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2019 Speakers

Brief biographies of the Women in Leadership Conference Speakers.

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Meri Asmar

Meri Asmar
Director of Human Resources
The Lewis Bear Company

Meri Asmar is the Director of Human Resources for The Lewis Bear Company where she has been employed for the last 23 years. She was previously the Employment and Compensation Manager for Baptist Health Care for 6 years. Her professional designations include PHR (Professional in Human Resources) and SHRM-CP (Certified Professional).

Asmar holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Florida State University and a Master of Arts in Communication Arts from University of West Florida.

Proud member of IMPACT 100 since the beginning, Asmar now serves as the Immediate Past President of IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area. Her other past and present community involvement includes United Way of Escambia County Board Chair and Funds Distribution Chair, a Governor’s appointee as the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County Board Chair, Catholic Charities Board Chair, Big Brothers Big Sisters member, Big Sister and Board President, YMCA Board member, Junior League Board Member and Sustainer, and graduate of Leadership Pensacola 1999.

Asmar is honored to have been recognized with United Way’s Distinguished Community Service Award, Big Brothers Big Sisters Volunteer of the Year, Children’s Champion Award, and Society for Human Resource Management’s Professional of the Year.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Asmar now resides in Pensacola Beach with her husband and their twins. In her spare time, she enjoys bicycling, traveling, and outdoor activities with her family.

Jane Birdwell

Jane Birdwell
Founder and CEO
The Birdwell Agency and Tablevogue

Jane Birdwell is CEO of two companies, the Birdwell Agency which helps local, regional and national companies of all sizes execute marketing and messaging programs and Tablevogue, a brand of fitted table covers protected by real IP sold all over the world.

Birdwell’s commitment to both has won her numerous awards and recognition including being named “Innovator of the Year” by the Pensacola News Business Journal and national press including Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, Retail Today, Business Insider and more.

Birdwell spends her free time giving back to the community. She was critical in improving public transportation as former Chair of the Mass Transit Advisory Committee for Escambia County. As the founding curator for the Foo Foo Festival, Birdwell has been able to realize a long-term goal to make Pensacola a year-round destination for cultural tourists. Birdwell enjoys sharing her “start-up” journey with other potential founders via lectures and activities with the University of West Florida Executive Mentor Program and Center for Entrepreneurship.

Birdwell is a proud graduate of the University of West Florida and mom to two future Argos.

Becca Boles

Becca Boles
Communications Director
Gulf Power

Becca Boles joined Gulf Power in 2013 as the Communications Director. She is responsible for leading the strategic communications plan of the company through customer, media, employee and investor engagement. Boles challenges her communications team to understand customer interests and expectations to build engagement and loyalty.

Boles has a background in Marketing and Customer Service. Before joining Gulf Power, Boles was the Marketing Director of the Pensacola News Journal and the publisher of its local women’s magazine, Pensacola Bella. She began her career in retail and was the general manager of two department stores located in the Florida Panhandle.

Boles is passionate about giving back to her hometown of Pensacola. She is a member of Five Flags Rotary, president of WSRE Board of Directors, past president of the Autism Pensacola Board of Directors and a member of the Studer Community Institute Board of Directors. Her heart for missions has taken her on eight mission trips to five different countries including Kenya, Liberia, Haiti and Costa Rica.

Boles holds a Bachelor’s in Marketing from Florida State University. She is married with two children and enjoys any activity that includes a beach, a bike or a boat.

Katie Garrett

Katie Garrett
Founder and Owner
Old Hickory Whiskey Bar and The Kennedy

Katie Garrett is the owner and founder of Old Hickory Whiskey Bar and The Kennedy in Downtown Pensacola, Florida. In the past five years, Old Hickory has been recognized by Whisky Advocate Magazine and The Bourbon Review as one of America’s Top Whiskey Bars, and also featured in Southern Living Magazine, Southwest: The Magazine, and Good Grit. The Kennedy is Garrett’s second bar concept, focusing on the classic drinking culture of the mid-century, but with a modern twist.

Before opening her own company, Garrett worked in museum curatorial assistance, human resources, and workforce development programming. She is a graduate from the University of West Florida with a bachelor’s degree in History and master’s degree in Historic Preservation. 

Giving back to her hometown, Garrett works with several local non-profits, such as Chain Reaction, PACE Center for Girls, Ballet Pensacola, and the PSC Foundation. She is also a member of the Gatsby Girls Mardi Gras krewe.

Julie Kratz

Julie Kratz
Speaker, Trainer, Author, Founder & CEO
Pivot Point

Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed leadership trainer who has led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing her own career "pivot point", Kratz developed a process to help women leaders create their winning career game plan.

Promoting gender equality in the workplace, Kratz is a frequent keynote speaker and executive coach. She holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, is a Certified Master Coach and is a certified unconscious bias trainer. 

Kratz's books include Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan and ONE: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality.

Emily Ley

Emily Ley

Emily Ley is the founder of Simplified® - a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women.

Raised in Pensacola, Florida, Ley graduated from the University of West Florida with degrees in English and Public Administration. She worked in nonprofit management and public relations before launching her brand in 2008.

Following the success found at its online home, EmilyLey.com, Ley’s brand quickly grew to be carried in over 800 retail outlets across the United States and around the world. In late 2016, however, Ley and her team decided to simplify and get back to what they loved most: creating community around their online shop — growing the brand substantially.

Ley has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, and HGTV.com. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including Best New Product at the National Stationery Show as well as Top 10 Designers to Watch by Stationery Trends Magazine.

Simplified® recently collaborated with AT-A-GLANCE® to create gift and planning collections carried in Office Depot, Staples, and Target.

Ley is the author of national bestselling books, Grace, Not perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy and A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living. Now as an author, business woman, wife and mama, Ley lives in Pensacola, Florida with her husband and their three children.

Kristin Longley

Kristin Longley
Director, Public Affairs

Kristin Longley is Director of Public Affairs for the Cox Southeast Region including Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.  In this role, she oversees external media relations, community affairs and strategic partnerships to drive business development.

 Longley has worked in media for over 25 years. She began her career in broadcast research and promotion at KNSD-TV, the NBC Owned & Operated station in San Diego, CA, where she managed daily on-air news promotion, public relations and community events. In 1998, Longley started at Cox Communications as a media research analyst then moved to marketing manager.  Eight years later, in 2006, Longley joined Cox Enterprises in Atlanta, serving as a media and brand consultant for Cox Radio, TV and Newspapers.

 Longley holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri and a Masters of Science in Media Research from San Diego State University.  She has taught courses in Business and Professional communications, broadcast writing and editing.

 Committed to her community, Longley is a Board member of Impact 100, a mentor in the UWF Executive Mentor Program, and is actively serving on the Board of Directors of the YMCA, the Baptist Healthcare Foundation, Escambia County Public Schools Foundation, and the Pensacola Chamber Military Affairs Board. She is past participant in Leadership Pensacola and Women in Cable Telecommunications. Longley is a CTAM Gold and Silver Mark Award winner, and a two-time Beacon Award winner from Association of Cable Communicators.

 In her free time, Longley enjoys skiing, bike riding and being on the water in Pensacola with her husband and two boys. 

Shannon Pallin

Shannon Pallin
Fiore of Pensacola

With over 25 years of comprehensive experience in the Wedding Industry, Shannon Murphy Pallin beautifully designs, styles and executes incredibly chic, couture events in the Pensacola area, along the Gulf Coast, as well as destination weddings. In addition to expert service, infused with creativity and reliability, Pallin offers not only astonishingly exquisite florals, but also full event design.

Adetoun Sanders

Adetoun Sanders
Vice President of Marketing and Business Development
Members First Credit Union of Florida

Adetoun Sanders is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Members First Credit Union of Florida, a 5-Star financial institution rated for its financial strength and stability by BauerFinancial. Sanders oversees the development, implementation and management of the Credit Union’s marketing and communication processes with a focus on the Credit Union’s overall strategic plan, goals and objectives. She also participates in the Credit Union’s outreach activities and events that promote financial literacy in the community.  

Sanders has more than 18 years of marketing experience. Before joining Members First 11 years ago, she was the marketing communications manager for Advantage Credit, a credit reporting service technology leader, for 7 years. In addition to her responsibilities at the Credit Union, Sanders spends her time volunteering with the Junior League of Pensacola at various community events. She is also a member of the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Adetoun graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Advertising.

Dr. Martha Saunders
President Saunders

President Martha Saunders, Ph.D.
President, University of West Florida

On Jan. 1, 2017, Dr. Martha D. Saunders began as the sixth president of the University of West Florida. President Saunders began her academic career at UWF in 1984 as an instructor in the communication arts department. She rose through the ranks taking on several roles at UWF including coordinator of the public relations program for the communication arts department (1986-1996) and director of University Honors Program and Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences (1999-2002).

Dr. Saunders’ served as chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2005 to 2007 and as president of the University of Southern Mississippi from 2007 to 2012. In 2013, she returned to UWF as provost and executive vice president.

As provost and executive vice president of UWF, Dr. Saunders oversaw the reorganization of the university’s colleges. She also established the UWF Innovation Institute, the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity, University College, UWF Center for Cybersecurity, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and International Programming. Under her guidance, UWF established two new colleges—the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health and the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering.

President Saunders’ vision for UWF is for it to grow beyond its beginnings as a regional comprehensive university. She plans to build on the university’s strengths and its undergraduate traditions while creating programs that will attract the faculty and research funding needed to make the leap to the next level.

Dr. Saunders has strong ties to the community and serves on the board of directors for Baptist Hospital Inc., the Studer Community Institute and the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. She is a member of the education committee for the Greater Pensacola Chamber. She also is an active member of the Downtown Pensacola Rotary.

She was selected for The Fulbright International Administrators Program in France in 2015. She has received numerous recognitions for her achievements including 50 Top Business Women in Mississippi (2012), National Stevie Award for Women in Business (2011), National Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America for a campaign to enrich the brand of a research university (2011), Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (2011) and the University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame (2010).

Dr. Saunders received her doctorate in Communication Theory and Research from Florida State University. She earned her master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges

Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges
Torres Hodges Podiatry

Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges is a graduate of the New York College of Podiatric Medicine and is a board certified podiatrist. She is the owner/physician of Torres Hodges Podiatry located in Pensacola, Florida and holds surgical staff privileges at Baptist, Gulf Breeze and Sacred Heart Hospitals and the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Torres-Hodges has been treating children, adults, and seniors along the Florida panhandle since 2000.    

 In addition to her private practice, Dr. Torres-Hodges has taught medical students and residents at the Florida State University College of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences - Eglin AFB and Navy Hospital-Pensacola and Kent State University's College of Podiatric Medicine. She has been an invited lecturer at national conferences, has been published in Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and Prevention magazines and has also been interviewed for The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. Additionally, Dr. Torres-Hodges is recognized as a U.S. Top Doctor by HealthTap, serving as one of the world's best and most helpful online and mobile medical experts.

 A staunch advocate of preserving the doctor-patient relationship, Dr. Torres-Hodges also emphasizes the importance of small business owners and entrepreneurs, which include private medical practices.

 Dr. Torres-Hodges is remembered locally as a cellist and former member of the Pensacola Symphony and Okaloosa Symphony Orchestras. She has been involved with local non-profit organizations in the community including Pensacola Bay Impact100, the Anna Tringas Legacy Fund, and Our Lady of the Angels/St Joseph’s Medical Clinic.  She credits her ability to her faith and a supportive family.  She treasures time spent with her husband, son and daughter.

Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams
Director of Digital Marketing
Gorilla Group, a WPP Wunderman Commerce Company

Debbie Williams is a Digital Marketing Director at Gorilla Group, a WPP Wunderman Commerce Company headquartered in Chicago.  At Gorilla, she leads the content strategy and social media practices as part of a multidisciplinary team of digital strategists working on large scale ecommerce projects and serving as the digital agency of record for national and global brands.

For 20 years she has worked with companies, from luxury beauty to SaaS startups, to  reveal the distinct points of difference that bring a company's story to life through compelling content that connects and converts. Previously, Williams was the co-founder and Chief Content Officer of SPROUT Content, an award-winning content marketing agency with offices in Pensacola and Denver.  SPROUT Content was acquired by Gorilla Group in 2017. Prior to founding SPROUT Content, Williams lived and worked in New York City for 10 years as a copy director and strategist for global agencies and luxury goods companies, including Grey Advertising, Hearst Magazines, LVMH, and KAO Brands, Co. 

Williams is co-author of the book Brands in Glass Houses: How to Embrace Transparency and Grow your Business through Content Marketing. Additionally, she has written about content and digital marketing for Forbes, MarketingProfs, and the Content Marketing Institute.

 A New Jersey native, Williams graduated from Seton Hall University with a BA in English. She lives in Pensacola with her husband and two daughters.

Stacy Keller Williams

Stacy Keller Williams
Vice President, Contact Center Operations Member Experience & Training
Navy Federal Credit Union

Stacy Keller Williams is the Vice President of Member Experience & Training for Navy Federal Credit Union. An award-winning leader, speaker and sought-after thought leader for her expertise in the areas of customer experience and employee engagement, Keller Williams currently leads the specialized support areas of Contact Center Operations for the world’s largest credit union.

Keller Williams has more than 25 years of leadership experience. Before joining Navy Federal nine years ago, she worked at Bank of America in several different leadership roles. She has made a career out of focusing on her passion for member and team member experience, along with leadership development. Under her leadership, Navy Federal’s Quality and Social Care programs have earned the recognition as Best in the World by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI).   

Keller Williams is also a devoted life-long leaner. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Recently, she went on to graduate from the Executive Development Program at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Keller Williams also holds multiple certifications in leadership and strategy from Columbia School of Business, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and the Yale School of Management. 

Committed to serving her community, Keller Williams sits on the board of directors for The Studer Community Institute and Independence for the Blind of West Florida. She resides in Pensacola, Florida with her husband their three children.