From the September 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Hundreds of women business leaders gathered in Boston to talk shop and learn from one another at the 2008 Women Presidents' Organization Annual Conference. Three days of keynote speeches, workshops and a panel discussion highlighted the theme behind the 11th annual event: innovation.

The WPO, founded by president Marsha Firestone in 1996, is a peer advisory organization for women presidents and CEOs of privately held businesses grossing more than $2 million in annual revenue, or $1 million for service-based companies. The organization boasts a membership of 1,300 women, with an average of $13 million in revenue each. The WPO has 80 chapters across the globe, including locations in Canada, Peru and the United Kingdom.

"The [WPO] attracts a smart group of differentiated, high-level women," says WPO member Darcy Bhatia, founding partner of boutique investment and wealth management firm Highmount Capital LLC, with offices in Boston and New York City. Bhatia, 38, says the conference is an ideal place to meet women experiencing similar small-business management issues.
This year's event kicked off with an insightful keynote speech by Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of Blink and The Tipping Point. He became the talk of the conference after he described his analysis of two different methods of innovative thinking. He mused about how artists Pablo Picasso and Paul Cezanne approached creativity--Picasso as a conceptual innovator who revolutionized art and Cezanne as an experimental painter who used a trial-and-error approach.

Other thought-provoking speeches were delivered by Sung-Joo Kim, chair of Sungjoo Group and MCM Worldwide, and Marc Lautenbach, general manager of IBM Americas. A panel discussion about how innovations accelerate a company's success featured three winners of Entrepreneur and the WPO's 50 Fastest companies for 2007: Gail Goodman, president and CEO of Constant Contact Inc.; Diane Hessan, president and CEO of Communispace Corp.; and Lani Hay, president and CEO of Lanmark Technology Inc. Members attended workshops on topics like jump-starting and sustaining innovation in turbulent times and discovering new marketing ideas. Firestone awarded the WPO President's Award to Beth Bronfman, managing partner of Leibler-Bronfman Lubalin Advertising, and the Mary Lehman Maclachlan Economic Empowerment Award to panelist Hay.

The conference ended dramatically with Roger Nierenberg's Music Paradigm, which used a symphony orchestra as a metaphor for business. "We had the opportunity to sit in a professional orchestra while the conductor drew metaphors between his job as a conductor and our jobs as leaders," says WPO member Carey Earle, 42, founder of South Newfane, Vermont-based Green Apple Marketing Inc. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end."

WPO is looking to the future, with plans for growth domestically and internationally. Next year's conference will be in San Diego on April 23 to 25. To find out more, go to womenpresidentsorg.com.

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