Regardless of whether they’re talking about banking, accounting, marketing or owning a brewing company, staying passionate about what they do remains a constant. It’s what keeps them going. And it’s what they advise others to follow.
Each one of them has stayed true to their dreams, and that has led them to all kinds of professional and personal successes. As you read the following 10 profiles, we hope that their stories help ignite a passion within you.
Banking on Her Passion
Gerri Moll may have worked for Bank of America for 38 years—and been in her current role there as the bank’s president for Southwest Florida for 25 years—but every day still seems fresh for her.
“Well, it’s felt like more than one career because I worked in multiple jobs and multiple lines of business. It’s a great place to grow your career,” Moll says. Raised by her grandparents in Lakeland from the age of 10, she credits them for the character traits that have stood her in good stead for more than three decades. “My grandparents instilled in me a work ethic, the importance of education and caring about people. If you love economics and business, and you love helping people, it’s just the perfect career.”
Now living in Naples, Moll said she always has loved the area. “It’s funny; I used to come down here fishing with my grandfather, and I always thought it was the most beautiful place in the world,” she recalls. After studying finance and economics first at the University of Florida and then at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, she entered a bank training program. Having worked as a server throughout her school days, she said it was good training for some of the jobs she would later hold in banking.
“I joined the training program straight out of college, and you got to spend time in different jobs,” she says. “I loved being a teller. You got to see a lot of people. Our tellers see more people every day than I see in a month. I loved the pace of it.”
She may have held many of the jobs banking has to offer, but when she ascended to her current position in 1997, there weren’t a lot of role models. “You have to imagine 25 years ago, first there weren’t many women in banking in that position, and I was very young. I was 36,” Moll says. “But this is the most welcoming place I’ve ever lived. I think it’s still that way. Everybody’s come here from somewhere else, so they are very welcoming to newcomers.”
And Moll gives back to the community that welcomed her as much as she can. She served two terms on the Leadership Florida Board of Regents and the Florida Board of Governors and currently serves on the boards of Artis—Naples and Conservancy of Southwest Florida. She’s also won a slew of awards, both locally and nationally, for her professional and personal contributions. “I realized early on we can’t be successful if the community we serve isn’t successful. We encourage our employees to follow their personal passions and interests in the community,” Moll says. “Living in Southwest Florida for 25 years, you just come to understand that this is a really special place.”
The Empire Builder
It’s safe to say that, along with her chef husband, Fabrizio, Ingrid Aielli has built a restaurant empire in Southwest Florida. With him in the kitchen and her in the office, the Aiellis have created four of the best—and most popular— restaurants in Naples: Sea Salt Naples (with a branch in St. Petersburg), Barbatella, Dorona Modern Italian Steakhouse and Grappino. And while Fabrizio handles the menus, Ingrid handles everything else, including the front of the house, public relations, marketing and community engagement. It would be a mistake to discount how much her savvy business sense has contributed to the couple’s success.
“What started off as a coincidence became my calling. When I married chef Fabrizio Aielli it made sense to team up with my husband and complement his skillset. While he was responsible for the culinary concept, I managed our service staff and took responsibility for our PR and marketing efforts,” Aielli says. “I was blessed that I accidentally was pushed in an industry where I was able to utilize my strengths and evolve, not only as a professional, but also as a person. I honestly never thought of doing anything else. The hospitality (business) allowed me to follow my two passions: connecting with people and allowing me to be involved in philanthropy.”
And Aielli is certainly involved in philanthropy. She and Fabrizio are heavily connected with the Naples Children & Education Foundation and the Naples Winter Wine Festival, as well as many other local causes, such as the Youth Haven Shelter in Naples. Every year, the couple hosts a Christmas lunch for Youth Haven’s charges at Barbatella, with Santa and gifts for the kids.
“Our family not only takes pride in being a part of the Naples community, but we also believe that it is our responsibility to take action and give back to the people who have been supporting us for so many years,” Aielli says. “They inspire and motivate us to be our best version.”
Of course, working so closely with your husband can be challenging, but the Aiellis have their various responsibilities down pat. “At times it can be challenging but we always had a very clear understanding of our responsibilities and expertise,” she says. “As you grow as a couple, you also learn from each other and know how to fill the gaps. Constant communication and the focus on a common goal is key.”
But for Ingrid, her work is a real labor of love—in more ways than one.
“No matter what you do, if you want to achieve great results in your career, you need to put in a lot of work, be open minded and relentless,” she says. “This requires a lot of energy, which you can only put into something you are passionate about, something you really love.”
A Good Head on Her Shoulders
Jennifer Whyte doesn’t mind taking risks.
When her husband, Rob, had the idea of turning his homebrewing hobby into a business, Jen had the entrepreneurial know-how and pioneering spirit to create a business plan and launch a new company. And in 2013, the Fort Myers Brewing Co., Lee County’s first craft brewery and taproom, was born.
“I love our business. I love the people we get to be surrounded by every day. We have great employees. We’ve made some really good friends. And we have great customers,” the 44-year-old Jennifer Whyte says. “And the people of Lee County have really embraced Fort Myers Brewing Company.”
It started off slowly but gained steam quickly. When they started, they had a cozy 1,500-square-foot space. These days, they’ve graduated to 22,000 square feet, annually producing 16,000 to 17,000 barrels of brews such as Gateway Gold, Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, FML (Fort Myers Light) and Tamiami Tan.
“We were very scrappy. And we hobbled something together. The regulars that have been with us a while like to know how far we’ve come,” Whyte says. Then she adds a little advice for budding entrepreneurs.
“I wouldn’t worry about starting small. It keeps you nimble and helps you get your idea off the ground,” she says. “There’s opportunity everywhere. I look around now and I see opportunity everywhere. If you have something that you are passionate about, if you have something that can bring joy and help people, just go do it.”
Her own business acumen showed through during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whyte quickly adapted to continue operations and keep her team intact. Innovative strategies during COVID grew packaging by 81.5%, achieving overall growth, albeit small, when compared with 2019-2020 distribution. A sampling of her efforts includes shifting operations to to-go and expanding packaged products; diversifying with the launch of the area’s first line of locally crafted spiked seltzer beverages; selling merchandise and offering odd projects to boost staff income; and stopping her and her husband’s salaries to ensure staff continued to receive health benefits.
They even kept up a brewing company tradition: an annual visit from Santa. This time, however, Santa was in a life-size snow globe. Customers loved it.
“I can’t overstate how proud a moment that was, to see kids and adults starting to act normal again,” Whyte says. “To me, that’s what Fort Myers Brewing is about. It’s about bringing people together and bringing joy to the community. That was my proudest professional moment.”
Of Passion … and Purple Porsches
You could say that Karen Mosteller, managing partner at the accounting and consulting firm of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, owes her career to a purple Porsche.
Back when Mosteller was in high school in Cape Coral and a member of Future Business Leaders of America, Gail Markham, the firm’s founding partner, came to speak to students about IRAs. When the young Mosteller accompanied Markham to her car, she was hit with inspiration. “I walked her out to her car, and I saw that she had a purple Porsche,” Mosteller recalls. “I said, ‘Whoa, mama! I want to do what she does.’”
On a visit to the firm shortly thereafter, Markham hired Mosteller on the spot as an intern/file clerk. That was in 1986, and Mosteller has been there ever since. It seems she always had her sights on her future role. “At 18, I told Gail I wanted to be partner,” Mosteller recalls saying to her mentor. “You know what? I guess I was so naïve. I am that type of person who if you tell me I can’t do something, then I go out and do it. The moment I opened my mouth and said this is what I wanted to do, Gail made a path for me so that I could do this. Gail really gave me direction and advice.”
In fact, it’s what Mosteller describes as the family atmosphere at the firm—one of the largest in Southwest Florida, with offices in Fort Myers and Naples—that has kept her there for 36 years, she says. “I started when there were 13 of us, and now we have more than 50 people. We watch each other’s backs. We’re really like a family. We allow people to define their path to do what they want to do,” she says. “It’s never been a job. It’s always been fun. It always was a place that I looked forward to on Mondays. It’s always been home.”
Did she ever get that Porsche?
“I don’t drive a Porsche. I drive Mustangs,” says Mosteller, who is a certified health care business consultant, as well as a certified public accountant. “Mine is blue. I have had four of them.”
When she wants to relax and get away from it all, she goes RVing with her husband of 29 years, Chip. Most days, though, she’s always on the go, often visiting with clients. “I am one of those CPAs who can’t sit in the office,” she says.
Mosteller has stayed passionate about her profession, and she advises future generations of women in business to follow her lead. “Truly do what you are passionate about. Follow your passion and, at the end of the day, if you love it, you will end up where you want to be and on top,” she says. “I’ve loved it and I’ve been passionate. I could never imagine doing anything else.”
Although her father was an accountant, Marie Grasmeier never dreamed of becoming a certified public accountant as a kid. Nor a certified management accountant. Nor a chartered global management accountant. Now she’s all three (and trusts and estates practitioner, too).
“I always thought I was going to be pre-med, and then I did an internship in a hospital, and I didn’t like it,” says Grasmeier, the founder of Grasmeier Business Consulting. “I just switched to the college of business.”
Now, Grasmeier specializes in assisting foreign investors with their U.S. tax and compliance needs and enjoys working with entrepreneurs through the entire lifecycle of a business, from startup to succession planning. While she provides tax planning, compliance and traditional accounting services, Grasmeier offers real estate investment services by specializing in the tax benefits and tax ramifications of real estate investing. “I knew that if I opened my own business, I could serve my clients better than I could at someone else’s firm,” she says. “It turned out to be true.”
Born in South Korea, raised in Sweden, educated right here in Florida and now living in Naples, Grasmeier has 1,500 or so clients from all over the world, many of whom are real estate investors with holdings in the state. But her client base isn’t the only thing that’s international about her business. Grasmeier manages and mentors team members in a 100% virtual and paperless environment and provides opportunities for accountants both locally and globally.
What’s it like going all virtual? “I love it. We’re much more efficient. We still have our client contact. And it gives us more time,” Grasmeier says. “We’re always available. I think we are more responsive because we are virtual, as well.”
Grasmeier practices what she preaches to her clients. She personally invests and also assists other investors in her role as manager of RealinFlorida, a consulting firm for international real estate investors that she co-founded with her husband John. And she was one of 18 women professionals to contribute to the national collaborative book project Wealth for Women: Conversations with the Team That Creates the Dream.
When she first opened her company in 2009, she felt as if she was one of only a few women running an accounting firm. But in the 13 years since then, a lot has changed.
“Being virtual has helped more women come into the business and be able to balance their work and family life.”
Nancy Dauphinais, chief operating officer at the David Lawrence Center in Naples, has a strong sense of community, and it comes out in everything she does. Having worked at the nonprofit DLC, which provides mental health services to children and adults, for more than 16 years in a variety of jobs, Dauphinais has seen a lot of changes over time.
“One of the things that I enjoy about the David Lawrence Center is that we’ve been in the community for 50 years, and I want to see us continue to be the hub for mental health care over the next 50 years,” she says. “I love being part of an organization that has a mission to save and change lives. Every day we get to help individuals who are really suffering. For other individuals who may not have severe symptoms, we’re able to improve their lives. It’s very rewarding.”
As COO, Dauphinais, herself a licensed mental health counselor, oversees all clinical programming at the center, which includes 40 individual programs and 330 clinical and administrative staff. Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 pandemic, DLC has seen an uptick in demand for the center’s services that mirrors state and national trends.
“I think that we are seeing a disproportionate demand for crisis services. We would prefer to see a greater demand in seeking outpatient services instead of a greater demand for inpatient and crisis services,” she says. “At some times, we’ve seen upward of increases of 45%. That is consistent with trends being seen in Florida and across the country.”
Dauphinais also manages DLC’s partnerships with Collier County Public Schools, Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the Collier County judiciary and dozens of local nonprofits. But one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is being able to make a difference in the lives of children and families.
“Working with children and families is really important and rewarding. The earlier we can intervene in mental health challenges, the better we can impact the child and mitigate long-term effects. It’s a great investment in the future of the community,” she says. “It’s been really rewarding for us to be able to grow our children’s services over the years. We’re really impacting the entire family. In delivering treatment for children, we find that children can get better at a faster rate than adults. Their brains are really receptive. That helps them to be very resilient and to recover well.”
In fact, for Dauphinais, working at DLC is the culmination of lifelong ambition to be able to help those in need.
“It’s been a passion for me. I wanted to make an impact on others’ lives. I always wanted to do something in the helping sector, and I knew it would involve psychology,” she says. “Winding up at the David Lawrence Center has been a blessing.”
Connie Ramos-Williams’ Sixth Sense
When Connie Ramos-Williams is struck by intuition, you’d be well advised to follow it.
Back in 1999, she was convinced that the region was ready for its own type of parenting magazine, so she created Southwest Florida Parent & Child. Well, she was right, and she eventually sold the successful publication to Gannett five years later.
Then in 2007, during the height of a recession, Ramos-Williams thought the time was right for a different kind of marketing firm, one that would help local businesses successfully weather the financial storm and aid them in getting back on their feet once the economy rallied. It turns out she was right again, and CONRIC pr + marketing was born. Ever since, the firm where she’s the president and chief marketing officer has been going strong.
“I would say that the vision I had when we started was staying very true to being local and staying very true to creating marketing. And there were a lot of businesses who needed extra help. We really want to see everybody succeed during a very difficult time,” she says of CONRIC, which now has offices in Fort Myers and Naples. “Our vision for the company now is to be a leader in the digital marketing space nationally. That‘s where our greatest growth is, and that’s where we are hiring for most of our new roles.”
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ramos-Williams had another one of those feelings. Something told her to forego the 6,500-square-foot office space the company was eyeing and eventually set up the firm so everyone could work remotely. It was no whim; she researched her options carefully. By September 2019 she was sure she was right. One month later, the company was transitioning staff to work remotely. Within six months, the pandemic hit the United States. “What a blessing that was. I had many of my friends in business and at other agencies calling when that pandemic hit and were, honestly, a little panicked. We just were blessed to be working that way when the pandemic hit,” she recalls.
At that time, the firm went into overdrive, checking on clients, reaching out to the most vulnerable ones, delaying billing and working to make sure none of them would close their doors permanently. The company started a Facebook page and began broadcasting the SWFL Strong podcast to spread a message of solidarity throughout the community. “We told them, ‘We’re all in this together, and as a company, we are going to support you as much as we can,’” she says. “It was wonderful to help others.”
Ramos-Williams wasn’t untouched by the pandemic herself. She contracted COVID-19 in October 2020 and spent a week in the hospital. Still, she remained confident in herself and her firm. “Honestly, I don’t know what it was, I felt like we had a handle on it,” she says now. “I felt like we could go through anything.”
Banking in Her Blood
If you ever needed proof that trail-blazing local banker Robbie Roepstorff is no pushover, you’d be wise to remember that she hunts pythons for fun.
“Oh, my gosh. I didn’t intend to get into it,” Roepstorff says with a laugh.
“My husband, Geoff, was gung-ho and wanted to go. It was the last day of the challenge, and it was Valentine’s Day. I said, ‘You are not going to go down there by yourself,’” she explains about how she first became involved in hunting the invasive species about five years ago. “Geoff and I are real environmentalists, and if we don’t keep the animal population intact, we are really going to have issues.”
Roepstorff’s real claim to fame is co-founding with her husband Edison National Bank, the oldest locally owned and chartered community bank in Lee County, in 1997, and then the Bank of the Islands on Sanibel a year later.
“It’s been the best decision that we made in terms of our careers, let me tell you,” she says of Edison, which now has just shy of $550 million in assets. “We never wanted to come out big. We wanted to stay a community bank and serve the people of the area.”
She and her husband of 29 years have banking in their blood. She serves as the bank’s president, and Geoff serves as the CEO. They even met and married while working together at a bank. Now their focus is on providing the best services they can—always with a human touch—to their local customers through their four branches.
“I truly believe our customers know our mission, and they know they are going to get to talk to a person. We still don’t have voicemail on our phones,” Roepstorff says. “You are always going to talk to a person when you call our bank. And you have the senior management right here making all the decisions.”
When it comes to the next generation of women entrepreneurs looking for their shot, she offers some advice that’s always worked well for her.
“You always, always want to balance family and career. Family is everything. We always say God, family, business. That’s first. The second thing I would tell them is to observe and listen. Watch what is going on in front on you. And listen when someone is talking to you,” Roepstorff says.
“And the third thing I would tell them is you need HIT: honesty, integrity and trustworthy,” she adds. “If you can’t prove yourself in those three areas, it doesn’t matter how well you know your business, you won’t succeed.”
Days of Wine and Poses
Sarah Newcomb stays pretty busy holding down three jobs.
She’s the sole owner and operator of The Wine Room, a tasting room/retail establishment/event space in downtown Fort Myers that she opened in 2020. She has her own photography business, S. Newcomb Photography, which she set up in 2016. She also works as administrative specialist at the Lee County Department of Transportation. And, she is pursuing an MBA in her spare time.
How does she do it all?
“I don’t sleep. I like to stay busy, and I like to be productive,” says Newcomb, who lives in Cape Coral. “Everything I do I am passionate about. That’s my personality.”
That’s a good thing because that passion helps to fuel her 14-hour workdays. And with The Wine Room growing in popularity, those days probably aren’t going to get a whole lot shorter. “I wanted my own brick-and-mortar business that I loved and was passionate about,” Newcomb says of The Wine Room. “I could incorporate my passion for business and my love of the community. Well, I also have a passion for wine. Why not combine all three?”
Although she opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the business has been a resounding success, offering patrons wines from all over the country and around the world, including the specialty wines such as Cape Coral Cabernet, Caloosahatchee Chardonnay and Music Walk Merlot. “My first year in business was amazing,” she says. “Every dollar I had, I was able to dump back into the business.” Well, not every dollar. Newcomb donates 3% of every bottle purchased to a local nonprofit, with customers able to pick their choice of three local charities being highlighted at that time. “They not only get the support, but it’s great advertising for them,” Newcomb says. “It gives me the chance to talk about these nonprofits and make people aware of the organizations.”
Newcomb’s photography business comes from an interest she developed for the artform as a teen. “I love photography. I started doing photography in high school with film and switched over to digital,” she says. “I love travel photography, and I take photos wherever I travel. I have them up in The Wine Room, and people can buy them right off the wall. I don’t do as much of it now because I’m working so much. But, again, it’s one of my passions.”
For others out there who’d like to turn their passions into businesses, her advice is simple. “Go for it,” Newcomb says. “I think people get so nervous about what could happen that they don’t take risks. We would never get anywhere without taking a risk. Just take the chance.”
Playing for Keeps
When Teri Hansen does something, she does it for keeps.
Her public relations firm, Priority Marketing in Fort Myers, celebrated its 30th year in business this past April. She’s also celebrating her 21st year cancer-free after being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2001. And, just for good measure, this year is her 41st wedding anniversary.
“That is exactly right. I am a committed person. I think that really does describe me. I am a person who is dedicated and committed,” says Hansen, a Fort Myers native. “I think that is why we are here 30 years later.”
Over the years, Priority Marketing, where Hansen is president and senior creative director, has won more than 150 awards for its work (with Hansen winning a slew of individual awards herself). The firm’s clients comprise a broad spectrum of industries, including hospitality and tourism, retail, health care, senior living, construction, legal, financial, government, education and locally owned businesses. Aside from being one of the largest local PR companies, Priority Marketing is also Southwest Florida’s premier agency for nonprofits and actively represents dozens of charitable organizations.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity of serving so many amazing clients and businesses in this community and in helping businesses grow and helping so many nonprofits. That is the reward for me,” Hansen says. “I have never had a desire to do anything else. I love coming to work every day. I love this business. My passion hasn’t waned.”
Priority Marketing’s staff is more than 45 members strong, about 75% of them women, with many of them being longstanding employees. “My team here, we are family. Every single day I receive encouragement and support in everything that I do. I have employees that have been here for 26 years, 20 years. I love them and care for them and we have all grown together,” she says. “I love watching them grow, supporting that growth. I am so proud of having a part in their lives. To mentor them, coach them and advise them, that is a huge reward, too.”
Hansen offers this advice for future entrepreneurs: Don’t compare yourself with others, don’t be impatient as you build your career and don’t focus on financial rewards.
“Always consider opportunity over money. Evaluate something based on the opportunity it provides you, not what it’s going to pay. Focusing on money is short-sighted,” she says. “I would not trade a higher paying job for the opportunities that were afforded to me to be able to grow and to have exposure into the community. I tell young people all the time, ‘Look at what is going to give the most opportunity. Money follows you in your career.’”