action and report back to the group on the effectiveness of the action taken. CEOs are typically so entwined in the day to day operations that I liked the idea of offering them an entire day to work “on” their business instead of in their business.
Vistage is the oldest and largest CEO Peer Group in the world, and I am very grateful to be a part of it.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
HA: Well, there isn’t much of it but I do make a conscious effort to have some “me-time” every day and that usually involves meditation, music and quality time with my husband, or as I refer to him “my co-conspirator in life”.
Q: What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
HA: I have tendencies towards perfectionism and that has caused some fear of failure and not feeling worthy of all that has been bestowed upon me. I am still a work in progress, but I have learned that authenticity is the key to personal fulfillment and if you are accepting of yourself you learn to celebrate the small victories and not stress too much about the imperfections. I don’t believe that people are flawed, I believe that people are different and a big part of accepting your own differences comes from accepting the differences in others. We need to really celebrate the diversity that surrounds us and not be afraid or intimidated by it.
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments your career?
HA: There are many memorable moments but one that stays with me is when I met a student that was so determined to get her college education and go to work as a nurse that she sent her children to live with relatives and she lived out of her car while she was in school. She used to come see me whenever she would do well on an exam, and we would celebrate in my office with hugs and happy dances. That student had so many obstacles to overcome but overcome she did, and she went on to graduate, become employed as a registered nurse and made it a point to stop by and see me when she purchased her first home. She still keeps me posted on her journey and we still celebrate together, even it is only by text.
Q: What are some of the best practices you have employed to enjoy a successful career?
HA: Authenticity, compassion for myself and others and a sincere desire to build relationships. Every success we have in life is based on our relationships. Our relationship with our self, with our partner or spouse, with our families, with our friends and with whatever spiritual being we turn to for guidance.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
HA: There are a few but I would have to say Sheryl Sandburg for her ability to sit at the head table with confidence and her ability to overcome adversity. The other one would be my daughter who has always faced obstacles head on and continues to amaze me every day. She currently balances work, three children under the age of eight, her husband’s business and she graduated with a paralegal degree about 2 years ago. She is a force to be reckoned with and she is the best mother my grandchildren could have.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
HA: I believe the same challenges exist today that existed many years ago in regard to equal opportunity and the pressure that we, as women, place on ourselves to be great at everything. My work in higher education was so rewarding because I saw women use education as a catalyst to propel themselves forward and that is really inspiring. I do see a positive shift in society and women are becoming less afraid to have their voices heard. I don’t really like to be around women that believe they are better than men, but I love to be around women that believe they are just as talented and just as deserving as men. I am so fortunate to have a husband that has always supported me and truly considers me to be his equal in all ways-except maybe on the pickle ball court and I am working on that!
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
HA: I heard a great quote recently that said, “dripping water is what breaks the stone and it is through persistence and not force that causes the break”. Young women need to be persistent in their efforts to achieve their goals and if their goals shift, which they will, start over with new goals but continued persistence. I would also tell young women to take it easy on themselves and believe that they can have everything they want in life; they just can’t have it all today.
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
HA: I was the only female campus president in the university system so I come from that world and what worked for me was to tell myself that I belonged there and as much as I could learn from the men in the room, there was so much more that I could teach them. At the end of the day, just believe in yourself and never value anyone’s opinion of you more than your own.
Q: If you could give a 16 year old advice what would it be?
HA: Wow-so many things to say here but I’ll keep it simple.
Stay in school
Don’t let social media ever be more than just entertainment
Try to determine what brings you real joy and then focus your life around that-regardless of how much money you can make. Happiness is temporary but joy is everlasting.
Five Things About Heatherann Antonacci
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
This may sound crazy, but I am a huge Tom Petty fan and as much as I love his music, I loved his authenticity even more. I saw him in concert at least seven times and was so saddened by his passing two years ago. I admired his willingness to stand up for what he thought was right as much as his musical ability.
2. What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
Don’t worry so much about what others think because the truth is, they probably aren’t thinking about you at all. It’s like being afraid to go to the gym because you are insecure about your physical appearance. You are kidding yourself if you think that the other people at the gym are spending their time looking at you.
3. Whose’ your favorite TV or Movie star?
I have a few but I am pretty old school when it comes to movies so I would have to say Paul Newman. I can sum him up as the perfect package!
4. Do you enjoy cooking?
Yes, but my husband used to own a restaurant and he was the chef, so I am pretty spoiled, and I prefer to let him do the cooking.
5. What’s your favorite part of the day?
Mornings for sure. I like to wake up early and meditate while the sun is rising, and the birds are singing in my back yard.