2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards: Gail Markham and Dr. Allen Weiss
Recognizing the dedication and determination of two Southwest Florida leaders: Dr. Allen Weiss, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System; and Gail Markham, stockholder and president of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co.
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The Fight for What Matters
Gail Markham of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co. has spent her life creating a better world for herself and others.
“Some people give up and I don’t.” That’s the seven-word answer that Gail Markham, one of Lee County’s foremost business executives and philanthropists, offers when pressed on the secrets to her success. She follows it with the slightest of caveats: “The only time I walk away from something is if it’s not worth my time and effort, and then it’s a conscious decision to walk away.”
Markham’s stubborn childhood resilience put her on a path to her adulthood success. Her mother had four children by the time she was 23. Her father, an outwardly charming man with a penchant for persuasion, abused alcohol and, in turn, his wife. He also sexually abused Markham in secret, starting when she was 4.
Markham’s mother eventually fled with her children, and they were forced to start over with nearly nothing in a cramped, two-bedroom, one-bathroom home.
“I remember scraping together pennies to go buy some milk or a loaf of bread,” Markham says.
Education became Markham’s escape. She received a full ride to the University of Florida, where she went for two years before graduating, cum laude, from the University of Maryland in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in accounting from the College of Business and Management.
When she moved to Southwest Florida to find a job, she quickly learned success would be an uphill battle, as the accounting firm that hired her seemingly had no intention of promoting her. At the time, women in the accounting field were still an anomaly.
“I worked very hard, but I really wasn’t taken seriously,” Markham recalls. “They were making men partners around me that didn’t work nearly as hard as me.”
So she started her own practice in Cape Coral in 1979, in a 1,100-square-foot office all by herself.
Today, Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., P.A. (MNMW) is known as one of the largest tax, accounting and business consulting firms in Southwest Florida, with 50 employees, including partners. It’s grown 5 to 10 percent in revenue per year. But Markham doesn’t measure the company’s success in numbers as much as she does the culture.
“I’ve never deviated from my mission to build a place where I wanted to be every day, and where everybody is kind and treats each other well,” she says.
The long-term relationships at the company attest to this: The first partner at MNMW has been with the firm at least 36 years, and many employees started as interns or right out of college.
“We’re very into that mentoring process here,” Markham says.
She’s incredibly dedicated to mentoring outside of work, too, candidly sharing the hardships—and successes—in her life to inspire others. Markham founded the Lee County PACE Center for Girls and chaired the board of directors from
2006 to 2013. Her story of abuse showed at-risk girls in the program that they, too, could rebuild after ruin.
“She bravely put herself out there so candidly and vulnerably to serve as an inspiration for thriving beyond hardships,” says Melissa Cofta, who worked at PACE with Markham before joining- ing Priority Marketing. Markham has also mentored her for 10 years.
Though Markham has left PACE, she still readily lends herself to women in need. She’s changed the lives of two Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) students in particular, who messaged her on a whim for guidance a few years back. They’d both lost their mothers and didn’t know to navigate the professional world. Markham has helped them obtain scholarships and professional clothing, and even learn how to cook during their monthly dinners at her home.
“Honestly, Gail is like our mother figure because we both don’t have that in our life and she’s somebody we can go to for those kinds of things, Taylor Toreno, the recent FGCU graduate who connected with Markham, says. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be.”
As sacred as Cofta and Toreno’s relationships are with Markham, both say they’re just a few of many people whose lives she has touched.
And Markham will continue to touch lives, with the endowed scholarship fund she set up in 2013 with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation for area girls to attend college.
It’s her way of honoring the scholarship, set up by a woman, that initially helped her attend college and discover her dreams. There’s another woman in her life who she thanks for becoming the person she is today: her mother, who taught her how to persist, no matter what.
“She’s a survivor,” Markham says. “She did the best she could do to put it all back together. She’s always had class, held her head up, and just kept going.” Like mother, like daughter.