Girl Scouts' refurbished focus on leadership development attracts support among corporate and community leaders.

Never underestimate the power of selling cookies. And don't equate Girl Scouts just with camping, cookies and crafts. The three Cs now associated with the 105-year-old American institution are courage, confidence and character.

Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich and 26 other business and community leaders each have leadership perspectives they are ready to share when Girl Scouts' triennial national conference, G.I.R.L. 2017, draws up to 15,000 to Columbus Oct. 6-8.

Kasich, a former Girl Scout who is the mother of twin daughters, heads a blue-ribbon host committee as honorary 2017 president of Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland. Not all committee members were Girl Scouts; some are men who support girls' leadership development.

G.I.R.L. 2017 capitalizes on branding launched last year to portray Girl Scouts as representing signature traits of being a Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk-Taker and Leader. Host committee members have named the G.I.R.L. trait they most identify with and why as they offer leadership lessons for girls.

Tammy Wharton, CEO of Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland, believes her council's plan to include the host committee of community leaders helped it win the bid to present the conference. Committee members will welcome visitors, sit on panels, lead discussions and otherwise promote Girl Scouts and Columbus to attendees.

More serious than ever about its mission to help girls develop their potential, Girl Scouts has evolved to deliver programming in new ways and in new sectors, Wharton says.

“We do it through building courage, confidence and character, which is our mission, and the Girl Scout leadership experience. It is a collection of activities and experiences. It really encourages girls to try new things, hands on, so that they can succeed, they can fail, they can pick themselves back up and try again,” Wharton says.

STEM is one of four core pillars of Girl Scouts now, along with financial literacy/entrepreneurship, life skills and outdoor education.

And you don't have to be a Girl Scout to participate in the organization's programming or even to offer expertise, Wharton says. Where needed, Girl Scouts pays content experts to share their knowledge rather than relying just on volunteers whose expertise may be lacking, Wharton says.

Girls may participate just in activities that interest them or go all the way to attaining the Girl Scout Gold Award—similar to Boy Scouts' Eagle Scout rank. Bestowed on just 5 percent of Girl Scouts, the Gold Award requires recipients to devote at least 80 hours to research, create and implement a sustainable project to improve their community long after their work is done.

And cookies are still part of the experience.

Selling cookies is “the largest social entrepreneur program in the world led by girls,” Wharton says. “Through our cookie program they learn goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics—all things that are going to help them if they want to become entrepreneurs and own their own business and as they become adults and join the workforce.”

Beyond cookies, “We're doing things like designing robots,” Wharton adds. “We're teaching girls about programming so that they can hack for good. … We want to be able to provide activities that can teach them the skills so that they can be successful in some of those careers that we don't even know what they are yet.”

Leaders' Advice for Today's Girls

Girls growing up in the 21st century can be anything they want—even more than when Girl Scouts was founded 105 years ago to help girls realize their potential.

Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland asked host committee members which of four branded G.I.R.L. traits they identify with most and why. Some also shared advice for girls today and revealed how Girl Scouts shaped their development.

Here are their responses, shared exclusively with Columbus CEO.


Jane Grote Abell, Donatos, Chairwoman of the Board

Jane Grote Abell learned early on to take chances and advocate for others. Her dad wanted to give back to the community. Her mother was a founding member of Amethyst, a Columbus nonprofit to support women in recovery from addiction. Her parents taught Abell that everyone makes mistakes and deserves second chances.

Abell's business leadership philosophy is spelled out in her book, The Missing Piece, in which she writes about courage, compassion, conviction and character.

Yvette McGee Brown, Jones Day, Partner

A former Ohio Supreme Court justice, Yvette McGee Brown is her law firm's partner-in-charge of diversity, inclusion and advancement. She is also known in the community for her leadership and advocacy on behalf of education for underserved populations and advancement for women and girls.

Her advice to girls: Be fearless. Believe in yourself. And, most importantly, don't limit yourself by others' expectations.

Tanny Crane, Crane Group, President and CEO

Tanny Crane hasn't stopped being a go-getter since her days as a Brownie and then a Girl Scout. She is known as a driving force, with Jane Grote Abell, in the development of the Reeb Avenue Center on the South Side.

Crane has led diversification of the Crane Group while working on community improvement projects.

Girl Scout memories include camping with her mother and her mother's best friend, who were her leaders. When her mom couldn't get the fire started, the girls took over to get the job done. Crane also remembers community service projects with the elderly and people with disabilities.

Laura Warren, FULLBEAUTY Brands, Chief Operating Officer

Laura Warren learned about working on teams in Girl Scouts and still seeks results that develop talent and make teams feel good.

She credits Girl Scouts for setting a foundation that took a shy, quiet girl and gave her the support and confidence she needed during her childhood. Later sharing the Girl Scout legacy with her daughter was a proud moment, especially since it bridged multiple generations in her family.

Laura Comek, Comek Law, Principal

Laura Comek has been a can-do type from childhood. Good grades and athleticism combined to tag her as an overachiever. She bowled and excelled in basketball and softball, often playing backyard softball with her dad for so long that she couldn't see the ball in the dark. Following her father's advice to focus on whatever spot she was given, she became an all-star at each position she played, including catcher. She started every high school basketball game and also ran track. Lessons she learned from sports included the importance of leadership, teamwork, hard work and self-confidence.

Her advice to girls: Be confident. You can't rely on other people. You as a person are good enough exactly as you are.

Tracy Elich, AEP, Vice President, Human Resources

Tracy Elich describes her most constant characteristics as being determined, bold, honest, fair,goal-oriented and having a can-do mentality. She also considers herself to be ambitious and a lifelong learner.

Her advice to girls: Make sure you can take care of yourself and then all the other pieces will fall into place. As an adult, it is difficult to pay forward or pay back if you haven't ensured that you are able to take care of yourself. That will better position you to focus on helping others and bring even more value to your family, community and the world.

Lisa Hinson, Hinson Ltd. Public Relations, President

Lisa Hinson has a reputation for skilled execution of projects—determining where a group wants to go or needs to go and then lining up resources to get it done. Throughout her career, she has always weighed her options before making a decision. Two of the things she wanted/needed to achieve were professional fulfillment and personal balance. When starting her own company, she made the strategic decision to stay small so she could focus on the projects that had the most meaning to her.

Hinson remembers weekly Girl Scout meetings at a local fire station and the pride she felt after making a bunny-shaped cake. Having something to show for her hard work gave her confidence. Hinson attributes her Type A personality to the need to earn more and more badges.

Stella Keane, Big Lots, Senior Vice President, Talent Management

Stella Keane's early memory of displaying her G.I.R.L. trait dates to kindergarten and a career-day assembly at school where her dad talked about being a retail store manager. When children were asked at the end of the program what they wanted to be when they grew up, Keane says she announced, “I want to be just like my dad, a businessman.”

Raised with three younger brothers, she says her parents “instilled in us to have the confidence we could do anything. We learned from them to be focused, seek education and learning opportunities (so) that we would achieve our goals.”

Her advice to girls (and boys): Focus on your dreams, be ambitious, take risks, live life and join an organization like Big Lots that is passionate about doing what's right for its associates, customers and community.

Tammy Wharton, Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland, CEO

Being a competitive synchronized swimmer taught Tammy Wharton important life lessons as much as growing up in Girl Scouts. Swimming on a national championship team at Ohio State and for the USA National Team, Wharton says she “learned the importance of setting and achieving goals, hard work and how teamwork made accomplishing those goals even more fulfilling.”

In scouting, Wharton's competitive nature was drawn to mastering all of the activities to earn badges. “Even as a young girl, it was all about earning as many badges as possible. I liked Girl Scouts—and horses—so much as a girl that I chose attending a week of horseback riding camp over going to Hawaii with my parents. Several years later I had (another) opportunity to vacation in Hawaii, so in my mind I got the best of both worlds.”

Her advice to girls: You can accomplish anything you put your mind to with hard work and perseverance. It won't be easy, and when you want to give up, you have to find the grit to push on! Seek to learn, whether that be in formal or informal settings, and surround yourself with people smarter than you. You will be amazed how much you can learn from them.


Lisa Courtice, United Way of Central Ohio, President and CEO

Lisa Courtice calls Girls Scouts her “first leadership training program,” although she didn't recognize it as such at the time.

The experiences she carries with her include developing a repertoire of new skills, building credentials, helping others,creating new friends and making commitments, all while being supported by others and encouraged to succeed. “Being aGirl Scoutinspired me to believe in myself,” Courtice says.“And, at an age where looking different was a big risk, I have vivid memories of being so proud to wear my Girl Scout uniform to school!”

Her advice to girls: Trust your instincts!

Karen Days, The Center for Family Safety and Healing, President

Karen Days has learned to be a do-it-yourselfer and a self-starter. Some of her innovations are apparent at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where she has championed new programs that weren't typical of pediatric hospitals.

The “Where's the Line?” campaign targeting bystanders is an example of fresh thinking to curb family violence.

Her advice to girls: It is absolutely OK to be vulnerable. You get scrapes and you have to pick yourself up.

Cindy Monroe, Thirty-One Gifts, Founder, President and CEO

Cindy Monroe doesn't reveal whether she was an exemplary cookie-seller as a Brownie and then a Junior Girl Scout, but her direct-selling purse-and-accessories company empowers women just as scouting builds up girls.

Monroe is always looking for what is next and tries not to get stuck in day-to-day activities. Self-reflective by nature, she writes down her good traits and asks peers and others to point out when she is not working at optimum levels. With a passion for moms and women, Monroe believes mothers are their daughters' No. 1 role model. She has created an online coaching program for women.

Her advice to girls: Don't believe in negative comments that people say to you.

Frances Strickland, Former First Lady of Ohio

Frances Strickland views herself as an entrepreneur and innovator. She has a doctorate degree in educational psychology and has focused on early childhood and mental health.

Her advice to girls: Don't shrink from responsibility. Try to build something together; it is always better than it could be by yourself.


Eric Brown, Columbus City Schools, Board of Education Member

Eric Brown's entire career has been unplanned but marked by work he considers meaningful. That's how he says he approached opening his own law practice, running for election the first time, moving to Columbus for better opportunities and seeking out volunteer activities which later led to career opportunities.

Joining the host committee for G.I.R.L. 2017 gives him the opening to encourage youth to have long-term plans, Brown says. He also likes how Girl Scouts embraces diversity and empowers young women.

His advice to girls (and women): You can do anything and can accept any opportunities that come your way!

Marilyn Brown, Franklin County Commissioner

Taking risks is just about finding another way to reach goals for Marilyn Brown. Her early work-arounds include making her own clothes when she couldn't afford to buy things and winning admission to graduate school at Case Western Reserve University without having an undergraduate degree.

Her non-traditional career path continued when she overcame her girlhood shyness and ran for office after raising two daughters with her husband, Eric.

Her advice to girls: Find what you are passionate in and do it! Take the risks to do it.

Brian Ross, Experience Columbus, President and CEO

Brian Ross sees himself as a competitive, strategic leader who is focused on the future and maximizing every opportunity. He believes Risk-Takers need to learn to be resilient and overcome obstacles to achieve their goals; you won't always be successful.

His advice to girls: Failure is an opportunity to grow and gain strength and resilience, so don't be afraid to fail. It's an important part of your development as a leader.

Julie Holbein, AECOM, VP, Global T&L Development

Julie Holbein lives out her philosophy to try new things.

“Even if they don't turn out, I can say I tried it and most likely learned something,” she says.

Her penchant for risk-taking saw her leave Cardinal Health, where she was an executive in human resources for 10 years, for a new challenge on the West Coast earlier this year.

Holbein, who is president and board chair with Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland, likes to share two favorite quotes: “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” and “Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure.”

Beth Paul, Capital University, President

Beth Paul doesn't see her brand of risk-taking as impulsive behavior. She instead sees it as smart, thoughtful and informed action.

Paul's leadership in academia began at the College of New Jersey, where she got involved in community work and then looked for ways to provide bigger impact in a bigger scope. She came to Capital in 2016. Paul characterizes her leadership style as mission-directed.

Kathy Krendl, Otterbein University, President

Kathy Krendl's newest risk will be retirement, planned for June 2018. Some of the bold initiatives she has championed include a newly opened STEM center, The Point, which she sees as having the potential to change the way idividuals think about Otterbein.

Lessons over her career, she says, are to take the leap, embrace the risk and learn every step of the way.

Alyson Woodard, AT&T, AVP, Ohio Mobility Market

Alyson Woodard operates true to her self-identified trait as a risk-taker. Raised to be independent in a family with four older brothers, Woodard moved her family a year ago from Texas to Ohio for her current position.

Rather than growing up in Austin as a Girl Scout, she says her family treated her like one of the boys.

Jeni Britton Bauer, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Founder and CCO

Jeni Britton Bauer grew up creating and selling her own inventions and learned to lead by building support slowly. Her experience taught her that leaders don't need to be loud but can quietly encourage others to follow.

Britton Bauer recalls that her mother always bought from Girl Scouts to support the freedom of girls selling cookies. A natural doodler who draws to think, she attributes that reflective nature to her mom's background as a graphic designer and her grandmother's work as an art teacher.

Michelle Cramer, Cramer & Associates, President and CEO

Michelle Cramer has been raising money for worthy causes since she was 8 years old. That's when she organized and led a fundraiser after a classmate's home burned to the ground. It foreshadowed a future leading her own philanthropic consulting firm for 25 years.

Her advice to girls: Do it afraid! Get out of your comfort zone, take a chance, reach, stretch and go for it! And if you fall, get up and try again. You never want to look back and wonder ‘what if.' Fill yourself with confidence, knowing that God has equipped you with all you need to ‘slay that dragon,' whatever it may be.

Karen Morrison, OhioHealth, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, OhioHealth Foundation, President

Karen Morrison juggles two major leadership roles and doesboth well at OhioHealth, as evidenced by her 2016 recognition as a YWCA Columbus Woman of Achievement.

Her advice to girls: Surround yourself with good mentors, including women who have a strong work ethic and a belief in continued learning. Don't be afraid to take risks.

Karen Waldbillig Kasich, First Lady of Ohio

Being Ohio's first lady gives Karen Kasich a platform, but being a leader is all on her, and her focus is to lead Ohioans to better heart health. Her passion is linked to a family history of heart disease and a belief that, “While we can't change our heredity, we can control what we eat and how much exercise we get.” Her advocacy for healthy behaviors is especially directed to children, who she believes are “our most precious natural resource.”

The first lady says she developed early leadership skills as a Girl Scout partly because “I hated selling cookies! I'd be the one knocking on doors saying, ‘You don't want to buy cookies, do you?'

“But the experience stretched me; it taught me to accept rejection and helped me learn to ask for the order. Girl Scouts gives girls a safe place to try new things, take risks and even make mistakes,” Kasich says.

She adds, “The feeling of accomplishment when you earn badges is great, and watching them add up on your sash is so much fun. … We were exposed to leadership through service projects and our troop leaders who modeled leadership each week.”

Kasich's also encourages others to volunteer with Girl Scouts, noting, “Adults who ... volunteer can positively influence and truly help girls become great leaders.”

Her advice to girls: Be kind to others. When you are kind, you feel good and you make others feel good. It's so simple—build people up instead of tearing them down.

Andrew Ginther, City of Columbus, Mayor

Andrew Ginther attributes his leadership success to being empathetic and connecting with people by understanding where they are coming from. He seeks to empower people and give them tools to be successful, including opportunities to collaborate.

Gale King, Nationwide, Executive VP and CAO

Gale King leads by focusing on making a difference, either through advocating for those who need help or in efforts to make her company better. Her leadership has given her the opportunity to progress through several executive positions within the company.

Along the way, King says she has learned that success is not achieved by people liking you but instead because of the quality of your work.

Her advice to girls: Believe anything is possible. Do what you are passionate about. Believe in yourself, but you do not have to be perfect. Forgive yourself! And enjoy your life's journey!

Maureen O'Connor, Ohio Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Maureen O'Connor convenes interested parties to accomplish a goal. She believes society benefits when leaders get the right people to the table.

Her advice to girls: Don't be fooled by whomever is delivering the message. It is the message that you need to focus on.

Mary Yost is the editor.