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Trendsetters: Executive Women

Solid Foundation

Susan Towler:
“You want to be focused in your giving, yet there are so many needs in the state.”

[Photo: Kelly LaDuke]

In 2001, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida team studying the company’s philanthropic future came up with the idea of forming a foundation to direct giving. Then-CEO Michael Cascone Jr. didn’t have to look far for the new foundation’s first executive director. He chose the team’s leader, Susan Towler.

Towler, 43, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s vice president for community affairs, says the foundation, with its $53-million endowment, has awarded $6 million to non-profit community clinics through more than 120 grants, touching the lives of 400,000 uninsured.

A Jacksonville native and University of Florida public relations graduate, Towler worked in PR for corporations in Jacksonville and as a consultant and at a PR firm before becoming Blue Cross’ public relations director in 1996. She serves on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service.

As Blue Cross community affairs vice president and foundation executive director, she has a significant say in what new health-related initiatives get funded in Florida. But giving away money for a living also means saying no a lot.

“It’s harder than people assume it is because you want your dollars to have the greatest impact,” she says. “You never have enough resources. We do have to say no, but we listen. That’s probably one of the skills I’ve learned best in this role.”

Susan Towler

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida
Vice president, community affairs
The Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida, executive director, Jacksonville

Husband, Jim, is director of donor services for St. Vincent’s HealthCare Foundation. They have a 6-year-old daughter, Emma.

Found out:
She’s an 11th generation Floridian. Her earliest ancestor was one of the Minorcan colonists in the 1700s.

Recently reading:
“Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” — for a diversity book club in the company’s public affairs department. “It’s troubling. It’s disturbing, but it’s necessary reading.”

PR was mom’s idea:
“I wanted to be, believe it or not, an accountant. Everyone would laugh at that. My husband especially would laugh. ‘You? Manage money?’”

Bonds, Bail Bonds

Deborah Jallad
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Ah, those golden days of youth. Deborah Jallad well remembers her father, Hank Snow, taking her and his other four kids to work with him. “OK, kids, get in the station wagon. We’re going down to the jail,” he would call. And afterward, “he’d take us for ice cream,” Jallad says.

Jallad’s dad was a bail bondsman. Frustrated he couldn’t find a knowledgeable insurer to guarantee the bonds he wrote for defendants, Snow founded his own insurer, Accredited Holding, in 1971. When a stroke sidelined him in 1993, Jallad took over the firm. Her sister, Sharon Jallad, is executive vice president. The two brothers they married, Sharon’s husband, Samir, and Deborah’s husband, Johnny, are vice presidents.

Bondsmen charge defendants 10% of the bail and underwrite like lenders, assessing risk by length of employment, homeownership and so on. The average bail in Florida is $2,000 to $2,500; in California, it’s $15,000.

Accredited never has paid a bail bond loss thanks to careful selection of the 1,700 agents representing it nationally. Agents shoulder the majority of the risk and the responsibility of making sure defendants show up for court. “They’re the ones going out at 3 o’clock in the morning to take people to jail, and it’s not always an easy task,” Jallad says.

In 1993, Accredited was licensed in eight states. Now it’s in all 50. Jallad added non-contract commercial surety — notary bonds, probate bonds, judgment bonds and the like — that accounts for 60% of the business.

Revenue is $113 million, up from $76 million in 2002, making Accredited the fourth-largest woman-led business in Florida, according to a study by Florida International University.

After all the growth, Jallad, 56, isn’t looking for new business lines. “You realize after awhile you can only do so much and do it well.”

Deborah Jallad

Accredited Holding
CEO, president, Winter Park

No property insurance for her:
“I’d rather be in the bail business than the homeowners business any day of the week.”

Bounty hunters:
Florida doesn’t allow bounty hunting for profit. Only bail agents, private investigators and law officers can pursue those who skip bail.

Bail agent:
She went out a few times in her teens and early 20s when a woman defendant had to be retrieved.

Family-friendly career:
Only a handful of women worked in the field when Jallad started, but women now comprise half of all bail agents nationally. “It’s a great business for women. We have good intuition. You can raise your family. They have definitely changed the complexion of the industry.”

“If you don’t do this correctly, it can go wrong very quickly.”

Business ownership:
“Owning a business of any size is 24/7.”

Drawn to the Business

Maria Hernandez
[Photo: Daniel Portnoy]

Every so often, Maria Hernandez admits, she misses architecture. Though she keeps her architect’s license current, she traded design for development in 1994 when she joined Miami developer Codina Group.

She spent 11 years with Codina before moving to LNR Property, the Miami-based real estate company, and then last year joined Gibson Development, a small, Miami-based concern.

Hernandez, 47, runs the tenant buildout at Gibson’s Sam Remo, a 180,000-sq.-ft. mixed-use development in Coral Gables, and is project director for Park Place, a 185,000-sq.-ft. office and retail project expected to break ground this year in Doral.

Hernandez still gets to dabble in architectural drawing when working on interior space plans but prefers the business side of development and the world of land, construction and customer issues.

Hernandez is Cuba-born, Miami-raised and a University of Miami grad. “I’m definitely a Miami girl.”

Maria Hernandez

Gibson Development Partners
Project director, Miami

“This is a very team-oriented business.”

“They really want beautiful designs that last forever. I understand where architects are coming from. When you understand their world, you can work with architects more.”

Early jobs:
Jordan Marsh department store, the Sears’ candy department