Ten percent of Legatus’ qualifying members are women. Three of them, Tillie Hidalgo Lima, Lisa Kazor-Christovich, and Pam Veldman, talked with Legatus Magazine about their professional journeys to the top. Although they have built impressive companies, all three agree that God and family are their greatest treasures.
Lightening Life Chores – For Better Business-As-Usual
Tillie Hidalgo Lima and her husband, Dave, are members of the Cincinnati Chapter. Tillie is the CEO of Best Upon Request (bestuponrequest. com), an on-site national concierge service provider for two business realms: for employers looking to improve employee recruitment, retention and engagement; and for healthcare providers, for improving their patients’ experience. It is a unique business that helps people to feel valued – serving employees, hospital patients, and pregnant/new mothers.
For employees, the service helps lighten outside responsibilities so they can better focus at work. It includes conveniences such as mailing packages, helping find a repairman, exchanging currency, taking a car in for an oil change, and much more. Non-medical patient concierge services help with things such as shopping for groceries for the family, buying and getting prescriptions, getting help with the admission process. The maternity concierge program for pregnant and new mothers helps with things from planning a baby shower to providing information on what to pack for the hospital.
Tillie worked for 13 years as a pharmacist and manager while their three daughters, Jessi, Natalie, and Sofia were young. Dave acquired the contracts of a concierge company that started in 1989 and then created the innovative concept of an employer-paid employeebenefit concierge program. “In ’96, he asked if I knew someone who was great with people and numbers, and gave me a wink,” Tillie explained.
She laughed and told him: “Dave, you can’t afford me.” However, they did indeed join forces. “My attention to quality, management experience, and looking out for customer well-being were a perfect fit.”
By 2002, Dave wanted Tillie to take over as the CEO. In 2003, BEST had 13 employees; now there are 135 in 44 on-site offices in 11 states. BEST became “Great Place to Work”-certified this year, and is receiving media attention and many awards.
Despite such success, Tillie’s heart was never far from home. In fact, the business has been a family affair. Their daughters would come by the office after high school and help out. Today, all three work at BEST. It was her daughter, Jessi, who developed the maternity concierge program. “She was able to deliver the Maternity Concierge proposal, then deliver her third baby,” Tillie explained.
Dave has taken on a behind-the-scenes role as a Holacracy coach, business advisor, and overall support person on the home front which includes picking up grandchildren after school. “I could not do what I do without him,” she said.
The two older daughters are married with children and everyone gathers most Sundays for family dinner with one strict rule: no business talk. Tillie’s Cuban-born parents, Alberto, 84, and Matilde, 79, often join them from Tampa, FL for the holidays. They came to the U.S. from communist Cuba to escape religious persecution when Tillie was just 10 months old. “My parents had friends shot by firing squads and put in prison,” she said. “There were many miracles of faith, courage, and love. My parents are my role models.”
Tillie’s personal values, the 7F’s, are “faith, family, friends, fitness, financial strength, freedom, and fun.” “Legatus provides a framework for us to grow in our faith,” she said. “Faith should determine how we live out our calling in every environment using the gifts we’ve been blessed with.”
Strong-Women-Led Company – With God First
Lisa Kazor-Christovich and her husband Dan belong to the Washington D.C. Chapter and have a blended family of six children and one grandchild. While Lisa was pregnant with her second child Jonathan, and her daughter Rebecca, was three, Savantage Solutions (www.savantage. net) was born in September of 1999. The company is an award-winning software development organization providing consulting, integration, technology, and support services to federal agencies. It has 100 employees with annual revenues approximating $17 million.
After college, with a degree in accounting, Lisa had gone to work for one of the big 8 firms and became the CFO. She created Savantage as a shell company and then merged a stock acquisition of one company and an asset acquisition of another. Her story of success includes healing from an abusive childhood and abusive first marriage. “When Rebecca was 18 months old,” she said. “I knew I had to figure out how I was going to change my life.” But then, she became pregnant with her son. “I went to therapy and started to sort my life out,” she said.
Lisa divorced when Rebecca was 5 and Jonathan 2. “I was a workaholic; it was my outlet,” she said. Her kids were often with her late at night at work. “I had a playpen and crib in my office; they would build playhouse in the cubicles.”
Four years after the divorce, Lisa met Dan at a conference. Dan was retiring from the Coast Guard and a friend of his who worked for Lisa made the introduction. “We’ve talked every day since,” she said. They married a year later in 2007 on a beach with a Baptist minister. After some church shopping together, Dan returned to the Catholic Church and Lisa went through RCIA. Their marriage was convalidated, after annulments.
Since Dan was retired, he not only helped me out at Savantage but also took care of the home front. “It was perfect,” Lisa said. “He managed our personal life and I had an assistant that managed the business side, so it maximized my ability to attend the kids’ events physically and mentally, too.”
Lisa considers the monthly Legatus meetings “a lovely spiritual date night.” She enjoys learning more about the faith and getting to know other Catholic business leaders. The value of giving back to the Church and community aligns perfectly with Savantage ideals. The company gives between 30- and 50-percent aftertax profits to charitable causes. “Just as we want to help our customers succeed, we also want to help our communities succeed,” Lisa said.
She credits Savantage’s success to God bringing so many of his “strong women” together—the leadership is 75 percent women. They even have a prayer chain at work. The company priorities are: God, family, work, and self, in that order. “And if you tend to prioritize yourself over God, family, and work,” Lisa said, “this probably isn’t the place for you.”
Building Family, Business, Faith On Sure Footing
Pam Veldman met her husband Bernie when they were teenagers. They now have five children (the youngest is in high school) and five grandchildren under the age of four. This year marks 20 years as co-owners of Dienen, Inc., Surestep (www.surestep.net) and Transcend Orthotics and Prosthetics (transcendop.com), specializing in orthotics and prosthetics for children. Pam is vice president/COO and Bernie is the president/ CEO. They are members of the South Bend Elkhart Legatus Chapter in Indiana.
While Bernie served in the military as a U.S. Army Ranger, Pam worked as a legal secretary. After four years of service, Bernie went to work for The Tire Rack in South Bend, IN, also owned by Legates. Four years later, he was recruited by his future brother-in-law, who owned and operated an orthotics and prosthetics business. Bernie managed the fabrication lab while Pam worked from home doing transcription and caring for their three young children.
Bernie soon became a certified prosthetist orthotist, able to fit patients with corrective and supportive devices. Coincidentally, at this time, they noticed their oldest son had severe pronation which affected how he ran. Bernie developed a unique custom lower leg brace that corrected his pronation and allowed flexibility to run, jump, and play. It became known worldwide as Surestep.
Pam and Bernie were able to buy one office of their brother-in-law’s practice with the goal of serving as many children as possible while marketing the Surestep brace. “We started with just the two of us and two employees,” Pam explained. “Bernie provided patient care and traveled around the U.S. educating on the benefits of Surestep, while I ran the office and had our fourth child.”
Three years and one child later they built their current office, initially with only 25 employees. Today, they have about 130 staff members in that same office and another 100 employees at 13 Transcend locations throughout the U.S. Their Surestep products are sold to thousands of companies in the U.S. and 33 countries around the world.
“I have worn many hats over the years,” Pam said, “from managing human resources, billing, accounts receivables, customer service, trainer, coordinator, facilities design, board member, decision maker, trouble shooter, even a little IT, but my favorite hat is as mom.”
Most of their children work for the business now, while Pam and Bernie are looking forward to scaling back one day.
“Having our once-a-month [Legatus] ‘date night’ with a focus on faith rejuvenates us,” she said. “We love the opportunity to share our faith and learn more about it, and how to better incorporate our faith in our work and home life. We have gone on pilgrimage to Italy which was amazing. The other pilgrims were so wonderful; we think about them often. I benefited from going on the Women’s Enclave retreat recently with other women Legates, and the kinship and immediate connectedness was wonderful.”
PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer
15 Shared Lessons
- Learn from mistakes, but keep emotions out.
- There is value in every movement, even the backward ones.
- Be generous in everything—time, money, knowledge, talent, etc. Isn’t that the best way to show gratitude to God for all He has bestowed?
- Build trust with the say-do ratio. Be transparent, authentic, and reliable. How you do one thing is how you do everything.
- Delight your team members, customers, and clients by anticipating their needs.
- Try your best, let God do the rest. Release and receive grace by embracing God’s plan for your life.
- Surround yourself with thought leaders – like a board of advisors, business coach, or CEO roundtable. Borrow brilliance. Iron sharpens iron, and asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
- Be a lifelong learner.
- As a CEO, be the Chief Encouragement Officer. Listen to your team, as they are sensors for your organization. Make people and culture your priority; results will follow.
- Follow the Platinum Rule: do unto others as they would want done unto them.
- Start your meetings with a mission moment.
- As long as you stay close to God through prayer, trust your instincts, even when those around you have more experience and advise you otherwise. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
- Trust God to put good people in your life and let them help you. You really don’t have to do it all alone.
- Look for God in the moment, not just in the rear-view mirror.
- If something needs attention as a team, get together and correct it. Don’t sit back and let things go undone.