International Conference Breakthrough Women 2024

Jeanne Abundis Headshot
Jeanne Abundis
Audit Partner
KPMG LLP

Jeanne, a Louisiana native, has been a Houstonian for more than 20 years. Jeanne earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from McNeese State University, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After a short time working at a local accounting firm in Louisiana, Jeanne moved to Houston to start her career at KPMG LLP.

Jeanne is now a KPMG Audit partner, serving Houston clients throughout the energy industry, including oilfield services, upstream, midstream and retail power and gas. Throughout her career, Jeanne has worked with privately and publicly held companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 150 companies.  Jeanne has also been the lead partner for market place priority non-audit clients, where she has led efforts to build relationships and supply tax and advisory services.

Jeanne is a passionate mentor and advocate, especially for women and underrepresented communities. She has been an active member of the Houston Chapter of the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW), leading the Houston Chapter from 2013 to 2018. She is active in KPMG’s on-campus recruiting efforts McNeese State University and mentors college students through the KPMG Future Leader Program and McNeese State University College of Business Advisory Council. Jeanne has been honored as one of Houston Business Journal’s 40 under 40, Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2020-2021, and Texas Diversity Magazine’s Houston Power 50 and twice received a KPMG National Mentor Award.

Jeanne is active in the Houston community, serving as the co-chair of the Women’s Initiative steering committee of the United Way of Greater Houston and previously co-chairing its Young Leaders Council. She also serves on the Board of The Regis School of the Sacred Heart and the audit committee of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Jeanne and her husband, Chris, have two children: Sidney, age 11, and Camille, age 8. When not working or spending time with her family, Jeanne enjoys reading, cooking and cycling on her Peloton.

©Al Torres Photography
Kathy Belton
Senior Advisor
ExxonMobil Global Projects Company

Kathy is a Senior Strategy Advisor in ExxonMobil, with a focus on execution planning and subsea engineering.  In addition to her Engineering and Project Management experience, she has held broadening assignments in Commercial, Logistics, Strategic Planning, Business Analysis, and Operations.  More recently, Kathy held managerial positions in Melbourne, Australia and Doha, Qatar, and she has also led global teams in Nigeria, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom. 

Kathy received her BS degree in Civil Engineering from Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, while later receiving executive leadership training from the University of North Carolina and Thunderbird University.  In addition to her organizational responsibilities, Kathy serves on the Board of Corporate Affiliates for the National Society of Black Engineers, the Corporate Partnership Council for the Society of Women Engineers, and formerly on the inaugural Steering Committee for 4Word Women – Houston Chapter.  She is also a published author and accomplished speaker on the topics of Women Empowerment and Career Ownership.                    

Denise Bentham Internet
Denise Bentham
Owner/Operator
McDonald’s

I was born and raised in the bustling borough of The Bronx, New York, my journey of becoming a McDonald’s Owner/Operator was unexpected but undeniably remarkable. My story is one of love, dedication, and the pursuit of dreams.

Spending my summers in the South with my family, my childhood was filled with the hustle of city life and the warmth of southern hospitality. Little did I  know that my path would intersect with the world of fast food, leading to a life-changing partnership and a thriving business.

“I never saw myself being a McDonald’s Owner-Operator. It was not my dream but my husband’s dream,” I admit, reflecting on the beginnings of my journey, he is the catalyst behind our success. I always want to make sure I put him in the forefront.”

My story began at a McDonald’s restaurant in the Bronx, New York, where I found herself working the front counter while my future husband manned the entire restaurant as a Shift Manager. “It wasn’t love at first sight,” I just saw he could dance. I wanted to know how to dance like him.”

Our bond grew through dance lessons and nights out at clubs, and eventually leading to marriage and the joy of three children.

While my husband pursued his dream of owning and operating McDonald’s restaurants, I continued my career in Corporate America as an Executive Secretary. However, my passion for the business grew as I supported my husband’s endeavor. When he was offered a restaurant in Houston, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to learn the business firsthand.

“I worked in the store, balancing my corporate job and taking care of the kids  It was challenging, but it laid the foundation for what was to come.”

In 1999, I took my dedication with McDonald’s to the next level by attending classes and eventually was qualified to attend Hamburger University, where I earned my Bachelor of Hamburgerology Degree. Equipped with new skills and a relentless drive, I became an Owner/Operator myself.

For the past 24 years, I have

Currently, I have six restaurants.   My daughter become an approved Owner Operator. She has been working with me since she graduated from college in 2017. I have a son and daughter-in-law that also work in the business with their help its led me to the charge in expanding the business that me and my late husband built together.

Kathleen Bertolatus Internet brighter
Kathleen Bertolatus
Managing Counsel Environmental & Regulatory
Phillips 66

Kathleen Weir Bertolatus Managing Counsel, Environmental & Regulatory at Phillips 66 leads a team that provides compliance counseling advice and enforcement defense for the company’s assets across the country. Kathleen works with company experts, business unit leaders, and corporate executives to develop strategy and policy for the corporation against the backdrop of rapidly evolving HSE regulations.  Prior to joining Phillips 66, she was with an attorney at Baker Botts where she developed a trial and regulatory compliance counseling practice.  After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, she clerked for a federal district judge in the Southern District of Texas. She also holds a Master of Arts in Communication from UT and was a Jesuit Volunteer in Camden, New Jersey after receiving her BA from Saint Louis University. Kathleen maintains a pro bono practice working with immigrant women and children who seek asylum from gender violence.

carolyn benton
Tamika Dickerson
Associate Vice President
HNTB

Ms. Dickerson serves as Associate Vice President with HNTB, where she provides Strategic leadership for both the National and Local Aviation Practice.  In her role, Tamika is focused on Strategic Growth and Partnerships, Project Delivery, Sales/Marketing, Business Development, and Client Account Management.  

Tamika started her career some 25 years ago in her hometown of Pensacola, FL – where she worked in local government, managing environmental & community development programs focused on revitalizing underserved communities.  Shortly, thereafter she got her entrée into Aviation consulting on Hartsfield-Jackson’s $6B CIP Program.  Since that time, Tamika’s career has skyrocketed working on some of the country’s most notable, high-profile Aviation infrastructure projects/capital programs with values upwards of $20B at JFK, LAX, IAH, ORD & SEA.  Tamika remains one of few African American women in the country who have served in element level roles on super-mega Aviation programs.

Throughout her career, Tamika has been dedicated to advocacy for promoting equity, inclusion and diversity in the Aviation space, thus she has had continuous involvement in various organizations such as: Greater Houston Women Chamber of Commerce (GHWCC),  Women in Transportation (WTS); Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) as former Southwestern Regional Board Director; American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE); Airports Council International (ACI); Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), as well as volunteering in faith and community-based organizations.  Tamika stands on key mantras – “Lifting as she rises”, “Making room at the table for others” and “Being a Voice and not an Echo”.

Ms. Dickerson currently resides in Houston, TX, with her beloved son, Jay and furbaby, Suntzu.  She holds a Bachelors in Environmental Science and a Master’s in Public Administration. In her spare time – she enjoys advocacy work

Sabeeta Bidasie Singh
Jay Fairley
Director of Benefits & Operations
Enbridge

Jay Fairley, Director of Benefits & Operations at Enbridge, has built a distinguished career, navigating IT security, internal auditing, and human resources professions. She began her professional journey at Arthur Andersen, where she learned audit, consulting and project management. Moving to the energy sector with Duke Energy eventually brought her to Houston in 2006 with Spectra Energy and she fell hard for Houston and Texas. She has a passion for mergers and acquisitions which underscores her love of solving complex challenges while focusing on the human aspects of business transformation.

Beyond her professional life, Jay’s dedication to community service, notably her leadership roles within the United Way of Greater Houston and her volunteer work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, reflect her commitment to tackling societal issues.

Personally, she enjoys reading all types of literature, traveling and spending time with her family especially her twin sister and husband.

Gabriela Gerhart Headshot

Gabriela Gerhart
Founder
The Motherhood Center

Gabriela Gerhart is the founder of the Motherhood Center. She established this haven for mothers in 2000, turning a lifelong dream into reality. Gabriela discovered her passion for babies and childcare at an early age while growing up in a small village in the Czech Republic.

She received her degree in Pediatric Nursing and worked in the pediatric ER before accepting a position in the United States as an au pair.
After arriving here, she quickly realized that women lacked the village and family aspects of pregnancy and motherhood support.

Gabriela is recognized as an expert in the field of pregnancy and early-stage child development and has delivered keynote addresses for local and national conferences and women’s organizations, as well as being a frequent guest at numerous local TV broadcasts.

In 2021 she published her first book, a memoir titled After The Fall, where she shares about her journey to freedom, of growing up in communism, and coming to America.

She holds committee and board positions on several non-profit organizations around the Houston area that are focused on helping women and babies.
In her free time she enjoys golfing, reading, quality time spent with family and friends, and traveling with her husband.

Diana Gomez Headshot
Diana Gomez
Partner
Chamberlain Hrdlicka

​Diana Pérez Gomez is a trial lawyer in the Houston office of Chamberlain Hrdlicka, where she was elected to serve on the firm’s Board of Directors, and also serves as national co-chair for the firm’s labor and employment practice, and as national chair of the Women in the Law Committee and the Pro Bono Committee. Her career includes government service for the White House in Washington, D.C., for the City of Houston and Harris County. She has been recognized, among other honors, as a Houston Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business as an Outstanding Leader in Law, Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women, repeatedly as a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America and as a Super Lawyer consecutively every year since 2013. The Houston Bar Association’s over 10,000 members elected Diana to serve as their President where she will be the first Latina President in over 153 years since its inception.

Sonya Brazeal
Helon Hammond
Vice President
Global Learning, People, & Inclusion Impact
United Airlines

Helon Hammond is vice president of global learning, people, and community impact at United Airlines. Helon leads the airline’s community engagement partnerships and programming to advance and shape United’s relationships and image in the communities it operates within. She also manages the day-to-day delivery of United’s Global Learning in this capacity she ensures these services are standardized, high quality, and follow industry best practices. She also leads the people and inclusion impact programming driving for broader sources of talent and creating greater access to rewarding career opportunities.

Prior to her current role, Helon served as the Managing Director, Digital Technology. In that capacity she was responsible for the development of technology supporting various areas including Technical Operations, Corporate Safety, GSE, and United Next. One of her notable achievements during this time was leading the team that created and deployed the United Tech mobility app, the industry’s first endto- end mobile platform for aircraft maintenance technicians. This accomplishment earned her team the 2018 Aviation Week Laureate Award in Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul.

Helon is a recognized people developer and leader. She served as the President of United’s first Black Business Resource Group, BEACON, which has had a measured impact on United’s culture, employees, and communities. Additionally, she is involved in mentoring her colleagues and educating the next generation of STEM and aviation professionals. Helon represents United on the Executive Women’s Partnership (EWP), a premier networking group for female executives in Houston.

Helon currently lives in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Camille Cash
Shanna Kuzdzal
Chief Legal Officer
Cadence Bank

Shanna Kuzdzal is a highly accomplished attorney with nearly two decades of expertise supporting financial institutions with extensive legal experience in corporate, securities, regulatory and mergers and acquisitions. Before her current role as Chief Legal Officer at Cadence Bank, she held leadership positions at prestigious organizations, including senior executive vice president and general counsel at Stellar Bancorp, Inc. and senior vice president and associate general counsel at Prosperity Bank.

Before transitioning in-house, she distinguished herself at Bracewell (formerly Bracewell & Giuliani).  Her diverse experience equips her with a comprehensive understanding of complex legal landscapes and a pragmatic approach to problem-solving. 

Shanna is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and Rice University. She is actively involved in professional associations and community initiatives–The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston and Executive Women’s Partnership of the Greater Houston Partnership–reflecting her commitment to broader social impact.

Danielle Davis
Raquelle Lewis
Southeast Texas Communication Director
Texas Department of Transportation

With over 25 years of experience in transportation and public relations, Lewis currently serves as a Director at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), overseeing communications for over 50 counties in southeast Texas. Her districts manage $7 billion in active construction, with $22 billion in capital projects planned for the next decade.

Lewis is a seasoned leader with a track record in complex project management, cross-functional team oversight, strategic communications, brand management, risk mitigation, crisis management, and partnership establishment. Leveraging over 15 years as a senior leader and principal point of contact for TxDOT in Houston, she brings extensive experience from key roles held throughout her career, including Chief Communications Officer, Special Advisor to the Executive Director, Service Line Lead, certified project manager, and senior professional associate.

As a respected communications and strategy expert, Lewis excels in public affairs, public/media relations, and consensus building at the highest levels of Texas government. She plays a crucial role in managing the state’s highways and multimodal transportation system, offering insights into emergency management, risk mitigation, stakeholder engagement, and strategy development in both public and private sectors.

In addition to her role at TxDOT, Lewis proudly serves as an Independent Director on the board of CenterPoint Energy (NYSE: CNP), a leading energy delivery company boasting a $17B market cap. In this capacity, she contributes extensive expertise in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters, stakeholder relations, enterprise brand and reputation management.

 

As a Fortune 500 company board director, Lewis provides invaluable C-Suite oversight, actively shaping strategic thrusts and managing enterprise risks. She is committed to strong governance as the foundation for a healthy company and lasting results. As a catalyst for the implementation of best practices, Lewis brings a diverse perspective and cultivates an inquisitive culture to ensure the board fulfills its responsibilities to its stakeholders and investors. Dedicated to a customer- and market-focused approach, Lewis provides insights into strategic alternatives and emphasizes the importance of corporate culture, with a particular focus on promoting diversity and inclusion. Her leadership underscores a commitment to excellence, innovation, and sustainable practices in driving the company’s success. 

Passionate about public service and innovation in transportation and energy, Lewis is a collaborative leader. Alongside numerous honors, certifications and awards, she earned a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and pursued post-graduate studies at Texas Southern University, Stanford Law School, and Carnegie Mellon University.

Susan Dray
Raquel Olivier
Founder, President/CEO
Olivier, Inc.

Raquel Olivier, a native Houstonian, is the Founder and President/CEO of Olivier, Inc., a professional solutions-focused consulting firm supporting the construction and operational sectors in the public transit, aviation, healthcare, municipalities, and educational industries. She is also the Founder/Owner of Link Transportation Corporation, a micro-transit operations company.

Ms. Olivier received her dual undergraduate degree from the University of Houston in Accounting and Management in 1994 and obtained her CPA license in 1997 from the State of Texas. She also holds an MBA from Texas A&M University’s Executive program.  

Ms. Olivier serves on the American Public Transportation Association Board, APTA’s Business Member Board of Governors as 2nd Vice Chair, APTA Foundation Chair, and President of the Alief ISD Education Foundation board.  She also serves on the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and the HEF Board. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., BWGH-PAC, COMTO, AMAC, and TABSE.

Sidney Evans
Rachel Steely
Partner
Foley & Lardner, LLP

Rachel Powitzky Steely is a skilled trial lawyer who helps companies protect their technology, confidential information and workforces, and assists executives during career transitions that may lead to litigation.

Rachel has been recognized as one of the top 50 female lawyers in Texas, selected as a Houston elite 100 lawyer, and was named a top 20 female trial lawyer by Texas Lawyer Magazine, the only trade secret/employment attorney to receive the honor. Rachel’s trial experience includes employment, commercial, corporate, and insurance matters. She has won multimillion-dollar verdicts and defended companies against claims exceeding US$100 million.

Rachel is regularly recognized by Best Lawyers and Chambers and has been a Texas Super Lawyer for more than 20 years. She was named Houston Business Journal’s Outstanding Business Leader in Professional Services and selected for Who’s Who in Energy. She is a former student investigator for the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor and is Board Certified, Labor & Employment Law, by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She serves as vice chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice, of which the firm’s national and Houston office groups have been recognized by Best Lawyers as Tier 1 practices.

Rachel is highly skilled in the field of unfair competition litigation, and has extensive experience representing clients in prosecuting and defending expedited proceedings seeking emergency injunctive relief related to noncompetes, trade secret theft and embezzlement, which allows her to provide quick, strategic and efficient representation for companies and executives.

Rachel also has particular proficiency in wage and hour litigation and a wide variety of employment matters, including disability laws; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; executive agreements; OSHA and safety; terminations, hiring and layoffs, and severance agreements. She maintains an active trial docket while also providing the necessary preventative counseling to help clients avoid costly litigation.

 

 

Noureen Faizee
Whitney Whitmire
Founding Partner
Whitmire & Munoz LLC

Whitney Whitmire, founding Partner of Whitmire & Munoz LLC, leads a robust public affairs firm. She has served a broad client base over her decades long career through legislative advocacy, political advising, and bipartisan relationships.

Having grown up in Texas politics, Whitney brings a unique perspective to her business, alongside business partner and friend, Lindsay Munoz. Whitney has represented clients across many industries and has shared her passion and experience as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Downtown, teaching Texas State Government. Last year, was an especially exciting time as she worked as a trusted supporter of her father’s successful mayoral campaign.

Whitney also enjoys being involved in the community and volunteering, as a proud member of The Junior League of Houston.  Most weekends you can find Whitney, her husband and 2 sons at one of their many sporting events.

Julie Flowers
Kelly Woodward
Chief Operating Officer
Houston Airports

Kelly Woodward is the Chief Operating Officer for the Houston Airport System. Woodward has over two decades of aviation management experience in the public and private sectors and is the first-ever female COO for Houston Airports.

Woodward is responsible for executing the strategic initiatives of Houston Airports across Bush, Hobby and Ellington airports. She is enhancing efficiencies across the airport system while collaborating with stakeholders and maintaining operational excellence among 1,200 Houston Airports employees.

Woodward served as Managing Director with AvAirPros in Houston on the IAH Terminal B Transformation. She previously worked in various leadership roles during 20 years with Houston Airports. Woodward also served as a flight instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Woodward, a licensed pilot, holds a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. In her free time, the mother of three enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with friends and family.

Julie Flowers
Krisina Zuñiga
Partner
Susman Godfrey LLP

Krisina Zuñiga represents plaintiffs and defendants in complex, high-stakes commercial litigation. Her wins include a trial that resulted in a nearly $40 million judgment, a class action that settled on terms worth over $47 million, and a deal challenged by the FTC valued at over $10 billion. Krisina has been recognized by the America Bar Association as one of the nation’s “Top 40 Lawyers Under 40,” by Texas Lawyer as a “Rising Star,” and by Bloomberg Law as an “Intellectual Property Fresh Face.” Krisina serves as Vice Chair of the Houston Bar Foundation and Director of the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston. From 2020-2021, Krisina served as President of the Houston Young Lawyers Association. Krisina previously served as a law clerk to the Honorable Jennifer Walker Elrod (U.S. Court of Appeals) and the Honorable Diana Saldaña (U.S. District Court). Krisina graduated from Stanford Law School and Rice University.