Reaching the Top

Montclair State alumnae shatter the glass ceiling in unexpected fields

Private aircraft sales. Fight promotion. Wall Street. Those aren’t fields normally associated with women, but three Montclair State alumnae have successfully made them their own. Kathy Duva ’75, Janine Iannarelli ’83 and Ellyn McColgan ’75 have all reached the top of highly competitive and typically male-dominated worlds. With women underrepresented in top corporate positions and boardrooms, these graduates have shattered the glass ceiling in their fields. They each recently shared their secrets for success with staff writer Amy Wagner and offered advice for students who want to make it to the top in any profession.

Janine Iannarelli ’83
President, Par Avion Ltd.

As a business student at Montclair State, Janine Iannarelli took a paid internship with a market research company specializing in business aviation. Little did she know that this would prove to be a first step in a soaring career in an industry with few women leaders. Today, Iannarelli is the president of Houston-based Par Avion Ltd., an international aircraft brokerage and marketing firm she founded in 1997 that specializes in the sale of pre-owned business aircraft. Janine Iannarelli '83

Q: What stands out from your student days?
A: I really appreciated my adjunct professors. They brought their real-world experience into the classroom. If you could demonstrate that you were eager, these professors would go the extra mile for you.

Q: Did your professors affect your career choice?
A: I consulted my professors before I took a full-time job offer from the company I’d interned with. I was at a crossroads, but they gave me advice that holds true for anyone starting out: You can learn more and learn faster working for a small company than you can for a large company. If you are good at what you do, you will stand out and be recognized.

Q: What led you to start your own business?
A: My motivations? Simple—I had maximized my earning and learning potential as an employee.

Q: What was your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
A: Money! I funded Par Avion myself as a cash-and-carry business. If it wasn’t going to work, I wanted to know as soon as possible. Today, while I’m based in Houston, I even have a small office in northern New Jersey.

Q: What sets Par Avion apart?
A: We provide very personal service and have a unique ability to focus on each client’s individual needs. Our sweet spot in the marketplace is the entrepreneurs who direct-small to mid-sized firms, though a percentage of our business is with global, publicly held companies, as well as private individuals with the wherewithal to own aircraft.

Q: How hard was it for you to succeed in this business as a woman?
A: Women face unique challenges in any business, but there are also some advantages to being a woman. We bring different tools to the table. We’re generally more sensitive and more empathic than men. We’re definitely better listeners. This can be a huge advantage in business. Even today, though, guys often get a pass while women have to work that much harder. But once you prove yourself in a particular company, they aren’t likely to question you again.

Q: What sets successful women apart?
A: I’ve noticed that successful women often have strong father figures in their lives. My father always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I believed him. Women role models are equally important, and I had one at home. My mother got her master’s degree while I was still in school.

Q: It isn’t easy for young women—or men—to launch careers these days. What advice can you give them?
A: Young people, especially women, are told they are perfect until the day they graduate from college, when they are in for a shock. They start that first job and are totally unprepared for roadblocks or failures. That’s life and that’s business. They need to figure out how to deal with setbacks, because the fact is that in business, more people will say “no” than “yes.”

Q: What do they need to bring to that first job?
A: The right attitude. A job isn’t about what an employer can do for you—it’s about what you can do for your employer. A job is an opportunity to soak up learning and experience. I’m convinced that anyone who is willing to work hard and learn will be noticed and will succeed.

Q: What do you tell people who want to know how you got to the top?
A: I’ve been lucky. Don’t ever discount luck. I’m also good at what I do. But I’ve been at the right place at the right time with the right skills. I also trust my gut—it’s never failed me.

Q: How do you relax?
A: Everybody needs an outlet! I was on the equestrian team when I was at Montclair State. I still ride and jump competitively. I also support a performing arts group and various charities that provide for the well-being of children and animals. I’m also an avid cyclist.

Q: What’s it like to be viewed as a role model?
A: I’m flattered to hear via social and professional networks like LinkedIn from young women who want to know how I got started and why I succeeded. I tell them that while I’ve been very lucky, I wouldn’t have succeeded without hard work and a good education.

Kathy Duva ’75
CEO of Main Events

For Kathy Duva, a Montclair State journalism course taught by Professor Michael Greico indirectly led to her first full-time job with Wayne Today, a weekly shopper paper. From there, she worked in College Relations at William Paterson College and as a part-time publicist for Main Events, the boxing promotion company that she now leads. She has promoted some of the biggest fights in boxing history, including the 2001 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson world heavyweight bout that still holds the record as the biggest-grossing heavyweight pay-per-view boxing event of all time.‌

Q: Your husband, Dan Duva, was one of the first to succeed in the pay-per-view market with the 1981 championship bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, which grossed $40 million. How did things change?
A: While most people watched this fight at closed circuit locations like movie theaters and arenas, it was the first boxing match distributed by pay-per-view to anyone. Until then, Dan and I both held down full-time jobs while working part-time for Main Events. After that fight, we both went to work for Main Events full time.Kathy Duva '75

Q: Were you a boxing fan before you met Dan?
A: Not really. I was always a general sports fan. I’m an only child, and my father always encouraged me to watch “the game” with him. I even worked briefly as a stringer at the New Jersey edition of the New York Daily News, covering women’s sports in the Garden State.

Q: You took the helm of Main Events after Dan's death in 1996. What was it like to run such a male-dominated business?
A: The process of taking over took quite a few years while I grieved, attended law school and raised my children. Some of the men in my business treat me 100 percent as an equal. Others, not so much. I find ways to go around the ones who are roadblocks.

Q: Are there any advantages you’ve enjoyed as a woman in this “man’s world?”
A: As women, we really have a big advantage over our competitors. While it wasn’t planned, it turns out that my full-time staff is 100 percent female, although we have a few male interns and they’re great. Seriously, the men who compete with us don’t stand a chance.

Q: How did you juggle a high-profile, high-powered career as a single mother?
A: My amazing staff was always there for me. I also had a wonderful housekeeper who recently retired; without her help, I never would have made it. It helped that I started law school when my oldest daughter was entering high school. For four years, I sat in the kitchen every night and weekend doing homework. While my mind was occupied, I was physically there for the kids.

Q: What are your proudest career accomplishments?
A: Figuring out how to be a boxing publicist. I was only 27 when we promoted Leonard-Hearns, and my only experience at that point was publicizing small-club boxing shows. Dan and I went to Las Vegas and pretended we knew what we were doing. By the time the event was over, we really did!

I’m also proud of our deal as the promoter of the NBC Sports Network Fight Night Boxing series. This past December, nearly 4 million people watched Tomasz Adamek fight Steve Cunningham on NBC. This was a huge success for us.

Q. Do you have any favorites among the boxers you’ve promoted?
A. My all-time favorite fighter is and probably will always be Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. It was more fun to watch him perform than I can describe. We’re working with some wonderful guys right now—so I’ll reserve judgment on them until their careers are over!

Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The boxing shows are the most fun. I never get tired of the adrenaline rush that comes during fight week.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people, particularly women, at the start of their careers?
A: Don’t ever take “no” for an answer.

Q: What’s the secret of your success?
A: I never take “no” for an answer.

Ellyn McColgan ’75
NASDAQ OMX Board Member Executive Advisor, Aquiline Capital Partners

After graduating summa cum laude from Montclair State, Ellyn McColgan worked in human resources before receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School. She began her 25-year career in the financial services industry with Shearson American Express, then moved to Fidelity Investments, where she rose to President of Distribution and Operations. As President and Chief Operating Officer of Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management Group, she oversaw 17,000 employees and revenues of $16.5 billion. She was elected in May 2012 to the NASDAQ OMX Board, where she remains the only woman.Ellyn McColgan '75

Q: What role did Montclair State play in your career path?
A: I knew that finishing my college education was a prerequisite to any career in teaching or business. My goal at Montclair State was to get great grades, be involved in activities and position myself to be hired by someone. I was a psychology and social studies ed major, but there were few teaching jobs when I graduated. So I pursued a career in personnel—or human resources. There were no resources available to students back then to get us started on careers. I had to figure it out myself.

Q: What is the single most important factor in your career success?
A: Finding mentors who were willing to help me is what made all the difference. Financial services was a man’s world—there were no women mentors then. You needed men to stand behind and support you. I was enormously lucky—my bosses mentored me throughout my career.

Q: Are you a mentor?
A: I serve purposefully as a mentor for women—and men. I believe that women have to help women. A lot of younger women are unduly optimistic and think everything has changed. It hasn’t. Things are better, but they aren’t fixed yet.

Q: Did you have to work harder than your male counterparts to succeed on Wall Street?
A: We all worked hard, but women had to work harder at making the men feel comfortable that we could handle the same work. Back in 1983, very few women were working in the financial services business and those of us who were pioneers had to convince people we could do it. Men assumed that even if they invested in training women, the women would marry and leave to have kids. Once we were given the chance to compete, we proved we were capable and were given more opportunities.

Q: How do you juggle career and personal life?
A: I never married and I don’t have children, so I never had to make those choices. That being said, it’s not so easy to be single and manage a career either. I’ve still had to manage friends and family relationships. I had to make sure that I had a life outside of work so that I wouldn’t be consumed by it. Life is complicated: it needs managing and everyone has to make choices to do that.

Q: Is it easier for women to succeed on Wall Street today?
A: Without question, it’s easier, but there are still very few women in senior positions on the Street, so there is more work to be done. I’m on the NASDAQ Nominating and Governance Committee and hope to introduce more women candidates to the board. It’s odd to look up in executive session and see I’m the only woman at the table.

Q: How should young people go about building careers?
A: Career paths are no longer linear, so it’s really important to identify your goals and develop action plans to achieve them. Do you want to make a lot of money? Be the president of a company? Find a cure for cancer? Have a family? You’re the only person who can design your life.