BY Madeleine Maccar
In an industry where women business owners have long ago claimed their rightful places in a male-dominated environment, Mary Johnson of Alliance Limousine NY and Grossman Limousine of Switzerland knows that the leading ladies of the limousine world tend to defy female stereotypes.
But Johnson also knew that wouldn’t dissuade 32 women from flocking to her Arizona home in late October for the second-annual ladies’ retreat and bake-a-thon.
“For centuries, women have come together in the kitchen, which is hilarious because these are strong women who could have been like, ‘No, not the kitchen—let’s go golfing instead,’” she laughs. “But I’m kind of an old-fashioned gal: I like baking, and it’s fun for me to come together with friends from the industry and share what I love with them.”
The sisterly solidarity was on full display throughout the long weekend as those in attendance bonded over baking tips and decorating advice—as well as that Friday’s bus tour of the nearby desert town Sedona (with transportation and lunches provided by Billy Jinks of JET Limousine and Pat Charla of DriveProfit, respectively), and even 12 of the women taking on a mountain hike as a unified force.
“There was such a sense of togetherness,” Johnson says. “There was a woman among us who would never even consider climbing a mountain in her everyday life. But we brought her to the top of that mountain and she was so empowered by it. She was like, ‘I did this! I did this and I stood at the top of this mountain!’ So many of us were there with her, and it was an awesome, emotional experience to be a part of.”
Saturday saw the group tackle a challenge of a different kind: the eponymous bake-a-thon, which was met with incredulous accomplishment that rivaled the previous day’s mountain hike.
“They were saying things like ‘I can’t believe I can do this!’ and ‘Look at this cake I made! I’m always in my element when I’m baking, and I loved just watching these women surprise themselves with the cakes they created. People don’t always understand that inside of each of us, we have these untapped skills waiting for us to bring them to life,” says Johnson.
Johnson even added a competitive element to spark her guests’ creativity, which saw Kathy Messina of Create-A-Card place third, Ami Nichelson of Omni Limousine come in second, and Marine Gevorkian of Advance Global Chauffeured Transportation taking the top spot for Best Cake—along with a pass to the 2019 CD Show in Boston.
But seeing some of her closest industry friends push the boundaries of their comfort zones was just one of the many highlights of a weekend that celebrated professional relationships blossoming into personal friendships. Johnson was especially pleased with how fast friendships were forged in an environment where titles took a backseat to creating a warm, inclusive second family.
“We had Kristina Bouweiri, an icon in our industry, and Sara Nañez with Shark Limousines, who had just attended her first show earlier that month—those two bonded so fast,” Johnson says. “Going into this, Sara knew nobody and her boss knew nobody. And they both walked away from this weekend going, ‘That was the most amazing time!’ Where else could they have found that same kind of bond with 30+ industry women all at one time?”
And Johnson’s guests certainly share her enthusiasm.
“The bake-a-thon was such a great event,” Messina raves. “Mary thoughtfully planned so many ways for this fabulous and diverse group of women to mingle and get to know each other on a different level while letting our hair down. There were so many businesses represented—Mary is bringing this industry together one company at a time!”
“It was such an amazing weekend,” adds Terrie Lane of DriveProfit. “Mary went above and beyond to make sure everyone had a great time. I am so glad we were able to participate!”
Of course, the outpouring of support from eager sponsors helped give weight to the importance of the event, too. Everything from baking supplies to the ladies’ matching hoodies to food to even a post-event clean-up crew was accounted for, thanks to the generosity of more than two-dozen industry benefactors.
In the end, the prevailing themes of togetherness and strengthened relationships resonated throughout the entire weekend, which contributed greatly to another successful year.
“Some absolutely beautiful things came out of this weekend: A lot of women walked away with incredible new friendships,” Johnson effuses. “I just loved how everyone went out of their ways to be so kind and sweet to one another.” [CD1218]