It’s been decades since a team from Cleveland, Ohio, has pulled off a three-peat performance (since the 1946-1949 Cleveland Browns to be exact), but NAWBO Cleveland recently did with their third consecutive win as Chapter of the Year. The honor was announced, and Cleveland’s leaders and members were celebrated, at NAWBO’s National Women’s Business Conference last month.
The Cleveland chapter has a long history—in fact, almost as long as NAWBO National. In 2025, when National celebrates its 50th anniversary, this chapter will celebrate 45 years. “There’s a history there of strong, collaborative servant leaders,” says Chapter President Janet Kendall White, who joined NAWBO Cleveland in 2009 and is currently serving her second year in this lead role. “There are so many of past presidents and leaders who still engage with our chapter in some form and they are always willing to help.”
NAWBO Cleveland’s current President’s Council, which includes Janet, Immediate Past President Barbara Daniel and President-Elect Diane Helbig and other chapter leaders, say they’re no doubt a winning chapter, but certainly not without challenges. There was COVID, of course, but even in the decades leading up to that there were things like bringing the chapter into the NAWBO fold and facing the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.
“When I talk to people at national events, they sometimes have this impression that we’ve always had it together, but we haven’t,” Janet shares. “We’ve had challenges that our leaders have had to adapt to and overcome.”
While the NAWBO Cleveland president role is usually a one-year term, the chapter had newer Board members this past spring who weren’t yet ready to take this next step. As a result, the chapter innovated and Janet and Barbara are both serving second-year terms while Diane now prepares to lead the Board in 2024-2025. Janet says this second year has been more challenging with the economic uncertainty and higher cost of doing business, but also very rewarding.
When Janet reflects on what makes NAWBO Cleveland unique that has set it up for such tremendous success and recognition, a few things come to mind. For one, they never forget their roots—that they are part of a national advocacy organization. They also have tremendous camaraderie and friendships within their chapter. “It’s a sisterhood and a group of people who really know one another and get that there’s a bigger purpose than just their own businesses,” she emphasizes.
Janet believes it’s also unique that so many NAWBO Cleveland leaders and members are givers and understand that when you give to an organization like NAWBO, you get back what you put in three-fold. “There’s really a team player and servant mentality here,” she says. Additionally, the chapter offers a lot of programming and social opportunities, from small monthly breakfasts in three locations (since the chapter covers 12 counties) and social gatherings like a high tea and dinner with wine pairings, to a summer soiree, educational workshops and more.
“We always go back to why are we here,” Janet says. “There are other women’s organizations out there, but NAWBO Cleveland is part of a national organization, an advocacy organization, and we are women business owners—we never forget that.”
A few highlights from this last year that Janet and her fellow Cleveland leaders are particularly proud of include having a full, working Board and using all the tools provided to them from NAWBO National, from the One Page Business Plan to the toolkits. They have also had a very strong local presence at national events with 21 members at the conference in Louisville, 13 at Leadership Academy in Long Beach, over 10 at Advocacy Days in DC and 12 at last month’s conference in Austin.
“Those are good numbers for a chapter to bring to national events and then have that energy come back home to share with the rest of the members,” Janet shares. “They can meet local people at our events, but there’s a different energy at national events.” In fact, NAWBO Cleveland had the privilege of giving several scholarships this past year so that even more members could attend.
Meanwhile, this chapter is focused on doing even more. Janet says there was a five-year strategic plan in place when she joined the Board and in 2022, she was able to be part of the leadership team who created the plan through 2027. Each year, at the Board’s summer retreat, they revisit it—talking through where they are, where they need to be, what they are doing well, what they can be doing better and what they now want to focus on.
“We love getting Chapter of the Year,” Janet says, “but we feel like we’re competing with ourselves and we can always do better. What we come up with also goes into our One Page Business Plan, so were constantly monitoring and talking about it.”
This third win makes Janet think back to several years ago when someone told her that she should plan on her business taking a backseat while she served on the Board. She had just ramped up her business again and couldn’t afford that. “I walked away saying, ‘That’s not going to happen on my watch,’” she says. And it hasn’t. “We have Board members whose businesses have grown during their time on the Board because we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing—supporting one another as women business owners.”
Perhaps that’s why this honor is so personally meaningful. “Doing what we do is a lot of work,” she explains. “To me, this award sitting on my desk is a little token and statement that our work is paying off. To be acknowledged by the national organization is so important. The connection to national with the tools we get and the relationship we have with the National Board and staff is important to us and just keeps getting better and better.”
“For me as president,” she adds, “it means that I’m continuing to build on a legacy that the women before me created. It also means that we can take this back and make a big deal out of it here in Cleveland to attract and support even more women business owners.”