×

Women who lead

  • Franklin Pierce University President Kim Mooney was the first female elected to the position in the school's history. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

  • Founder of Reality Check Mary Drew launched the nonprofit organization to combat the addiction crisis sweeping the state. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Heather Peterson Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Heather Peterson Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Our region is filled with influential and inspirational women business and nonprofit leaders. According to Peterborough Area Chamber of Commerce numbers, 112 out of 333 businesses in the chamber’s membership are partnered, managed or owned by a woman.

Here are a few of their stories:

Kim Mooney

When it comes to being a woman in a position of leadership, Franklin Pierce University President Kim Mooney said the best advice she can give is to take time to develop one’s leadership philosophy.

“When you take on a leadership position and you do have to make difficult decisions — which you will — it’s so much more beneficial for the individual and the organization if you make leadership decisions based on a true understanding of your deep philosophy of leadership,” said Mooney, who recently spoke at a panel discussion called “Breaking Barriers – A Conversation with Female Trailblazers in New Hampshire’s Business, Non-Profit and Legal Communities.”

“Even if the decision is unpopular, you know why you’ve made it and you can stand by it.”

When it comes to being the first female and alumna president, Mooney said it is being an alumna has more resonance — calling it a “special identity” for the position — but admitted that being the first women would have a place in the university’s history. 

“I think is more of a footnote in history,” said Mooney, of being the first female president. “When I think about this position I think about leadership. For me, being the president is first and foremost a position of leadership.”

Leadership is a very important concept to Mooney, as she said she has strived and will continue to strive to engage the community at large and create opportunities at FPU for women to lead. 

When it comes to barriers, Mooney said she has had to fight through more internal than external barriers, something that has made her more determined. 

“In my professional life, I have actively pushed myself to cross those barriers… to expect to be taken as seriously as any other person in the room,” said Mooney. “But that doesn't necessarily mean I haven’t been aware of other people’s barriers. As women, we have a tendency to over prepare or we plan to overcompensate, because we expect there to be, perhaps, doubt about our competencies.”

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Aug. 19, 2016 edition, only 34.4-percent of new chief executives at colleges in 2015-16 were women. While Mooney said that number is a little higher than the national average of 23- to 25-percent, the number is still a little “stagnant.”

“It hasn’t changed much in the past five or so years,” said Mooney. “I don't think we've lost ground, but I don’t think we’ve gained a lot of ground either.”

Mooney said she felt that more work still needs to be done regarding the equality between men and women, saying there is more room to move towards full acceptance of women in the workplace.

“I love the fact that there are so many men that think we exceed them, but no I don’t think we’ve arrived at a place of full equality,” said Mooney, who said pay was a big issue that needed to be resolved.

— NICK HANDY

Kork Little

Kork Little has been a mainstay of Jaffrey’s Main Street for more than 30 years — and the name “Little” has an even longer history there.

Little’s accounting service still bears the name of its original owner – Little’s father, Carl C. Little. 

“I call it my genetic defect,” joked Little, of her career in accounting. 

Little began in accountancy by working for her father, but in 1999, she bought the business from him. And with her father’s retirement, the back room – which he had used as a karate studio – was sitting empty. And Little started to think about how it could be filled.

Inspiration can come from mysterious sources, sometimes. For Little, it was an over-priced embroidered jacket she ordered for her husband’s auto body business.

“I spent $75 on a jacket that had a little embroidered patch,” said Little. “I thought, I bet there’s some money to be made in this business.”

So, despite having no experience as an embroiderer, Little opened up Little Stitches as a secondary business.

“I like the creativity. When you get a new design, you’re like a kid at Christmas,” said Little.

It was a steep learning curve, said Little, especially as she started with a basic machine that could only do a single color at a time. (She now works with machines that can do up to 16.)

The cycles of her two businesses – the embroidery side having its busiest season in the months leading up to Christmas, and then the tax side picking up in preparation for tax season, makes for a nice rhythm, said Little. But running two businesses, plus helping in the paperwork for her husband’s auto businesses, mean that there is always one more thing to do.

“The hardest thing is balancing family and work,” said Little. “Being self-employed is hard, and you’re not ever going to make millions of dollars.”

It’s not a 9-to-5 prospect, said Little, and never has been. “There are nights I’ll still be sitting at the dining table at 10 p.m., doing the books,” said Little. “We work six days a week.”

Technology changes, good help is hard to find, and parking is a nightmare in the winter. But there are compensations, said Little. Mostly, the people.

“I like being part of a small town,” she said. She can still recall the names of the first accounts that she was put in charge of when she still worked for her father (Edward Desmarais & Son, Masonry and Our Town Landscaping).

She does taxes for three generations of families. She gives discounts to nonprofits and uses the store as a gathering point for food donations for local pantries as a way to give back to the community she loves.

“My commute has been to Main Street for 31 years,” said Little. “This is where we’ve always been.”

— ASHLEY SAARI

Mary Drew

Mary Drew launched a nonprofit organization that offers drug and alcohol prevention, treatment, and recovery services to residents and educational supports shortly after she began her own recovery from alcoholism.

Drew launched Reality Check from her kitchen in 2009.

“I started it to combat what I was seeing in my community and the surrounding communities,” she said, adding that her children would tell her about the drug-related overdoses and deaths in the community and she knew there was a problem.

Last January Drew applied for a federal grant and in August she was notified that her proposal had been selected. It’s a five-year grant for a total of $625,000.

The grant allowed her to move the organization out of her kitchen and into a building in Jaffrey.

“It allows us to bring together drug and alcohol prevention, access to treatment, and community-based recovery services under one roof,” Drew said. “With an additional primary goal of building the addiction recovery workforce.”

Drew said it’s one of the only programs of its kind across the country. She said she hopes to implement the model in the community and then eventually spread it to other towns in New Hampshire and in the surrounding states.

Right now, she’s working on securing a recovery center and prevention office. She said she is eyeing the old St. Patrick School in Jaffrey to house the community center.

“I’m thinking it’s the perfect spot,” she said.

Drew said if they can secure the location the center would bring together prevention, care, and reintegration services for the community. Some of the things included at the site would be an on-site herbal medicine dispensary, a community garden, post-incarceration services, veteran supports, and community liaisons for court-involved populations.

She said they are in the process of raising money to buy St. Patrick’s at the moment. If all goes as planned, the center could open as early as October 2018.

“We have a real crisis in New Hampshire,” Drew said. “And I’m trying just trying to help combat the problem.”

— ABBY KESSLER

Heather Peterson

President and Co-Owner of The Petersons Inc, Heather Peterson said she didn’t start working for the family real estate business until after she had graduated from college, worked abroad, and then spent some time working in California.

“I decided I really wanted to live, work, and stay in this area,” Peterson said about returning to New Hampshire.

She worked at a travel agency for some time but decided there wasn’t enough money in it so with a little persuasion in 1978 she joined the business her grandfather had started and her father was running.

“I like the service of it,” Peterson said of why she has stuck with real-estate for so long. “Obviously every single property is different, but a lot of excitement comes in the deed research, walking the land, looking at antique houses, modern houses, marketing and writing the copy that intrigues people to come, and then matching people with houses. It’s all fun.”

In 1987 she became the president and in 1989 she and her cousin, Andrew Peterson became co-owners of the real-estate business.

She said the position requires strong participation in the community, from taking part in forums to cultural arts programs in schools. She said it also requires staying on top of different town zoning laws, attending public hearings, and paying close attention to changing state regulations and taxes.

“You always have to keep an ear to the ground,” she said.

— ABBY KESSLER

Deidre McGrath

A few months after buying a camera and print shop in New London, Deidre McGrath, the owner of Copies and More in Peterborough, bought the Peterborough Camera Shop. Less than a week later, she added another Peterborough business: the Bagel Mill. 

"As an entrepreneur, you always strive to make something better or help something along," McGrath said.

The Peterborough entrepreneur is constantly dreaming of expanding her empire. Last week, from her office inside the Bagel Mill, she started listing off more dreams.

"I would love to put a salad bar in, I'm a salad fiend," said McGrath, who also said she'd like to offer more pastries.

McGrath said she'd like to take some time to get a hang of the Bagel Mill — and the camera business — before adding on. Maybe about six months, she said. 

"I've got to keep moving forward, it's just what I got to do," McGrath said. "But once I get the hang of this, I'm moving forward."

McGrath works six days a week at her Peterborough businesses. On Friday, she heads up to New London. She rarely takes time off.

But she's not alone. Her husband, Gary Fischer, co-owns the Peterborough Camera Shop and Copies and More, and he's currently remodeling to combine the two stores into one business.

McGrath also raised six kids (three of hers and three of Fischer's) while working at Copies and More, a business she bought nearly 17 years ago.

"It was great because then I could have my kids come work for me, and most of them did," McGrath said. "They grew up knowing schedules and working the computer."

McGrath employs 10-11 employees at the Bagel Mill, 6-7 at Copies and More/Peterborough Camera and 10 at her New London store.

"That's a lot of people in New Hampshire that have jobs and that makes me feel good," McGrath said.

McGrath started her career in the food service industry and fondly remembers working at a sub shop in Andover, Massachusetts called Raspberry's.

"I always loved it and always wanted my own," McGrath said.

— TONY MARQUIS