Newsflash

Traits of Office VIPs

There’s no room for a weak link on a Super Bowl team. Similarly, even one poor performer can hurt a company’s ability to make strategic plays and score new business. That’s why the pressure is on for hiring managers who are looking to add strength to their talent bench.

“When companies are operating extremely lean, hiring errors take a greater toll on the team, since each employee is bearing a heavier workload,” said OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking. 

“Today’s managers are well aware of the high stakes when selecting new hires and striving to find professionals who can contribute immediately and build a long-term career with their firms,” said Hosking. “Although the high unemployment rate has resulted in more available talent, identifying the strongest candidates remains a tough task. Many professionals have had considerable time to perfect their resumes and interview skills, making it more challenging to distinguish job seekers with the greatest potential.” 

OfficeTeam offers seven hallmarks of top performers and how to assess those traits:
• A winning mind-set. The best employees are optimistic yet realistic. Have candidates describe how they have handled a difficult boss, budget cut or mistake at work. Strong performers acknowledge challenges without sugarcoating their answers. Watch out for candidates who can’t think of any problems; they either are wearing rose-colored glasses or aren’t being honest.
• Willingness to change plays midstream. Persistence is an important trait, but it’s even better when coupled with adaptability. High-achieving employees don’t give up on problems but, instead, tackle them from multiple angles. Question potential hires about how they were able to adjust their strategy on an underperforming project to improve the outcome.• Quickness on their feet. This is especially important when hiring for customer-facing roles. Ask applicants how they would handle an irate customer. The answer itself may yield some interesting material, but more important will be how they think on their feet and give the rationale behind their response.
• An eye on the prize. Top performers strive for success in everything they do and have a good sense of what it means to them. Ask candidates to describe their greatest work achievement. While the accomplishment itself may be revealing, even more so is how they characterize success.
• Ability to make tough calls. The most valuable employees can be counted on to exercise good judgment and make difficult choices. Have potential hires walk you through a complex decision they had to make. Look at how they gathered facts and came to their ultimate conclusion.
• Good sportsmanship. High performers put ethics first in all situations and don’t climb over others on their way to the top. Ask candidates to describe an ethically challenging situation and how they handled it. Also ask references, including former colleagues and direct reports, how they would describe an applicant’s integrity.
• An enthusiastic fan base. The best employees don’t just have references; they have fans. Listen to not only what a candidate’s professional contacts say but also how they say it. Pose questions such as, “If you had the opportunity to hire this person again, would you do it?” and pay close attention to the tone of the responses.

Hosking also noted, “Many companies are choosing to work with potential new hires on a temporary or project basis before offering them a full-time job. This provides hiring managers with a clearer sense of a professional’s capabilities and allows both parties to evaluate the fit before committing for the long term.” 

OfficeTeam provides businesses with the temporary administrative professionals they need to maximize productivity, achieve cost efficiency and support existing staff. The company has more than 325 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.officeteam.com.

Cynthia Mitchell

Cynthia Woods Mitchell passed away at age 87 on December 27, 2009 after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Philanthropist and patron of the arts, Mitchell’s legacy stretches from Galveston to the community she named, The Woodlands.

Born Cynthia Loretta Woods in New York City on September 24, 1922, she and twin sister, Pamela, moved to Houston with their family in 1939. The sisters supported their family during the Great Depression while studying art and literature at the University of Houston at night. Two years later, Cynthia met future husband George P. Mitchell on a train ride home from a football game in College Station. The two, along with twin sister Pamela and her betrothed, were married in 1943 by an Army chaplain in a double ceremony. Then a captain in the Army, George Mitchell was soon transferred to his hometown of Galveston where the couple resided until the end of World War II. After moving back to Houston, the couple produced 10 children and an extremely successful company, Mitchell Energy & Development.

The Woodlands Corporation, an extension of Mitchell Energy, founded The Woodlands in 1974 and then managed the master-planned community in Montgomery County. At around the same time, the couple began revitalization efforts in Galveston. Over the years, they restored many buildings, including the 1871 League Building, the Tremont House and the Hotel Galvez. In 1985, the Mitchells also brought the annual Mardi Gras celebration back to the island.In 1976, while visiting her daughter in Austin, Cynthia Mitchell attended a ballet performance at the Zilker Hillside Theatre. She conceived of a similar venue in The Woodlands. That dream became reality, and the structure became known as the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Staying true to her vision, The Pavilion remains an affordable venue for popular music and classical performances, including the Houston Symphony’s Summer Series. It also plays host to a number of educational events.

Cindy DuBois, director of marketing and education at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, shares this story: “In 2001, Cynthia attended one of our Musical Scores concerts. She sat in the middle of a sea of about 5,000 middle school children participating in the program. As she looked at the students, you could just tell that she was tickled to see them learn.

“For me, it really spoke to what drove her — her love of the arts and education and the importance of passing that on in the community, especially to the young people,” DuBois concluded.

Continuing her support of arts education, Cynthia donated $20 million to the University of Houston, establishing the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. The center forms an alliance among five units at U of H: The School of Art, Creative Writing Program, Moores School of Music, School of Theatre and Dance and the Blaffer Gallery. The Center serves as a collaboration of performing, visual and literary arts for the public and offers an Interdisciplinary Arts minor for students.

After Cynthia’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2002, the Mitchell family created the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at The University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston and the George P. and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Brain Disorders at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell is survived by husband, George P. Mitchell, sister Pamela Woods Loomis, 10 children, 23 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. 

The Woodlands has declared April 29 as Cynthia Woods Mitchell Day. That night, the Houston Symphony will celebrate her life with a concert at The Pavilion.

Mitchell's Grand Plan

For 35 years, The Woodlands has been a study in contrasts. George Mitchell’s vision of unifying the best of city life with the surrounding natural beauty of the forests began in 1974. While 5000 acres are still in development, Mitchell’s vision is scheduled to be fully realized in 2017. Susan Vreeland-Wendt has witnessed the development in The Woodlands almost from the beginning. She moved to The Woodlands in 1979 and began her career in marketing with The Woodlands Development Company. In 2003, she was promoted to director of marketing.

According to Vreeland-Wendt, The Woodlands Master Plan called for nine villages to be       developed over the course of many years. In October 2007, the final village, Creekside Park, opened for homebuyers. Since then, 800 families have already purchased homes in that area. Plans call for 3,492 acres to be developed for 7,100 residences. Unlike the other villages in The Woodlands, Creekside Park lies within Harris County, just south of Spring Creek.

“Having the creek right there gave us the opportunity to develop the whole area along the creek as a nature preserve which gives that village more green space than any other,” Vreeland-Wendt said. 

The 1700-acre space was named in honor of The Woodlands’ founder, thus dubbed The George Mitchell Nature Preserve. 

Vreeland-Wendt said, “We’re developing in phases with soft hiking trails and areas for mountain biking, kayaking, things like that. It’s really a place where you get back to nature. You can be in the middle of a neighborhood in Creekside Park, then you go into the preserve, and you feel like you’re in another world. It’s a pretty amazing experience.”

In addition to the preserve, Creekside Park has a 33-acre swimming park and aquatic center. Named for the Texas Parks and Wildlife naturalist and artist, Rob Felming Park features a one-acre lake, playgrounds, hiking trails and a Craftsman-style lodge. The Rob Fleming Aquatic Center sits at the edge of 72-acre Lake Paloma. Attractions at the water park include tubing down a two-story flume into a “lazy river,” resort and lap pools, and a water playground.A new YMCA will open in the mid-year on Creekside Forest Drive. The facility will include a Health and Wellness Center, Women’s Health Center, Child Watch Center and outdoor activities centers.

Vreeland-Wendt said, “If you can’t keep your kids busy here in The Woodlands, you can’t keep your kids busy anywhere. There is so much going on, especially for families. Still at its heart The Woodlands is a very family oriented community. That’s why there has always been such an emphasis on outdoor recreation and getting kids in tune with nature, and of course, education.”

There are plenty of adult activities in The Woodlands too. Much of the upcoming development will take place in and around Town Center, the 1,000-acre “downtown,” a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment. The East Shore, the Garden District of The Woodlands Town Center, will see much of the area’s growth in urban housing.  

“The appeal for urban housing is professional couples and singles, but it’s also empty nesters and retirees who want a more urban lifestyle. Many people want to be able to lock and leave their places and travel and enjoy lower maintenance costs, but still be in proximity to where it’s really all happening,” Vreeland-Wendt said.

True to the original concept of The Woodlands, urban housing is enhanced by the surrounding nature. The East Shore development, for instance, lies on the eastern edge of the 200-acre Lake Woodlands. The urban housing is interspersed with architectural parks and walkways. In fact, everything is built on a walkable scale, with access to water taxis on The Woodlands Waterway, a 1.4-mile stretch of water which Vreeland-Wendt describes as the spine of the whole downtown. 

“It’s a place you really need to see and experience to truly understand. It’s a great place to spend the weekend and get a feel for everything that’s available here. In addition to Town Center, the Homefinder’s Center is a great place to visit, because it provides a comprehensive overview of the community. So, check out our website (www.thewoodlands.com), hop in the car and come see us,” Vreeland-Wendt concluded.

Nikki Rosenberg is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Staycation: Hotel Sorella

It was four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when I checked into west Houston’s new, chic and sophisticated Hotel Sorella in the prestigious CityCentre. I had been looking forward to a post-holiday weekend of fun: self-pampering rest and relaxation in one of the hotel’s luxurious, Italian-inspired suites, fine dining in elegant, modern spaces and pedestrian-friendly upscale shopping.  

I got lucky, our local weatherman delivered one of Houston’s wonderful winter days — temperatures in the high 60s, a slight breeze and bright, clear blue skies. Perfect for strolling around on the balconies and grounds of the hotel and in and out of the corridors of CityCentre. I had no doubt this was going to be a great staycation!

The staff at the hotel was warm and welcoming and eager to please. Check-in went quickly, and before I knew it I was escorted to my room. It was a beautifully appointed suite — with contemporary furnishings and the custom-designed Hotel Sorella bed, dressed with 300-thread Egyptian cotton linens and goose down foam pillows. The suite seemed to have everything I love: floor to ceiling windows with a view, a sectional sofa and chaise lounge, a fully stocked mini bar, working desk, lots of task lighting, complimentary high-speed wireless connections and so much more. The setting would have made “working over the weekend” tempting but, instead, I “forced” myself to stay focused on the plan and think high-end R&R.

In the bath, I found a large, walk-in shower, sweet-smelling toiletries and a comfy-looking robe just waiting for me to try on. In short order, I did!

In the literature in the room, I learned that Hotel Sorella has 244 guest rooms, 30 suites and one Presidential Suite. It also boasts 18,000-square-feet of meeting space for small, large, day or evening events. It has a multi-lingual staff, complimentary town car service within a five-mile  radius of the hotel and an exclusive spa and fitness center. Again, I couldn’t help but think: This would be a great place for a corporate retreat or conference! (I wrote myself a note!)

A couple of hours later, my son, Matt, showed up to join me for a round of drinks in the Monnalisa Bar and dinner at Bistro Alex. We both loved the atmosphere and the crowd at the Monnalisa Bar. The flickering flames in the fire pit cast a glow around the room and made being there all the more inviting. Sitting near the warmth of the fire, sipping on a Lemondrop Martini and conversing with Matt and the others we met there made for a delightful start to the evening. But, we didn’t dally too long; both of us were eager to check out Alex Brennan-Martin’s new restaurant, Bistro Alex, located on the second floor of Hotel Sorella.

Walking into Bistro Alex, I couldn’t help but notice the casually elegant decor. There was a great mix of contemporary design elements with a nature-inspired color palette of browns, blues and greens. Many of the materials used are those native to Texas — such as the rough-hewn mesquite lumber that wrap the walls and ceiling of the dining space.

Chef Gonzalez’s menu, which features bold favors, was impressive. It included a wide selection of small and large plates, soups, flatbreads, petite and entree salads, desserts and other delightful surprises. Trying to choose among entrees like Brined Pork Porterhouse, Beef Short Rib “Osso Bucco” and Oysters, Orange Molasses Roasted Texas Quail and Boudin Blanc Crusted Black Grouper with Five Mustard Sauce was challenging! So too was deciding between an array of small plates and flatbreads. So, I did what any adventurous, risk-taking woman would do: I asked our waiter, Timmy, to make the selections and surprise us! He did well!

We started with the Duck & Gala Apple Flatbread, moved on to orders of the Crispy Whole Red Snapper and the Grilled Black Angus Filet of Beef and finished up with the Calvados Caramel Apple Crisp and Brennan’s White Chocolate Bread Pudding and strong coffee. All was devine! When it comes to breakfast, guests at Hotel Sorella have a couple of wonderful in-house options. First, there’s the complimentary continental breakfast. It is served in the ultra-cool lobby lounge and includes pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, assorted juices and specially blended Katz coffee. Cappuccino and espresso are available upon request and complimentary as well. For an additional charge on the weekends, guests can enjoy bloody marys and mimosas.

On the morning I was there, I showed up in the lobby lounge about 9 a.m. and ended up staying much longer than I expected. I was charmed by the clientele. Most were multitaskers like myself. It made me smile to see so many enjoying the ambience of the room and the yummy breakfast, but at the same time, reading newspapers and checking messages on their laptops and Blackberries. (My kind of place!)Another dining option at Hotel Sorella is Cafe Rose, located on the ground floor. The cafe, also owned and operated by Alex Brennan-Martin, is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It offers coffee and light breakfasts, a variety of salads and sandwiches and domestic cheeses and salami.

Additionally, there is a thoughtful menu of wines by the glass and bottle, which Brennan-Martin describes as “dare to be different” varieties. The wine list includes reds and whites and an extensive selection of the owner’s beloved French and American rosé wines  — any one of which would be perfect for toasting to a fabulous Hotel Sorella staycation of your own!

Beverly Denver is the editor and publisher of Houston Woman Magazine.

Helping Afghan Women

In July 2003, after her company, U.S. Protection and Investigations, LLC, was awarded a contract in Afghanistan, Barbara Spier realized her calling. As she observed the country, Spier realized her efforts needed to exceed the job for which her company was hired. Her work culminated in the formation of Helping Afghan Women Project. The acronym HAWP is pronounced by its founders as ‘hope.’ On her initial trip to Kabul, Spier looked out the car window at the women in birkahs sitting by the side of the road and small children begging in the street.

She thought, “I didn’t come here for any other reason but to help.”

Upon returning to the states, she spoke so passionately to her friends about the plight of women in Afghanistan that she was asked to speak publicly by the National Association of Women Business Owners. Heida Thurlow, founder of Chantal Cookware, was in the audience that day and expressed her desire to help in the effort. 

Thurlow said, “I will never forget how the Americans helped me when I was a  child in war-torn Germany.”Patricia Barry Rumble heard the exchange and wanted to join the group’s efforts. Thurlow recruited Lindmuth Fuller, completing the group of founding members of HAWP.  

“We met the first time in July of 2004,” Fuller said. “We sat in Heida’s board room, looked at each other and said, ‘Now what do we do?’ Nobody had any idea how to set up a nonprofit organization. But we all had business backgrounds, approached it from that point, and we learned fast.”

By September, clothing was being shipped to aid the people of Afghanistan. For the first few years, HAWP focused on the clothing drives. Donations were dropped directly at the Chantal warehouse and shipped to Spier’s company in Afghanistan. The company’s military connections allowed shipping to go through an APO, reducing costs for the start-up non-profit organization.Remaining cost conscious and utilizing an all-volunteer force, HAWP began providing more than just clothing to needy Afghans. To help refugees through the freezing months, the group distributed coal and blankets, as well as staple food supplies. All items were (and still are) distributed with a note that reads, “A gift to you from the people of America. Let us work toward peace together.” At distribution points, large signs prominently display the same message, increasing awareness of HAWP and creating goodwill for the American people. In 2008, HAWP sent its first shipping container full of supplies to Kabul. The container held almost 22,000 pounds of donated clothing, footwear, glasses and other supplies. Among the items was a donation of toiletries and cosmetics from Mary Kay.

Fuller said, “In the beginning, I thought, ‘Why do we need cosmetics?’ But Barbara educated us, the women there love to do their nails; they love to be beautiful. However, wearing lipstick or doing hair is really only allowed in the women’s quarters.”

HAWP further seeks to empower women and children in Afghanistan through education and skills training. In 2006, the organization sent six new heating stoves, wood, coal, medication and stuffed animals to the children at the Halloden Orphanage.

At the Nazo Ana Primary School, students sat on the floor with no electricity and only one working bathroom until HAWP stepped in. Six bathrooms were added, and 1000 desks were built. HAWP’s support of educational institutions in Afghanistan was recognized by the Minister of Education, and after providing various support to an all-girl high school, Spier was invited to speak at its graduation ceremony.

“I spoke about the future of Afghanistan and how the women could help,” Spier said. “It was supposed to be shown on Afghan television that night, but because I said women were the future of Afghanistan, and the ones who can change it, the program did not air.”

According to Spier and Fuller, the subjugation of women in the tribal societies that make up Afghanistan can only be ended with the education of the women.

Fuller explained, “The women have to change, why should the men change? It’s their country. They are running it; they have all the rights. Through education women will change the society.”

To that end, HAWP has established a Women’s Center in Kabul. The center helps Afghan widows and refugees learn trades and skills which keep them from begging or living in servitude to male relatives. Among the many classes are reading and writing in their native language, English, jewelry making and sewing. 

Spier said, “Our philosophy is simple: if you help one woman, she’ll help six more, and each of those six will help six more and it just spreads.”

Some of the crafts produced are sold locally and at fund-raising events in Houston in order to continue these programs. One goal for the near future is to be able to sell the products on-line, as well.

While HAWP has been fortunate with material donations, it needs more monetary donations. The money collected buys wood, coal, medication, raw materials and tools for craft projects, supplementary clothing and blankets, as well as financing educational programs. Approximately 90 percent of all monies collected go directly to helping Afghan women.

Despite all they are doing, the volunteers at HAWP want to do more.

Fuller said, “In the beginning, especially, I got so frustrated because you can’t help everybody. But then, you have to bring it down to the simple, ‘No, I know I’ve helped people.’ That’s what you have to do. You can’t help everybody, so you do what you can. And we know we have helped save people’s lives. We know that. And that’s what keeps us going.”

To get more information about HAWP and the organizations which support it, or to make a donation, go to www.helpingafghanwomen.org or call 713-975-7205.

Nikki Rosenberg is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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