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Student Learns Lessons from Entrepreneurs at WEW Conference

Posted in: Events, Musings

Ashley Zahabian with panelists
Ashley Zahabian (second from left) with panelists Marilyn Grabowski, Cheryl Biron, moderator Linda Bowden and Janine Iannarelli.

By Ashley Zahabian

As a female public speaker and entrepreneur myself, it was an honor to introduce four amazing female entrepreneurs who were on the panel, “How to Grow Your Business,” during the Women Entrepreneurship Week Conference at Montclair State. As much was to be learned, I’d like to give an overview of what I personally took home from each individual.

First, I would like to introduce you to Cheryl Biron, who is the president and CEO of One Horn Transportation. Cheryl began to speak about how much of a risk-taker she was and still is, and how that’s impacted her success. At a young age, Cheryl was never an entrepreneur, but more of a school girl who graduated from Ivy League schools for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Within a few years in the corporate world, she went from valedictorian to entrepreneur, and demanded a better life for herself; one where she would be able to afford a day off for her children. After a few bank loans and mortgaging her home, she was able to throw everything into something she was passionate about, which gave her even more motivation to work hard. Cheryl gave us all a wise tip to join a peer advisory group, or to form your own mastermind group to help with mentorship along the way. She ended by mentioning she wishes she had the opportunity to major in entrepreneurship to help teach her the small important things in business, such as making payrolls, collection calls, and other small details that took her a while to learn the hard way.

Next, I would like to introduce Janine Iannarelli, the president and founder of Par Avion Ltd. Janine is most definitely a lady boss! Janine showed her competitive and risky nature while expressing ways she was able to dominate a male dominated field.

“People tend to learn ‘just enough,’ but I wanted to be the smartest on the block, and I realized education was power. I challenged people with questions that people couldn’t think of themselves,” says Janine.

Janine also had a mentor, and says it’s extremely important to find somebody who can take you under your wing, as her boss did for her, to teach you everything you need to know about the field and market you’re entering. She ended by explaining how we can draw upon our inner strength, and to remain fearless when it all looks difficult.

“Find the right person to fill key positions. Slow to hire, quick to fire. Don’t try to make people work the position. Address people who don’t fit immediately,” Janine says as she finished up. Great advice!

Last, I want to introduce Marilyn Grabowski, the president at Atlantic Infrared. Many entrepreneurs have instilled passions within them at a young age, and this was the case for Marilyn who asked for work boots at eight years old! Marilyn’s grandmother was a huge inspiration to her; she was an Italian immigrant who was brave enough to mentor and inspire her granddaughter by getting her high school education, driver’s license, and real estate license. Once Marilyn began working, people would call her phone and ask for a man; she would reply “I’ll be glad to help you,” but the line would stay silent waiting for a man. She would mention again, “I’ll be glad to help you.” People wouldn’t believe she was a female good enough in the field. Marilyn is also a great inspiration for females who want to dominate male fields!

Linda Bowden, the regional president at PNC Bank and moderator of our event, mentioned a few highlight at the end of the event. Lessons she mentioned included:

  1. Fear can be your best friend.
  2. There is no substitute for knowledge.
  3. Get a mentor.
  4. Be smarter than the next person.
  5. Ask for help when you need it!
  6. Join organizations that have similar focus to yours.
  7. Have inner strength and believe in yourself.

And last but not least…


Ashley Zahabian is a junior Economics major at Montclair State, and a member of the Student Publicity Committee for Women Entrepreneurship Week. She received the university’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship in 2014.