What happens when a bunch of energetic, relatively new Alaska women executives actually leave their offices for 36 hours for a getaway retreat? VP of Programs Sammye Pokryfki checked in with some of the participants several weeks after the Girdwood retreat hosted by the Foundation.

girdwood CEO retreat 2014

From left to right: Melanie Bahnke, Alisha Drabek, Michelle DeWitt, Liz Medicine Crow, Chelsea Gulling, Hillary Morgan, Sue Perles, Nina Kemppel, Julie Decker, Sammye Pokryfki, Diane Kaplan

In June Diane Kaplan and I convened a retreat in Girdwood of chief executives to discuss the joys and challenges of being a new CEO. The CEOs shared stories and solutions on issues such as work / life balance, board relations, staff management and even health insurance coverage. Several weeks later, we chased down some of the participants to ask what they took from the retreat. Here’s what they told us:

Sue Perles, executive director, Girl Scouts of Alaska

“The takeaways were on different levels. Friendships, good company. We were all relatively new CEOs. We had some interesting professional discussions. We now know other people to talk to.

“Two areas that resonated for me were one, how to work with a board of directors and help them be strong and effective, and two, managing people. It was interesting to hear what other people were doing and how they make decisions. People had interesting ways of dealing with personnel challenges.

“One of the most fun parts was when Cathy Rasmuson joined us for dinner. It was fun to hear her different perspective. It was interesting and refreshing to hear her thoughts.”

Alisha Drabek, executive director, Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository

“It was a great opportunity to network. It was helpful for me to step back and take a global view of how my first year has gone and look at certain aspects of what we do. The conversations about how we deal with different aspects of our work were really helpful.

“The most helpful discussions for me surrounded staff morale, how we support the people we oversee, how we get the best quality of work from them. And discussions about engaging with your board and empowering them; how to develop and strengthen the team. That seemed to be the overarching theme. I took extensive notes! It was nice to be able to talk to other women in the same position and see how they’re doing it.”

Nina Kemppel, president and CEO, Alaska Humanities Forum

“I serve on several other boards and I’ve never been to something as valuable as this retreat. I learned innovative and creative solutions to problems that many of us face. It opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about things. It was an opportunity to share and gain. It was really very valuable.

“I found it very interesting to talk about what’s going on in the different organizations. It opened opportunities to create links and partnerships in the future. I came away with specific ideas about partnering with other organizations. Also, around mentoring and mentorship, as relatively new CEOS, we know we should be seeking help from others. Great to hear who others are using as mentors, formally and informally. Also fantastic to have Cathy (Rasmuson) join us for dinner and show her support.”

Michelle DeWitt, executive director, Bethel Community Services Foundation

“The most valuable aspect of the retreat was making connections. I really appreciate getting to know these different leaders and that leads to more connections, ideas, partnerships and ultimately through those, better things for our state. I’ve already reached out to a couple of the folks I met with ideas and bumped into friends we have in common. These are smart, highly competent folks and I value their thoughts and ideas.

“I liked having informal discussion topics, especially about working with a board. I liked having “face” time with folks so that later, when on teleconferences or on email, we know each other.“