Women We Admire is pleased to announce The Top 50 Women Leaders of Louisiana for 2022. This state is home to beautiful nature, historical landmarks, and a rich cultural history that permeates every aspect of their workforce. Spanning a wide variety of professions and backgrounds, this year’s awardees excel in their fields, making waves in nearly all industries including healthcare, social services, education, finance, information technology, and more. We honor this group of women for their hard work and dedication to continuing the momentum of success for their organizations year after year.
Among this year’s awardees is Sue Kozik, SVP and Chief Information Officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, who is a change agent for the organization, enabling them to lead in their industry; Emily Arata, Vice President of Public and Community Affairs for Ochsner Health System, who represents the system in complex legislative efforts at the local, state, and federal level; and Marla Helveston, Senior Vice President of Operations for TekSynap, is responsible for managing business growth and strategies with a commitment to helping their clients achieve success.
This year’s awardees work tirelessly in their roles and are forging a path for future women leaders in their fields. Please join us in celebrating the accomplishments of The Top 50 Women Leaders of Louisiana for 2022.
1. Katy Dugal Simpson
Chief Marketing Officer, Northwestern Mutual – Louisiana & Mississippi
Katy Simpson began her professional career over 10 years ago. Today, she is the Chief Marketing Officer for Northwestern Mutual of Louisiana and Mississippil. Northwestern Mutual has helped families and businesses achieve financial security for over 160 years. Simpson partners with advisors and leaders to develop and execute marketing strategies focused on social media, content marketing, brand development, and community outreach. Most recently, Simpson created, piloted, and launched an internal marketing program in which she oversees brand management, social media, and digital marketing efforts for twenty advisors and three district offices. In addition, she leads the marketing, communication and community outreach efforts for the overall Louisiana and Mississippi territory.
Her passion for marketing and creative collaborations led Simpson to open her own business in 2022 called RADMarketing. Through RADMarketing, she specializes in helping business professionals and owners launch their business, re-brand strategy and development, content creation, website design, and social media strategy and management. Simpson graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with an undergraduate degree in marketing.
4. Sue Kozik
SVP & Chief Information Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Sue Kozik joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana in August 2018 as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. In her role, Kozik leads the IT organization and also has enterprise-wide accountability for the Project Management Office and Cybersecurity Services. With each of these areas, she enables Blue Cross to maintain its leadership position in a constantly changing and intensely competitive health care marketplace. Kozik is an innovative business leader and CIO with a proven track record of delivering results in highly regulated and competitive industries.
Kozik came to Blue Cross from Seattle-based Group Health, a $4 billion nonprofit integrated health care delivery system which was sold to Kaiser Permanente. Prior to Group Health, she held executive positions at Independence Blue Cross, TIAA CREF, Lucent Technologies, and CIGNA. For a number of her CIO roles, Kozik was the first leader in the company to hold that executive position, bringing technology to the conversation and to the board level. She has been honored by the IT industry with many prestigious awards. Kozik graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and served as a member of the college’s board of trustees for 15 years. Since 2012, Kozik has been a member of the board of directors at Tech Impact, a national nonprofit focused on workforce development and technology services. She also works with a number of technology startups and advisory boards.
8. Annette Dowdle
Senior Vice President, HUB International Gulf South
With a desire to help people, Annette Dowdle’s career in the insurance industry began over 20 years ago. Today, Dowdle is the Senior Vice President of HUB International Gulf South. In the ever-evolving employee benefits environment, Dowdle flourishes while collaborating on solutions to help clients and their employees. When working with Dowdle, clients gain her years of experience and wealth of knowledge. “I like to tell my clients that my team and I are here to serve as an extension of their HR team. It’s so very rewarding to take the mystery out of employee benefits,” she says. “Truly, we take the whole experience and make it surprisingly better.”
Dowdle recently completed Loyola Women’s Leadership Academy and was Co-Chair for the 2022 American Heart Association Northshore Heart Walk. She is a member of National Women in Construction and serves on HUB’s National Best Practices Task Force. She is a graduate of Leadership St. Tammany and Leadership Louisiana. “Networking gives me an avenue to connect with people inside and outside of my network,” Dowdle says. “It allows us all to draw from each other’s experiences to not only help our businesses, but our communities.”
9. Marla Helveston
Senior Vice President of Operations, TekSynap
Marla Helveston takes a mission objective and achieves it through sound strategy development. She intuitively sees the big picture, brings the necessary pieces together into a coherent plan, helps others extend their thinking, and drives operational performance. Helveston, Senior Vice President of Operations, is responsible for managing business growth, formulating and executing growth strategies, and interacting with clients, employees, partners, and other stakeholders. She exemplifies TekSynap’s commitment to helping clients achieve high performance and operational success. Helveston has demonstrated performance in maximizing growth within established and new programs. She was directly responsible for leading capture efforts that resulted in a multi-year string of new opportunity wins, injecting new business into her organization. Her adaptability and agility in achieving mission objectives while managing evolving business priorities is clearly demonstrated by her exemplary capture rate across her career.
In her 30-year career in government contracting, Helveston has held a wide variety of leadership positions across key parts of the business. Prior to joining TekSynap in November 2018, she was VP of General Dynamics IT’s Commerce and Interior operating group, which provided technical services to the Department of Commerce, Department of Interior and Department of Defense clients. She was responsible for all P&L activities, business growth and development, client engagement and staff management and growth for the 275+ people in her organization. Helveston began her career working for the USAF at Keesler Air Force Base where she earned Master Instructor status, teaching classes in basic computer concepts, problem solving, logic design, and programming. Helveston is a certified PMP and graduated with a BS in engineering from Mississippi State University.
12. Shelly Williams
Employee Benefits President, HUB International
Shelly Williams serves as the Employee Benefits President for HUB's South Region. On the local level she is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations and developing and promoting best practices for consulting, account management, service, and administration. Williams works closely with the producers on all Gulf South teams ensuring that standards are met, proper work/staff capacity is appropriate for each team, and proper resources are available. Additionally, she is responsible for corporate direction, integration of future EB acquisitions, budgeting, compensation, staffing, retention, and recruitment. On the national and regional level, Williams is responsible for driving organic growth, ensuring appropriate resources are provided, acting as liaison for HUB with national carriers and vendors as needed.
With over 8 years of carrier experience, she is a trusted advisor for carrier/vendor relations. In this capacity she works on specialty programs, preferred agreements, and dedicated service arrangements. Additionally, she manages any escalated issues ensuring that any client/carrier issues are amenably resolved. With over 24 years in the insurance industry, Williams uses her knowledge to lead and manage several committees responsible for driving best practices and professional development. She is also a member of the EB National Team responsible for determining national HUB goals and initiatives. She has also been instrumental in cultivating the foundation for HUB Gulf South’s culture and values making GUS a flagship model for other HUBs within the South Region.
15. Angela Verdin
President, Complete Logistical Services
Angela Verdin proudly serves as President of Complete Logistical Services (CLS). She joined CLS in 2015 and has also served in the capacities of CFO and controller. CLS has supplied offshore marine and land-based industrial companies with quality, expertly trained staff and personnel for jobs ranging from DPOs and chief engineers to electricians and commercial divers. Their clients, including vessels, drilling rigs, production platforms and port facilities, have used their staffing solutions for large and small-scale projects, for both temporary and temporary-to-permanent positions.
Previously, Verdin was the controller for Jindal Tubular, USA (formerly PSL North America, LLC), an international spiral pipe manufacturer of oil and gas transmission assets and has held various accounting and management positions with energy companies such as Entergy Corporation. Verdin is a member of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, where she serves on the Board of Directors and Tax Committee, is a member and past president of the Greater New Orleans Executives Association, is a member of the New Orleans Financial Executives Group and has been an active participant in Vistage International for over five years. Cumulatively, Verdin has over twenty-five years of experience in accounting and business management. She earned an undergraduate degree in accounting at Southeastern Louisiana University and has an MBA with a concentration in accounting.
18. Padma Vatsavai
Founder & CEO, Vinformatix
Padma Vatsavai is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vinformatix. She founded the company in 2008. In her roles, Vatsavai leads day-to-day operations and business strategy for the award-winning company, a Baton Rouge-based software development firm providing innovative technologies to improve medical administration and research, business processes and public sector initiatives. With 25 years’ experience and driven by an uncompromising insistence on smart, elegant solutions, Vatsavai serves as principal Software Architect on all major projects, assisting her team to design and develop custom software and integrated hardware that consistently exceed clients’ expectations.
Previously, Vatsavai was a technical lead at APPRO Systems and before that, a software developer at ABB Automation Inc. Vatsavai earned a master’s degree in computer science from Cleveland State University and an undergraduate degree in computer science from Andhra University.
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22. Sallie Woods
Vice President of Human Resources, High Noon Restaurant Group
Sallie Woods is the Vice President of Human Resources of High Noon Restaurant Group. She first joined the company in 2020. High Noon Restaurant Group is a proud Popeyes franchisee that operates 78 restaurants in Southern Louisiana. They are founded on the belief that putting their team first will result in a best-in-class experience for their guests, which will drive the financial and operational results of the restaurants. They choose to focus on people development, promoting from within, and creating opportunities for career enhancement, enabling them to continue the growth of the company.
Previously, Woods was a director of HR and training at Parikh Network. While at Parikh Network, she implemented a new MIT program, Pros Team for developing team members, Fab 5 systems for shift running, and paperless staff onboarding procedures. In the midst of all this, she was able to have 11 restaurants certified for training, bringing the Parikh Network total up to 14 certified training restaurants. Woods earned an undergraduate degree in hospitality administration and management from Johnson & Wales University.
26. Meredith McDermott
Managing Attorney, Bayou Title
Meredith McDermott is the Managing Attorney for Bayou Title in Uptown, New Orleans. Bayou Title has become the largest closing and settlement services provider in Louisiana. With 19 full-service locations and growing, banks, lenders, realtors, and their clients are served on a personal level. Their qualified, courteous, and efficient staff work to coordinate the many moving parts of a residential or commercial loan transaction. Licensed to practice law in both Louisiana and Mississippi, McDermott represents clients in handling property and business matters across the Gulf Coast. She enjoys a transactional law practice focusing on property law, secured transactions, general business matters, and successions and estates.
McDermott began her career in real estate in 2002 as secretary of the Real Estate Department at Page, Mannino, Peresich & McDermott. McDermott received an undergraduate degree in public accounting from Spring Hill College before graduating from Loyola University College of Law. At Loyola, she received several honors, including the Law Excellence Award in Civil Procedure II and Family Law. She is a member of the Louisiana Bar Association, the Mississippi Bar Association, the New Orleans Bar Association, the New Orleans Chapter of CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) and the Harrison County Young Lawyers Association.
28. Sherice Janaye Nelson
Assistant Professor, Southern University and A&M College
Dr. Sherice Janaye Nelson is a speaker, author, researcher, and an Assistant Professor at Southern University and A&M College. At Southern, she is the Director of the Jewel Limar Prestage Public Policy, Polling and Research Center (JLPC), which performs mixed methods research that tell the stories of Blacks with data.
Nelson is a proud alumnus of Howard University where she received a Doctorate of Philosophy in Political Science, specializing in International Relations, Black Politics, and American Government. These specializations have defined her as a Black Diaspora scholar who focuses on the political, social, and economic effects of chattel slavery in American democracy and on democracies around the globe. She is the originator of the term Insulated Blackness, which was explored in her co-authored piece “Insulated Blackness: A Cause for Fracture in Black Political Identity.” Dr. Nelson’s book The Congressional Black Caucus: Fifty Years of Fighting for Equality was released in December of 2021. She is an executive board member for the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University. Dr. Nelson earned her Master of Public Administration focusing in Public Management at the University of the District of Columbia, and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a dual degree in History and English from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
33. Marjorie Briley
VP of Business Development, Ascend Math
Marjorie Briley is the VP of Business Development of Ascend Math. Ascend Math is written to Common Core and rigorous state standards. Instruction is delivered in a logical math sequence and students move ahead at their own pace and track their own progress. Ascend Math is currently used by hundreds of schools and districts serving tens of thousands of students throughout the U.S. and Canada. Briley has twenty years’ experience in educational technology and consulting with school districts ranging from 1000 to 120,000 students.
Briley has focused predominantly on working with administrators on strategies to accelerate learning so that students at risk of passing high stakes tests will succeed. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she is very fond of working with schools in improving student success. Briley has presented at NCTM, NCSM, ASCD and TCEA and is currently authoring a Blog series on Equity in Education with a focus on coaching teachers to help students discover a math identity.
34. Lisa Bishop
Vice President of Training and Clinical Development, Premier Health
Lisa Bishop is the Vice President of Training and Clinical Development of Premier Health. She first joined the company in 2016. In 1999, Premier Health became one of the first healthcare companies in the nation to own and operate urgent care centers utilizing a health system, joint-venture model. Today the company is recognized industry-wide as one of most experienced and successful joint-venture, urgent care companies. Bishop has over 20 years of clinical experience, including ten years in urgent care. She works with company leaders to ensure education competencies meet or exceed industry best practices and provides assistance to ensure new partnerships, acquisitions, and/or mergers are implemented in a manner to achieve the desired results.
Bishop is a member of the Urgent Care Association (UCA). She received her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Samford University in Birmingham, AL and her Master of Science in Nursing from Mississippi University for Women and her master’s in healthcare administration from Walden University where she has been on the graduate faculty since 2013. She is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success and a family nurse practitioner.
37. Lécia Vicente
Assistant Professor Law of Louisiana State University
Professor Lécia Vicente is a Business Law Professor and advisor with a deep understanding of risk management in different corporate cultures. She has significant experience in due diligence, mergers and acquisitions, and other corporate transactions. She has designed legal frameworks that are tailor-made for growing companies. She has envisioned more efficacious programs conducive to cultivating businesses’ passion, perseverance, and confidence to help them succeed after a systemic shock or crisis. She is working on a book that provides a new body of legal knowledge to generate stronger economic results in legal contracts and enact positive changes for businesses.
Professor Vicente has a past record of operating in complex and intense environments (Fortune 500), thinks and acts globally, lived permanently in four countries (United States, Portugal, Italy, and Finland), and speaks fluent Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, and has a basic understanding of German and Finnish. She is results and people-oriented, which is reflected in her record of corporate law practice and counseling. She has incorporated multiple Fortune 500 subsidiaries in Lusophone countries by paying careful attention to the equal treatment of national and international employees during the process of incorporation. She has served in multiple roles at the United Nations. She was a delegate at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019. She provided advice to the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations in 2015 and 2016. Professor Vicente earned her Ph.D. and Master of Laws in Comparative, European, and International Laws from the European University Institute and her LL.B. from the Catholic University of Portugal. She carried on her postdoctoral training as a postdoctoral research associate and lecturer at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her driven approach made her the first Portuguese-Angolan woman with a professorship in law in the United States. She has held multiple visiting research positions and participated in numerous conferences and academic events in Europe, the United States, and Brazil. She has written consistently on how law can ignite development. In 2022, Professor Vicente became a Fellow of the Herndon Directors Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting boardroom diversity.
38. Christine Alexis
Director of Marketing and Communications, DB Schenker
Christine Alexis is an award-winning marketing and communications executive known for creating innovative programs that highlight multicultural and international markets, build brand awareness, and drive thought leadership. She is currently the Head of Marketing and Communications for DB Schenker’s Americas division which encompasses North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Alexis is a connector who builds world-class international marketing and communications teams that drive awareness through digital marketing, social media, content marketing, strategic public relations, internal communications, executive communications, and partner marketing programs. She holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Miami and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Loyola University New Orleans. Passionate about international and multicultural marketing, Alexis has written numerous articles for Inc. and international publications surrounding this emerging topic.
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41. Melissa Quackenbush
Senior Director of Data Integration, Cox Communications
Melissa Quackenbush began her professional career over 33 years ago. Today, she is the Senior Director of Data Integration of Cox Communications. Cox Communications is the largest private telecom company in America, serving nearly seven million homes and businesses across 18 states. In her role, Quackenbush ensures customer satisfaction for data applications solutions.
Quackenbush has served in various roles with Cox Communications since 1994. She has previously held positions of manager of IT, senior manager of quality assurance, director of IT, national IT director for field solution delivery and more. She graduated from Amberton University with a master’s degree in managerial and social science and from Southeastern Louisiana University with an undergraduate degree in computer science.
44. Shalini Persaud
Communications Director, NOLA Ready
Shalini Persaud is the NOLA Ready Communications Director at the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness. She oversees the NOLA Ready disaster preparedness campaign, including emergency alerting and crisis communications, community engagement and outreach related to disasters, and the NOLA Ready Volunteer Corps.
Previously, she created and managed the 4,000+ member NOLA Ready Volunteer Corps for disaster response, and deployed volunteers in response to Hurricane Ida, COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and throughout the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season in New Orleans. Persaud approaches emergency preparedness with an equity and justice lens, which means that in her work she is intentional in centering groups who are particularly vulnerable to disaster impacts. Persaud is an emergency preparedness and social services professional with a Master of Science in Disaster Resilience, a Master of Social Work, and she holds an LMSW social work license.
46. Syrita Steib
Founder & Executive Director, Operation Restoration
A native of Vacherie, Louisiana, Syrita Steib graduated from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center as a licensed and certified clinical laboratory scientist. In 2016, Steib founded Operation Restoration, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that works to support women and girls impacted by incarceration to recognize their full potential, restore their lives, and discover new possibilities. Steib is recognized nationally for her work on dismantling the legal system and removing barriers for women and girls impacted by incarceration while transitioning back into the community.
Steib serves on numerous local and national boards and appears regularly as a keynote speaker and panelist on topics of incarceration and injustice. She was one of 73 people granted a full and unconditional presidential pardon in January 2021. With her science background, Steib was named by 500 Women Scientists as one of five Fellowship for the Future fellows. Her fellowship project is to train incarcerated women as lab assistants for healthcare facilities. In 2021, she was recognized as one of the New Orleans 500, New Orleans Women of the Year and a Young Leadership Council Role Model. Steib was also a 2020 recipient of the Rubinger Fellowship; 2020 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Angel Award Honoree; and recipient of the Black Voices for Black Justice Fund. Steib was additionally named a Culture of Health leader by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
49. Ashley Letsinger
Senior Director of Operations, Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport
Ashley Letsinger is the Senior Director of Operations for Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport. She has spent the majority of her career in the healthcare industry, gaining experience in such areas as operations, accreditation, regulations, clinical, implementation, leadership, corporate health, project management, process improvement, and quality control.
Since joining Ochsner LSU, Letsinger has leveraged community partnerships leading to the first mass COVID Vaccination in Region 8, lead team mobile community strike vaccination team of over 35 events, partnered with Louisiana Delta Community College to form additional educational pathways for physical therapy assistants, and re-strategized underutilized rehabilitation services into Rehabilitation Service Line with multiple added services increasing productivity in the service line 34% in 3 months. She has worked with such companies such as American Airlines, Google, Hewlett Packard, Capital One, and Premise Health. She is a registered nurse and a certified professional in healthcare quality.
View the complete list of awardees.