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La Dama Del Cement: Amalia Fortabat

I just got back from an amazing trip from Argentina, and of course, one of the first things I do while I’m touring around a new country is ask the guides about the local history and the most notable women of the region.

Just imagine that one of the most powerful and successful executives in Argentina was a woman by the name of Amalia Fortabat. She caused quite a stir by divorcing her first husband and marrying a man 27 years her senior, who was the founder of a large and successful cement company. Their romance was the talk of Buenos Aires, where at the time, their relationship was anything but conventional.

It didn’t take long before she was immersed in his business. She was fluent in three languages, French, English and Spanish, and was the daughter of a prominent family (her mother’s family descended from Uraguay’s second president Manuel Oribe).

Following her husband’s death in 1976, she took charge of his business empire taking the company to greater heights, earning her the title “La dama del cement” or “The Cement Lady.” In addition to being a successful executive, Amalia Fortabat had a deep passion for the arts and philanthropy.

In the 70s, she created the Foundation Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, “an institution that donates millions of dollars to charity and provides grants to children’s homes, schools and cultural centres.” And, in 1992 she was appointed president of the National Art Foundation where she continued to contribute her services to the arts and philanthropy to the end of her life.

One of the highlights from my trip was visiting her private art collection.

Here is a photo of the piece Andy Warhol created for her.

My Adventures in Mexico City at the WOBI Conference

Poster Art by Twitter fan @CFMEDIUM

When I had accepted to speak at the WOBI conference in Mexico City, I had no idea how hectic my life would be that week. I was gearing up for the WOMEN ARE Summit that my partner, Beth and I, have been organizing for the past year, I was due to speak in New York at another women’s conference a few days later, and to add more excitement to my life, my husband and I had accepted to host a speaker from Stanford the night before.

But truth be told, that week was one of the highlights of my work. It isn’t easy to be in constant movement, and I for one, cherish the times that I have a set schedule of uninterrupted writing.   But, what I have realized is that what I love even more than the process of writing is connecting with people.

Needless to say, at the WOBI conference I got the opportunity to connect with 2,500 top leaders and executives from Latin America. The thought of walking into a big expo center and seeing rows and rows of seats and stage twice the size of anything I have ever seen made me chuckle. How did a girl from Iran ever end up coming to the conference and have the opportunity to do interviews with Forbes, Televisa, and Martha Debayle, and do a Vogue photo shoot for their “Power Women” feature?

Besides, at the conference I had the opportunity to listen to other truly exceptional speakers such as: RED BULL’s Stratos pilot, Felix Baumgarter (who jumped from the Stratosphere in free fall, breaking the sound barrier as well as many other records), Xavier Sala-I-Martin (the Spanish economist who is a leader in the field of economic growth), Magnus Scheving (the Icelandic writer, producer, entrepreneur, and athlete who is also the creator and co-star of the children’s television show LazyTown), and Lorenzo Servitje, the founder of Bimbo Corporation (the largest Mexican owned baking company, with brands in America, Asia, and Europe).

Each of these experiences were incredibly gratifying and exciting at the same time. The saying is true: when your work is your passion, it can really be the most fun of all and my time working in Mexico was a perfect example. What I truly sensed was the warmth and hospitality of the people I met—the wholehearted way they reached out to me.

Angella Nazarian with CNN Host

 

In the few hours I had free, I was able to visit the Tomaya Museum and Carlos Sims art collection.  The only thing that was on my mind as I was leaving for the airport was, I need to come back to Mexico—and very soon.  I guess Latin blood really runs through my veins.

REACHING THE SUMMIT – ONE STEP AT A TIME

When I was writing and researching for my books, it would be as if I was retreating somewhere quiet and still inside myself.  Sometimes it would take me an hour or two to get out of my shell and take part in the daily hustle -bustle of Los Angeles life.

Now that we are 6 weeks away from the WOMEN A.R.E. Summit, I see that my days are diametrically different than what I was accustomed to while writing. To get over 25 leading women to come and speak at the conference was no easy feat. I can’t tell you how many letters I drafted, how many calls I made, and how much time was spent in meetings with others.  But the flip side is that I feel ever more connected to my community and the one day summit itself.

One summer afternoon two years ago, I was lounging in the garden and watching the sun fade away. Suddenly in the quietness of the afternoon, an idea occurred to me—what if I can bring the very women I research on to a forum where they can themselves share their story.  The seeds of organizing a summit were planted that afternoon.

In hindsight, the one day Summit, showcasing such trailblazers as Marianne Williamson, Dr. Andrea Ghez, Alison Pincus, Cathie Opie, and Ann Philbin to name a few, feels like a natural extension to the books I have been writing.

We are six weeks away, and I am filled with excitement and anticipation for the big day. My partner, Beth, and I are keeping a tight schedule these days and are planning all the details of the day but at the same time, we know that organizing a summit is like organizing a dance—you create the space and structure, the people show up, and the rest is about the energy in the room and the spontaneous exchanges between people!

I will update you all with photos and breaking news!

Lorena Garcia: Cooking Up A Storm

 

You may have seen her in the Taco Bell commercials, or perhaps Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters, ” but one thing’s for certain: Chef Lorena Garcia has now made it to the center stage of the American spotlight. No stranger to the media, Lorena and her cuisine, cookbook New Latin Classics and restaurants Lorena Garcia Cocina,and LorenaGARCIA Tapas have been featured in major magazines and TV networks including CNN, NBC, Bravo, and Telemundo, just to name a few.

Adding to her list of impressive achievements, Lorena launched “Big Chef Little Chef” – a program dedicated to help children and families take control of their health and combat obesity through workshops and hands on cooking classes.

Can you imagine this charismatic and creative force once had a completely different career trajectory? It was fascinating to learn that she earned her law degree and was continuing in her education when she had a personal epiphany that caused her to completely switch gears and explore a new future in the culinary arts. She enrolled at Johnson & Whales University and never looked back.

Recently I had the pleasure of having dinner with Lorena, Randy Jackson, Harriet Sternberg (who incidentally is on the Women A.R.E. advisory committee), and Lara Shriftman. As I had suspected, Lorena has an effervescent personality and was brimming with excitement about the new venture on her horizon. Lorena is so comfortable with herself that one can easily fall into friendship with her. She talks about the experience and ritual of food, as if she were giving a impromptu workshop on personal growth and relationships. No wonder she has a strong following worldwide!

Women A.R.E. is pleased to have chef extraordinaire and culinary artist, Lorena Garcia, as a participant on the “Women in the Arts” panel at the November 7th Summit.

Ann Philbin Re-Envisions Los Angeles’ Vibrant Art Scene

What does it take to turn a sleepy museum in Westwood Village into the talk of the town? The answer is – “a new visionary”. In 1999, that visionary woman was Ann Philbin. She left her ten-year position as the director of New York’s Drawing Center to come to Los Angeles with a passion and purpose to reveal one of the city’s greatest hidden gems.

Philbin was eager to transform the museum’s image and attract a new generation of art lovers and did so by developing programming to accommodate the interests of the urban art scene. She founded the museum’s Hammer Contemporary Collection as well as the Hammer Projects Series, which focuses on emerging artists.

During one of my conversations with her, Philbin beamed with pride as she talked about Los Angeles’s vibrant artistic community. Many people may not know this, but Los Angles has become the mecca for emerging artists, more so than New York or Berlin. Capitalizing on the strength of Los Angeles’s artistic community, she envisioned a bold and ambitious enterprise.

Last year The Hammer Museum joined forces with nonprofit gallery LAX ART and the Department of Cultural Affairs to hold the first ever Los Angeles Biennial called Made in LA. Unlike the well-known Whitney Biennial, Made in LA had a regional focus: about 60 artists, some marquee and many emerging or lesser-known artists, were participating in this enterprise.

Made in LA was an overwhelming success: local artists had a prestigious platform to showcase their work, and the community was abuzz with the influx of the new artistic energy put on display.

Today the Hammer features contemporary artists, holds short film festivals, readings, lectures and debates six days a week. It’s safe to say Ann Philbin’s vision for turning the space into a cultural hub and gathering place for artists, students, and enthusiasts has been realized.

We look forward to having her participate on “Women in the Arts” Panel in our summit on November 7th.

The Amazing Massiliano Giono and the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale

I just got back from the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale and I have to say that Massiliano Giono, 38 and the youngest curator in the history of the biennale, did such a thoughtful job of linking some of the most fascinating artworks in the central pavilion.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

Given that I am a disciple of Carl Jung, I can’t tell you how powerful it was to see his drawing on display in the center pavilion, and his much-coveted Red Book that has not been out of the vaults for decades was on display. Legend has it that when Jung was suffering from a extreme neurosis, he would withdraw to his tower in his estate and spend hours drawing symbols and images that bubbled up to his consciousness.  The work was both beautiful and cathartic.  A gallerist had asked if he wanted to ever sell his works, but he refused, saying that the intent for his art was healing and not commercial.  The stunning works were al in the infamous red, leather-bound book and it serves as some of the most archetypical pictures on the collective human psyche.  The book has been locked in the family vaults for decades, rarely to be seen by anyone.  Here were Carl Jung’s art on full display and the glorious book in a temperature controlled glass case for all to view.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

To me the whole question of what is art, who is considered an artist was the most thought provoking. There was a miner who claimed that a voice told him one day to make art. He headed that voice and spent hours making intricate designs that were simply breathtaking. He would often sit 20 hours at a time and claimed that his work was effortless since the hand of God was working through him.  He also never sold those sublime colorful grids but wanted to be “in communion with the vibrations of his color.

Miner’s Art

Other examples of lay people who have taken art seriously was on display:  a social worker who dealt with the restrictions of education and the prison system, blind people, who did not have a sense of space and proportion, a dental hygienist and a woman who through meditation created what looks like the typical drawings of the cosmos and chakras when she was not truly aware of such notions.  How wonderful and liberating it was to celebrate art for arts sake and to celebrate ordinary people who also turned out exquisite pieces of work!

The Russian and British Pavilion in particular were also great. And Ai Weiwei’s installation in the French Pavilion was another showstopper.

Artwork installation by Ai Wei Wei

Of course, Mr. Arnault had the good sense and taste of wrapping the entirety of his Pallazo Grassi, wall to wall, floor to ceiling with Persian tribal carpeting courtesy of Rudolph Stingel.  But really, after going through the 20th room in the palazzo you got tired of the same thing.

Pallazo Grassi carpeting by Rudolph Stingel

The most surreal was Prada Foundation’s exhibition of “When Ideas become Form”—a rather menacing “muahahaha” voice blared throughout the palazzo and then there was this hysterical cry of a baby. (Maybe babies cannot be called hysterical because they have a right to cry)

That is the funny thing about exhibitions; you never know what is real and what is not! Obviously I knew that the Prada-clan doormen would never let in a certified lunatic so the real question was if there was a real baby in the exhibition? That was a recording too.

But joking aside, I came to understand that the seminal 1969 show that re-created tried to show that process of art was as important as the product itself—or perhaps no product at all. A revolutionary thing at the time that filled in the gap between what we are conditioned to appreciate and what the essence and possibilities of art could be

The only funny thing is that just as I left the Palazzo door, there was a screaming baby in the arms of a helpless dad as well.  At that very threshold was the display of life imitating art!

 

The Power of One Person

It is one thing to research and study the life of a person you admire and quite another when you get to see them face-to face and collaborate.  I had first met Somaly Mam, CNN Hero—and one of Timemagazine’s ‘Top 100 of the Most Influential Women in the World’, six years ago. She took the stage at the Governor’s Conference and had her speech had all 9,0000 women in the convention center simply rapped.

Today, Somaly Mam is a shining example of love, resilience and courage. She has transformed her painful history as a child who was sold into sexual slavery and who eventually broke herself free to rescue others. She and others fromThe Somaly Mam Foundation risk their lives continually to go into the dark hidden places where young girls are locked up, help them escape and provide a safe haven for them to rehabilitate. For me, these are true heroes.

One of my favorite speaking topics is about the power of one person. One person, or small group of likeminded individuals, can accomplish anything. Likely, they have more power than mega-organizations. And Somaly Mam is one of those people who, single-handedly, has brought sex trafficking to a global platform.

When she came to Los Angeles for work in early November, I invited her to a small afternoon tea with a few of my close friends. What touched me the most from our time together was the deep level of joy and love she radiated. All the guests that afternoon walked away feeling uplifted and utterly moved by the gracious presence of this woman.

I tend to believe that one of the most powerful ways to unleash the potential a group of people is to hold salons and conferences, where ideas, issues, and experiences can be discussed in a meaningful way.

A quote by Margaret Mead comes to mind:

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.”

Invigorated by this simple truth, I along with my partner Beth Friedman, decided to organize a formal salon as a platform for Somaly Mam to share her story with a broader audience. The response was overwhelming. Press came, donations were given, and even one woman I heard contacted Somaly’s organization to replicate their operations in another country. Truly the power of one life, of one story, Somaly’s, yours and mine, has the ability to impact the world!

Continuing on this theme, Beth Friedman and I have co-founded Women Aspire. Respond. Engage. (Women A.R.E.) and we will be hosting our inaugural day-long conference on November 7th at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.

Below is a sample of the discussion at our first Women A.R.E. Salon.

Angella Nazarian & CNN Hero Somaly Mam

Danica Patrick: One Fast Woman!

Cheers to fast women! Usually people snicker when they hear the words “fast” and “women” in one sentence, but this fast woman is no joke. I saw her on CNN just this morning sharing her news with the entire world. Danica Patrick, race car driver, just won the poll position of the 55th Daytona 500 time trials, posting a lap of 196.434 mph making her the first female to do so in history. You may recognize her as the beautiful brunette from the website company GO DADDY’s advertising campaigns. If being a beautiful racecar driver, model and spokeswoman wasn’t enough now she’s making national headlines.

For those that aren’t familiar with the sport, the poll position she just won is the strategic leading position to earn on a racetrack. To start on the inside edge, first row – gives the driver a logistical advantage over all the other stock cars. Although she’ll have a starting advantage during the “Great American Race”, history shows that it doesn’t guarantee a win. No poll winner in over a decade has won the Dayton 500 – not since Dale Jarrett in 2000, said NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield. But she will have the fans cheering for her.

Danica’s love affair with racing started early. At age 10 she began go-kart racing in 1992 in Wisconsin not far from Roscoe, Illinois where she grew up. She never looked back. Along the way, both of her parents have been supportive of her career, and today are involved in the daily operations of her businesses. A media darling, she has been acted in TV shows, been featured music videos, and commercials. Now with this new poll-win under her belt, all eyes will be watching. Regardless if she wins the Daytona 500 or not, she is a winner. Her drive, focus and passion is a lesson for us all.

[Here’s a racy picture of her — no pun intended!]

What I Have Learned From My Sons

I often say that my biggest teachers have been my kids. It is a strange feeling to be walking down the street with both of them towering over me, and poking fun of all the strange things I do. But believe me, life with them keeps getting more and more interesting with each year.My older son, Phillip, went to study abroad for a semester and gave us a boost of energy and inspiration with his notes from abroad. The new living arrangements, the new culture and language were a shock to the system—but Phillip loved the feeling of exploring and experiencing a new environment. They say that parents shouldn’t live through their kids, but in this instance I can tell you that Phillip’s sense of adventure and his natural inquisitiveness fulfilled a part of me as well. I guess this past few months have only shown how new experiences unleash a part of ourselves that we may have never known existed.

This past year was a big year for my younger son as well. Eli is a senior and has been looking at various colleges around the country. Last summer he surprised us all when he came back from a four-week business leadership class and announced, “This is it! I want to apply to the best business schools in the country!” There is no other word to describe him, but to say that he has a lot of “chutzpah”. You see, if he were playing the odds game—he could have played it safe and applied to a highly selective liberal arts college—the ones that he had all along thought of applying to before his summer experience. But, he told us that he was ready to be rejected, but what he needed to do was be in a business program that he loved. Needless to say that for the following months he was laser focused on getting interviews at his top school of his choice and making sure he had the best application possible.

The last few days leading up to getting the admission news were truly nerve wracking for him. My husband and I noticed how invested he was in his decision and wondering what may happen? Good news is that he was accepted to his school of choice!

But why am I choosing to talk about this story? I was noticing how naturally Eli followed his instincts, his passion and how he was willing to put himself on the line and risk rejection to get what he wanted. His decision paid off, but I have a feeling he would have coped with a rejection and would have applied to other business schools of his choice. I have been thinking about his actions quite a lot. Here he was as an enthusiastic 17 year old, grabbing life with his two hands and believing that his new found passion is worth his time and worth risking hurting his ego.
He reflected something for the whole family to see—that we can be more open with our choices, and put the necessary time and dedication to bring a dream to fruition.

This coming year, I hope to keep this lesson alive in my heart! I hope that you too draw inspiration from those around you, and in turn, use it to lead an inspired life!
Happy Holidays.

Women’s Legacy as Leaders

I hate to be late at events—and I become mortified to think I might be even 5 minutes late to an event where I am one of the keynote speakers. While I was braving the 10 East traffic this Thursday at 7:30 in the morning, I kept worrying if I would make it to the Pasadena Convention Center on time. Never mind that my navigation system was malfunctioning and I was trying to figure out where I need to go on my iPhone while listening to Oprah’s satellite radio program of “who is an energy sucker in your life.” Quite honestly, the question is not “who” but “what”. Traffic nowadays is the biggest drain of my energy.

But, once I parked my car and ran into the ballroom of the convention center and checked in for “Women’s Legacy Leadership Conference,” I felt a rush of positive energy go through me.

Once guided though the large doors of the banquet hall, it was clear that this was going to be a wonderful event. The room was full of beautiful round tables laid with promotional materials including, a packet and little pink rubber hard-hats symbolizing hardworking women. Before the event I was told there would be about 600 women at the event, and once I walked, it was clear that they had all arrived. There was a large stage at the front flanked by two digital movie screens with the event branding perfectly in place.

Phyllis Currie and Gail Farber are two super star women serving the county of Los Angeles in high leadership roles. They started off the day sharing their impressions on their personal journeys. Shortly after I arrived, it was my turn to present – and I focused on some of the key leadership lessons learned from the women featured in Pioneers of the Possible. It is an uncanny feeling when you feel so connected to hundreds of women in the room. Under the dimmed lights, the atmosphere felt intimate and I felt my message about the book resonated with them.

Usually when I make my way back to my seat, I check in with my assistant, who joins me at these events, to see if I did all right.  You see, I don’t think this question comes from a place of insecurity. Truthfully, it comes from a place of utter curiosity, because when I am at the podium, I feel like I am in a cocoon with the audience. I have no sense of time or much else. All I try to do is speak with passion about the subjects that I am passionate about.

Well, nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful and heartfelt response I got at the intermission. Once I got to the book-signing table, I noticed a line forming that went down the hall. If I may say so, I was so pleased that my books sold out in a matter of 20 minutes! But, the highlight was chatting with these amazing women who shared their experiences with me. One told me about her upcoming promotion, another about her 3 beautiful daughters that she has raised on her own, and yet another one told me about how arranged a stand-in to save her friend’s home during foreclosure. Now how could I have met any of these women if I hadn’t participated in this conference?

Of course, I got a chance to meet up with an old friend, best-selling author Hope Adelman, and had the opportunity to hear Christine Schwab speak for the first time.

Both are remarkable women who are passionate about seeing women succeed.

The message for the whole day for me was that our journey has much meaning. I always tell the audience that we all have a story. We define our story as much our story defines us. In order to reach higher and assume a leadership position in our own lives, we need to be committed to a path of growth. I felt privileged to have heard the many touching stories of resilience, success, hope, and courage at this conference.  If these are traits that we as women can harness, then we too can be pioneers in our own lives!